Kaieteur Falls; Oh my God!

Trip Start Aug 29, 2009
Trip End Feb 23, 2010

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Where I stayed
Jungle camps along the Potara river

Flag of Guyana  ,
Sunday, October 25, 2009

Els writes:
Having spent a few days in Georgetown we were ready for a spot more jungle. As it is impossible to visit the Falls under your own steam, we booked a 5-day overland tour, leaving on Monday, 19th October. We were picked up at 6.30 am and spent day one in a by now familiar way: cramped on the back seat of a jeep driven by Frank, the owner of Rainforest Tours, for 8 hours. In the front was Kurt, our 22 year old personal guide, in the back with us was Richard, a Creole friend of Frank, who would drive Frank back home once we had been delivered to our boat. At 10.30 we stopped at a roadside shack for 'lunch'. We thought they were joking and meant elevenses, but they were serious, there was no other break until dinner in the evening! The menu included 'wild meat', which was the 'hay'', the very creature that is regarded as a rare delicacy in Suriname. Here it was just one of those things you can eat, no big deal. As we did not want to add to the decline in Guyana's fauna we had chicken, there seemed to be plenty of those.

After a few hours we turned off towards Madhia - or we would have ended up in Brazil! After Madhia the rest of the trip would be by boat and on foot. However, to get to the Potaro river we drove along a small river bed, which despite the dry season still had a fair amount of water in it. At the Potaro river a boat was waiting for us, piloted by an Amerindian called John, known as 'soldier' as he spent a few years in the army. Together with Kurt we piled into the boat, wedged between boxes of provisions enough for 5 days. We love travelling by boat, especially in the early evening. It is very peaceful, the light is fantastic and we get to see lots of birds.

The night was spent near the Amatuk Falls and the tiny village where soldier lives with wife Joy and various children. This was a gorgeous place on the side of the river. Various sand banks had created a natural swimming pool where Peter and I spent quite a lot of time. In the evening parrots made a cacophony in the nearby trees, but we did not see any until the next morning. In the evening there was an amazing natural display of lightning storms over the river, it went on for ages. Camp consisted of a tarpaulin strung over some poles with hammocks underneath. I liked sleeping in a hammock, the mosquito net on top makes it feel like a little den. There was one of those tropical downpours in the middle of the night, which made a tremendous racket on the tarpaulin, but we were safe and sound.

The next morning we walked to the river above the Amatuk falls, where another boat was waiting for us. The many waterfalls and rapids on the river are in fact the main reason why the journey cannot be done under your own steam. It takes quite a bit of organisation, with different boats waiting along the way. The region is almost entirely unpopulated, so there is no point hoping to hitch a ride with a fisherman, there aren't any. We were surprised to discover that several members of Soldier's family were coming along too: Joy, his wife; Wilfred, Joy's brother and Ru, his 15 year old daughter. Ru wants to become a tour guide and certainly pulled her weight, doing much of the cooking. Joy seemed reluctant to climb into the already overcrowded boat, but rescue came in the form of Reuben (shades of Cold Comfort Farm!), an 18 year old park ranger with an aluminium boat. Mid journey Peter and I had to climb into Reuben's boat too as ours was leaking a bit and we were all getting rather wet! (We always take the precaution of putting our gear in large plastic bags!). I don't think Reuben minded, he and Ru appear to have a bit of a flirtation going, which was fun to watch.

We were headed for Waratuk, Reuben's ranger station, where we would spend the night. Although all stops on the way can be reached by boat, Wilfred guided us through the jungle for part of the way - I suppose to make it more of a challenge. And a challenge it was! Several times we had to cross a creek or a bit of a ravine by walking over a fallen tree trunk. Two of them I could handle, but one of them was like 'you cannot be serious!' There was nothing to hold on to for support and the tree was very slippery as it had rained. Wilfred and Peter had already done it and I was psyching myself up to do the same when Kurt said that it might be possible to climb down the slope, cross the creek on foot and then climb up again. Phew.

At Waratuk, Peter and I went swimming in the river and had another taste of those wonderful natural jacuzis. As we were standing on the rocks, enjoying the view, Peter said 'what's that?' I looked and saw a head popping up, disappearing, then popping up again, like a jack-in-the-box. At first we thought they were people, but what people? We were the only ones there. Then we realised: giant otters! Twice the size of normal otters they are not often seen, so we were very lucky. We watched them for about ten minutes, before they moved on. Unfortunately we did not have a camera with us. Kurt said that we were the first people to have seen them on these tours. On return to Waratuk I noticed that Wilfred was lying in a hammock, clutching a small bottle of the rather good local El Dorado rum, and had clearly been at it for a while, although the others did not seem to be joining him. The reason for this became clear later.

In the jungle it is pitch black by 6 pm, which meant that we all went to bed really early every night. It gets light at 5.30 am, by which time getting up seems a really good idea! Day 3 took us to Tukiet, another hammock camp. Ru guided us on foot for a large part of the way. This was great as it involved a climb on bare feet to take a shower under yet another waterfall, very refreshing! At Tukiet macaws  made their presence heard. It is unbelievable how loud these birds sound while still quite far away. We also heard a Toucan, but still have not seen one, except for a beak lying on the trail, the rest probably eaten by a bird of prey. Day 4 was billed as the hardest part of the journey. For days now we had been told by Soldier and Ru how hard it would be, and how part of the climb up was so steep that it had been nicknamed 'oh my God!' because this is what tourists tend to say when climbing.

By the way, an interesting cultural thing we have noticed is that Afro-Caribbeans do not tell you anything unless you ask. Amerindians on the other hand, will tell you lots, over and over. So several times a day someone would inform us what was going to happen for the rest of the tour, even though we had been told before and anyway, had a printed itinerary.

When I got up at 5.30 on day 4, I was surprised to see Joy and Wilfred, already dressed, carrying rucksacks and other clobber, and about to set off up the mountain. We had learnt earlier that their mother was seriously ill, but had not realised that this was the reason for them coming along on the journey. They were basically hitching a ride, and were now off to the airfield at the Kaieteur falls in the hope of catching a flight to their mother's village. So that is why Wilfred was at the rum, it was his way of coping with the news. The climb itself was fine, the hardest part was the beginning, not because we were walking at a steady incline, but because we were walking in the sun and it was very hot, so that we were drenched with perspiration in no time at all. Once we reached the 'oh my God!' bit it was actually quite shady. Suddenly we were there and we thought 'was that it? - that was not too bad. We were wearing hiking boots of course, but Kurt did the entire trip in flipflops, we never saw him wearing anything else. The Indians had taken their flipflops off and did the whole thing in bare feet, which actually made more sense to us, although we were not keen to follow their example. It was the same in the Himalayas where we trekked for a week a few years ago, our little group were kitted out in hiking boots and sticks, but the locals were racing up and down in flipflops as if it was a walk in the park.

When we got to the top we were taken to a number of different viewpoints. The Kaieteur Falls are stupendous, it is believed to be the highest single drop in the world. From the aptly named Rainbow View it was possible to see lots of rainbows in the spray from the falls. We could not get enough from looking at the falls and kept walking from viewpoint to viewpoint and taking rather a lot of photos. All around the falls grow giant Bromeliads, famous for providing a home to tiny little golden frogs that spend their entire lives inside these plants. We stayed at a little guesthouse where an American PhD student and her boyfriend had been living for the past 5 months, researching the golden frog. She told us that the frogs are capable of moving about if their bit of the plant dries out, she had seen a male frog climb up with three tadpoles clinging onto his shoulders. When evening fell we watched clouds of swifts swirl and swoop over the falls, a spectacular sight. When we arrived at the guest house I was surprised to see Joy and Wilfred there, all dressed up in what we supposed were their best clothes. They had not been successful in getting a flight and were still trying.

By the next day, the day we were due to fly back too, they still had not got a flight. In fact, information about when the plane was due was very confusing and kept changing. We ended up waiting about three hours. Joy said that the shuttle flight (not our plane which was flying in the opposite direction) had bypassed Kaieteur without stopping, and asked us whether we could speak to our pilot and ask him to sort something out as no one was helping. We promised to see what we could do. When our plane arrived we did manage to speak to the pilot and emphasised that they had already waited more than 24 hours, before we were bundled into the already full plane. He then appeared to be talking to other people about it, I do hope that something was arranged. We gained the impression that Amerindians are not really being regarded as very important, a bit much when they were in the country first.

We got back on the Friday afternoon and were due to fly to Caracas in Venezuela on Sunday. We spent Saturday exploring parts of Georgetown that we had not yet seen and discovered that many people live in very nice houses indeed. We also paid a last nostalgic visit to Oasis, a cafe where they serve excellent coffee and offer wifi. It is run by an Englishman who has lived there for 15 years his wife is from Guyana. He told us that there are at present lots of power cuts in Venezuela and that despite the rainy season there is a serious water shortage. President Chavez had apparently appeared on television telling people not to take showers that last longer than 3 minutes and not to sing in the shower. We checked this on the internet and discovered it to be true. He said that you need only one minute to wash your hair, one minute to soap yourself and one minute to rinse off. We thought, oh brilliant, so we are going somewhere where it rains all the time, where we have to be careful not to fall foul of the shower police and where we may be in the dark a lot.

Anyway, we feel that we have done the three Guyanas justice and are now ready to take on the rest of South America. It is also about time to try out our Spanish. Venezuela, here we come!

Peter's Haiku:
Effort rewarded
Rainbows dancing in the mist
Swifts fall like hailstones

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maggie on

looks great Els and Peter --what an adventure ..enjoy!!

isabelle + bernie on

Looks fab !

Anef on

Just to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying yiour travels, and the haiku.

ingevanooijen on

Many good impressions - a lot of things to read. Bye from Inge & Kees

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