John Gimlette has written a well researched book on "The Guianas" (p. 5) comprised of Guyana (formerly British Guiana), Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana) and Guyane Française (also known as French Guyana). The Guianas lie between the great rivers of South America, the Orinoco and the Amazon. Between these boundaries, over 40 other rivers exist, none navigable more than 90 miles. Once upon a time, sugar cane was king, and created inestimable wealth for Great Britain, Holland, and France. The slaves exploited for this enterprise would rewrite the history books in early abolition efforts. Gimlette's travels originate in Guyana and head east through Suriname to the Guyane/Brazil border. He often jumps between historical details and his present-time travelogue, on the turn of a dime. Most of the book is devoted to Guyana, with much focus on Jonestown and the southern savannah called Rupununi.
Georgetown is given short shrift, despite being a World Heritage site, but we learn some interesting facts, e.g., a "European had to have twenty-five slaves in order to vote" (p. 26). A chapter is devoted to the 1978 Jonestown massacre, an event which really had nothing to do with Guyana, "It was an American matter" (p. 82). The author pays great attention to the Rupununi Savannah in the south of Guyana, below the Rain Forest. He quotes Evelyn Waugh's book 92 Days, who was underwhelmed by a visit in the 1930s, sampling "every variant of Guyanese discomfort: fevers, saddle sores, boils, rashes, 'deep and tenacious' ticks, and bites 'like circles of burning flesh'" (p. 89). He visits a famous resort "Rockview" (p. 89) which had a pet tapir. He mentions Waterton's discovery of curare for blowpipe tips (p. 104). The waterways were filled with nasty critters, not just caymans, but "a vast society of flesh-eating beasts" including "the nine inch perai", "stingrays and electric eels - the 500-volt variety" (p. 106). Land critters also abound, including the labaria, a deadly snake (p. 160). The Guyana section wraps up with Berbice, center of a massive slave revolt in 1763. The Dutch have not forgotten and have an "expression: 'Naar de Barrebiesjes gaan' ('Get thee to Berbice '), the equivalent of "go to Hell'" (p. 171). Berbice nearly became South America's first and only republic of slaves (p. 176). Guyana abounds in old wooden architecture, like the dilapidated 1881 hospital in New Amsterdam (see photo).