Continuing the saga of There to Here ... Join Nine of Cups and crew as we visit the Guianas ... French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana ... from the infamous Devil's Island to bird singing contests to Kaiteur National Park ... lots to see and do. Come on along!Read More
Described as the world's widest, single drop waterfall, Kaieteur is considered a must-see while in Guyana. Located on the Potaro River in the Amazon rain forest, its cascade plunges 226m (741ft) in a single drop and a total of 251m (815ft) before reaching the gorge below. That's about five times higher than Niagara Falls and more than twice the height of Victoria Falls. According to the World Waterfall Database, the average volume of water flowing over the falls is somewhere around 23,000 cubic feet per second, making this a rare combination of a very tall waterfall on a high volume river.
Gem drove us to Ogle Airport in Georgetown, an airport used expressly by tour planes. Along with the pilot and 10 other passengers, we crammed into the tiny, single prop Grand Caravan C208B plane for a one hour flight to Kaieteur. It wasn't the safest looking plane. The pilot mumbled something about seat belts, revved up, and we were airborne. No peanuts … no beverage service.
We took off right on time, without incident (the best kind of take-off). The views from the plane were excellent until the clouds moved in. Once away from the city, David remarked that the rain forest, when we could see it, looked like broccoli florets.
We landed on a tiny airstrip at the national park headquarters where two AmerIndian guides, Max and Omar, were waiting for us, ready to whisk us away on a 90-minute hike through the rain forest to the falls.
We struck out immediately for Kaieteur with Max in the lead. We stopped quite frequently to observe and learn more about some of the unusual, endemic plants and animals in the area. The red drosera kaieteurensis (yes, Max knew all the Latin names), a member of the sundew family, is a carnivore, that invites insects to dinner, luring them with its bright color and sweet, sticky sap, then gobbling them up.
We also learned a little about the history and legends associated with Kaieteur. Charles Barrington Brown, a British geologist, was the first European to see the falls and record its location in 1870. AmerIndian legends concerning the falls abound, but Max told us this one. Kaie was an old Patamona chief who sacrificed himself to the great spirit, Makonaima, by paddling over the falls in his canoe in order to save his people and bring peace between them and neighboring tribes. “Teur” is the AmerIndian word for falls, hence the name Kaieteur. It's also referred to as Old Man Falls. A stone formation at the edge of the falls is said to be the face of Kaie.
There were three separate trails which took us to different views of the falls. The first trail was quite straightforward, except for the labbaria (fer de lance) snake that was curled up against a stepping stone in a narrow part of the trail. Max watched as we all carefully passed, avoiding the snake as best we could. They're said to have grumpy dispositions. Their venom is particularly lethal and fast acting although treatment is usually possible if the victim receives medical attention soon enough. Hmmm … how far were we from Georgetown? The guides took it all in stride.
We could hear the thunder of the falls and feel the vibration before we saw them.
The second viewpoint was a bit more strenuous to get to. We went over a narrow moss-covered plank bridge, ducked down under huge boulders, around massive tree roots, through dense foliage and finally up a steep, muddy incline before reaching our destination. It was well worth the effort.
Along the trail we saw huge bromeliads (Brocchina micrantha); some were 8-10' (2-3m) tall. Within the tanks (axis of the leaves) of these giants live rare, tiny golden frogs (Anomaloglossus beebei). The frog is born, lives and dies here and in all the world, is only found on the Kaieteur Plateau. Indigenous people once collected poison from the slime that oozes from the frog's skin and used the toxin on blowgun darts and arrows. The curare-like toxin is said to be 160,000 times more powerful than cocaine and kills nearly instantly. Omar pointed one out to us. It was so tiny, it was difficult to see as it peeked out at us. Unfortunately, with 11 other people waiting to see it, we were rushed (I hate that!) and the photo opp was only seconds long per person before we were rushed along to another viewing point.
We reached the third viewpoint on an easy trail which opened to a wide, level area from which to view the falls. Signs cautioned us to stay at least 8' from the edge since there are no rails, but most folks ignored the caution, as did the guides. It wasn't until after our visit that we realized we had only seen three lookouts and not the four that are usually on the tour. It appears there have been two suicides in recent months by young girls leaping from the edge.
All too soon, it was time to head back to the park headquarters. Cold water and plantain chips were waiting for us and then we re-boarded our tiny plane to head back to Georgetown. On the return, the visibility was much improved. The pilot flew over the falls providing us with a good aerial view.
We could see a network of brown rivers snaking their way through the dense jungle below. Every once in awhile a mining settlement popped into view, an unsightly blotch in the greenery below.
We caught sight of the Demarara as it meandered its way toward Georgetown.
Several Georgetown landmarks came into view including Stabroek Market, the Demarara Harbour Bridge and the Georgetown Lighthouse.
Before we knew it, we were landing at Ogle Airport once more.
Gem and Kit met us and whisked us off to the brand new Giftland Mall, Guyana's first mall and quite a novelty. The mall was bright and shiny and all decked out for Christmas. A local comic, Jumbie Jones introduced local entertainment, Guyana's Prime Minister gave a short speech and then the moment we'd all been waiting for … the lighting of the Christmas tree.
A very, very full and memorable day and by the time Kit and Gem dropped us off, we were too tuckered to go out for dinner. We had a “picnic” of crackers, cheese and apples (and a little wine) in the room and prepared to head back to Bartica in the morning.
We walked and walked and walked some more till we arrived at Georgetown's majestic City Hall. Built in 1889, it's in desperate need of repair, but the grandness of the Neo-Gothic colonial architecture shows through.
Queen Victoria stands regally and presides over the proceedings at Guyana's High Court (Victoria Law Courts) buildings (1887). Parliament is nearby, as is the National Library and the State House.
We made our way to St. George's Cathedral. Built in 1899, this Gothic style Anglican church was once considered the “world's tallest wooden building”. Constructed primarily of greenheart, a local hardwood, it, too, is in dire need of restoration and work was in progress on what is now a national monument.
We headed to Stabroek Market, a huge cast iron building with a stately iron clock tower.
Dating back to 1792, the market area is total chaos where you can buy anything from broccoli to brassieres and toilet plungers to gold. The stalls are tight and crowded. Hawkers and vendors are shouting and touting their wares. People are shoulder to shoulder, hustled along by the flow of the throng. The smell of rotting veggies, odd spices and human sweat prevail. Still, you can feel and absorb the frenetic energy of the place as you pass through. We were warned of pickpockets here, but escaped unscathed.
We headed to the relative calm of the National Museum. It's housed in a non-descript building and is part natural history and part cultural history … although neither is done particularly well. The highlight of the museum is the giant sloth exhibition which has its own room. Evidently giant ground sloths (megatherium) once roamed the area, the skeletal remains of which were discovered by a miner in Guyana's interior. Considered to be one of the largest mammals that ever walked the earth, these guys were about the size of a modern day bull elephant.
Across the street from the museum is the Hibiscus Craft Market which begged a look. We quickly passed up the “made in China” trinkets and honed in on the local crafts including nibbee vine creations, basketry and carvings.
Though we appreciated the craftsmanship, nothing appealed to us. Pam, a native Guyanese friend, had recently given me a 40-year old, traditional Guyanese hat which now hung in the boat. What better souvenir that that?
We were looking for a respite and found the Oasis Cafe for a refreshing iced latte. We'd planned a rum factory tour and tasting at the Demarara Distillers, but they canceled at the last minute with no alternative tours available during our stay. Sigh! No matter, we wandered some more and found ourselves at the lovely Promenade Gardens, a fine place to sit and relax in the shade next to a Ghandi statue and watch the weasels (mongooses?) that apparently enjoyed the park as much as we did. It seems, by the way, that the Mahatma needed spectacles and was fitted with them after the statue was completed.
All in all, Georgetown has been a surprise. It's a third world city, without a doubt, but it seems that there's a major effort underway to clean-up, renovate and restore. Traffic is horrendous and crazy and both driving and walking is a risk. The people, however, are warm, friendly and helpful. Beyond the colonial buildings, parks, statues and markets, there was so much to be seen by just wandering around and observing. We walked during the day and ventured out at night by taxi … they're cheap. We didn't flaunt jewelry or cash. We were alert and practiced typical street-wise, any-city behavior. We never felt threatened or at risk for our security.
While we were busy exploring Georgetown, Gem had arranged a tour to Guyana's legendary waterfalls at Kaieteur National Park. Pack your hiking shoes, your sunscreen and insect repellent, we're heading into the Interior tomorrow!