First Published: 4th of October, 2020 by Patrick CarpenLast updated: August 19, 2023 at 21:41 pm
My Life On The Pirara / Meritezeiro Ranch
My husband, Harvey, and I used to live on a ranch in the North Rupununi Savannahs of Guyana, South America, where there was a 10-mile stretch of grazing ground between two places called Pirara and Meritezeiro. These places were owned by a dairy company called LIDCO, and they were “two in one.” The Headquarters, administration workers, and ranchers’ homes were all located at Pirara. Harvey and I lived at Meritezeiro where he controlled that section of the ranch. There were four cattle boys there.
About one mile ahead was an old Canadian based oil company area called Home Oil. They had discovered high-quality crude oil in the Rupununi Savannahs of Guyana and had started drilling in the Takatu basin during the year 1982. Unfortunately, except for Karanambo, there were only dry holes in the other wells that had been drilled. Harvey and I arrived at Meritezeiro a few months after the project had flopped. On the site, there were a few soldiers who guarded some of the equipment that had been left there.
About two miles to the left was the deep, dark Ireng river also known as Rio Mau (the bad river) which marks the border between rolling grasslands of Rupununi/Southwestern Guyana and those of Northern Brazil. Just over the river, along the bank, is a place called Normandy where there were farms and a shop. To get to the little town which was inhabited by mainly indigenous people, you had to walk for about 40 minutes.
When we first arrived there, it was a very lonely life because, except for the four cattle boys, we had no close neighbors and all there was to see were the big oil tanks of the Home Oil Company, the cattle in the field and the vast rattlesnake infested savannah lands. At times, Harvey and the boys would go into the fields to check on the animals and sometimes round them up for inspection. Those were the days I was left alone with the guard dogs, and I used to be terribly bored.
During those field trips, Harvey often met with the soldiers on the oil company site and they eventually became friends. About once a week, either we went over to chat with them or they came over to visit us. They shared with us tins and packets of preserved foods that had been given to them by the oil company. We got big tins of powdered form preserved eggs that tasted really good. All we had to do was add water and fry. That is the one food item that we never ran out of.
I was very pleased after I had learned to ride a horse. That meant going with Harvey on fishing trips on weekends and sometimes to the shop on the other side of the border. It was just what I needed to make me feel much better, even though at first I was a bit awkward and had some adventurous experiences.
Beauty and Apache were the names of the two horses that were chosen for me to ride. Of the two, I liked Beauty more. I often rode her around the ranch and thought of her as my little savior, but little did I know that when the horses were out in the fields for more than two weeks, they would become a little wild again.
I learned that after taking her out in the fields one day. As I mounted her, I noticed that she was not as calm as she used to be. Suddenly, she took off with a wild run. I desperately tried to control her, but I couldn’t. My shirt bottoms came off and even though I was wearing two bras that day, that also could not support me. The saddle which had become loose gradually took me up to the horse’s neck and then I fell over. Beauty, seemingly still a bit nervous and ready to go, suddenly stopped, and I held on to the reins. I dusted myself off, saddled her up, and took off again. I was sore and bruised for a couple of days.
At another time, my eight-year-old sister-in-law had come on vacation. We went fishing and lost our way back home. It was getting dark and had started to rain. Furthermore, the horses were reluctant to go our way. We gave up and decided to let them have the last neigh. One gallop, none stop, and we were home! At times, I also did a straight 10-mile gallop with Harvey and the boys to the admin for meetings or projects. It was so much better than having to stay at home all alone.
About six weeks after, we arrived there, a couple came to work on the ranch. The woman, Regina, was the new cook and I was very happy to have her as a company and a friend. We got along very well and sometimes went out on horseback to fish and hunt wild ducks that we found at the muddy ponds looking for food. Their wings being wet and clammy with mud gave us a good chance to catch up with them: taking mainly the young ones. The fish ponds used to have a lot of fish too, so we were always pleased with our catch. A mug of good fruit juice and a delicious meal was served on those days.
I had an interest in rearing chickens and Regina reared some ducks. There was no need to use the eggs as we had already been getting those from the soldiers’ pantry. A few months later, it was a beautiful sight to see dozens of chickens and ducks all over the ranch.
The evenings there were cool and breezy during the dry season. Harvey and I often sat in the veranda of our dimly lit two-bedroom house, sipping wine and chatting about future plans, family and work while listening to our favorite songs on a tape recorder. At times, we caught up the news on the radio too.
One of those evenings, as it was cold outside, we decided to sit in the living room. I had gotten up to get us a snack, while my husband lit his cigarette. There was a rattling sound and as he looked to the ground, there was a rattlesnake just about four feet away from him. He signaled to me not to come as he pointed to the ground and slowly got up and moved away. I took no chances. In a few seconds, I was up on the kitchen table. He then called out to the boys who came over and helped us to get rid of it.
Shortly after then, a new couple arrived: Zorra and her very young husband Malakai. It felt good to have more company on the ranch, knowing that when the men were out in the fields, there were two women there with me. Regina and Zorra were very good cooks who fed the cattle boys very well. When there was fresh meat, they often roasted and boiled it in huge amounts. Some of the meat was salted and dried. At times there were crocodile eggs, deer, armadillo, turtle, and fish.
It was month-end and the time for us to do our monthly shopping and visit relatives in Lethem, Region 9, Guyana. I had not been feeling well a few days before then, so I decided to check with my doctor. I was pregnant. We shared the good news with our families and they shared their joy with us. We also learned that the Lethem football team was going to compete with the Normandy team in Brazil. Harvey, who was once the number one goalie of the team, had a huge interest in the upcoming event. We decided there and then that we would be going to support the Lethem Team.
A bright and windy morning, it was a day for taming, branding, castrating, and vaccinating the animals. The manager and a vet had come. For Regina, Zorra and I, it was a cool way to spend the day. The taming of the horses was fun. After some vicious and furious fights, the skillful cattle boys blind-folded them and got on their backs. The horses wildly bucked and threw them off. They repeatedly did this until the horses were tamed.
The following day, the cattle were set free as the cattle boys accompanied them back to their grazing ground. Regina and Zorra were busy making cheese and “qualiada” (yogurt) while I picked up cashew nuts to be roasted. We loved roasting, cracking, and eating the nuts together. For us, they were tastier than the ones sold by farmers.
On the day of the football match, two of the cattle boys decided to go with us. Beauty was out in the fields and so I decided to ride Apache. She was grey and white with an arrow-shaped mark on her back. As we were about to leave, Apache started acting up. It was as though he was dancing and I thought it strange. Harvey then told me to look down. There on the ground was a yellow belly snake. The horse had been trying to kill it. Badly hurt, it slowly slithered away.
We crossed the Ireng river by canoes, bought water at the shop, walked through a few farms, and then we were there. The particularly healthy and lush vegetation, breathtaking mountain range, and cool climate made it a delightful and intriguing place to be.
We then met with Mr. Patrick Melville who hosted the Lethem football team. There was a spacious and comfortable dining room and a few cooks busy with preparations for lunch.
The team arrived via Bonfim, Brazil and we warmly greeted them. A few of us were hanging out around the shops and snack bars while the team got set to play. The game kicked off at 11:00 a.m. and it was very competitive. The Lethem team won 2-1 and that really made our day. After a satisfying lunch, much talk and laughter, some of us did a bit of shopping and sightseeing before saying goodbye.
It was the August school vacation and my eight-year-old sister-in-law, Amanda and my uncle Mike with Down syndrome had come to spend some time with us. We were happy to have them. My uncle Mike enjoyed watching the herd, feeding the fowls, and taking us over to the old Home Oil Company.
One sunny day, we decided to go fishing on the Ireng River. My uncle did not know how to ride a horse, and it was a long walk to get there. About half a mile before the river, we came upon two crocodiles sleeping under a clump of trees right in our path. Amanda and I quickly climbed up a tree while my husband and uncle quickly looked around for pieces of wood to defend themselves. After closely looking at the crocodiles, we thought that they were dead. Then suddenly their eyes were opened, but they made no attempt to attack. We figured out that they were probably dying of dehydration and continued on our way.
Fishing was fun, and after hours at the river and some kilos of fish, we returned home. That evening, we had a great fish dinner then sat down to a few games of cards which had become routine.
Then it was Family Day. We had invited our families to spend the day with us. Mom and I had planned that I would just season the meat stuff and that she and the other women folk would help with the cooking. We got up very early that morning to catch and clean the chickens. There was also fish and beef to get done. I was lucky to have my uncle Mike and Amanda there with me. At around 10:00 a.m., the dogs started barking and we could hear the roar of the engines. There they were – one Land Rover and a Jeep full of family. The menfolk were eager to hunt wild ducks while the children ran around the ranch. They were curious to know Zorra and Regina at the ranch house and so I introduced them, and at the same time, invited the ladies over to lunch.
Some pre-cooked food had been brought which made it much easier to get the rest of the cooking done in time. The men returned with ducks and we prepared a spicy curried duck. Everyone on the ranch had their fill of lunch that day. We spent the rest of the day playing cards, scrabble, and outdoor games. Amanda and Uncle Mike packed their bags to return with the families and at twilight we said goodbye.
It had been a while since we last visited our friends over at the oil camp and so one evening we decided to go. There were no horses in the stable and so we had to walk. One of the dogs accompanied us. The beautiful sunset and the cool breezy evening felt good. We chatted with the soldiers for a very long time–until it was time to go. As I had earlier mentioned, the distance from home to the oil camp by the main road was approximately one mile, but through the trail, it was almost half the distance. As we were leaving, Harvey turned left to the main road. I was tired and begged him to take the shortcut instead! He stared at me and firmly said, “no,” warning me about the rattlesnakes. Again I pleaded with him feeling too tired to walk the distance. He then reluctantly agreed. Talking along the way, we soon forgot our fears. Suddenly, something lashed out at me on my left leg, and then we heard the rattling! Horrified, we both rushed up, out of harm’s way. Harvey shouted “Shit!” and asked if I had been bitten. Luckily, no! I had not been bitten, just brushed. Thank God. We then had to scream at the dog to keep moving.
Early the next morning, Harvey returned to the spot, and there it was, curled up and head up! It was laid to rest.
Four months into my pregnancy, I started having severe belly pains and had to spend two days in the hospital, being treated for a threatened abortion! That is when the doctor ordered me to stop riding horses and that is when we also decided to quit the ranch life.
About the Author
Denise Case D’Aguiar was born on the Essequibo Coast of Guyana, South America. She later moved to the Rupununi Savannahs and then to Brazil where she took up a career in teaching English to Brazilians.