I love Lethem. I’ve been there once before and was immediately attached. It’s topography is completely unike Bartica’s, or the rest of Guyana’s for that matter. Guyana, thickly jungular and rain-forested, is lush and green until you get to Lethem, at which point you feel like you’re on the grassy plains of Africa.
Not that I’ve been to the grassy plains of Africa. Just sayin’.
To get to Lethem, you can either fly or take a bus, the latter of which is the cheaper option. However, if you’re not interested in arriving to Lethem covered in streaks of brownish red dirt, I recommend the plane.
On the border between Guyana and Brazil, the bus ride to Lethem is a tumultuous 14-20 hour trip, depending on the condition of the road. The road (note: singular) is one long, corrugated stretch from Georgetown, through the interior and ’round a few mountain ranges as you get closer to the border. Although Lethem is only about 250 miles from Georgetown, the washboard dirt road makes the trip a long one.
Lethem is a quiet place with several Amerindian villages surrounding it. Most of these villages are made up of Macushi Amerindian tribes that live in traditional palm-thatched homes like this one:
The surrounding village is made up of similarly styled homes…
…and all around these homes/shelters is broad and open savannah, flanked by the Kanuku mountains.
We took a day long excursion to one of these villages called Moco Moco. It was about a half hour taxi ride from Lethem to Moco Moco, and when we arrived there we met our guide & spiritual brother, Alton Primus.
How can I describe Alton? He is like the village whisperer. Dressed in long boots and equipped with a machete, Alton met us at the base of Moco Moco falls. Immediately after we began our tour, it became apparent that Alton was as much a part of the scenery as the trees and rocks were. He guided us by hand across a log that led to a trail that he himself maintained, and as he led us along I realized that he was caretaker of most of the area. He knew every plant and leaf, and cleared overgrown brush from our path with his machete. At one point, I was steps behind Alton as we descended the mountain. It was a steep decline and I lost my footing, sliding a few feet until I grabbed hold of a slender tree which saved me from a fall. Hearing me skid, Alton quickly turned around. After making sure I was secure, he motioned to the tree I was clinging to and said, “That is why I let that one remain.”
The waterfalls are best captured with the naked eye. They were so fresh and frigid that I got the sniffles a few days later, a sure sign that I’m fully Guyanese now (the locals always claim to get sick after being exposed to “cold” water). Alton led us to a lagoon where the waters pooled and were so deep I couldn’t find the bottom. Alton of course knew the lagoon and every inch of the surrounding rock formations.
It was a touch euphoric to find footholds and climb onto the rocks and then repeatedly jump off of them into the lagoon. But Alton had everyone beat, diving off the rocks and swimming through crevices that led to underwater caves.
After our hike/swim/jumpfest we were thirsty, but Alton had us covered with sweet-as-ever coconuts. Another opportunity to brandish the machete!
The adventure at Moco Moco falls was invigorating, and equally invigorating was meeting the local congregation in Lethem. I loved talking with Paula, a local Amerindian woman who has just begun attending meetings…
…and Zelia, a sister from Brazil who recently moved to Lethem. Zelia was so helpful and hospitable to us throughout our stay. :)
And it was great to meet Jared, a brother from the US who had spent the past 8 years on the Disaster Relief Committee working in New Orleans and the southern states. He’s been in Lethem since 2013.
We had so much fun with Jared that we decided to bring him back to Bartica with us for awhile!
Our time in Lethem was wonderful. We flew back to Georgetown in a little Cessna to spare ourselves the vomit-inducing, dust-in-your-nasal-passage bus ride.
Looking forward to our next visit to Lethem! ♥