Sunday, January 17, 2016

Guyana's Rupununi Savannah; History Lives Here

It is reassuring to know Manari Ranch exists.


Manari Ranch
Our world seems to travel too fast, as we stumble from one crisis to another, each event often caused by the sheer speed to which we have accelerated our lives. We look to media all day, reflect upon it rarely and act upon its’ desires all of the time; we lose control and we head at an ever increasing pace toward something.

And then there is Manari.

A tiny ranch, now with plans to develop only ten square miles down from its former 95 square mile footprint, the property is history. It is not really historical, but it embodies the remarkable hard-scrabble history of this remote and quite fascinating part of the world.

So let me tell you a story.

Henry Prideaux Collie Melville, now there’s a name, was a man of vision, clearly itchy feet, an apparently authoritarian air and determination by the bucket load. Born a Sagittarius in Jamaica in 1864, he was indeed positive and straightforward; he headed to Guyana in the late 19th century and purchased the massive Dadanawa Ranch in 1880 while out prospecting for gold. The ranch grew from the 300 head that he bought to a massive 5,000 head station, and all the time, the family grew. His daughter Margaret, one of ten children, married a Basque, Theodore Orella, a chap whose life had obviously taken a significantly sharp turn as he found himself a cowboy in the South American Savannah. They built Manari in 1927, and had two children, Louis and Margaret who kept the place alive. Now Louis' daughter Lissa carries the family torch, and keeps Manari alive.

Today, the Southern Rupununi is a truly remarkable place, and the descendants of HPC have grown to form the most impenetrable and supportive fabric that can be woven by a family. From generation to generation new ranches evolved as families grew, and today, one of these offshoots is the remarkable delightful Manari Ranch.

Conveniently for visitors, the property lies only seven miles or so from Lethem, but the short distance belies the decades of time that get shorn from one’s being as you step through the door. This is no theme park; this is the real thing.

Managed today by HPC’s remarkable great-granddaughter, Lissa Orella, a bright and quietly competent woman, the ranch draws its future directly from its past.

Lissa is remarkable; attractive and unassuming, one would not suspect the drive that keeps her and
The Manari Swimming Hole
her “project” going. She left Guyana in 1994 to live in Canada, but following the death of her father, Louis, she returned to the family home in 2010. Guided mostly, it seems, by her DNA, and with the experience of eighteen years of working in Home Depot to call on, she sold her house in Toronto and set to work. Cleaning; working to bring order to chaos, and to get the ranch onto its feet.

And what a job she has done; assisted with the vast, skillful and willing extended family, Manari has reappeared as a family centerpiece, and one that they are willing to share with tourists seeking their rather special environment.

It is not a five-star resort; at night, it is a million-star resort, but the facilities are completely in line with what one would expect from this renaissance. It reflects the deep history and the style of the period it emerged, and as such is completely entrancing.

It is, first and foremost, once again a centre for family; I was fortunate to be there during a funeral, and family and friends from miles around came not only to pay their respects to the departed, but also to be with family; this sense of togetherness was palpable, and the effect that the ranch had on the generations that were at the event was immediate. Manari was more than a ranch; it is more than a home; Manari is a centre for the remarkable descendants of HPC and the families that have been woven into this wonderful fabric.

And so for visitors; not everyone will (fortunately) be there to participate in a major family event, but they will feel for themselves the fabric of the property’s past. They will realise that this is no theme park, and indeed it is the antithesis of these plastic atrocities; it is a place of history, of lives lived and a place of the future.

As Lissa develops the property there will be more activities added; horseback riding, mountain biking, perhaps, visiting the nearby Amerindian villages, swimming in the creek and quite simply, relaxing. Evelyn Waugh stayed here in 1933, and the atmosphere in which I found myself deposited had changed little. It is a place of character, and a place of growth.


 Day excursions from Manari

It is a simple property; showers are run from water taken heated by the sun, beds are comfortable but simple, air conditioning is simply not on the agenda; meals are good and often in the evenings taken with whomsoever is there of family, friends and workers. The air is clear, the swimming hole inviting and the whole experience of being at Manari is remarkable.

In the mad-paced world of 2016, it was reassuring and comforting to know that not all of the world has chosen to become dominated by speed.

The internet, however, is sporadically available.