Unless you’re from Guyana or one of the few who have been to the country despite having no familial connections to it, chances are you’ve never heard of Berbice. It actually isn’t a city, though to hear the Guyanese talk about it, you’d be forgiven if you thought it were one. It’s actually a pretty large region in eastern Guyana along the border with Suriname, made up of a few towns, many villages, and plenty of undeveloped land. There are aquaculture ponds, sugarcane fields, vegetable and fruit farms, dense forests, flora and fauna galore, and wide open savannah plains. The region is an eco-tourists dream and a city dweller’s nightmare.
Berbice was a Dutch colony from 1627 to 1815. During that time, it greatly prospered off the backs of horribly treated slaves. But all was not tranquil for the Dutch, however – there were slave uprisings and continual battles with the English and French over the control of the region. In 1815, the Dutch relinquished control of Berbice to the English for the final time and by 1831, Berbice was joined with the English-controlled Essequibo and Demerara regions to form British Guiana. The colony gained its independence in 1966 and became Guyana.
A friend and I were presented with the opportunity to do a one day road-trip around Berbice and we eagerly seized it. Who doesn’t want to visit areas where most foreigners don’t go? We were already off the beaten path by being in Guyana and this was a chance to go even more off the path! With our taxi driver and a Guyanese local acting as our guide, off we went. Parts of Berbice were gorgeous with the wide open spaces, the old wooden architecture, and the green green grass and trees. Other parts were rather rough especially the towns that had a distinct feel of “frontier” and “wild west” to them. Yet other parts were just gross – garbage disposal is a serious problem in Guyana. Nothing makes you want to crunch on a piece of bacon like watching a pig root through filth at the side of a busy road…
Animals: If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of birds you’ve never seen before, you’ll see the ubiquitous caged songbird, and experience a traffic jam caused by wandering cattle. You may even catch a glimpse of a man with a machete selling live iguanas.
Architecture: Churches and Mandirs are ever present – Berbice has a very large Indo-Guyanese population and that has really influenced the culture of the region. You’ll also see many homes on stilts in the countryside – protection from flooding as well as great storage spaces under the houses!
Markets: Can find anything and everything. If you don’t like standing out, the dearth of tourists will be a drawback for you.
Nature: It is just so green! Seriously beautiful. If the inhabited north of Berbice is already this green, I can only imagine the paradise that lies in the practically deserted southern portion.
Roads: The main road is in decent condition. Side roads can be a different matter. But keep your eye out for the Tapir, the only vehicle made in Guyana. It’s not very fast but the boxy shape is kinda cool.
Water: Water everywhere! In the evenings, that does mean mosquitoes but during the day, the beautiful blue amongst the greens is a sight to behold. Except the river separating Guyana from Suriname. That is brown and kind of gross looking. But if you want to take a not quite legal side route into Suriname, that river is where you do it!