We moved on, on our journey, with the next stop being Surama village. The rain continues to fall and makes things harder for us, as we constantly have to rearrange the activities and also cancel some of them. This is the rainforest and we’re in the rainy season, so not much to complain about, besides making the best of the situation.
A slow start in the canopy
We rose early this morning to welcome the dawn chorus on the canopy walkway. The rain had been falling quite heavily during the night and as we walked towards the canopy walkway, rain started to fall again, though luckily, just as a drizzle.
The conditions weren’t prefect at all and the birdlife was still on hold as if they knew the weather patterns better than us (which I’m sure they do!). It was very misty and cloudy with high humidity in the air. It was a very calm and pleasant morning, almost as if nature took a break from a session of hard work. It was very quiet and peaceful. In fact almost to quiet, as the birds were keeping the distance and just didn’t want to perform.
There wasn’t much action at all this morning and in the end we had to surrender to the birds and Nature, and made our way back to the lodge for breakfast.
Rain, rain and even more rain
Our journey then took us back on the road that we were on yesterday, with the next stop being Surama village. Due to heavy rainfall we weren’t able to make the stops along the way that we had planned. We were meant to stop at the Cock-of-the-rock Trail, to spot the Guianan Cock-of-the-rock and visit a nearby Harpy Eagle nest, but this was postponed till later on during the day.
This afternoons activities were supposed to be based on two different options where half of the group, including myself, were meant to do a walk across the savannah and through the rainforest to the Burro Burro River. Here we were to paddle on the river for opportunities to observe Giant River Otters, Tapir, Tira and Spider Monkeys, with the chance to experience some outdoor survival training. Our activity was to make our own accommodation for the night and construct a forest outhouse. We would go fishing, look for other food such as nuts, wild fruit and locating a freshwater supply and learn how to make fire without using matches. To survive in the bush and overnight in the bush camp sleeping in a hammock!
But this wasn’t happening due to the rain and though we felt slightly disheartened by this, we accepted our fate and continued with the day and what it had to offer. We arrived about an hour later at the Amerindian community of Surama. The shift in landscape and vegetation was really apparent as we left the Iwokrama Rainforest and entered into an open savannah that is surrounded by dense forest and mountains.
This was the Rupununi, a savannah plain in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo region of Guyana, located between the Rupununi River and the border with Brazil and Venezuela. It is a region of the Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands Biome. The savannah is teeming with wildlife, including a large variety of bird species and is also home to the jaguar as well as the harpy eagle.
John Gimlette introduce the area in this manner, upon his first visit to the region in The Wild Coast:
“The Rupununi savannahs are the wrong side of a forest several miles away. Even by South American standards, this forest is overwhelming. There are parts that have never been properly charted, holes that have never been plumbed and lumps that have never been climbed. As for what’s under the canopy, most of it has lain drenched in uninterrupted darkness for tens of thousands of years…
Then suddenly the forest ends. It’s like flying out of the night and bursting into sunlight. Ahead stretches a great, golden grassland the size of Scotland. This, of course, is only the wrong side of the forest if you feel a need for the outside world. The Rupununi doesn’t. It is its own world, a fabulously impenetrable land, viciously defended by forests, and – at the southern end – walled in by some of the oldest mountains on Earth. These are said to be the last flat-topped columns of a lost super-continent, Pangea. It’s not surprising that they should end up here, on this vast ocean of straw, where the lilies grow five feet wide and all the trees are armed. Even the animals feel curiously Jurassic. Here are the world’s largest ants, otters and anteaters, and its biggest fish – the Arapaima, a bearded monster as big as a horse.”
Surama’s inhabitants are mainly from the Macushi tribe and still observe many of the traditional practices of their forebears. Apart from the Macushi tribe you also have other indigenous peoples living in the area, including the Wapishana and the Wai-Wai.
Charmed by the Surama kids
We were invited into the local nursery and primary school of the village. I’m not a big fan of visits like this normally, but this experience was completely different and there was so much positive energy involved with lots of smiles and happiness. I was really surprised to see such a well managed and properly run school so far away from “civilization”. I must admit that I think that these kids are better off than some kids in Sweden today even.
The kids treated us to songs and we as well, had to sing something in return to much laughter and giggles. This young girl in particular made such a strong impression on most of us as she really charmed the whole group. I guess a proper beard and a hairy man like myself isn’t part of the everyday scene in the village as the kids patted my hairy arm and pulled my beard with great excitement. A visit that brought happiness and laughter to everyone involved.
We continued onwards to the Surama Eco-Lodge where we all had to spend the night now, that our activities had to be cancelled. We had a lovely lunch at the lodge overlooking the landscape with the Pakaraima Mountains and the heavy rainfall. From the moment I set foot in the very basic and rustic lodge I loved the place. We were really guests in the Macushi tribe’s home and the hospitality was heartfelt.
The rain started to withdraw after lunch, which meant that we were to give the missed morning activities a go, so we got back into the cars, and headed back for the Harpy Eagle nest and the Cock-of-the-rock Trail.
The Harpy Eagle is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, and among the largest extant species of eagles in the world. I’ve got a thing for eagles and I was really enthusiastic about getting a proper spotting of this rare and threatened bird. The Harpy Eagle inhabits the upper canopy layer of the rainforest and destruction of its natural habitat has seen it vanish from many parts of its former range, and it is nearly extirpated in Central America.
A glimpse of it!
We had reports telling us that the nest was active and that they’d spotted the eagle a few days earlier so the odds were in our favor, but you never know as things can change quickly. We fought our way through the forest with the abundance of mosquitoes trying to drain us of our blood, and as if that wasn’t enough the humidity after all the rains was outrageous. It was no walk in the park for sure, but in the end after some 45 min walk we approached the area of the nest…
Things didn’t look too promising as we arrived to the spot. The adult eagles weren’t to be seen and we moved around quite a bit in order to get a good view through the thick vegetation. In the end we did get a quick sight of one of the adults, however it was just a quick glimpse. It did however mean that the bird was present and we moved around to find a better angle and sighting.
Mates for life
We did eventually get into a good position where we could see the majestic Harpy Eagle, sitting in the canopy, being constantly bullied by a smaller bird. It’s hardly the most beautiful eagle I’ve seen. In fact, it actually looks a bit stupid. But it is still an impressive bird that can reach over a meter in length and weigh up to 10 kg with a wingspan of over 2 meters!
The Harpy Eagle is an actively hunting carnivore and is an apex predator, meaning that adults are at the top of a food chain and have no natural predators. Its main prey are tree-dwelling mammals and a majority of the diet has been shown to focus on sloths and monkeys.
Harpy Eagles are believed to mate for life and a pair usually only raise one chick every 2–3 years. After the first chick hatches, the second egg is ignored and normally fails to hatch unless the first egg perishes. The chick fledges at the age of 6 months, but the parents continue to feed it for another 6 to 10 months.
The Guianan Cock-of-the-rock
It was a great sight and we even managed to forget about the horrendous mozzies for a good while only to swear and growl at these godforsaken creatures as we headed back towards the car through the dense and very humid jungle with sweat-soaked clothes. The way of the jungle…
We continued by car back toward Surama with a quick stop at the Cock-of-the rock Trail. It was a quick visit as we ran out of time due to the sun starting to move closer to the horizon. I’d never seen the Cock-of-the-rock before, but today was the day to change that!
The Guianan Cock-of-the-rock is about 30 cm in length, where the male are bright orange with a prominent half-moon crest, which is used in competitive displays in lek gatherings to attract a female.
A bright orange blob
We moved quickly into the jungle and soon got the signal to keep quiet and in a slow manner we moved closer to the spot, climbing through a formation of rocks to reach the upper part of it, where we spotted the brightly colored bird about 10 meters away. I had the beautiful bird perfectly in aim with my camera and fired at will, but with the lousy light of dusk, all that came out was a brightly orange blur amongst the trees. Seen it though, but can only prove it with a blurry orange blob…
We moved out and back onto the cars and it was such a relief to get on to the back of the pickup with the wind providing a nice breeze drying up the sweaty clothes and getting rid of the mozzies and the disgusting newly hatched termites that flew all over the place. We had a nice spotting of Red-and-green Macaws.
Cultural Macushi show
In the evening we were treated to a nice cultural show after dinner at the Surama Eco-Lodge. We didn’t get to spend the night in the jungle and learn the survival skills, but with all those mozzies, flying termites and humidity, it felt quite nice to lie down in a proper bed under the mosquito netting…