Country number: 105
Territory number: 113
When? October 2010, second leg of Guianas trip, coming from Venezuela via Boa Vista In Brazil, going on to Suriname
How? Local bus, light plane, walking (!)
Who? Group Tour- pioneer
‘Don’t mind how bird vex, it can’t vex with tree.’
Another local bus- they’re not too uncomfortable- from Boa Vista (which is on a super long road which continues south all the way to Rio). Over a nifty little river crossover bridge to change us over to driving on the left and then our own chartered bus. We’re supposed to be using local transport but a bus out here is a bridge too far- to confusingly mix my metaphors.
Then it’s unpaved roads and even these disappear after a while as we arrive at the village of Annai, which lies on the edge of the transition zone between the savannah and the Iwokrama Forest Reserve. We just seem to drive through any gaps in the grassland. The village is a mixture of brick and wattle-and-daub cottages, shops, school and church all thatched with palm fronds and scattered haphazardly around. Our lodge is a handful of little rondavels up a hillside and a scramble through chickens and flowerbeds to a larger dining room rondavel. The dining room also acts as the stage for local native dancing in the evening –performed in our honour. The children accompanying the dancers are more entertaining, as they loll and romp on the floor, laughing at their costumed parents.
More muddy walks in the rainforest and a trip on the river. Most of the wildlife is in hiding and it’s hard going. My ankle isn’t getting any better. We loiter on the edge of the forest and our bus eventually emerges. The roads are red soil, still unpaved and after much bumping a ferry is involved. It’s another long wait while the bus is perilously edged onto the ‘boat’ – it’s a contraption of wood planks with an engine attached. No roads, no scheduled planes. More ignominious weighing as we embark on light aeroplanes to reach the capital Georgetown.
Three nights in Georgetown, famous for its colonial architecture, especially the great white wooden cathedral. It’s friendly, relaxing and very Caribbean. There’s a market, complete with huge wooden red clock and a botanical garden to wander round. The latter has ponds, canals, kissing bridges and a bandstand. There’s huge variety of palms to enjoy, as well as a fine collection of tropical flowers: a pond full of lotus in bloom and the immense Victoria Regia Lily, Guyana’s national flower. Surprisingly, there are also manatees lurking below the waterweed in some overgrown lakes. I can just make out their bulging eyes disturbing the plants as they come up to breathe. It’s a bit creepy – the real life Guyanese version of the Loch Ness monster.
I’ve decided I should do probably something about my ankle which is now about twice the size of my other, so I take myself off to hospital. It’s the first medical facility we’ve been near since I fell on the waterfall over a week ago. I come back in plaster – the doctor says it’s broken, though the X-ray is inconclusive. He insists that the swelling is so bad that it must be ‘something of that nature’. It’s not a very reassuring diagnosis. I’ve got a crutch now, as well. That’s not ideal on a pioneering, fairly basic journey.
More weighing, another small aircraft. I’m getting blasé about these now. This time we’re off to Kaieteur Falls. It takes about an hour, the first 10 minutes over cultivated land, and thereafter over the inevitable tropical forest (it covers four fifths of the country) to a small airstrip at the top of the falls. The pilot does a fly-past first, wobbling the plane over the canyon and right over the edge where the water plummets 226 metres to the boiling pot below. It’s five time higher than Niagara and couldn’t be more different. It’s a tiny settlement of three huts, one of which serves as an airport lounge.
This is advertised as an ‘easy walk’, back to the waterfall and I hobble along to the three viewpoints. The first, from the cataracts, gives a face-on view of the falls, stained chestnut brown with tannins. The third viewpoint is right on the very edge of the falls, on a rock platform less than a metre away from the torrent. We are encouraged to inch forward on our bellies if we want to look. I’m opting out- again. There are copses of photogenic giant bromeliads all along the canyon top – minute frogs have set up home in the tiny rain ponds created in the centre of these.