Story and Photo by Jemima Holmes
In Guyana, there are few persons who would go above and beyond for the cause of tourism and while many have been making strides to uphold Guyana’s title as one of the best Eco-Tourism destinations, there are quite a few hidden characters whose dedication to the industry often goes unnoticed.
Hailing from Aranaputa village in the Rupununi, Region Nine, all that Claude Benjamin knew was the mountainous Pakaraima landscape that surrounded his hometown. However, a longing to be a part of the tourism industry brought him clear across the country to Region Seven.
“I really wanted to be a part of the tourism sector, so I seek for employment with Dragon Tours and that’s where I got attached to Sloth Island and actually working with tourism,” Benjamin related to this publication during a visit to the island last weekend.
The 35-year-old, after acquiring his dream job in the tourism industry soon worked his way up the chain at Sloth Island. More than a decade later, Claude is referred to as the guy that “knows the most about the island”, a recommendation which becomes proven fact whenever he takes guests on tours of the Sloth Island environs.
While Benjamin’s journey in tourism may appear to be sunshine and rainbows, his fairy-tale is one of major sacrifice, that entailed him moving away from his 13-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, to take up the full-time job on Sloth Island.
“It’s not a difficult decision but by staying away from home and working here, it’s quite a long distance, yes. Of course, at times you would miss your family, you would miss your children,” Benjamin dismally expressed.
Nonetheless, he has remedied the situation, revealing, “So, during the holidays I would send for them to come and spend the time with me here at Sloth Island.”
Life on the island
“Living here, staying here or working here on Sloth Island, in an environment like this surrounded by nature, is one of the best things I ever come across,” Claude Benjamin related to this publication while taking in the familiar view of the Island.
“It’s so quiet and peaceful. I love the environment; I love the plants and animals that are around us here.”
With an accessible forest and an expansive beach, Sloth Island has much to discover. The island is named, expectedly, after its vast population of sloths. However, in recent times they are only spotted individually or as a mother with children.
Nevertheless, Benjamin shared the guarantee that “At least every time you come to Sloth Island you will get to see a sloth.
And there are also medicinal plants that we can use to treat patients or treat ourselves, to boost up our immune system,” he went on to add, in sharing some interesting bits about the island.
“Like, let’s say we have the capadulla, a simple vine. It is good for those who suffer from low blood pressure, it is also good for diarrhoea.”
Like many other destinations in the Essequibo River, the coronavirus pandemic has severely affected the operations at Sloth Island, with fewer visitors than usual. In recent times, however, Benjamin said that life on the island has been going well.
“Well, it’s been doing great. We still have tourists coming in, we still have visitors coming in the country and visiting resorts like Sloth Island and others as well. I would say that they’re doing a great job.”
During the pandemic, Benjamin has also taken the time to expand his knowledge of the island. When it is said that Claude Benjamin knows every tree on Sloth Island, it’s purpose and poison, it is, by no measure, a joke.
According to the Manager/Tour Guide, he has been able to put the bits and pieces together through careful study and research.
Benjamin disclosed, “Well, on Sloth Island here, it has a lot of useful plants, medicinal plants, lots of birds and animals but it requires study. I did a lot of self-study here, I did a lot of research, you know, that’s how I get to know and I learn the plants that are useful around us here.”
During Claude’s time working at Sloth Island Nature Resort, he has witnessed numerous changes to the island. One that stands out to him, is a force of nature where the beach requires constant maintenance, owing to erosion.
“We’ve been doing a lot of maintenance. Like the sand; as the years pass by, the tides come up, the water does down, the rainy season comes and the water would take away some of the sand and wash it back into the river. So, time after time we have to keep building up back the land, by pumping up sand back from the river, to keep the beauty of Sloth Island,” the Resort’s Manager explained.
Eyeing tourism in the Rupununi
With over a decade of experience at Sloth Island Nature Resort, Claude Benjamin has acquired a vast number of skills. So much so that he hopes to apply some of that knowledge to his native village, Aranaputa.
“In the Rupununi, there’s lots of tourism sites and sceneries and I would like to continue to embrace the communities. Like for example, Aranaputa, to do more of the tourism there,” the Tour Guide detailed to this publication.
In sharing reasons why the Rupununi is a fitting destination for tourism, Benjamin said, “Because there are lots of products there that people would like to go and see, especially birds and animals”.
Pitching a tourist attraction idea to <<<Guyana Times>>>, Benjamin added, “In the Rupununi, there’s lots of the world’s giants. For example, the Harpy Eagle, we have the Jaguar, the Giant River Otter, the river turtles, the Anaconda; those are giants and endangered species of Guyana”.
At the moment, the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on Benjamin’s plans to transform the village into a desirable destination. However, the Sloth Island Manager was full of praise for those resorts which have been persisting.
“So, you know, being a part of tourism, I would like to encourage or embrace other tourism communities to continue doing the good work,” he said.