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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Diane McTurk

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

I have just had the pleasure to meet Diane, who flew in from Georgetown. Sporting her new round glasses, an otter t-shirt and a waterproof wristwatch, looking way too large on her delicate wrist. Tall and thin, she spoke with a soft British accent that sounded so graceful. Eating crackers with marmalade, Dr. Lucy and Andrea talked about the future of Karanambu and the possible grant they may receive to help with the tourism development in this area. There is a need for conservation of the arapaima which could easily become overfished. However, the rules in place now seem to be working and the Amerindians want to cooperate in the management which is a good sign.

Diane is famous for her head scarves. Almost every picture or video I have seen of her, she wears one. I brought her down two, one of which is quite large but she seemed to really like it. She graciously opened her arms to hug me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Then thanked me repeatedly with a big smile on her face. She made me feel as though I was the only guest that had ever been there.

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

I was fortunate enough to join Lucy and Diane to look for giant otters this afternoon, which I would never have expected. We left around 4pm and cruised along the hot river to the same spot they were seen earlier. No such luck though. Then we went into the lake…a different one than I had seen previously. There were big lily pads here too and Diane requested the motor be shut off so we could creep through. I sat there simmering in the sun, yet Diane didn’t seem bothered by it. Of course, we all go along with whatever she wants to do. None of us would be here if it weren’t for her.

stephanie delagarza Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

She had her bird book handy and was constantly flipping through it, identifying ones she wasn’t sure of. I was surprised…I figured after living on the river most of her life she would know them by heart. I asked if she always enjoys going out on the river. “Oh yes! There is always something different here to see.” She often shared the pictures with me and told stories of the birds.

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Jerry spotted an iguana on the bank with a hawk in the tree nearby eyeing it. I snapped a picture of the iguana as we approached it and I was surprised at how close we actually were. It finally got spooked and ran. As we passed the hawk, he stared at us with the evil eye. I was stunned he didn’t swoop down on us just to get even.

Pairs of parrots flew overhead as the sun went down and we found ourselves back on the river, heading home. She once again wanted to “creep” and figured now would be a good time for some rum punch. Dr. Lucy asked her if she wanted just a little bit of juice and she replied, “Yes, just a bit thank you”, then turned to me and said, “how about you? Just a bit of juice?” I agreed and the tall metal cups were passed out amongst us as we crept.

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

The sunset was spectacular as usual and the birds wrapped up their evening. We told stories and Diane talked about the habits of otters. I asked where they live in the rainy season, since they typically build their dens on the banks. “That is what we would all like to know”, she replied. Otter cams are out of the question since they could get hung up on things and they would have to anesthetize them to implant a chip. She told me that they like to snuggle together at night so they probably don’t sleep in the trees either.

We made it back to the lodge and as we were walking back up, she told me the story about her orphan otter Rewa. Apparently Rewa left Karanambu and was harassing some fishermen so Diane went to try and get her back after a couple of other attempts. Diane brought fish to coax Rewa back. There was another otter family nearby also and when Rewa took the fish, she offered it to the family instead which they took. Rewa had been accepted into the family! There was no need to take her back home. Mission accomplished.

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Before dinner, I went to the dining room and saw a new book on the table. It was named something like Wildlife Heroes and Diane had been written up in it, with a nice colorful spread of the otters and a story about her mission. Diane emerged from her quarters wearing the pink and black scarf I gave her on her head and a long sleeve pink blouse. She looked lovely! I took her picture as she held the new book in her lap. Salvador requested that I send in my pictures I took during my stay so they can put them on their new website, which obviously I am thrilled to do. What a great way to end this trip!

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Inside the otter house

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

EDIT: I’m sad to report that in December 2016, Diane passed away peacefully in Guyana. She was an asset to Guyana and lived a fantastic, full life. I’m even more touched to have had the chance to meet this wonderful woman and spend time with her.

I’ve Got Your Piranha 3D Right Here!

piranha guyana rupununi river

One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was to see some piranha up close and personal. They arranged a fishing trip for me and a night spotting adventure on the way back to look for caiman, snakes and whatever else might be out there. The trip a couple of nights ago was great so I was looking forward to doing it again.

We were going to another lagoon section that had the lily pads and piranha so I could knock out two things at once. Fernando also said that was where they caught their biggest caiman yet. It took about twenty minutes to get out there and we only saw one other boat on the way. Once again, we navigated through the submerged trees to get into the lagoon. This one was bigger than the last one, with the giant lily pads spread out far and wide. We pulled in under a tree and my guides, Howard and Felix started rigging up the line. For some reason I was under the impression we would be using rods, but it was just a spool of fishing line with a hook on the end. Easy enough.

Now mind you, I haven’t fished in about thirty years. I don’t care to fish but this was going to be the exception. Heck, I don’t even like to EAT fish. Howard cut up a fish, put it on the hook then threw it out into the water. “When you feel it tug, pull hard”, he said. Almost immediately I felt a tug and I pulled hard. But not knowing exactly what to do with the line, it became a tangled mess in my lap. He had also warned me that when the fish gets close to the boat, hold it over the water. Good suggestion. It felt pretty heavy as I pulled it in and when it got close to the boat, I handed the line to Howard. He pulled it out out of the water and sure enough, I had caught my first piranha!! It was a red one, about six inches long. He grabbed it carefully under the gills and I took some pictures of it. Knowing nothing about fish, I was surprised to see that even inside it’s body where the gills are, THAT even had teeth…or something resembling teeth. The fish snapped its jaws open and closed making a terrifying chomping sound. He carefully removed the hook and threw it in the front of the boat. I just caught his dinner!

Felix wasn’t having the best of luck, getting nibbles then finding out the fish had stolen his bait. He would utter words of annoyance under his breath. Howard rigged me up another line and threw it out. Within a minute or two, another tug. I yanked the line and pulled it in but the fish had gotten away. I wasn’t exactly sure if it had or not and when I pulled the end of the hook up in front of the boat, the little bit of bait on the end scared me. The guys laughed at my girlishness.

Howard was reeling in his line and it came up empty, except his metal hook was seriously bent! Yow!! My line jerked and I pulled hard and as it got closer to the boat, the line was almost cutting my hand so I knew it was a big one. I gave the line to Howard again and he pulled in my fish. It was really big…a black one this time! It was probably ten inches long or more. I was so excited and so were they, since they were going to eat it! It had a beautiful silver speckled body and an almostĀ iridescent patch under its eye. I wanted to touch it and it was very slimy. He threw it at the front of the boat to join the rest.

piranha guyana rupununi river

I caught about three more and finally said that I just wanted to feed the little fish some bits of beef jerky in front of the boat. The guys caught a couple of fish and then decided to move on to another location. We hit two other spots and didn’t have much luck. They chalked up my experience to beginners luck. Yeah, right!!

Night was falling so we went near a white lily flower to watch it open and they tried to fish some more. A few beetles flew into the flower as it slowly opened and tiny frogs chirped on the pads near us. We stayed for a while until the mozzies became too much then headed back home.

rupununi river guyana

rupununi river guyana

rupununi river guyana

As it became dark and they had the spotlights on searching for critters the amount of bugs flying around was indescribable. I guess they were thicker than the other night because the moon wasn’t out now. It was like bug soup out there. One flew into my eye, many hit my face and body and got tangled up in my hair. I buttoned up my shirt to my neck and around my wrists in an attempt to keep them away from my skin. I squinted my eyes and lowered my head so they could bounce off my hat. At one point, something very large ran right into my lips and kind of hung on until I jerked my head to the side and let the wind take it away. Eeeeww this was getting bad. They were all in the boat and I didn’t even want to look to see how many there were.

They caught an eye shine near the bank and we came up on a small cute croc just holding onto some branches as the current tried to drag it away. It was darling. I didn’t want them to try and catch it so I just took some pictures and we carried on. Sitting in one place for too long became too much since the bugs weren’t going anywhere but on us.

We saw a few more eye shines, saw two tree boas and a larger croc that was probably about eight feet long then a few others that submerged before we could get too close. As much as I enjoyed the spotting, the bugs were hindering my evening in a big way. We came up to shore and as they unloaded the boat, the insects were relentless. Luckily the walk back to the house was uneventful.

piranha teeth guyana

piranha teeth guyana

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Night Hunting on the Rupununi

The morning started off with a canoe ride to look for birds, monkeys and reptiles. I saw my first black caiman lazily floating in the water and then disappeared behind a bush. We also saw brown capuchin monkeys playing in the trees and a variety of birds. It was a nice short trip.

Around 4:30 we went out for the night hunt of caiman and whatever else might be out there. It had rained earlier in the afternoon thankfully. It was cooler now and quite tolerable. One of the first birds that sticks out in my mind was the jabiru stork. He was perched in a tree. I did get a picture but the head is hidden. I got a look through some binoculars and man, was it huge!

jabiru in tree guyana

Next we floated in between some trees into a lagoon which held the beautiful Victoria Amazonica lilies. I’ve been waiting a while to see these things and I was not disappointed. It was covered with them. We witnessed beetle after beetle enter this one white flower until it was starting to open up fully. The sun was setting and I grabbed a shot of the pink sky and the reflection off the water. We were going to come back after dark to look for caiman there.

We cruised the river, shining the light along the banks when Jose found a tree boa. Sweet little thing, about 4 1/2′ long and skinny. Very docile. He passed it to me and I held it without incident. Took some pictures and then let it go.

We then headed back to the lagoon, but this time it was creepier. It was a tight squeeze through the submerged trees and they scraped up against the metal boat while tons of insects flew every which way. Mostly into my face, mouth and hair. We immediately saw three eye shines and went to go check them out.

They were little guys and Jose snared it and plopped it on top of a lily pad. Cute little thing, speckles of yellow on the body, and like my friendĀ Jan used to say, “squishy like a water bottle”. He was very tolerant of us and we noticed his little buddy two lily pads away watching the fiasco unfolding. This particular one had not been tagged yet and we didn’t have the equipment to do it so we just released him.

There had been lightning in the distance and it was now getting closer. Ok, metal boat + lightning = dead people. We hurried back to shore but in the meantime saw a capybara swimming bravely across the river. Weird looking thing, like a rat on steroids. Should’ve named him lucky considering we counted at least seven or eight croc eye shines along the way. Hope he made it safely to wherever he was going!

What fun!! We will go out again tomorrow and try to catch a larger one, We did see an eight footer but didn’t attempt to catch it. Time to rest up for tomorrow.