South America was one of my last continents left to travel to, the other being Antarctica. I wanted it to be something really special, and not just another backpacking trip surrounded by tourists on the very, very beaten track.
Of course whenever I thought of a trip to South America the Amazon Jungle was there at the top, but there was a deep yearning inside of me that wanted to experience the mighty jungle in its true wildest form, and not just as a guided trip alongside a multitude of tourists and shops.
The question was how could I do that in this travel saturated part of the world, and not go to such extremes to get away from the beaten tracks that I’d end up lost and dead?
The land of many waters, Guyana, was the answer! The least visited country in South America, and one of the least visited in the world. This country is 80% pristine rainforest, a huge part still untouched by humans with unnamed and unclimbed mountains in its depths. Being a former British colony also meant English was ubiquitous which would make things easier.
So after much research, planning, reading maps, and scouring the internet for what little crumbs of information I could find, I took a very long 40 hour flight across the USA and Caribbean to land into Georgetown.
Guyana identifies itself more with the Caribbean culture more so than the South American one it is geographically based in. Georgetown, it’s capital doesn’t have much to do tourism wise, and from what the locals, taxi driver and internet told me , it’s not very safe either. So I didn’t spend too much time here, just the one night to rest from my long travels, and then I would head out. I did find the buildings quite fascinating, as the remnants of these decaying structures reflected their British colonial past through their architecture. A rare look into the long gone Empire.
So the plan was to get as close as I could to the Jungle. I had researched and found a gold mining town called Mahdia, which was based very close to the rainforest I wanted to head into, Kaieteur National Park. To get there I had to get a minibus from Stabroek Market at 6am (the number 72) with the other miners. They wait until the whole bus is jam packed to its limit, which took 3 hours to fill up to the drivers satisfaction. Off we were then, for the next 6-8 hours across dirt roads that led into the wild interior of the country.
After about 5-6 hours we arrived at the river, where the minibus would reverse onto a pontoon that would float us across.
On the other side of the river we dropped off a local that lived in this village tucked away into the jungle, only imagining at what their day to day life must be like.
Another 1-2 hours and we were finally at the gold mining town of Mahdia! Interestingly Mahdia only gained status as a town last year, the whole of this town can be walked around in 5 minutes!
The first of my trials would begin here. To get any further , I would need to find someone with a 4×4, and a boat to take me across multiple waterfalls (Amatuk and Waratuk) to Tukeit, where my trail would begin. I walked around, chatting to the locals and telling them of my plans, which eventually got me an audience with the “mayor” of this place, Godfrey.
There’s a lot of things I could say about Godfrey, mostly good, some not so great, of which I’ll elaborate in another blog post at another time. For now I can say Godfrey was very helpful in getting me the resources and help I needed and was a very friendly bloke. I was quite touched with the stories he told me of his deceased family and the circumstances around this (multiple motor accidents on those crazy roads I just travelled in). He was also very eager to tell the world about the beauty of Guyana, and the incredible adventure that lay so close to Mahdia. His hopes were that tourists would come to his little town and he could start taking them into the Jungle to begin a proper tourism industry that he and his people could live off. Well, as I promised Godfrey, here’s to that happening one day!
The next morning, Godfrey came and picked me up in his 4×4, the plan was for him to drop me off at Pamela Landing, which is where the roads end. From here I would share a small boat with the miners to Amatuk falls. This initially was going to cost me $100 or more, but I managed to get it down to $50, which included a full tank of fuel that I could use on the other boats to my final destination. From that point on , his man Captain Jeffery would take me all the way to Tukeit himself, for a hefty $240, which I found ridiculous, but some interesting events folded around that.
At this point, I could really feel myself escaping from the world, into the real wilderness I came to experience. There were no other tourists with me, no guides or agendas, just locals allowing me to be absorbed into this alien reality and other world.
Eventually we arrived at Amatuk Falls, here the boat would need to be carried over by land by us to continue further.
At this point the captain dropped me off, and told me to go up to the small village and look for a lady named Diane, she could point me to Captain Jefferey who would have his boat ready.
Amatuk village is actually in the process of being built, the purpose of which is to eventually be somewhere tourists can stay overnight in. For now it’s pretty much empty with a few people here and there building the foundations, and miners taking rest in the local shop that Diane runs. I find her and ask about Jefferey, to which she replies Jefferey has left and is on the run from the police due to attacking and stealing something…..well..great…
I tell her of my plans, to which she very helpfully finds another person who can captain the boat, goes by the name Soldier, however he doesn’t have a boat of his own, and needs to wait for the miners to come back from using it before we can go. By the time they would come back, the sun would most likely be setting and it wouldn’t be safe for me to starting my trek then. So she offers a place for me to sleep over the night for free and also gives me breakfast, lunch and dinner through-out the day. An absolute angel of a lady with some great stories! The best part, Soldier offers the boat journey for $50, opposed to Jeffery’s $240! It wasn’t a bad place to be stuck.
For now I would rest, read, and relax. Until morning when I would begin on the last part of my journey into the wild.