The Georgetown Fish Market

The Georgetown market was buzzing with people by the time we arrived at 9 AM.  I felt instantly lost, and a bit claustrophobic.  The hot, humid air, combined with a bit of jet lag, didn’t help.  As we wandered through the maze of merchandise, vendors called out their best deals and shoppers bargained.  Just about everything was on sale, from plastic flip-flops and number two pencils to green peppers and freshly sliced pineapple.

Georgetown fish market Jan 15, 2010 9-19 AM

Stabroek Market, Georgetown, Guyana

There were six of us: myself, a classmate of mine from vet school, Dr. Ilze (il-za) Berzins, who is Vice President of conservation, research, animal health, and education at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and four of her staff—Allen, Cheryl, Chuck, and Nicole.  This was our first day together in Guyana and I was the tour guide. The Shedd team wanted to see what species of fish were locally available.  I knew better than to try to navigate the market on my own, so I hired our taxi driver to help.

Georgetown fish market Jan 15, 2010 9-25 AM
Bananas, cassava, bora, melons, ginger, and more at the Georgetown market.

Soon flies were buzzing over our heads.  Our driver paused to let us know we were getting close.   From a distance we could see a woman selling shrimp and a fish with yellow fins.  The driver pointed to a covered area ahead and explained that shellfish and smaller fish were sold just outside.  We would see bigger fish inside.

Georgetown fish market Jan 15, 2010 10-35
Fresh shrimp and fish at the Georgetown market.

The crabs were the next creatures to catch my eye.  They were hanging from each other like a string of unusual beads.  Stooping to take a picture, I smiled at the woman selling them, hoping to make up for the fact that I wouldn’t be buying anything.  She looked at me, raised her eyebrows, and announced the price.  She frowned when I shook my head and said, “No, thank you.”  Maybe I looked as though I could easily afford to buy the whole bucketful.

Georgetown fish market Jun 15, 2010 10-44 AM
Crabs for sale.

“These are very beautiful crabs,” I said, trying to explain why I wanted to take photos.  I hadn’t thought of coastal Guyana as being home to much of anything except mud and garbage.  I was also trying to figure out how the crabs were tied together.  Then I realized they were still alive.  I kept my next thought to myself: put them back in the sea where they came from.

Georgetown fish market Jan 16, 2010 7-13 AM

The coast near Georgetown, Guyana – the Pegasus Hotel is in the distance.

I quickly shifted my attention to the woman selling shrimp; she sat next to the crab lady.  This time I asked first if it was okay to take a photo.  She shook her head.  Using the display on my camera, I showed her the photo I’d taken of the woman selling the yellow-finned fish.  This worked, sort of.  She nodded her okay, but then stuck out her tongue for the photo.  The three of us shared a big laugh.

Georgetown fish market shrim ladies2

Ladies selling fish and shrimp at the Georgetown market.

The crab lady once again suggested I buy something.  I offered yet another explanation: I was just visiting and didn’t have a kitchen and so couldn’t cook.   She jumped up from her seat and said, “That’s okay, honey, I’ll cook some up for you right now!”  Glancing at my potential meal sitting in the warm sun, I declined.  (I’m a vegetarian, in any case.) She wasn’t giving up.  “Okay then, just come on back tomorrow when you’re ready!”

Ilze and all Georgetown fish market
Shedd Aquarium team visits the Georgetown fish market.

By this time, Ilze and her group had moved on inside the tent.  I lagged behind, trying to make friends with the vendors so that they wouldn’t mind my taking photos.  I took dozens of pictures of fish that I didn’t recognize, including very strange looking one that was deep yellow-gold in color.

Georgetown fish market Jan 15, 2010 4-36 PM
Man selling fish at the Georgetown market.

At one point, I chatted with one man about what it was like to get up each day and sell fish.  He said he loved his work, even though it meant showing up at the docks very early in the morning to buy from the local fisherman, and staying late to clean his corner of the market for the next day.  He was intrigued to hear that a group of Americans had come all this way just to see what kinds of fish people in Guyana eat.  When I told him we were headed to the North Rupununi tomorrow to learn about the fish that live there, he raised his eyebrows in surprise.  Obviously, he thought we were a pretty odd bunch of tourists.

We left the fish market happy for a breath of fresh air, and glad we’d made the visit.  It had served its purpose, and then some.  Ilze and I were reminded of how rapidly Guyana is developing.  We were struck by the number of new cars on the roads, and new buildings in construction.  The trip was also helpful for first-time visitors Allen, Cheryl, Chuck, and Nicole.  It gave them a sense of what life is like in Georgetown.  As they’ll soon find out, Karanambu couldn’t be more different.  We fly there tomorrow.

To be continued. . .

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2 comments on “The Georgetown Fish Market

  1. Marc Johnson on said:

    OK Lucy, aren’t you going to tell us what the bright yellow fish in the photo were???

  2. lucy spelman on said:

    Hey Marc. Well, the fish experts say it’s called a Guyana Gold catfish, but I don’t have the confirmed species name, yet!

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