The Remains of What Once Was the Largest Sawmill in the Caribbean (Guyana)

We had been driving all day through the rainforest and couldn’t find a place to camp because there weren’t any clearings.

Until we came upon a fork and, in the distance, saw an antenna, which indicated habitation.

We drove there and arrived at Anarika, which turned out to be a logging concession. We asked for permission to stay, which was granted, and were shown around by the passionate guard Owen.

At 9am the heat is already suffocating under the zinc roof. Dust particles blur my vision and clog my throat. It’s hard to breathe, although fresh air flows freely through the factory that has no walls. Dust and heat mix into brown stripes that drip down stained shirts and dusty faces. The noise is deafening. Logs are coming up to the second floor, turning ninety degrees until they lie on a conveyor belt. Round and round goes the oval saw that cuts the logs in planks or chunks, depending on the order.

Some workers stand behind a metal box with red and green buttons to determine the space and sizes of the logs. Others are fixing a broken machine, their hands covered in oil. When a part can’t be fixed nor ordered, a new piece is made on site. On and on goes the hammering of the machines, the shuddering of logs over the metal rolls. A bell tolls. Buttons are hit. Machines close down. Sweaty, smelly workers descend the stairs, ready for a meal, a bath and their hammock.

I shake my head. It must be the heat that has gotten to my head. It is 5 pm and there are only two men here: Coen and Owen, a Rastafarian guard wearing a thick blue cap we would be wearing in winter temperatures, carrying a bag featuring Bob Marley on his back and a gun on his shoulder. Around me are no dust particles but rotting planks. The days of activity in this sawmill have been over for a long time.

“Be sure to follow my steps,” Owen instructs.Rusty machinery, fading paint, holes in the wooden floors. Some machines are in good condition and covered with large sheets of plastic. Even though the sawmill closed down, oh about 7 years ago, Owen speculates, the machines haven’t been sold, but there are no signs of a restart either.

According to Owen this used to be the largest sawmill in the Caribbean. It was closed due to unsafe working conditions. I ask how old the mill is and get the general Guyanese answer whenever we ask about the age of something: “Very old,” and then Owen adds, “It was here when I came here as a kid.” I don’t bother asking him how old he is as I will probably get the answer, “I’m not sure.” He used to work here. With the closure of the mill, 300 workers lost their jobs.

Today only 30 workers remain. They work in the forest of this logging concession. The logs are carried here by the river and put on a ramp to dry and sell to customers. Each log carries a number.”Each trunk needs to be numbered and the

“Each trunk needs to be numbered and the identical number is written on the stump so the Forestry Department can control the logging business,” Owen explains. The numbers are in white, but there are also trunks with pink marks. “The Forestry Department has given permission for those logs to be exported.”

All around lie short pieces of wood.

“Waste. Can’t be used. It is taken to the forest to decay,” Owen answers my questioning look.

“No byproduct to be made of it?” I ask.”No, not here.”

“No, not here.

From the second floor of the sawmill, we are looking down on a vast space filled with waste. A wealth of potential planks that so many people could use to build their houses. But there is no business. Owen doesn’t know why. Caterpillar bulldozers have been clearing the shed and taking all this into the forest to rot away.

“Bad management,” Owen comments once more at the sight of tons of Greenheart gone to waste.

We remember stories from Suriname. Several expats immigrated to Suriname with the idea they would be able to furnish their houses with cheap hardwood furniture from Suriname’s forests. It turned out to be impossible. The best pieces are for export; the local market gets second rate (like the coffee in Brazil, the coffee in Bolivia and the wine in Argentina and Chile).

For local use, Suriname’s hardwood isn’t properly dried so it’s next to impossible to find large, straight planks. People can’t saw, don’t know how to use the tools. Instead of 5 planks they get maybe 3 and then it’s still badly done. Lots of waste, low profits. It appears Guyana faces similar problems.

From the second floor we look out over low bushes and the remains of what was once the conveyor belt to bring the logs from the river to the factory. All that remains are a couple of poles.

“A fire destroyed the rest,” Owen comments.

I feel sad. What a waste of capital and natural resources.

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Photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow our overland journey on or on Instagram.

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