Touring the most visited tourism recreation area in Guyana
By Ruel Johnson
November 30, 2003
TOURISM Awareness Month in Guyana ends today.
Two Sundays ago, as one of its promotion initiatives during the month, the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce invited the media on a media tour of resorts along the Soesdyke-Linden Highway.
The following is a brief account of the tour:
The members of the various media houses were asked to assemble at the Ministry's South Road Headquarters at the ungodly hour of quarter to ten on a Sunday morning. There we were joined by Donna Short-Gill and two tourism students.
When representatives of all but two of the invited media houses had turned up, we all were herded to the Ministry's posh looking boardroom.
The bright and multi-portfolioed Shyam Nokta, this time in his avatar as technical consultant to the Minister (of Tourism, that is), entered and began to give us a run down of what we were there for.
The Soesdyke-Linden Corridor
It was a bit jarring to hear the Soesdyke-Linden Highway referred to as the Soesdyke-Linden Corridor, but that's exactly what it is. The road, the country's only true highway, was built by the U.S. firm, B.B. Mc. Cormick & Sons Inc. between 1966-1968, at a cost of around U.S. $17 million and was officially declared open the year after completion.
According to Shyam, today the 45-mile-long Corridor is arguably the most visited tourism and recreation area in Guyana. It hosts a number of resorts and creeks which offer a range of fun and exciting activities. The Corridor's popularity, said Shyam, stemmed from both the accessibility and affordability of the various recreational sites that can be found on either side of this roadway.
In addition to this, the highway serves as a crucial lifeline and link between Guyana's coastal strip and its vast, largely unexplored hinterland. Says Shyam, the road has served as a catalyst for development and economic activity along its route, some of which "do not necessarily contribute to the tourism product."
Explaining further, he mentioned incidents where one type of economic activity has had a negative impact on nearby tourist sites.
The consultant introduced the idea of a land-zoning programme which would identify different areas for different types of economic or developmental activities, lessening or eradicating conflict.
We were to visit three resorts during the day: Emerald Towers, Splashmins Fun Park, and the less heard of Marudi Resort, in that order.
Amazingly, the tour bus departed the Ministry at the scheduled time.
Perhaps sensing that something was amiss, the rain decided to put on its best torrential downpour mood. As the bus made its way up the East Bank, the rain-shrouded river began, at least for this reporter, to conjure up bits of old song and poetry about rivers. Ian McDonald's contemplation on the Essequibo came to mind. I made a small note to myself: put forward the proposal to the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce of a Tourism Awareness Campaign centred on ads mixing stark images of local scenes with excerpts from poetry.
Travelling in a bus on a rainy Sunday with members of the media isn't as boring as some might think it would be. When all those usually very polished, perfect-tongued, genteel people let their hair down, they really let their hair down.
Since much of what was engaged in would be classed as either locker room jokes or probably gutter humour, there is no possibility of any of it being repeated here. Suffice it to say, the little DEC salt jingle played a prominent role during one stretch of the trip.
Again, miraculously the bus arrived at Emerald Towers at the scheduled time. There the journalists were met by the resort's owner and manager, Mr. Frank Singh. Singh gave us a brief but comprehensive introduction to the resort.
Emerald Towers sits on 167 acres of land roughly two per cent or 3.3 acres houses the resort proper. This consists of one main building - which houses a recreation area, small library and dormitory - and eight cabins.
The cabins feature nicely crafted furniture, bathrooms and bedrooms. While we were exploring one a bat fluttered about; all part of the nature experience, joked Singh.
Singh said that the resort has a maximum capacity for about 40 persons, although one VSO (British Volunteer Services Overseas) conference saw over 90 persons flocking to Emerald Towers, most of whom brought tents. He says that usual peak capacity for the resort is usually around 60 per cent occupancy, and that normally takes place during the July-August period.
The remaining land is largely part rainforest, part savannah and is used by Singh for the canoeing, trail-walking and bird-watching activities he has for his guests. Singh says that his property is home to around 13 different species of birds. On the nature walks, the animals that can possibly be sighted are the labba, agouti and savannah dear.
People, Singh said, come to Emerald Towers for many different reasons: church groups usually use the resort for seminars and outings; it has been rented for wedding ceremonies, and, naturally, honeymoons as well; or families just visit them for day trips.
One problem Singh has recently encountered related to what Shyam Nokta said earlier about the need for land zoning along the Corridor. One entrepreneur had set up a chicken farm adjacent to Singh's property. Due to the sort of hazardous waste matter that large-scale poultry rearing usually produces, there was the danger of the farmer's business having a direct and harmful impact on what Singh strives to upkeep as a nature-friendly resort. Singh was forced to seek legal action, and a cease order was placed on the farmer's activities, pending an EPA assessment.
Also featured on the short tour were a few plants that the Amerindians make use of for tapestry, food and medicine but which nobody in the learned media corps possessed any knowledge of.
Not far from where the trail led back to the resort was a ninth cabin that Singh had condemned. He explained that bats were proving a pest problem so he left that one cabin unoccupied. The bats gravitated toward the abandoned cabin. Singh said that he had only really learnt that bat dung or guano was used in making women's facial care products.
Back at the main building, Singh treated us to a sumptuous buffet lunch, after which there was an hour left for idle chat, semi-serious discussion, an informal table tennis championship and, in the case of one cameraman still beaten from an all-night Soca and Chutney therapy, a getaway nap on one of the beds in the dormitory.
We left Emerald Towers just a couple of minutes after the scheduled time leaving.
15:00 hrs (Approximately)
We arrived at Splashmins Fun Resort where we were greeted by none other than the owner himself, Mr. Lennox John. John began by giving us a bit of background on Splashmins.
He said that construction began at the Fun Park in June of 1997 and that Splashmins was officially opened in April of 2000. John said that Splashmins was born out of what he considered the typical run of the mill creek outing experience that he knew locally and his observations of other resorts in his travels abroad. He sees Splashmins as a marriage of concepts, the local and the foreign, designed to give Guyanese a maximum in the sun, fun and water experience for the family.
John says that he employs around 60 persons at Splashmins, two-thirds of whom are construction staff. Splashmins is still expanding to what the owner says is his complete vision for the place. If all goes well with John's plan, the year 2015 will see Splashmins housing a 260-room hotel, a horse racing course, jet-boating, camping ground at the other side of the creek across from the present buildings, an orchard, an access road leading off the Soesdyke-Linden Highway and a parking lot capable of holding 2 300 vehicles, all spread out over his 250 acres of land.
If all that sounds a bit far-fetched, it isn't. The new roadway is, according to John, 75 per cent finished; some of the accommodation quarters are already under construction; and John acted as the personal tour guide for the group, whisking us across the creek in two jet-boats to his orchard where tangerine trees, coconut trees, limes, kuru, pine and other local fruit were already under cultivation.
Asked to comment about safety at the resort against the background of three drowning incidents it has experienced, John said that his strategy was to enlist multi-skilled workers into his employment force. Most of the construction workers have basic life-guard skills and are called off of construction and sent to the swimming area as the numbers of the visitors go up on any given day.
John told the members of the media present that Splashmins was his hobby and that he was not in it for the profit. Most of the profit goes back into enhancing the facilities at the fun park. He said that though Splashmins continues to host big events like the Miss Jam Zone Beach Pageant and the Water-Skiing event last year, most of the revenue earned at Splashmins comes from family outings during the week, on public holidays and on weekends.
Referring to what he has done with Splashmins John said that, "I am proud to be a common person with uncommon results."
17:00 hrs (Approximately)
We arrived with the dusk at Marudi Resort. Marudi is the least known of the three resorts but it seemed to have a clientele that possessed a familiarity with the place. This was confirmed when the owner of the resort, Mr. Paul Dhanraj, introduced us formally to his place.
Dhanraj said that he and his wife remigrated to Guyana around the mid-90s and started Marudi in October 1995.
Marudi Resort, judging from the owner's views on marketing his tourism package, seems to be what one may call an "anti-resort". With a staff of four, that is, Dhanraj, his wife, one handyman and one cook, the resort has a rustic charm about it.
Dhanraj says that his resort offers quiet family-type entertainment and explained, ironically with loud music booming from a car stereo in the background, that he does not encourage the sort of noise and raucous behaviour that can be found at other resorts along the Linden-Soesdyke Highway.
He said that he has built up a close-knit 'family' of clients and that his regulars expect him to upkeep a certain standard. He said that he would not go after greater money through higher numbers [of guests] and risk losing his base clients.
Dhanraj claims that in the present economy, expansion is hard since expansion works cost money, much of which is sourced from the banks. Marudi now has 20 day-benabs, two over-night benabs, a bar, a kitchen and a large seating hut. Additionally, hammocks can be slung in an area with trees, specifically reserved for that purpose. For those interested in stargazing, he and his wife have set up a state of the art astronomical telescope on the compound.
At dinner, a long table was set up and this point, the media team was joined by Shyam Nokta; former Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Mr. Vibert De Souza; and the former minister's guitar.
Uncle Vibert led the hoarse-voiced members of the media through a medley of songs from the perennial though largely unintelligible favourite, 'Guantanamera'; to the Drifters' hit 'Save the Last Dance for Me'; to the Bee Gees 'Baby, you don't know what its like'; and finally, to ring in the season, 'Feliz Navidad'.
We bid our adieus to Mr. Dhanraj and his wife at about 20:00 hrs and set off back to Georgetown, exhausted.