A Glimpse into 2 Towns: Parika and Bartica

The danger with travel writing is that writers can create false expectations about the world’s beauty for their readers. In my experience (though maybe I’m looking in the wrong publications), travel articles tend to extol the beauty, fun, marvelousness, *pick a positive adjective* of X, Y, and Z of Earth. Few talk about the “ugly” side of the world and tell us to go visit anyway. While there’s no denying that there are a lot of lovely places in this world, there are also a lot of places that won’t be winning any “Best Of” competitions any time soon. And that’s okay. Places like that make us appreciate the pretty things more and to me, such places are interesting simply because they are part of someone’s way of life. I fully appreciate the fact that I can say I find “ugly” places interesting because I have the luxury not having to live in it. But I still say that “different” forces you to hunt for things to which you can connect, forces you to make an effort in seeing beyond the façade.

A trip down the Essequibo generally starts at a town called Parika – if you’re planning to explore the river, this is where you’ll probably pick up your boat. Parika is located in the northern part of the Essequibo and this town of about four thousand people definitely has a bit of a rough-edged feel to it. It was a clean place, though, and was busy with markets, people, and boats/ferries. Markets seem to be a big thing for Parika – people who live along the northern part of the Essequibo come here to sell their produce daily. The main focus is the Sunday Market, though. Parika has everyone working, from youths to older folk, and other random business such as fast food joints are opening up here. So while Parika gives the impression of ‘hard life’, there is also a lot of development happening. Congestion and cramped quarters is a problem already and I can only hope that someone sends a city planner out there to help Parika through its growing pains.

Further south on the Essequibo, there is another town called Bartica. It is much larger than Parika, with a population of 15,000 people. It is also considered to be the “gateway to the interior” of Guyana – this is because here is where people generally leave from to start jobs in the bush and here is where they tend to return if not going home. What’s in the bush besides beautiful hardwoods and giant spiders, you ask? Gold and diamonds…and lots of it. Bartica has a long history of being where miners picked up their supplies and sold their newly dug up treasures. Today, though, many employers just fly their miners to the interior from Georgetown. But many people still use Bartica as it was throughout history – just not to the same extent anymore.

Apparently, Bartica (the word means “red earth” in one of the Amerindian languages) started as an Anglican missionary settlement in 1842 – if so, then there are long dead missionaries who are turning in their graves to see what Bartica is now. Since it is a place from where men leave for months in the bush or return to after months in the bush, one can imagine the “fun time” places there are here. According to the guide, Bartica is a popular place for Brazilian prostitutes who are deemed elderly in Brazil to come and continue their trade. And by elderly, he meant women in their twenties. I don’t have any firsthand accounts so I don’t know how true this is, but taking a walk through Bartica, the story has a ring of truth. There is a lot of money here but the money is a very thin layer of gilt on a very seedy looking town.

While wandering around Bartica, we just happened to be in luck with a carnival heading down a street. It was the month of February – in Georgetown, there is the annual main carnival of Mashramani but it seems like other towns have their own smaller parades as well. The parade in Bartica was very small but it was cool to see an example of cultural traditions alive and well in a town that doesn’t look like it would have such examples. Goes to show – never judge a place by its atmosphere!

Question: Do you agree with my premise in the first paragraph? Why or why not? I love debates!

5 responses to “A Glimpse into 2 Towns: Parika and Bartica

  1. Certainly I think there’s value to seeing the ugly side of the world with the beautiful, it reminds one that there is a world outside the tourist one with real people and their real day-to-day struggles – and, as you saw with the carnival in Bartica, their joys as well.

    But I think there’s a line there, it’s one thing to come across ugliness and poverty and it’s another to actively pursue it (obviously volunteering doesn’t fall within this category). In that circumstance it can start to seem exploitative, and I think this is a reason you don’t see ‘ugly’ places promoted in travel articles. There’s something unsettling about an article telling you ‘here are the best places to see shanty towns, piles of garbage and gawk at extremely poor people!’. I’m not saying don’t ever visit a place that’s poor and not built around tourists, it’s just sometimes a fine line.

    Are the gold mines near Bartica underground?

    Did you notice, in the picture, about 7 from the top, there’s a young man in front of the market stalls in Parika with a ‘Tim Horton’s Camp Day’ shirt? 🙂

    • Sorry, R! Thought I had responded to this! That is a very good point re not crossing a line into exploitation. It seems to be a growing trend to do day trips to poor areas, now. It’s one thing to want to learn how people live their lives in various situations but it is quite another to treat them like a zoo exhibit.

      Hilarious where things can end up! Who’d have thought Tim Horton’s would get advertisement in South America?

  2. I lived in Bartica for 30 months and yes it is not a pretty town. It’s a municipal mess of garish concrete shops and house built by wealthy gold miners set alongside former colonial wooden buildings and shanty shacks. Yes, rubbish is strewn everywhere=here and the odd cow, donkey, goat mingles with the stray dogs as they scavenge for food. The power plant on Front Street belches out acrid black smoke and is responsible for frequent power cuts Bars and rum shops abound – you can get a drink any minute of the day or night and have someone to drink with you. But if you were to lift up a corner of the municipal mat of chaos that is Bartica you would find glimpses of beauty and kindness and tolerance that endeared me to this place. and still does. I give you two : the views across the Essequibo sitting on the beach to he West of the town , particularly at the start and end of the day are memorable, and the excessive tolerance of the people of Bartica towards each other has allowed Indo and Afro Guyanese (as well as some Brazilians and Chinese and Portuguese) to live together peacefully ,despite the long term antagonism between the racial groups that defines the recent history of Guyana and the great gulf that exists between very rich and very poor..

    • Hi Derek! Thank you very much for your comment. I wasn’t in Bartica for very long so hearing from someone who has actually lived there is awesome. I agree with you – places may on the surface be considered ugly, but often enough, when you scratch the surface, beautiful things, people, and moments come spilling out. I enjoyed the Carnival upon which I stumbled and I personally loved the feeling of coming off the Essequibo River and into the town.

      Thanks again for sharing your perspective!

  3. Pingback: Happy New Year! | Rusty Travel Trunk·

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