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By Gary EleazarA few years ago former President Bharat Jagdeo gave me what I have since liked to call a crash course in economics 101 when it comes to external factors affecting the local economy, and had drawn reference to the Guyana/Suriname Backtrack route.This past weekend I had a practical example of how the backtracking route really operates and it struck me as quite ridiculous calling it backtrack when perhaps the only missing item is a stamp for exit and entry into either country.Let me start at the beginning, first, to say how I learnt of the backtrack route and, further, was compelled to use it.I am not one to miss a return plane flight to Guyana.Guyana is not the easiest of places in the world to live but as long as I am guaranteed a return airfare I am not one to be keen on missing it for I love my homeland.I left Guyana by aircraft on Wednesday last to cover the 23rd CARICOM intercessional meeting in neighboring Suriname.That flight to Suriname lasted just about 90 minutes. The conference lasted two days.Following the completion of my assignment on Friday, I eagerly packed my belongings, had dinner, watched some television and it was off to bed in anticipation of my one and a half hours flight home.Anybody who knows me would know that I am not a morning person but, like I said,Cheap MLB Jerseys Authentic, I really am not too keen on missing a return flight home; so I hopped in a taxi from my hotel at 06:00hrs,Jae Crowder Jersey, and told the Dutch-speaking driver “Airport!”My check-in time was 06:30hrs,Cheap Jerseys, so when it got to 06:45hrs and I still did not reach the airport, I asked the driver how much longer we had, and to my amazement, he replied in the few English words he knew, “half hour more.”As much as I am not au-fait with the route to the Zorg en Hoop Airport, given that it was my first visit to the Dutch-speaking nation, I knew we couldn’t possibly be heading in the right direction because the ride from the airport to my hotel had only lasted about 20 minutes when I arrived in Suriname last Wednesday.I hastily enquired “which airport?” and he said “Big one…I take you to the big airport.”Now there is no possible way the airport that I had landed on when I arrived and was scheduled to return from can be considered a “big one”, so I immediately shouted “no the small one.”Long story short, I reached the correct airport only in time for the exact Trans Guyana plane, which had taken me to Suriname, to be refueled and loaded with luggage.By this time I was late and could not board the flight and the next available flight was on Tuesday.I couldn’t wait until tomorrow so I headed back into town in search of a fellow journalist from Suriname who immediately told me that my only option to return home the same day was via the back track route.He said that there is the ferry service at Nickerie but he was quite certain I wouldn’t reach in time because the final vessel destined for Guyana on Saturday last was at 13:00hrs and I was still in Paramaribo with no hope of reaching in time to get that ferry. But I desperately wanted to reach home.Enter backtrackingSo my journalist colleague arranged for a car to take me to Nickerie from Paramaribo, which at best is about, a four-hour drive.I had no idea what backtrack involved so I had no idea what to prepare for but this was not enough to daunt me.When I got to Nickerie I was shocked to say the least at the arrangement in place to facilitate the backtrack business; it was almost as if it was a legal point of entry and exit.At most International ports of entry and exit there is always the ‘Red Cap’ service and the Nickerie backtrack terminal was no different.As soon as I got out of the taxi I realised that there was another version of ‘Red Cap Service’ but this one I would aptly term the ‘barefoot service.’A gang of well-dressed young men,Wholesale Authentic Jerseys, minus any footwear, asked in plain English if I would like to have my bags carried, and I said “no” given it was my first time at the location and was a bit apprehensive.Another asked me if I wanted him to “carry me” and I couldn’t for the love of me understand what on earth he was talking about.I saw no boat. I saw a seawall, which had a sprawling volleyball court and a large religious edifice. I saw a well painted and neatly built stairway to take me over the sea wall so I knew that there was a boat close by.I saw a well established shop and there were even a few not so shabbily built waiting areas complete with sheds but the boat was not ready and I waited.Soon enough (eight) persons had arrived with their various pieces of luggage and I proceeded over the seawall towards where the boat was, to make my way home.I paid my fare for the service and then I understood what the young men meant by carrying me.I looked at a medium built boy, no more than 19 years, carrying a full figured woman across the mud beach and then placing her into a boat.I had no problem walking through some mud, so I removed my sneakers and boarded the tiny 20 foot speedboat/vessel where the life jacket was optional.I watched as the various teams of young men loaded the boat with people and boxes and large bags of “whatever” the people were “smuggling” back to Guyana, and we were off.Guyana backtrack CustomsAs we crossed the Corentyne River back into Guyana I could clearly see why this was such a dangerous ride.I wore my life jacket but those who appeared to be seasoned travelers opted against it.One woman used crutches and she monitored every move the young men made with her bags, while others were well-dressed and some were a little rugged.Nonetheless across the rough murky waters of the Corentyne River we went, sometimes at a snail’s pace to accommodate the large waves.As I saw the Guyana bank of the Corentyne River, I was elated; “a few more hours and I am home,” I thought to myself.As we got to the pier, there was the Guyana version of the ‘barefoot service” to assist persons getting out of the boat, taking their bags and getting them into a taxi, “all of course, for a fee.”It was at this point that I got one of the heartiest laughs I have ever had-but I had to hold it in.As I got off the pier, I placed my small suitcase on what seemed to me like a bench and I was about to take a seat when a neatly dressed man walked up and exclaimed “Customs”, at which point he asked that the bags be opened.All I could think of was “really!! Customs checking at the backtrack terminal to see if anything was being smuggled in?”But it soon became clear why the Customs Officer was there.He was supposed to be carrying out legitimate duties but to me, he was only there to take his cut and I must say that those persons smuggling items seemed only too willing to oblige.Soon, two genuine police ranks in Police-issued Fujiwara Boots, pants and civilian shirts came to the Pier and it was understood that the next boat that arrived would be for their cut on the ‘runnings’.I learnt that it really didn’t matter what a person wanted to smuggle in or out of Guyana, as long as the “this-is-yours-fee” was paid over to legitimate police ranks or Customs officials at the backtrack terminal.I was hungry so I used my sense of smell to find food.By the time I was ready to head to Georgetown another boat had arrived and the car was loaded pretty quickly.And by loaded I mean every conceivable square inch of space that could have been utilised, and we were off.The Policeman and his Ganja WineAs we were making our way from the backtrack terminal, I observed one of the most curious things I have ever seen on the roadways in Guyana.The taxi driver was doing exactly 50 kph on his speedometer and was quite skilful at maintaining the exact speed.He later explained that it was Saturday and as such the police were out on the road in numbers patiently waiting to pounce on the many smugglers who used the route.We were stopped several times for routine checks of the driver’s documents but there was one particularly brave trio working at an impromptu roadblock.I will not name the ranks of the policemen,Boston Celtics Jerseys, whose names were clearly displayed on their uniforms.One of them had a speed gun in hand which he clocked the car with, while another signaled the driver to stop.Yet another one of the ranks paid keen attention to what was transpiring from a short distance away.After checking the documents of the driver which were all intact, the most senior of the policemen instructed that the driver open the trunk of the car.By this time I had seen a really interesting sign on the roadway and I came out and started taking pictures of it since I knew I was not smuggling anything and wasn’t too particularly bothered by the police: after all they had to do their jobs.One of the ranks seemed a little perturbed by me taking photographs of the surrounding area and remarked, “that is an expensive camera…you is a tourist?”Again I laughed inside and turned my attention to the most senior of the ranks on the scene,Dale Hawerchuk Jersey, who by this time was searching the large bag of one of the female passengers.By the time he was satisfied that maybe there was not really a large amount of whatever he was searching for, he laughed and said to the woman, “you would be amazed at some of the things we find in some places.”Then his true intentions finally surfaced as his eyes caught three bottles of liquor, a Campari, Pina Colada and one I didn’t recognize, but which the taxi driver called the “Ganja Wine.”The policeman, with smirk on his face, said “look, I sure if I check all ya’ll passport it ain’t stamp, so which one you gun lef with me.”By now he realized that I was not a tourist but a Guyanese journalist.Holding the “Ganja Wine” in his hands, the police rank turned to me and said, “Journalist, you ain’t see nothing right.” I couldn’t help but laugh.But as I finished my ride home, it really dawned on me the magnitude of the situation that has persisted for years.And while there are many that will say it has nothing to do with them, or everybody got to hustle, “the Suriname/Guyana backtrack route has over the years had a significant impact on almost every sector of the economy.This means that directly or indirectly, whatever negative impact the back-track route has on the Guyana’s economy it eventually has a ripple effect that consumes all.
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