Our first night in Georgetown was spent at the Cara Lodge. A magnificent old building, built in the 1840s, with creaky walls and floors, where all rooms reflect the traditional building style reminiscent of Guyana during the colonial era, with so-called Demerara shutters and polished wooden floors. The floors in most rooms seem to lean in different directions. I love it and it has so much character! Having said that however, I woke up in the middle of last night, as the door to the bathroom all of a sudden opened slowly, with an even slower frightening sound…Fortunately, I was too tired, from the busy schedule that we’re on, to even think once about what or who opened the door. I’m sure the ghost of Cara Lodge felt quite disappointed with my somewhat sleepy and uninterested reaction…
The problems begin
Today we started early with a transfer to local airport at Ogle, for our flight that was to take us into the interior of Guyana and the mighty Kaieteur Falls! It was time to face the part, where the problems begin, according to John Gimlette:
“With such an abundant canopy, most of Guiana never sees sunlight. Perhaps it’s therefore no surprise that – both in science and history – the story of this land reads like a long, green night. Huge tracts of the interior are only vaguely described, and new species are always tumbling out of the dark. Even some of the more common ones make unnerving companions. Guiana has the biggest ants in the world, and the biggest freshwater fish. There are head-crushing jaguars, strangling snakes, rivers of stingrays and electric eels, and whole clouds of insects eager to burrow in under the skin. To some this is hell. To others it’s an ecological paradise, a sort of X-rated Garden of Eden.”
What can I spare?
We took off from Ogle airport eventually, after first having to repack our bags due to the group being overweight, and then due to heavy rainfall which made it impossible to land at Kaieteur Falls.
It was quite intriguing to see how we all had to go through our luggage to decide on what we didn’t really need in order to reduce the total weight. It was a slow process, but in the end we got there, with a small pile of our jointly discarded personal belongings was left behind. Hopefully I did the right decisions in what is needed and what is abundant.
The Land of Many Waters
We flew over the Demerara and Essequibo Rivers and hundreds of kilometers of unbroken tropical rainforest, where rivers criss cross the canopy that vary in 50 shades of green. It’s easy to understand why the Amerindians refer to the land as the ‘Land ot Many Waters’, when you see these highways of rivers.
A sheer drop of 228 meters
Kaieteur Falls is one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls. Though Venezuela’s Angel Falls are greater in total height, their filamentous drop occurs by stages whereas Kaieteur is a single, massive, thundering cataract 100 meters wide created as the Potaro River makes a sheer drop of 228 meters, nearly five times the height of Niagara Falls.
Misty and cloudy
We touched down on the runway which is just 20 min away from the falls, about an hour after we took of from Georgetown. The conditions weren’t great, which we clearly could see as we flew in over the area. It was very misty and the canyon was fully covered in clouds. Not to hopeful about getting a good sight of the falls, we set of in the direction of the first of three viewpoints, the one farthest away.
The sacrifice of Kai
The Kaieteur Falls which was first seen by a European on April 29, 1870 is situated in the heart of Guyana on the Potaro River, a tributary of the Essequibo. Amerindian legend of the Patamona tribe has it that Kai, one of the tribe’s chiefs (after whom the falls is named), committed self sacrifice by canoeing himself over the falls. It was believed this would encourage the great spirit Makonaima to save the tribe from being destroyed by the savage Caribishi.
Untouched by tourism
What struck me straight away as we walked along the runway was that it was just us there with another small group behind us. With me yet to see it, but from what I’d heard, it mazes me that one of the greatest natural wonders of the world attract such small numbers of visitors. Not to get me wrong here…I love the fact of having a few places left in the world that doesn’t get flooded by tourists, which destroy the place and its surroundings. There’s nothing touristy about the place! No immediate signs, no railings, no souvenir-stands and no hoards of tourists. There is hope!
The Golden Frog
Kaieteur supports a unique microenvironment with Tank Bromeliads, the largest in the world, in which the tiny Golden Frog spends its entire life and the rarely seen Guiana Cock- of-the-rock nesting close by. The lucky visitor will probably also see the famous flights of the Kaieteur Swifts or Makonaima Birds which nest under the vast shelf of rock carved by the centuries of water, hidden behind the eternal curtain of falling water.
A truly mesmerizing experience!
We approached the first viewpoint of the falls with the other group right in front of us. The conditions were terrible and we could barely make out the contours of the fall in the distance. At times it became more visible only to go away again. The other group gave up after a few minutes, leaving us up there and as if a sign from Pachamama, all of a sudden all the mist and clouds dispersed and in front of us, appeared one of the most spectacular sights that I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen quite a few waterfalls in my days but this was something else and it was an unforgettable sight! This was Nature’s finest and it was majestic!
We stayed up there for quite some time and even spotted a tiny Golden Frog in one of the Tank Bromeliads, sitting just on the edge of the cliff. This tiny and glowing creature just sat there and lives its whole life in that Bromeliad. The fact that there is only nature surrounding you, with no human creation, not even a railing to secure the place (apart from a rusty sign telling you to stay at lest 8 feet clear of the cliff), made me appreciate it even more. There’s nothing artificial about this. It’s the real genuine thing, which is hard to find at all in the world of today. A truly mesmerizing experience!
White-chinned and White-tipped Swifts swirl all over the place and we had to more or less be pulled away from the sight. We explored more Giant Bromeliad’s to look for the little Golden Frog, and we managed to find a few more of them, as we headed for the second viewpoint.
It just got better and better!
This sounds a bit too much for you readers I would assume, but if I was blown away from the first sight, it just became better seeing the waterfall even closer. The third viewpoint is just next to the fall which of course gives you food for thought about the sheer power and amount of water that tumble the 228 meters down to the bottom of the canyon. Nothing stops you from sitting on the edge on a natural platform just on the edge of the Falls, and it gives you a perfect opportunity to fight the vertigo demons. Nature is amazingly powerful, beautiful and cool!
We could’ve all stayed there forever, but we had a flight to catch that would take us to Iwokrama Rainforest and eventually we had to leave the spectacular waterfall that we’d had all to ourselves for the past two hours. How amazing isn’t that?
Where’s the airstrip!?
Our flight took off from the Kaieteur Falls airstrip and the kind pilot made a hard left bank to provide us with a perfect sight of the falls from above, which provided a perfect overview of the whole riverine system.
I was speechless as we continued on towards Iwokrama Rainforest and hardly noticed as we entered into a proper raincloud that shook the small aircraft back and forth, with the visibility being next to none. We flew for almost 30 min when the pilot started to circle around in the heavy rain in an effort to try to find the airstrip below.
All of a sudden we could make out a few buildings on our left through the dense and grey clouds. Next to the buildings I could make out the grass airstrip that was filled with pools of rainwater and mud. A few maneuvers and hard turns here and there we had the airstrip at two o’clock with the raindrops hitting the windscreen, sounding like small rocks.
Aquaplaning with a Cessna
This wasn’t the best conditions to be out flying and nor was it perfect conditions to land on a muddy and water filled grass airstrip…But the pilot went for it.
We touched down in the slippery grass with water waves surrounding us as the plane shot through the pools on the ground. It was quite a hectic experience, as we didn’t really slow down much…As a matter of fact, we actually started to aquaplane, with the Cessna drifting further to the edge of the airstrip, starting to turn with us moving sideways.
The pilot did however take charge of the moment and managed to straighten out the plane and eventually taking the flight to a stop. What a day it had been so far and the adrenaline was certainly pumping! All of this before lunch…
One of the worlds last untouched tropical forests
Iwokrama International Centre is located in a vast wilderness of one million acres. This protected area was established in 1996 as the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development. The Iwokrama Forest is in the heart of one of four last untouched tropical forests of the world – The Guiana Shield of North-Eastern South America.
Iwokrama – a living laboratory
Iwokrama was established as a living laboratory for tropical forest management because the unsustainable utilization of these forests will result in the extinction of half the world’s plant and animal species and unknown changes to global climate.
This is a protected area with a difference – the full involvement of people. Iwokrama joins with the local people in every aspect of its conservation work. From research to business, Iwokrama ensures local economic and social benefits from forest use and conservation.
The Green Heart of Guyana
The Iwokrama Forest, sometimes called the Green Heart of Guyana, is in the homeland of the Makushi people, who have lived here and used the forest for thousands of years. The success of Iwokrama relies on the ownership of local people and the combined skills of specialists and communities.
Iwokrama does what so many International conventions have acknowledged as best practice. It has begun conservation locally and integrated conservation into national development.
Iwokrama River Lodge
We arrived to Iwokrama River Lodge in heavy rain for a late lunch. The whole day with the delays due to the rainfall meant that we were running a few hours late and with the heavy rainfall, it meant that the afternoon activities had to be more or less cancelled.
We checked into our lovely spacious cabins, all with en-suite bathrooms, overlooking the Essequibo River. The inviting hammock on the veranda was too inviting and I placed myself there right away, rocking slowly with the soothing sounds of the rain and birds. I could’ve fallen asleep right away if it wasn’t for me spotting something in the river. It could’ve been a rock, but the shape told my instincts that it was some sort of a Caiman.
Though I was perfectly placed in the hammock I got out to get the binoculars and camera. The binos told me straight away that my eyes were telling the truth. It was a Black Caiman and I moved closer to get a photo of it. One down! The Guyana Bradt guide tells me:
The Iwokrama is home to some of the Americas and world’s largest species – black caiman, capybara, arapaima, anaconda, giant anteater, giant river otter, giant river turtle, bushmaster, false vampire bat, harpy eagle and jaguar.
After a nice lunch we were invited by the staff for a presentation on the Iwokrama project, which is run as a community based project, where tourism is an integral part.
A very inspirational story that seems to work in a very successful manner as it doesn’t only rely on tourism, where the staff combines work at the lodge with traditional work in order to not put everything at stake.
With the low volume of visitors this is a must and perhaps it can also work as a solid foundation for the future when the number of tourists start to pick up?
Frogs, a snake and a caiman
We did a brief overview tour of the lodge and its facilities before going for a short walk through the forest with an introduction to the various trees and plants used for medicines and natural remedies.
We finished of the day with a cruise on the river with a stop for a refreshing drink at Michelle Island over looking the rapids. As darkness fell, we returned to the river, in hopes of finding caimans, and listen for nightbirds. We spotted some frogs, a snake and a caiman in the distance. A long day was over, but what a day!