I hate tour companies, and Wilderness Explorers only cemented this perspective. But sometimes a little patience and open-mindedness make everything alright in the end.
After forgetting about us on the first day of our tour and then being nowhere in sight in the interior, we were informed that the tour company we had booked with, and Guyana’s most popular, was unable to deliver on the itinerary. We had been scheduled to visit both Kaieteur Falls and Orinduik Falls, however we were informed that they did not receive enough bookings to make the trip to Orinduik Falls on the Brazilian border. Resolved to see Kaieteur Falls in any way possible before leaving Guyana, I accepted a short four hour trip there and back.
Our journey started out quite posh, waiting for our departure in leather recliners while watching the West Indies thrash Zimbabwe in a One Day International (obligatory cricket reference). The four seater Cessna 206 is one of the smallest aircrafts I’ve ever flown in and as it was just me, my father, our Wilderness Explorers guide, Carlos, and our pilot, dad rode in the co-pilot chair. Flying west from Georgetown, we looked down on the Demerara River, the vast untouched jungle, the Essequibo River and then the gold mining area of Region 8. Looking like a set of camps from ‘Blood Diamond’, this gold prospecting is both the hope and the curse of the country. The potential wealth from gold makes Guyana a very rich country. However, when 60% of all mining is illegal and provides no income to the nation, the only result is environmental destruction, exploitation of resources and influx of outsiders.
Further past the gold mines is where the tepuis start rising out of the ground. Like huge slabs of rock pushed up from the earth, these flat faced mountains are famous for Mount Roraima, Angel Falls, and the setting for Pixar’s ‘Up’. It’s in this landscape that cliffs and rivers appear…until off in the distance it comes into view – the world’s largest single drop waterfall. While looking across and down from the plane, the pilot executes a figure eight to give us a complete look, before we land near the top.
The advantage of being just the two of us guests in the group was the informal nature we could go about visiting the surrounding park. It was decided that we would forego the usual half an hour lunch break and instead spend the full time exploring the area. It also meant that we could go further and see more. One of these areas was the hangout of the Guinean Cock-of-the-Rock bird. Now, I’m not a big birder and I didn’t even get great pictures, but I can say that I’ve seen a species that bird enthusiasts spend considerable time looking for.
Stepping out onto the edge a tepui and looking at Kaieteur Falls is a breath taking experience. One, for the impressive sight of the falls themselves. But also for the lack of any kind of barrier between you and the valley floor nearly a thousand feet below. A series of viewpoints provide differing perspectives of the massive rush of water plunging over the cliff. On either side are sheer granite walls, and below is a green lushness fed by the mist from the falls. Part of this greenery is the Bromeliad forest. Bromeliads here, as you guessed it, are the largest in the world. These plants are so big that the Golden Dart-Poison Frog will spend its entire life living in one Bromeliad. These tiny frogs are allegedly the ones that if you lick them, you will go into a hallucinatory buzz. For better or worse, I wasn’t fast enough to catch any frogs. 😦
Rainbow Lookout is the penultimate viewpoint in the series and is aptly named as the sun catches the mist from the falls and casts a permanent rainbow. It’s almost too storybook to be real. It’s a shame that Kaieteur Falls doesn’t get the praise it deserves relative to Niagara or Victoria Falls. If Kaieteur was anywhere other than Guyana, it would likely get the attention it should. However, if Kaieteur were anywhere other than Guyana, there would be a five-star hotel, a water park and a casino here. Another one of the benefits of the undeveloped and unvisited nature of the falls is that there are no rules. We had rock throwing competitions to see how long it would take them to fall, but after about ten seconds of falling, the rock would disappear into the mist. I also took the opportunity to sit on the edge and hang my feet over. One benefit of travelling with dad instead of mom! Looking down, the thousands of Swifts (Scissors Tailed Swifts, not Taylor Swifts) that live in a mysterious cave behind the falls soared below my legs.
The most exhilarating of views is of course directly on top of the falls. We took turns standing in the pools of water just before the dramatic plunge. Again, I was able to climb down to a ledge that was actually just below and beside the top of the fall and could truly gauge the scale of Kaieteur. I was doing nothing more than standing on a piece of rock, but it was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my life.
Due to time restrictions with getting the plane back, we ate our roti and curry chicken lunch on the plane, which was just fine. In a final act of awesomeness, our pilot did a full flyby of Georgetown, giving us an aerial view of Stabroek Market, St. George’s Cathedral and the sea wall. So, in the end, we didn’t get to see the allegedly beautiful Orinduik Falls or the Brazilian border, but it really was the perfect way to experience Kaieteur; just the two of us and all the time we could have asked for…plus, it just whets the appetite all that much more for Brazil 2014!