By Alex Wayne
This time around I steeled myself for another boat ride, desperately hoping that this one would not be frantic as the one I took last week to Supenaam. I mean it took much longer to get to Bartica from Parika, and practically anything could happen.
The shimmering waves were lapping peacefully this time, but what if they became much bigger and frightening along the journey. So there I feared the worst and prayed for no impending danger at the said time.
Bartica, Essequibo, is a town on the left bank of the Essequibo River in Cuyuni-Mazaruni (Region Seven), at the confluence of the Cuyuni, Mazaruni River and the Essequibo Rivers.
The Region Seven hospital is located in Bartica and is known for having implemented the country’s first Health Information System
Bartica in Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region with its over 12,000 habitants is a town located about 42 miles (or 68 km) south-west of Georgetown, the country’s capital town.
This time around, the boat ride was smooth but very tiring. I must have dozed eventually to the steady droning of the boat engines, but was jerked wide awake as we hit a patch of very choppy waves in the river. I soothed my panic the minute I realized that they were actually caused by a rather larger boat that sped past, just a little too close for comfort.
The boat captain seemed rather calm, but a few passengers were swearing under their breaths in anger.
But soon the township of Bartica came into sight, and I marveled at its pristine beauty as the boat drew nearer.
The minute we landed we were flocked by taxi and hire car drivers, jostling each other to get their fill of passengers. What was surprising is that some hotels had touts at the ferry stelling, soliciting possible visiting clients to fill rooms at their facility.
One such tout noted that they work for large sums some days, depending on how many clients they manage to rake in.
Well soon after I was picked up by my chaperon, Winston Miller, owner of the popular Sunset Boulevard Nightclub and Fast Food Outlet and I was on my way to check into a hotel.
The drive was not really long but the experience of it all was one that I would relive anytime. We drove up undulating hills that allowed an arresting view of the beautiful township. I particularly marveled at the roads in many areas that seemed to be in tip-top shape.
Lush, green foliage rushed by in some places, while I caught glimpses of red sand roads, on their way to being asphalted. I adored the view of houses scattered in the valleys, and was very taken back by the somewhat magnetic jovial camaraderie amongst residents.
The breeze was fresh, and crisp, and certainly seemed pure as I inhaled deeply. This was certainly going to be an almost heavenly experience, and I vowed to enjoy it to its fullest.
Before stopping at my hotel, Mr. Miller decided to give me the grand tour and I think this was indeed the high point of my visit.
I did really enjoy the boat ride up the mighty Essequibo River and was indeed enthralled by the many wonderful historical sites along the way, but to cruise around in Bartica, was quite an enthralling adventure. From the boat stelling, we drove along First Avenue, which allowed a firsthand view of the retail sector of Bartica.
The Bartica Mall was a wonder, as it allowed you to ‘shop till you drop’ at the many shopping centres. Then off we were to the Market Area, where the fusion of colourful fruits and vegetables certainly added a refreshing ‘tropical feel’ to my journey.
Interacting with residents
After settling into my hotel room, I soon after trekked some short distance away to the popular Sunset Boulevard Nightclub and Fast Foot Outlet where I sat down to chat with a few residents. This hotspot is actually owned by Mr Winston Miller who was extremely kind to me on my visit.
Mr. Miller was more than ready to shed some light on the livelihood of Barticians, their entertainment exploits, and other issues.
“Life is nice and sweet in Bartica, and that is mainly because we are a very contented and happy people. As a matter of fact, Barticians may be the most hospitable of our citizens.
“They are always ready to welcome visitors and see that their stay is one to remember. Everyone here is a hustler. Nobody sits down and waits for miracles to happen…Everyone is always up and about doing something or the other to make an honest dollar.”
“I got to admit that Barticians love to party and would spend large sums of cash on sporting activities. The clubs and nightspots here are always full, almost every night, and the Brazilians coming here have certainly took things to the next level with their sporting activities.
“And there is always lots of cash to spend here since many residents are pork-knockers or dredge owners in the hinterland areas. Their successes there are often shown in their massive sporting activities when they come out of the interior. They have been quite a boost to my business that I have standing here for many years.”
Businessman, Bernard Schultz, praised the authorities that were taking care of their roads in Bartica.
“I am pleased that finally the Government is looking into the state of our roads and has started much work on them. Many of the roads in Bartica are now in excellent shape and works are on
going on others.
“This is quite an accomplishment… Bartica is a wonderful and beautiful place, and is indeed quite a tourist attraction. Now that our roads are being taken care of we are now able to attract more tourists and be on par with other townships in and around Guyana”
Government reports are suggesting that rehabilitation works to roadways have begun and will continue, with $5M set apart for the Agatash Access Road; $6M for the maintenance of Ninth Street; $5.5M for Caribesce Hill Road; $10.5M for Old Housing Scheme and Mongrippa Roads, and $4.8M for maintenance of the Kalacoon Access Road.
Roads in the Upper Mazaruni will also be rehabilitated, including the Kako to Waramadong Road, and the Kamarang to Waramadong Road, at a total of $21.5M.
Businesswoman, Sharon Stewart, spoke of the rich camaraderie that exists amongst born Barticians , and even those who take up temporary residence.
“In Bartica the motto is One People, One Nation, One Big Happy Family… We live here as one and nobody ain’t get any differences at all. We dwell as one people, and everyone accepts the other for who they are. In Bartica we acknowledge the cultures of each other and we show love and respect for our neighbours.
“Even if we quarrel, we make up quickly and go to great lengths to protect our friends and family. We are not a divided people, but instead we work hard, and party hard, since we does really work hard for we money.”
Her sentiments were mirrored in the smiles and jovial banter of the people. Their laughter rang out in the streets and byways and clinking rum glasses and beer bottles fused with raucous laughter at the nightspots displayed their love and affection for each other.
History of Bartica
As Google.com suggests Bartica is said to have been developed from an Anglican missionary settlement established in 1842, and the word ‘Bartica’ comes from an Amerindian word meaning ‘red earth’, which is abundant in the area.
Spotted by the British in 1887, it is one of Guyana’s older villages established in 1902.
Currently the population is growing. Bartica, owes its prosperity to the rich gold and diamond wealth of the Essequibo. Miners from the area use Bartica as their first stop coming out of the interior and a last stop before going in.
Because of this, miners often spend the majority of their earnings either buying their supplies in the village or simply on their first day out either drinking or partying. Much like a miniature Georgetown, almost anything can be bought in this one-square mile location.
Bartica has two secondary schools-Bartica Secondary and Three-Mile Secondary– and three primary schools, St. Anthony’s Primary and St. John-the-Baptist and Two-Mile Primary. There are several other primary schools in the surrounding riverine communities as well.
The Region Seven hospital is located in Bartica and is known for having implemented the country’s first Health Information System in 2005, developed by Peace Corps volunteers Geoffrey Thompson and Jason Knueppel. Bartica can be reached from Parika, Essequibo and Linden.
The Denham Suspension Bridge, also known as the Garraway Stream Bridge, links Bartica to Mahdia. South of Bartica lies the ruins of the Dutch fort Kyk-Over-Al, a former government seat for the County of Essequibo. Bartica is also close to beautiful Marshall Falls as well.
The point, known as Bartica Grove, was said to have been chosen for the new town. In 1829 the Church Missionary Society established the area to conduct missionary work. It was known for its quiet environment surrounded by palms and mango groves.
The name was later shortened to Bartica, which is said to mean “red earth” in one of the Amerindian languages, as the community developed into a town.
It was the discovery of gold in the interior that focused imperial eyes on Bartica Grove to establish a central location to register, monitor and manage the influx of labourers entering and leaving the region’s gold lands.
The area was soon divided into rectangular grid lots. Its avenues given the simple names of First, Second, Third etc., despite being mostly unoccupied and surrounded by sheer jungle, then.
However, two or three hostels were soon providing room and board and a market was added, though few marketing activities flourished. The community mainly thrived with rum shops at the time. A hospital and new police station were also added later.
As the land nearest the river was relatively low, a drainage trench was soon dug and a koker installed. Further inland however, the lands become hilly. In modern times people often resort to taking taxis to travel up and down its distant hilly slopes.
History taken from Google.com suggests that Bartica Grove was one of the earliest Anglican missionary settlements in British Guiana where the land was originally obtained from Sir Benjamin D’Urban. The mission was moved from its original site, a mile westward to the present Bartica site in 1837 which was obtained from the Crown.
A church dedicated to St. John the Baptist had been built after a visit from the Bishop of Barbados in 1836. The church was consecrated by the Bishop of Guiana in 1843.
During the mid-19th century, a monument was erected on the avenue leading to the church, in memory of a Reverend Pierce and his family who all died on the rapids of the Essequibo when the area served a small church and Amerindian community. There were also plans to construct a railway from Bartica to Potaro. That however, never materialised.
Bartica has been given the title “Gateway to the Interior” though it is often bypassed by gold companies which transport their workers by air. However, smaller categories of miners still establish bases at Bartica in present day.
There is also another memorial today called the “Monument of Hope” in memory of the February 17, 2008 Bartica massacre that left twelve persons dead and four wounded. A plaque located in the compound of the Bartica Police Station was also unveiled in honour of the policemen killed in that attack.
Entertainment and Tourism
Tourism is definitely on the rise in Bartica, and that can be seen from its infrastructural development, and many avenues for tourism opportunities in the township. The existence of many hotels in the likes of the Platinum Inn, The New Modern Hotel, Balkarran’s Guest House, Zen’s Plaza and many more certainly will take care of the accommodation needs of tourists and other visitors.
The enticing fusion of Brazilian Restaurants and Bars, and numerous fast food facilities would certainly allow the leisure of grabbing a quick bite here and there. That aside, there are several resorts around the Bartica area including Baganara, Shanklands, Whitewater and a Guesthouse in Byderabo that will serve as perfect tourist attractions.
Large crowds travel to Bartica every year for the much anticipated Bartica Regatta which is an event that attracts thousands. This event serves up an intoxicating fusion of sporting events, boat races, and the annual Miss Bartica Regatta Pageant where pretty damsels battle each year for the coveted crown and title.
Bartica is presently a very rich and promising economical sector with great scope for heightened development. At present with Government intervention the township has taken on a new and impressive infrastructural layout, that speaks volumes of its impending tourism possibilities.
That, coupled with its majestic hills, and fascinating valleys, puts it on the map, as a much notable, ‘must visit location’
The Bartica Regatta Pageant began years ago when in July 1947, a yacht crossed the Atlantic and passed through Bartica powered by a 22-horsepower onboard engine. The owner of the yacht enjoyed speeding across the magnificent Essequibo River and soon the public was mesmerized by the spectacle.
Charles Guthrie, then Manager of the Bartica Electrical Works who owned an Aluminium Utility Boat also powered by a 22-horsepower onboard Engine decided to race against the yacht and all Bartica came out to witness the race. It was this race between the two that triggered the idea of the Bartica Regatta which began with boat races and later blossomed into what it is today. It has now become a family-oriented event, and one that is attended by locals from far and wide and foreigners as well.
Tale of the Massacre
Bartica is a settlement where the races abound in unity, each appreciating the others culture, customs and beliefs. While others embrace the lifestyle and practices of a neighbour (despite race or creed), newcomers quickly follow suit, adapting to blend in naturally to Bartica’s ongoing festivity and reveling, enjoyed by the people.
But there was a time when the joys and laughter of the people were quelled when an unexpected incident, rocked Bartica from every corner. It had seen a gloom and silence envelop the settlement for weeks after, until people gradually began to come out from under their cocoons of fear.
On February 17, 2008 Bartica was allegedly attacked by the notorious bandit, Rondell Rawlins and his heavily armed gang. Twelve people, including three policemen, were reportedly shot dead as the gang terrorised the town, robbing businesses and spreading dread and horror. The Bartica Police Station was overrun by the gunmen during the rampage as well.
The gang and attack is believed to have been linked to the Lusignan Massacre three weeks earlier. The perpetrators were finally killed on August 28, 2008.
Let’s not darken our thoughts with past history, but instead get lost in its beauty and mystery. Come soak up and enjoy its picturesque views and atmosphere, just frolic and have lots of fun while you are there. Then join us next week as we take our cameras to the little village of Grove, East Bank of Demerara.
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