The Joys of Transportation

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Today is my last full day in Guyana. I actually got up early because the rooster was crowing for what seemed like hours on end. I looked through the slats in my window and saw the sun coming up, big, bright and red. I may as well get some final shots of the place.

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

The sun shone through the mango tree like a big fireball. Unfortunately the pictures didn’t do it justice. The fog hovered in the distance and the flies started buzzing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a huge white bird fly through the compound, very low to the ground. I didn’t realize it was the jabiru. I hear Salvador call my name, “Stephanie, quick!!” I ran toward him and he pointed at the field and said, “Jabiru!” I couldn’t see it anymore and as I walked closer, it flew up into the air and took off to the river. So I quietly walked down to the river, camera on. As I approached the bank, it flew over the trees back to the field again. I ran up the road toward the field. As I looked into the tall grass, I noticed what I thought was a cat on the old runway. I paid it no attention since the stork was more important. But then it stopped and turned back to look at me and I knew it wasn’t a cat…it was the fox they have been seeing lately. I managed to get a few shots of it. It was identified as a crab eating fox, although Salvador said it has also been eating his pineapples and chickens.

It was a back and forth game with the stork and I got a picture of it flying by the windmill, but it was very far away. Then I got another one of it taking off with nesting material in its beak but that one was blurry. Oh well…at least I got to see it.

After breakfast, I showered figuring this was the last of the sweating I would do for the day. Oh how wrong I was, yet again. Salvador gave me a 15 minute warning before we had to leave to the airstrip and I was right on time. For some reason I figured it would be a three minute drive to the strip and I would be off. Andrea, Lucy and Dianne all came out to say goodbye and then I jumped in the truck and off we went down the narrow bumpy road.

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

We came up to a creek with a boat sitting there. I was confused. I didn’t realize there would be water involved. We got in the boat, Salvador giving me a piggyback ride through the squishy mud. The ride was short and then we came to land. I saw a very old Range Rover sitting there. Jerry put some seat cushions in the back and my bags were set down there as well. I jump in the back and Salvador says, “no, get out…we have to push”. Aaah ok. But there wasn’t really much of a hill to jump start it. So we push. We get it up to a point where we really can’t push anymore and the driver says, “Stop!”. The brake is applied and I’m wondering what happens next. We have to now push it backward in order to start it. The driver has to steer it since it wasn’t a straight road, then jump in and try to pop the clutch. No luck.Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurkThe truck now has to be pushed back up the small hill again and the same routine continues. On the third try Salvador says, “we may have to start walking.”. Oh this is just great! He says to me, “you see that orange thing?”. Last time I heard that, I replied I couldn’t see those little bloodsuckers and I really had to strain to see this orange thing also. I squint and see something and said, “yes?”. “That’s the airsock.”. I do NOT want to walk that far in the heat with no water. Why did I even bother showering?

Karanambu air strip

Karanambu air strip

Karanambu air strip

They try the truck again and this time it finally roared to life. Oh thank god. He keeps his foot on the gas and I’m just hoping it stays alive. Smoke pours from the exhaust and I’ve never been so glad to inhale it. The ancient door is opened for me and I hop in. I can hardly believe this truck can do anything but rot out here but glad that it does work. Good ol Rovers. The ride takes only a few minutes and I’m just hoping it keeps going. We approach the airsock and the airstrip consists of, surprise, a long red dusty stretch of road, a thatch covered seating area and an old metal wagon wheel. No check in counter here! No Guyana Airways representative to greet us or ten year old magazines to read.

I wonder where they will park the truck, since they have another guest arriving and must stay to pick him up. The driver maneuvers the truck up to a steep hill (compared to what we had to contend with) and applies the brake. Moments later the plane is seen in the distance: an on-time arrival! I film it coming in for a landing. Faces peered out of the windows wondering who in the hell are we stopping to pick up. The other guest deplaned and I got on feeling hopeful there will be no issues with this ride.

Karanambu air strip

Karanambu air strip

Luckily there were none and we land in Lethem then after a short delay take off to Ogle. I go through immigration and customs where we have some small talk about where I was and what I did. I mentioned that we looked for snakes and caiman and the guy asked me where they were now. I replied, “back in the bush, not in my luggage” and with that, he didn’t even bother to search my bags which I had opened for them. I saw a water cooler and asked if I could have a drink since I was now pretty dehydrated. Denied.

Completely over the transportation thing at this point

I get in a taxi and mention how I was not given juice on the plane or water and I was thirsty. He said there was a little cantina at the edge of the airport and I ask if they take dollars. He’s not sure but offered to pay for it and I asked how much. About 4 USD. No thanks, I’ll wait. He said there were other places along the road that are cheaper and we will stop there. Eventually he pulls up to a roadside vendor and I see bottles of water behind his cart in a cooler. He comes back to the car and asks if I want my water in a bag or do I want to drink it here. Not unfamiliar with that practice in Central America, I just say in a bag. Then I see the vendor pick up a coconut and a machete and he chops off the top. The driver grabs a long straw and brings the coconut to me. I’m actually pretty excited about this because 1) I know it’s fresh water and 2) I can’t remember ever drinking straight out of a coconut! To top it all off, its actually cold. Wow, was it great. There was a lot in there too.

The ride is a long one but I’m in no hurry to wait around at the airport. So I’m telling the driver about all of my transportation woes I’ve had here. I feel fortunate to have a/c in the car and I’m hearing his belt squeak every so often but think nothing of it. The ride is about an hour long and I see a sign to the airport. 3km to go. The belt made a loud sound and the driver says, “Oh no…the fan belt just broke. This is a veeeery bad vacation for you. And we are only minutes from the airport.” We coast as long as we can before pulling off on the side of the road. He says he will get me another car. He pops the hood then comes back and tries to start the car. Nothing. I’m no longer surprised at anything anymore and just take it in stride. At least I have time to kill. Seconds later, another taxi pulls up behind us and the driver pays him about 5 dollars to take me the rest of the way. That is what I had tipped him with the coconut included.

Thankfully I didn’t have to walk to the stupid airport and arrived in plenty of time to wait in the very short line which took at least 40 minutes to get through. All I can do is shake my head now. I am off to Trinidad and hopefully nothing else will happen along the way. I’m glad I changed my flight to leave a day earlier or I may never have gotten out of here!

Jabiru nest

Karanambu Ranch

 

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It’s a Jungle Out There

savannah in rainforest guyana

Aug 28

Today took us on a new trail that Kevin hadn’t been on before, so Nicholas led the way. Once again, I had no idea how long it might take.  We took the south trail and they said we would climb up a mountain and then come across a savannah at the top.  It wasn’t quite as muddy as it was yesterday but we did have to cross a few creeks.  Kevin got his new nickname of ‘Water Taxi’ since he helped me cross them often.  He’s a good kid.  Just trying to make something out of himself since there are no jobs to be had.  He has decided to become a tour guide and I think he will be great at it.  He’s been giving me so much information on plants and trees and their medicinal uses.

At this point I should probably point out that there was barely a trail at all.  Nicholas was chopping his way through the brush to get us to our destination.  I would have been very lost if it weren’t for him.  There were a couple of times when Kevin and I went a bit further in off the trail to look at something and I realized when I turned around that it couldn’t even see Nick! And yet, he was only about 15 feet away!

As we walked, Nick pointed out a tree that had a lot of the bark stripped away on both sides.  It was about a foot 1/2 in diameter and the stripped away parts stopped about seven feet or more up the tree. It was from a jaguar. Looked to be a favorite tree or something. At the base it was also stripped away. I had Nick stand next to it for scale. He said the marks looked to be about 2 weeks old. It’s a strange feeling to be in this same spot. You feel vulnerable. Personally I felt like lunch meat. For all I know, that cat could have watched us pass by as we walked that long trail.

After about an hour we came across a small waterfall which I was happy to see.  They noticed something had jumped in the water farther up and said it was a caiman.  I didn’t see it and it was too far up for me to go so I believed them. My clothes were soaked in sweat by now and the humidity was literally dripping off of me. I didn’t complain.  I signed up for this and dammit, this is what I wanted to do!

Kevin

Nick

After the falls, we climbed up a fairly steep, rocky slope and that was when Nick said it was another 30 minutes away.  Ohhhhh boy…30 minutes of climbing up the side of a mountain in that heat was gonna be bad.  Luckily, it evened out somewhat and I was finally able to see sunlight, so I knew we were getting close.  Sure enough, the trail opened up into this big flat Savannah with the mountains in the background. The mist at the top was like the icing on the cake.  This was the only jungle in all of Guyana that had a savannah and not many people had ever seen it.  Another notch on the ‘ol belt!  There were a few birds and we also saw the fox ear plant he had told me about and said I was very lucky to have seen it.  Notch number 2!

We soon left to come back for lunch and stopped at the falls for a rest.  Kevin caught a little crab and I played with it while it sat on the rock next to me. He seemed to enjoy the company and didn’t even leave!  After 20 minutes, Nick said we should head back.  Ugh…I was tired and my feet were dragging and still had an hour walk ahead.  You really don’t want to be caught out in the jungle unexpectedly.  Or worse, get lost.  I asked how you would find wood to build a fire and was told to look for standing dead branches.  They pointed out a tree the Amerindians use for glue and said you could use that to help light the fire.  They are able to start a fire using the two stick method in under 10 minutes.  Me?  Probably never.  I was glad to have them as my guides.

Even though I hate the mud, I knew that meant we were getting close to the lodge.  After 10 minutes I could hear the creek and see the sun again.  Home at last!  Guy was there too!  I didn’t expect to see him.  We discussed how I would be getting out of here on the 31st and I found out it would be by the dreaded ox cart again!  But this time it wouldn’t be so loaded down with stuff and maybe they would have two strong oxen this time.  He said in the dry season it should only take 2 hours (not the 7 or 8 it took me). That made me feel slightly better.  He said that when you make the sacrifice to take this trip out here then you sit down with a shot of rum to celebrate.  I said, “yep, that’s what I did last night.”. He replied, “Then you did it right!”

 

About Maipaima Lodge

Sunrise looking into the jungle

August 29

The lodge was built mostly by volunteers in 2006. It was funded by an American couple now residing in Boston. The purpose was to preserve the land and the animals but also to provide jobs for some of the locals. The Guyanese government gives people land as long as they build or farm or do something with it. Otherwise they take it back. It’s fairly cheap to build a house here.

Getting here can be done in a variety of ways. The quickest and most comfortable (but also the most expensive) is by truck. That can only be done in the dry season. You could hire a motorcycle but if you had a heavy backpack, it wouldn’t be pleasant. Even if you didn’t, it would still be a bumpy ride, with possibly a spill or two along the way. A truck would take about 35 minutes. The oxcart, for those either wanting the experience, or out of necessity in the rainy season would take a minimum of about 2 hours. Mine took about 8.

I am here at the end of the rainy season and feel quite lucky that it hasn’t rained on us while we’ve been in the jungle. It has rained around 4pm each day and also at night. Last night was the only exception where it did not rain at all during the day or night. I am also the first and only guest of the season which makes me happy. For those that know me, know I prefer to be alone.

I had read that they had electricity so I didn’t worry about charging my electronics. It was only after I arrived that I found out they did away with the generator because it scared the animals away. I am down to the last bit of juice in my camera until I remembered I brought two other cameras and my cell phone. I checked the underwater camera today and found it had no charge. I know I charged it before I left. My iPad has done well with 67 percent remaining.

I asked how they kept the food cold if they had no electricity and he said it was a fridge from Brazil that works off of gas. Apparently it broke down the day before yesterday but it got fixed yesterday when Guy came. When the ox cart broke down on my way in, they had filled an ice chest with meat and ice. I got worried when I saw Kevin open it up as the driver had run back into town. There was no ice at the top and a full raw chicken uncovered sitting there next to the packaged chicken and wrapped up fish. I saw salmonella poisoning in my near future. He moved the ice from the bottom to the top and my germaphobe alarm went off so loud it scared some birds away. I have eaten chicken twice so far and am not sick. Phew!

As for the animals around here, Kevin said that he was told a jaguar had been seen on the grounds here once. There are giant river otters that hunt in the creek sometimes but you have to be very quiet if you want to see them. I’ve seen white throated toucans, scarlet macaws and a few other small birds, of which I don’t know the names. As I lay here in my hammock outside my cabin, the big red army ants march past me. The ones with the big white heads can sting badly, but the others don’t. Kevin caught one of the stinging ones and showed me the mandibles. They were about a quarter inch long.

I have seen many weird spiders, one being a widow spider which is deadly (not a black widow like we have…it’s different). Small tarantulas, small lizards, ‘normal’ ants which are the size of bullet ants and frogs. We’ve been looking for poison arrow frogs but haven’t found them yet.

This is the first time I’ve relaxed since I’ve been here and auntie Rosie says she sees most people nap when they come, but not me. “You have very strong eyes,” she told me.

Aunt Rosie Maipaima Lodge

 

 

Made it to Lethem….barely

Well the 4 am wake up call came quickly. Only to find that the flight got delayed by 3 hours. I landed in Georgetown and grabbed a taxi at 11:30 with my flight to lethem leaving at 1. I told the taxi driver that I needed to pick up a ticket and then go to Ogle airport…FAST!

And did he go fast! They drive on the left here so with that, the traffic, the cows, horses and dogs in the road, it was quite an adventure. My head is currently pounding. We stared at trucks coming at us straight on in either lane, barely scraped by other vehicles in traffic and ignored any rules of the road. I was surprisingly calm. We actually made it to the airstrip with 30 minutes to spare.

The flight over was in a 15 seater and we were jammed in there like sardines. I had my camera and the view to keep me occupied and boy was it amazing! Wall to wall trees for as far as the eye could see. It had to be an hour and a half of that and then we hit (figuratively speaking) some small mountains and it became savannah. It was really breathtaking.

Hands crossed while flying the plane.

Guy was here to meet me and they have dropped me at a hotel to use Internet before taking me to the village for the night. Then we will head to Maipaima tomorrow morning. It took about 30 hours from the time I left home until now. Doesn’t that technically mean I could be in New Zealand by now??