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Guyana at last

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By Nicholas Sadleir

 

An intriguing triangular series in the Caribbean offered me a handsome opportunity to visit the Providence Stadium in Guyana, and in doing so, fulfil a personal mission of watching cricket at every single current Test ground in the world.

 

I will always rue a missed opportunity to go to Pakistan when they did host internationals, but over nine years, having taken enough airplane flights to feel guilty about climate change, I have managed to make it to all the rest of the cricket countries and their Test grounds. A stadium on the border of the Amazon rainforest seemed suitably obscure for the prized final scalp.

 

Guyana is on the mainland of South America and is a Caribbean nation by virtue of its shared history with previous English colonies that are fairly close by in the actual West Indies.

 

Imperialism and slavery were ugly beasts all right but we can be thankful for the resultant pollination of cricket. Guyana is the only English-speaking country on the continent and it feels a little strange that cricket is the main sport in a land whose neighbours are Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname. Incidentally, I learn while writing this that Clive Lloyd, of Guyana, who has done as much for West Indies cricket as anyone else, is not one of the 11 West Indian cricketers to have been knighted.

 

Guyana is a unique melting pot of peoples from the Amazon, Africa, India and Europe, and the population is sometimes regarded as the most physically attractive in the world. A claim that is a little less difficult to substantiate is that the country is widely believed to make the world’s finest rum: the aptly named El Dorado 15-year-old version has been voted the world’s best four years in a row and tastes like liquid gold.

 

I arrived a couple of days early and borrowed a rusty old bicycle from my Airbnb host. As I cycled around I couldn’t help but notice that it felt as if I were in the islands rather than in South America. Jamaican dancehall and soca blared out of old stereos, and jerk chicken was common on menus. Digicel is the main mobile network, and the beer brands are Banks, Carib and Stag. I felt right at home.

 

Georgetown is a charming city at the mouth of the Demerara river. It was evidently laid out by the Dutch – canals bisect streets with names like Vlissengen Rd – and was once described in the Handbook of British Guiana as the handsomest city in the West Indies.

 

While there are remnants of more affluent days, like a beautiful cathedral that is one of the world’s largest wooden buildings, the capital screams out for a lick of paint. Still, national pride is everywhere, and although a month or so had passed since the Jubilee celebrations of independence, most houses and shops are still proudly displaying Guyanese flags.

 

The zoo houses jaguars and two-toed sloths and some of the most magnificent animals I’ve ever seen but they are kept in the most appalling conditions. Given entry costs only a dollar, there is understandably no money available for a long-planned and needed makeover.

 

Sugar is not the profitable commodity it once was, and political strife and corruption have made it difficult to make the most of the other natural resources. Crime levels are quite high and tourism quite low. Guyana is not a tropical beach destination, and I was clearly enough of a novel attraction as I cycled bare-chested for people to shout “White boy!” at me several times a day.

 

At first I was a little intimidated but after a while I learned that this was mainly affectionate, so I carried on more bravely down the back streets. One night a drunk man yelled at me indecipherably and it felt like I might be in a spot of hot water, but it turned out that he just wanted to ask where I was from.

 

When I said South Africa, he laughed uncontrollably and said, “The gods must be crazy” – a reference to the ’80s comedy about bushmen.

 

Each of the teams won and lost a match at Providence, where the wicket was so slow that the highest score of the three games was 191. When West Indies were playing and there was no rain about, the crowd was fairly big and the atmosphere fun.

 

I did my first international cricket radio commentary stints and made Guyanese friends I look forward to seeing again. One night I sat between former South Africa spinner Robin Petersen and West Indies legend Jeffrey Dujon, who has more technical insights into spin bowling than anyone I’ve ever met, and we spent 40 minutes talking about how best to bowl to Chris Gayle. Not surprisingly, we didn’t come up with a definitive answer.

 

I took a short flight into the Amazon to see Kaieteur Falls, the world’s highest single-drop waterfall. Fun fact: one doesn’t need bug spray in this part of the Amazon because there are so many insectivorous plants around that they eat the bugs before they can eat us!

 

It was then time to move on to St Kitts. It is never easy (or cheap) to get around the Caribbean, and LIAT, the Caribbean airline, has long been mocked as “Leave Island Any Time”. I learnt a new use for the acronym, however, when I was separated from my suitcase for three days: “Luggage In Another Terminal”. (ESPNCricinfo)

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