View from the Rock By Neil Marks
Guyana Chronicle
March 17, 2002

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A mist-coated backdrop of mountains overshadows the foothills of the mighty Pakaraimas.

In the foreground, the vast Savannah land is punctuated by beautiful Amerindian benabs. From atop a huge rock - so large it could be mistaken for a hill - the benabs appear to be mere toys.

Lasses and lads playfully make their way down a dusty road to school.

A beautiful painting of a rustic scene? No.

Rather, it’s a first-hand experience of Guyana’s beautiful hinterland. There, the sky seems bluer, the morning breeze enchants and the sheer vastness of the land entices the visitor to simply absorb nature’s beauty.

And that’s just what a group of visitors did about two weeks ago when they dropped in at Rockview Lodge at Annai in the North Rupununi, some 420 kilometers south of the capital, Georgetown.

The villages of Annai and Rupertee, inhabited by mainly the Makushi people, are the closest of the North Rupununi villages to Rockview. The Lodge is accessible by road and by air.

If you’re the more rugged type in for an adventure, you can jump into a four by four and take the Georgetown to Lethem trail. Of course, this has its advantages, as you might see some animals in their natural habitat. On the other hand, if it rains, you stand a good chance of getting stuck on the trail!

Your other option to Annai is by air. Boarding a Trans-Guyana aircraft from the Ogle Airport, you land at the Annai Airstrip in about 90 minutes to be greeted by a most pleasant host, Englishman, Colin Edwards, who owns the Lodge. The Lodge comprises two guesthouses with four self-contained rooms each. Potable water and electricity are provided.

Just next to the first guesthouse - which was completed with claybricks and stones gathered from the neighbourhood - stands a spacious benab with hooks for hammocks. This is available to guests who prefer a taste of an Amerindian bedtime!

Since most of the scheduled flights are in the early mornings, visitors, on arrival at the Lodge, are led to a little kitchen with an adjoining dining room. Before having breakfast, visitors must meet the capable cook and the somewhat shy waitresses.

The solid wood table is carefully laid out. As the guests are seated, a beautiful Amerindian girl approaches. “Excuse me. Would you like to have lemon or grapefruit juice?” She then serves breakfast. Fruits are always available.

If one sits on the left of the table, one would not miss the hanging Armadillo shells.

After breakfast, visitors get the opportunity of strolling in park-like surroundings. A tour of Rockview will take visitors to a modest aquarium, a garden with fruit trees, and a chance to meet Tommy the Tapir. In the afternoon, guests get to see Roy round up the cattle, horses, and sheep.

Since he began accepting visitors about 10 years ago, Colin and his team have transformed the land he was able to lease into a scenic environment, reminiscent of the Botanical Gardens in the city. Wild orchids, gathered, perhaps, from the foothills of the Pakaraimas, adorn the larger trees.

The foothills of the Pakaraimas are visible from the Lodge, and, if you’re interested, Orlando Allicock, a tour guide, can take you climbing. As you climb, you might catch a glimpse of a peculiar-looking orange and black toad. But the sight to relish is the awesome view of the Rupununi Savannahs.

A trip up the Rupununi River is also another option for visitors to the ranch.

With boat strapped atop the Land Rover, and Orlando and Dennis Francipio at the back, Jorge might likely take you to the riverbed. He might tell you that “one of the best things about the Savannah is that you get to decide on the road!”

Once you reach the riverbed, you start paddling. In about half an hour or so, you reach a heavily forested area. Fifty-six-year-old Francipio, or Uncle Dennis, as he is affectionately called, takes you through to your destination - Pine Pond. It’s where you find Guyana’s national flower in abundance. Pine Pond is home to the giant Victoria Regia lilies. It is also here that the Dutch-based photographic firm, Foto Natura, placed a baby on one of the lilies and has made the picture into a postcard.

The lilies are huge!
Devil’s Pond is another attraction, particularly if you hear the story behind it. According to Uncle Dennis, the pond was once infested with caimans and `water tigers’. The creatures, according to the legend, would consume whoever went to the Pond. Uncle Dennis doesn’t seem to believe the story. Orlando laughs out his pessimism. All I could see was a pond, more like trench, taken over by moss.

Having seen Devil’s Pond, it’s time to row back to the ‘landing’ for the pick-up to head back to Rockview. On your way back, you get to observe the afternoon life of the people of Annai. Everyone seems to be enjoying an afternoon lime. It looks as though the Rockview team is well known. Jorge toots his horn in response to the bright smiles and greetings the team gets as it passes through the village.

In the evening, the place to be is the Dakota Bar.

“You do know it’s a Guyanese passion to have a Banks Beer in the evening?” This from Colin.

Villagers and visitors alike enjoy beverages and music at the nightspot. Brazilian music is a favourite.

The Dakota Bar, Colin said, is a revival of a tradition that existed in the past. The main economic activities at Annai in days gone by were farming and cattle rearing. At the time when there was no real road link between Georgetown and the Rupununi, the transportation was provided by the DC-3 aircraft. Annai was one of the meeting points where the aircraft would land to offload and to load produce to take out of Georgetown.

“The Dakota Bar was a favourite meeting place. When the plane landed, it was mail; news from the coasts. It was great excitement. In the latter days, cattle were brought to the central point to be sent off to the city. When that was finished, they [presumably the vaqueros] would start drinking and gaffing and so on. It was a social event of great importance,” Colin related.

With the absence of television and any other organised forms of entertainment, the community people would come out to lime. It is here that visitors get to meet and chat with the friendly people.

Once you’re done there, you may choose to go atop the rock and stargaze.

Dream becomes reality
It was Colin’ s dream to build a guest ranch house. But Rockview was not intended for Guyana. Had fate not intervened, the Lodge would have been in neighbouring Brazil.

Colin, an agronomist, arrived in Guyana in 1969 to work as a volunteer with the Ministry of Agriculture as an Agriculture Extension Officer. After about two years here, he left.

It was while he was living in Brazil that he had the guest house idea.e hadHe h

He had already secured a piece of land on the coastland between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo which he thought was just right for what he had in mind.

But Paranapanema, the civil engineering, road construction and mining firm with which he was working in Brazil, dispatched him to Guyana in 1984 as the Director of a joint-venture mining project with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC). The project was in the North West District.

“My idea was left dormant,” Colin said. “However, by 1992, Guyana became a serious country, where a person could think about investing. Around then, opportunity opened itself to buy the piece of land where Rockview now stands.

“What really excited me was to be part of such a wonderful, natural scheme of things. You can stand on the rock and see the mountains and the villages and see the nature around you.”

“It’s so beautiful!” This is the way Colin sums up a description of his place.

One spot in particular, show what a dream-and-determination combination can achieve.

Not far from the `guest benab’ is the `Rock’ pool. Shaped like the figure eight, it took three years to complete. It is carved out from the huge rocks and boulders that lie below a flat surface. A small lily pond adjoins it.

If swimming is not your thing, you may relax under the cashew tree or swing away in a nearby hammock.

The pool idea is the result of a very fertile imagination.

“My mind is very active…One night … I thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have a pool here?’ …I woke up remembering this, and I went straight to a particular place that seemed natural to me and I envisioned something like the palate of a painter. Without knowing what was underneath, we started digging. Then, these boulders started appearing. It looked very beautiful, you know; the idea of having a swimming pool rather like a rock pool,” Colin told the Chronicle.

He said he asked his engineer friends for advice on how to incorporate the concrete shell of the pool with the boulders.

Colin is proud of the fact that only recently two widely travelled guests to Rockview said that it was the most beautiful pool they have seen in all of the Caribbean.

Colin’s wife, Velda, and his relatives comprise the permanent staff at Rockview. Members of the Amerindian communities around do the majority of casual labour at the Lodge. They are employed on a fortnightly basis, allowing them to share their time with their families, their farms and their lifestyle. According to Colin, Rockview has improved on its performance every year, making it possible to provide an increase to its staff annually.

While what Rockview offers is fascinating, the Lodge shares the diverse product around. Three of the places Rockview can take guests to are Karanambo Ranch, the Iwokrama Forest and the village of Surama.