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The history of the Wild Coast in ten objects - 10

Pontoon bridge over the Demerara River

You might think it odd to describe a bridge as an object. However, the pontoon bridge over the Demerara River (Guyana) is just than: a moveable, detachable thing. In fact, it's said to be the longest pontoon bridge in the world.
And it says alot about the region. It’s water, as the Amerindians recognised, that defines Guiana. Through this land run literally thousands of rivers (in Guyana alone there are over 1,500).

These aren’t like the little waterways that meander through the Old World, but vast sprawling torrents that thunder out of the forest and then plough their way to the sea. Some have mouths big enough to swallow Barbados. But, even the biggest of them – the Essequibo, Corentyne and Marowijne – are intolerant of shipping; beyond ninety miles inland, nothing larger than a canoe gets through without being battered to bits. Once, it was thought that these furious rivers all linked up, and that Guiana was really an agglomeration of islands, bobbing around in the froth.

But whatever the layout, water still rules. It dominates development, trims opportunities, and seals off the world. It makes islanders of tribes, and supports long-lost communities of prospectors, Utopians and runaway slaves. It feeds malaria, and nurtures some of the world’s most ambitious strains of dengue fever. Damp gets everywhere, rotting buildings and feet, and making steam of the air. From the very earliest times, human beings have realised that their best chance of surviving Guiana is by living right next to the sea. Even now, 9 out of every 10 of its inhabitants live on a long, muddy strip, barely ten miles wide.

In this great untamed world, the Demerara bridge is a tiny, temporary gesture of human defiance.

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