Jun 14, 2009 News
“In terms of profit, I get nothing; this is just my way of giving back to Guyanese, to give them the opportunity to experience this vast and beautiful country.”
Kaieteur, the 741-feet waterfall in the heart of the jungles of Guyana, has remained elusive to the average Guyanese. Not only Kaieteur. The interior resorts such as Rock View Lodge, the Rupununi ranches of Dadanawa and Karanambu, and even resorts along the Essequibo River have remained out of reach for locals looking for a chance to discover Guyana, a country’s beauty they only hear of or see on television.
Frank Singh has been helping to change that. The concept of domestic tourism, that of citizens traveling for vacation within their own country has not quite caught on. In fact, most Guyanese reason that since the cost to visit interior locations such as Kaieteur is more than it is to visit some Caribbean islands, then it’s better to opt for the overseas experience.
Some five years ago, Frank, then just a decade into promoting adventure and nature tourism in Guyana’s interior, decided it was time to give back. As a result, he started what is now known as the “Kaieteur Special”.
It offers the opportunity for locals to visit Kaieteur at a fraction of the cost of a regular tour. Frank started the trip because he had heard too much talk of promoting domestic tourism and no action. He already had a good relationship with Air Services Limited and with the Kaieteur National Park Board. He decided to lobby Air Services to offer a non-profit airfare, and the Parks Commission to wave the landing fee at Kaieteur.
Frank took on the task of promoting and coordinating the Kaieteur Special, and since then, with a few breaks in between, he has enabled literally hundreds of Guyana to experience the glory of Kaieteur. What does he gain from doing this?
“In terms of profit, I get nothing; this is just my way of giving back to Guyanese, to give them the opportunity to experience this vast and beautiful country,” he told Kaieteur News.
But four years ago, Frank also started another initiative that has allowed many more Guyanese to see more of their country, this time the awe-inspiring Pakaraima Mountains.
If you didn’t know before, the Pakaraimas, in Patamona language, could well refer to “Giant Testicles” and only a trip to this open mountain country in the Potaro-Siparuni region could explain why. The mountains appear imposing and unconquerable, but their beauty invites you closer.
Frank first went on an exploratory trip to the mountains with a team lead by then Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Harripersaud Nokta, who was busy trying to coordinate activities leading to a road link between Regions Eight and Nine.
Once the road was “cut out” by Amerindians – without machinery- Frank decided to organise a “safari” to the mountains and strictly take locals, and again, without any profit to him and without any expense, except wear and tear for their vehicles, to the participants.
This was made possible because the Guyana Oil Company decided to throw in all the fuel needed for vehicles wanting to take the trip. It was just what was needed. So the call went out for participants who wanted to “experience the adventure of a lifetime” and once Frank and with the help of his other technical people decided those who wanted to participate had the right vehicles for the journey, it was a go.
And so, for the past four years, Frank has volunteered his time and energies, and sometimes money out of his pocket to make the safari possible. And one has to tell you that organising a trip to the Pakaraimas is no ordinary task. It includes getting the route right, making sure participants don’t offend local Amerindian culture in the 14 or so communities the safari passes through, and catering for any emergencies that might arise along the way.
But just how did Frank get into tourism in the first place?
A LIFE OF BUSINESS
Frank was born in the commercial heart of the city – Regent Street – and into a family already with a good grounding in business, on August 17, 1960.
His grandfather “Baba German”, an East Indian immigrant, started out as a farmer at Golden Grove on the East Coast Demerara, and later launched into the transportation business. The chassis of a truck was boxed off by wood and became the well-known bus service called “Buxton Pride”. As the name suggests, the route of the “wood-bus” took passengers from Georgetown to Buxton village. It goes without saying the bus also transported farm produce from Golden Grove to the Bourda market in the city.
Frank’s father Latchman Singh, popularly known as Boyo, ventured into a different kind of business altogether. The senior Singh set up “Boyo’s Parlour” on Regent Street, importing the classic Juke Boxes and Pool tables from Miami and then renting them out to bars across the county. On the weekends, Frank went along for the ride, travelling across the country.
And so, his sense of business was shaped early, and in fact, his other siblings also ventured into the professions – his brother Robert Singh is a manager at distribution conglomerate Geddes Grant, while his sister Ann Marie Singh (now Brahm) is a manager at Scotiabank.
Frank went to University of Guyana to study electronics, so he could have a share in his father’s business, and take charge of the repair end of the business. But luck ran out.
The business of Juke Box rentals slowed down in the late 1980s and eventually flopped when the 25-cent coin was decommissioned. And so, Frank had to find a new job. By this time, he had married Sabita, and they had their first child together, Nick.
By this time also, Frank had moved into the Queenstown neighbourhood, and it was opportune. One of his neighbours suggested to him a job in the gold mines in the interior of Guyana and he took up the offer, moving from one site to another, from the Mazaruni, Cuyuni and the Potaro.
He moved up the ladder quickly, taking up the position as sailor and then as supervisor on some of the dredges. While it was the experience of working in the mines that formed the foundation for Frank’s eventual move to tourism in Guyana, the real stepping-stone lay across the border.
He decided to make a move to Venezuela and into the mines of Puerta Ordaz on the confluence of the Caroni and the Orinocco rivers. There his friendship developed with Jose Ramirez, the owner of a tour company. This caused him to develop an avid interest in this form of business, and so he began pursuing a Diploma in Tourism management at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas.
Frank’s specific intention was to return to Guyana and get involved in the tourism business. He returned to Guyana in 1994 and took up residence in the city again, this time in Kingston. From there, he set up Rainforest Tours, his own tour company, taking the elusive Cock-of-the-rock as his trademark sign and the tagline “Rainforest Tours – Where the adventure begins!” And it did for him in no uncertain terms.
As a new player, all Frank had was his experience of working in the mines, and fortunate for him, that involved working in the Potaro, which feeds the 741-feet drop of Kaieteur. He was in business, but he had to work hard for it.
He started to promote his business by walking from hotel to hotel in Georgetown, offering overland hikes to Kaieteur. The first business came from a group of Canadian students who were ending a stint of volunteer work. In those days the experience was quite different than now.
Today, the hike to Kaieteur top leaves off from Georgetown, via bus, on to Mahdia for night. In the morning, a boat ride takes you on to the Potaro, then to a well-established campsite at Amatuk Falls, where a hot meal is ready on arrival. The night is spent there, either in tents or in hammocks. The following day you take a short walk and then a boat ride to Waratuk Falls and then head out, in boat, on the Potaro River, for the stop at Tukeit, which is essentially the bottom of the mountain up to the fall.
When Frank started out, nothing of the sort existed. All he had with him was his trust wife and business partner, Sabita, and all-rounder Ziggy, who would help him to carry rations, camping equipment and the luggage of the tour group. There were no set campsites – once it was 15:00 h, Frank and Ziggy beckoned the tourists to stop and they set up camp.
After three years of walking up and down the city, Richard Humphrey, the then owner of Tower Hotel offered him a spot at the hotel to set up a tour desk.
As the years went by, Frank’s business started to develop. Today, his main tourists come from Europe. Over the years, he has had the good fortune of guiding several prominent persons from Guyana and around the world to Kaieteur.
He has been able to set up a permanent campsite at Amatuk, known as the waterfall of love.
Today, Frank is clearly the leading nature and adventure tourism operator in Guyana. Over the years, he has been the main resource person for expeditions in Guyana, working for a Japanese film company, National Geographic, the BBC, Germany’s Marco Polo, famous explorer Ben Fogle, and many others.
With new management at the Tower Hotel carrying out extensive remodeling works, Frank has had to move his office and now manages his operations from an office at 232 Middle and Camp Streets in Georgetown. His website (rftours.com) provides details about all of his adventures.
Frank is very proud of the fact that in one of his overland trips – from Kaieteur to Orinduik Falls – all the food and manpower, comes from the Amerindian communities along the way. His desire is to see the communities all along his tour routes being able to benefit from not only his tours, but that provided by other operators as well.
For Frank, it is the Amerindians who have helped to maintain their environment, with all its beauty for coastlanders and tourists to enjoy and they therefore must be able to benefit from tourism in a sustainable way.
Rainforest Tours encourages community pride and has a commitment to build bridges between communities, thereby helping to stimulate eco-tourism and economic development, while yet promoting preservation of the natural environment and of indigenous cultures.
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