Guyana – In search of the Jaguar and other wildlife
Guyana formally known as British Guiana is situated where the Caribbean meets South America and more than 80% of it is covered in Rainforests, it is still little explored which appealed to me and is packed with some fascinating endemic species including the Harpy Eagle and the Cock of the Rock bird.
Guyana is home to the Essequibo River that runs through almost the entire length of the country at approximately 600 miles long.
Guyana is a commonwealth state that regained its independence from Britain in 1966 and the spoken language there remains as English.
Early explorers such as Charles Waterton and Sir Walter Raleigh were drawn into the diversity of the wildlife to later be followed by Gerald Durrell and Sir David Attenborough. What was doubly exciting for me about Guyana is that Diane McTurk has her Karanambu Ranch there where she rescues and works with Giant River Otters, this is someone who I really wanted to meet.
In February 2011 I flew out to Guyana in South America to explore the rainforests there and look for the elusive Jaguar along with other wildlife and any unusual insects I could find, I saved up for this trip over a year and a half and also sold some of my bits and pieces on Ebay.
It took me three flights to get to Bridgetown in Guyana before then travelling by buses and getting a boat in order to get to the rainforest areas.
Flight 1 was British Airways; it took 81/2 hours flying from the UK to Barbados
Flight 2 I liked the airport there as it was friendly, I had to collect my main bag and then re-check it in for the next flight with Caribbean airlines, which was on a very small plane and took 1 hour from Barbados to Trinidad. I was asked to sit by the exit door and act as a flight assistant, should anything go wrong.
Flight 3 In contrast to the friendliness of Barbados airport I felt uneasy at Trinidad and got searched and questioned twice, all of my camera equipment was searched and searched again and they questioned my ‘army’ boots which I explained were walking boots and the dog tag I wore, which is my dads, worn for luck and I would not let them take it off me.
This tag is special to me as my Dad wore his dog tag in the Army in Burma many years ago and was shot at by a Gurkha, he was lucky as it missed him by an inch, the Gurkha of course was embarrassed as they were on the same side, it had just been so dark he had mistaken him for the enemy.
Dad always said it is his lucky tag and since then I have worn it for luck whenever travelling, it has always served me well so far and the Masai warriors in Kenya loved the story behind it, therefore I kept up the tradition and wore it here too.
On being searched and questioned I explained its talisman-like purpose and was then was asked: “Do you need luck miss King?”
“Yes” I replied “……..always”
They finally let me go after searching through my photographic equipment again and then questioning whether my torch was a grenade and making me switch it on and off 3 times, on seeing that it did not explode they finally released me.
I was lucky to make the flight after all that, I looked around and saw only local people around me, although I did not know any of the team that were also doing this trip, I wondered where they were, all I did know was that they were all English.
I was frustrated on this flight as I was not permitted to take any photographs from the plane as they thought it would interfere with the equipment, there were stunning views of the turquoise blue sea below dotted with little green islands framed by a huge sweeping bay.
On arrival in Georgetown I waited and collected my bag, I was very pleased to see it as I had been warned that they can and often do go missing out this way.
I hiked my stuff onto my back and made my way outside to the pick up point, it is a tiny airport with only a field as a pick up and a couple of taxi stands there.
I looked for the company/group sign, it was nowhere to be seen, this was rather worrying as people were disappearing into the night very quickly and soon it was just me and a couple of taxi drivers there. One of them kept trying to assist me, but for some reason I did not trust him at all and decided to ask the other one for help.
He told me that it was unlikely anyone else would be coming now and kindly lent me his phone to call the Lodge where I was to stay the first night with the team.
I rang and was told that the others were all on the next flight and no one would be coming for another 4-5 hours. It was 22:30pm dark and felt odd to be hanging about in this now empty field plus I was so tired so with nowhere else to go, I hired the taxi man I liked the look of to go straight to the lodge.
The driver’s name was Poppy, he was a friendly amenable sort of chap and I liked his bright, happy personality, it was quite a long drive to the lodge nearly 2 hours so on the journey he pointed out stray dogs and his friends and he knew everybody it seemed, they would spot his car and shout “poppy, poppy” waving enthusiastically. He spoke a great deal about drugs and due to the amount of people approaching his taxi from the back streets I began to wonder if he was a dealer, I asked him this question out of interest more than anything and he just smiled.
It being Valentines Day there were many celebrations going on in the street bars and people danced rhythmically to their stereos. Poppy explained that there is a large drug problem there but that it is the choices of the people, only they can decide their fates, I liked his non-judgemental outlook.
I arrived at the lodge thanks to Poppy and spent the night looking for tree frogs in the area before going to bed around 3am.
The next morning at breakfast bit by bit the other members of the group emerged looking very tired and introduced themselves there were 9 of us in total and it seems that they were all delayed at the airport so consequently the whole group missed the second flight out. I was the only one who got through, they seemed quite agitated at my getting through, though none of them had been searched as I had, instead their delay was due to queueing up at immigration.
The journey out and across to the next destination was on the buses followed by jumping on a small boat that weaved silently on a brown tannin stained river, which was still as glass.
Blue Morpho butterflies wafted by accompanied by hundreds of Dragonflies whizzing at high speeds crisscrossing the boats path.
We saw a Three Toed Sloth high up in a tree and I was delighted to see some of the most beautiful red and purple Dragonflies that I have ever seen, though getting pictures of them was not so easy.
I quickly found that out of the 9 of us, I was the only insect person and the others including the guide were really avid birders, so getting the attention of them to get me nearer to my dragonflies was tricky, as generally whenever I tried to speak I was greeted with a “shhhhhhh”
I would look longingly across at my Dragonflies at the Bankside, while they all gazed skywards through their binoculars.
The heat was intense and already I felt my hands and face burning to a crisp even with sun tan lotion on, it was difficult to escape the heat out on the water 30.8′ the jungle that edged the river was reflected in the water.
We headed out to our first destination which was called Arrow point, aptly named after the pointed palms that grow there.
This jungle lodge was very welcoming we were given fruit juice and a fantastic dinner of rice and beans on the wooden veranda overlooking the river and rainforest. I was then shown to my hut, it had running water, which was soft and dark brown from the tannin straight from the lake.
I dropped my bags, kitted up my cameras and went straight out bug hunting on a forest trail, some of the insects here are really brightly coloured and stand out like jewels on the foliage, like the Leaf Hopper pictured above.
Other insects use the camouflage or mimicry method, for example some of the leaf bugs literally look like walking leaves, praying mantises and walking stick insects are often extremely difficult to spot as they blend on so well.
The forest trees are regularly latched on to by opportunistic vines and creepers that will travel up and often either smother the tree or pull it down, this though is necessary in creating light from the canopy and the taller trees then continue to grow. It is a fight for survival of the fittest even amongst the trees it seems.
After dinner and a few of us went out on a night walk.
The jungle was inky black and full of eerie night noises, we lit the way with our head torches, had we turned them off it would be pitch black, you are not permitted to do the night walks alone for fear of Jaguar attack and Fer de Lance snakes. I will talk more about these dangers later on in the post.
The scent in the forest was of a strong vanilla.
As we walked in single file quietly along the track we suddenly heard our guide whisper loudly “STOP” we halted and listened to a loud hissing noise, which turned out to be thousands of ants crossing the leaf litter.
We were instructed to quickly run across them and shake out our legs afterwards, although we did this we still found that on moving quickly some had gone up our legs and their stings were extremely sharp even penetrating through our clothes.
We were all jumping up and down to rid ourselves of these stinging assassins and later had to cross the hissing mass again with the same painful results.
Species seen: Woodpecker, Net Spiders, Wolf Spider, insects galore, Golden metallic Dragonfly, False Coral Snake, Opossum, Tiny frogs and a cane Toad.
Afterwards I did a quick night walk alone, I did not go too far into the forest for fear of Jaguars and snake bites, however I did find a millipede curled up on a branch and some tree frogs so it was a worthwhile walk.
Returning back to my hut I got under my mosquito net and fell asleep to the sounds of the forest, including the eerie call of the Great Tinnamou.
During the night, something started to chew the straw on my hut very loudly, I tried to record the munching sound on the cam, it was either a rat or an opossum.
The next day was spent doing treks and trails in search of wildlife and later as the light was going beacons were being lit on the beach and preparations for a party by the locals to see us off on our journey tomorrow and wish us well by dispelling any evil spirits.
A huge fire was prepared by wood in a pyramid style and I was the lucky one chosen to light the fire, a great honour to ward off the spirits then once I had gone around and lit it all as chief fire lighter I had to begin eating, only once I had started to eat could the others follow…..most excellent!
Sitting on the beach eating bean and rice curry whilst drinking black and white Rum was just brilliant, the rum was very strong stuff so I rubbed some of it onto my mosquito bites.
The evening was lovely but also felt a little eerie as it was so dark and silent.
The next day I got up at 5am and had to divide my bags to keep the weight down as we had a small plane internal journey and anything over the 20g limit would be kept behind.
I had to leave behind my bite lotions and creams as they weighed so much along with clothes and anything that I did not vitally need. I was left with little as my camera equipment ate up most of the weighing in limit, so would be washing and wearing the same outfit for the rest of the trip.
There followed a long boat trip back down the tannin river and once again I was frustrated by seeing the Dragonflies at the edge of the river but not being able to get close enough to them for a decent photograph. I now wished I had hired a canoe out and gone it alone down here, however time was short on the trip.
One of the group found a false scorpion on the boat, it was a lovely multi coloured specimen so I put it into my live insect collecting box to release at the end of the boat trip back onto land.
Unfortunately it rained extremely hard for the rest of the trip and was torrential by the time we got all our things off the canoe and scrambled up the muddy bank to the waiting bus. I kept my scorpion with me thinking I would release him as soon as we reached the next stop and the weather calmed down.
On the bus I gazed out the window watching the urban city of Georgetown emerge and enjoyed the diversity of the wooden houses, some painted yellow with verandas, others plain wood brown on stilts, some pink, some green, whatever the colour each house seemed to be built slightly differently.
I thought I had better check on my multi coloured scorpion, however on lifting the box out of my rucksack pocket I saw that it had escaped and on saying so, everyone jumped up from their seats not at all happy about this thing on the loose. It was completely harmless though, I think it’s just the word ‘Scorpion’ that gets people panicking, I found it all rather amusing.
We arrived at the small airport, well in fact it was tiny and we were weighed individually (I hung my heavy camera and zoom lens on my neck) and then our individual bags were weighed also.
After a wait we were led to a small plane that seated just 10 people including the pilot, I was very lucky in having the opportunity to sit by him as ‘co-pilot’ which was fantastic as I managed to get some great views of the rainforest landscape below.
The pilot said very little, in fact nothing except please do not touch the dual controls, I made sure I did not and spent the flight enjoying the clouds that looked like huge mountains right by the side of us and forests below that looked like miniature broccoli.
After an hour and a half we started to descend and landed on a private airstrip in a field where we were warmly greeted by a wonderfully charismatic man called Salvador who welcomed us and showed us to two 4×4 army type open trucks that smelled strongly of petrol.
I jumped on the back of one of the trucks for the long bumpy ride across to Karanambu ranch where Diane McTurk resides with her otters Bell and Philip.
Diane is very famous as she is seen as a modern day Joy Adamson living with otters and working to protect them. She told me that her father was a pioneer of the land and left the ranch to her when he died, she consequently moved to the ranch to write about him, however on adopting the otters and developing a close relationship with them she, herself became the legend.
The ranch known as Karanambu with the Rupununi river running through it became a dream place for naturalists to research the endemic wildlife and has been visited by both Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough. It now operates as a scientific research station as well as an eco lodge, it really is special to be at Karanambu as few people get out this way.
The Karanambu ranch covers 125 square miles and Diane’s father managed the vast savannah of forest, grassland and rivers, 600 cattle still graze on the land and Giant Ant Eaters roam the area along with black Caiman and Howler Monkeys.
Most famous for the area though are of course the Giant River Otters that Diane put on the map in her dedication of the rehabilitation and release of orphaned otters in the area.
The Giant River Otter which is often referred to as the “water dog” by the local people are often taken when young for pets, then abandoned as they grow for the owners can not cope with the threat of their sharpening teeth and volume of food (generally Piranha fish) needed to keep them.
Diane herself met us off the trucks and I shook her hand as she led me to my hut, what an amazing place it was with straw roof, large bed with mosquito net, a shelf of books and stable doors, it even had a washing line across the room and a little hammock.
Diane runs the ranch and Salvador acts as her main support along with a few other staff members, they often have an intern naturalist in who will study the wildlife but also assist with the running of the place, which seems like a fair deal.
As well as the two giant Otters, there are four rescue cats there, one of which is called Sir Walter Raleigh and a Racoon called Bandit.
The Racoon was brought to Diane by a small boy from the next village along in the hope of making some pocket-money, Diane refused to give him the money, however she did pay for some of his schooling, much to the delight of his family who were struggling to pay it, what a nice gesture.
Bandit likes toothpaste and if found will squirt it all over the hut walls, he can open zips and bags, but not the heavy old drawers, so Diane instructed me to leave my toothpaste in there at all times, I did so.
After settling into my hut, I met the others for a lunch and had a rum punch (a favourite of Diane and served several times on a daily basis). Then came the magic, to walk down to the water and watch Diane with her beloved Otters, she affectionately talks to them the whole time saying “my heart, my love, my life” over and over again and they respond to her well spoken clipped English accent with their prehistoric sounding cries.
It was a joy to watch the otters in the river, they were so graceful and Diane dressed immaculately in her beige slacks and shirt would wade in with them speaking her endearments the whole time, she clearly adores the otters and they reciprocate willingly.
The two otters interacted and played games with each other ducking and diving and circling each other in the water, occasionally Philip would run out followed by Belle, he had to be told off quite a bit as he attempted to chase and bite us constantly, you have to react quickly and jump out of the way.
Diane is the only person that they do not bite.
I could have watched that scene for hours, the time would have slipped by and not one moment would I have looked away as the otters mesmerize the viewer while at play and Diane has a presence about her that was compelling to be around.
Later I found myself out on the river in a canoe floating along the bank side where I had a lucky sighting of a pair of Capybaras, along with a nest of young Caiman crocodiles and birds galore including a flock of skimmers which I photographed as the sun set and the sky turned golden pink.
As darkness fell and the sky lit up with stars I lay back in the boat drinking rum punch and watching the glittering night sky.
What followed was an entertaining evening meal with Diane at the head of the table telling of her stories of pioneering and a husband she divorced after two months a he disapproved of her riding horses. I greatly enjoyed listening to the stories Diane told and afterwards went out on a solo bug hunt.
In fact rather than bugs I found a beautifully marked snake curled up in a dead tree, I went to get Salvador and he came to check it was not dangerous, he thought not he said although he could not identify it.
On returning to the hut I got underneath my mosquito net and lay there listening to the bats as they squeaked constantly communicating to each other, one flew into my net and then crashed suddenly to the floor stunning itself. I got out from under my net and stooped down to gently pick it up, the bat then quickly revived and flew back up to the straw roof to join its companions.
I liked it in the hut room, I had a white candle burning to provide some light as the floor got covered in insects at night and I wanted to avoid stepping on them should I need to get up. Also, we had been told about a couple of people who had woken to find snakes with very large fangs in their huts, although I have an interest in everything natural I did not relish the thought of stepping on one of those. That night I dreamt of thin, small floor snakes with the huge long fangs and a couple of times work up expecting to see one next to me.
Along with the squeaking bats and dreams of fanged snakes, my nights sleep was broken up by a very loud storm throughout the night and just after 1am the candle blew out and my stable door flew open, at first I thought someone was standing there watching me, however it was a trick of the moonlight and my over active mind playing games with me. I got up treading carefully in the dark to avoid any large fanged snakes and shut the door back up.
I had a very upset stomach that night so made many trips during the long hours, still I was so excited to finally be there that I did not care, it was part of it and to be expected, few adventures come without some sort of stomach trouble.
Swimming with Piranhas and Caimans
I got up at 05:30am the next morning but did not feel so good with a very bad stomach again, we have Doctor Christopher Spry in the group, he is a lovely guy, what i would call an old school, eccentric well spoken gentleman and he gave me a good remedy to try.
We headed out in the two battered vehicles sitting out in the open on the back for the long bumpy dusty ride out to the Savannah and enjoyed the vastness of it, views that stretched for miles and miles.
Stopping at an old ranch I was intrigued by the two owners who looked so deeply wrinkled by the sun and who were standing so still as if they had been there since the dawn of time. There were chickens and a cat pottering around the place and a couple of very thin scraggy looking horses.
As usual I went off bug hunting and found to my delight two Thorn Bugs that were extremely exotic and colourful to look at as well as some spectacular Leaf hoppers.
We moved on and further up the Savannah, again the ride was very bumpy and slow as there were deep rivets in the dried out soil, the trees we passed were typically small, twisted and dead looking, though some were still covered in leaves.
There was also a lot of evidence of burning, they do have the slash and burn going on here for two different reasons, one is by the farmers making space to grow their crops for the cattle and the other is by teenagers who do it to see how fast the fire will spread, it is an ongoing dangerous problem.
As we drove on there was suddenly a shout up ahead and both vehicles came to a quick and steady standstill, we all got out, excitement was in the air and no one spoke, none of us needed to as we looked ahead and saw to our delight a Giant Ant Eater. This was a treat, as they are not easy to find as the Savannah is so vast and they tend to wander for miles.
I managed to get just three photographs as it ran past and off into the wilderness, Ant eaters are very shy and also very quick runners.
We headed back to Diane’s ranch, the ride was long and the fumes from the vehicles, even though we sat outside on the back of the vehicles, were very strong, the view, however, more than made up for that.
On getting to know that journey I always looked forward to reaching a small patch of woodland that was cooling as we drove through it and indicated that we were almost back at the ranch, I always looked for the Jaguar that had often been seen there, in that area I did not see it, though I am quite sure it saw us.
Lunch was salt fish, pumpkin rice and salad. Later in the afternoon we went downriver in the canoes and disembarked scrambling up a muddy sand bank into the forest once more to walk to a lake with giant Lily pads which were called Queen Victoria lilies.
We had three locals with us who cut some of the path forward with their machetes as it was so dense and overgrown in places, at one point the path finder instructed us to run over a section and not stop or look back. There was no explanation for this whatsoever so we had absolutely no idea from what we were running from, as it turned out it was from huge Bees that they considered very dangerous. I kept running and did not see any of the Bees, though a couple of the group did and said that they were huge.
Walking through the tall foliage I got repeatedly cut by the razor grass, my arms bled quite heavily from the grazes, razor grass is very effective stuff.
At the lily pad lake it was relaxing and picturesque though very hot and I was restless in my continued search for insects, I was lucky enough to find an exuviae of a Dragonfly larvae, which I attempted to collect for my friend Harvey, however a gust of wind blew it away to my utter annoyance.
The walk back was better as I found a good selection of insects, some leaf cutter ants and tiny tree frogs, though as it had been so hot I and the team were quite pleased to get back to base for lunch.
I spoke to another guest of the ranch, a Canadian chap who suggested I have a swim in the tannin lake, I decided to go for it and on entering the water felt it to be wonderfully cooling and soothing on the cuts and bites. I wallowed there for a while, before spotting a huge Caiman who had swam up quite close and was watching me, he then sank slowly below the surface and once I could no longer see his position I waded out very quickly.
The piranhas had not bothered me as they gently clean your skin and it is quite relaxing to feel them around you, the scenes you see in American movies of Piranhas attacking humans in a feeding frenzy is vastly inaccurate and they will only feed this way if there is torn flesh in the water signalled by blood to attract them.
Later on I told a local that I had been swimming in the river and he shook his head and said “electric eels, very bad idea” ah, I had not been aware that they were in there, so that was the first and last time I swam in that river.
As I still felt ill I decided to stay at camp and do my own exploration of the area, I was rewarded by coming upon a wooden post that was covered in very small ants with a handful of huge dominant Horn Ants with large spikes on their backs. These ants looked fearsome and were fascinating to watch and photograph as they literally killed the colony of small ants on the post in a very short time.
As darkness fell, I wandered down to the lake and sat under the stars listening to a Screech owl and spotting all the glistening eyes of the Caiman in the water with my head torch, this pleasurable experience was only tarnished by the relentless bites through my clothes of the mosquitos.
The next day I went back to the Savannah with three members of the group in search of another Ant Eater, no luck this time, although we searched thoroughly, however I enjoyed just taking in the beauty of this unique area, which is part of the Rupanuni in Guyana.
We saw many forest fires again and moved up to a lake area the locals call the Dam and I remember it was full of tiny colourful Dragonflies and needle katydids, a very special little habitat.
Back at base we had a good breakfast with a favourite import for Diane of ‘Aunty Dorothy’s Marmalade’ which was extremely tasty. There was a bird feeder hanging up from the straw roof and one of the cats “Sir Walter Raleigh’ jumped at a bird narrowly missing it, a most impressive move from Walter although he was shouted at by Salvador who has little patience for his pouncing antics.
I asked Salvador if I could look at his garden as there may be some praying mantises in there, he obligingly showed me round, however I did not find a mantis in there or any other insects at that time, which surprised me.
I later walked up to the private airstrip to see what I could find and there were plenty of giant colourful wasps, orb spiders and a colourful Mantis, a strange variety that I have yet to ID.
After the walk, I went with Diane to meet Bandit the Racoon, he emerged slowly from a large, hollow pipe and seemed very excited to see new faces. Bandit bites people and like Philip the otter gets very bitey around strangers, a few times I found myself diving out of his way.
Diane was fascinating to watch, she is tall, elegant and very thin, dressed in immaculate beige slacks and white shirt, she walks confidently amongst her animals and has a presence about her that is rare these days. Her Colonial upbringing is also evident in the language she uses and her taste in all things fine, even though they are in the Rupanuni, she still orders in a few luxury British items.
I wandered down the Otter trail to the river and watched Philip and Belle swimming together, I never tired of watching the otters at play and can still recall their pre-historic sounding cries as though I had just heard them.
As the light started to dim we went out once again in the old trucks across the bumpy Savannah to watch the sunset, even at that time there were clear views of burning trees in the distance.
I found a magnificently colourful caterpillar with a clear casing over it, I had noticed a few insects out there had this clear layer over them, I can only imagine it is another mechanism for protection against predators, though must research this and find out for definite.
Back at base I was honoured to be seated at the head of the table next to the legendary Diane, to hear her stories is quite something and she poured out further tales of pioneering and her time spent with the otters with gusto as we merrily drank more rum punch.
Unfortunately I was still rather unwell with my upset stomach and as Diane was telling me about her times spent many years ago with a young David Attenborough I began to sweat, feeling feverish and with a grumbling belly this generally meant only one thing in the jungle…..diarrhoea. I decided that I would slip back to my hut at the next pause or change in story and make a dash for the latrine and then return for the remainder of the evening.
However, Diane was by now in high spirits and getting into recalling her stories she barely paused for breath before beginning another tale, I sat there feeling more and more uncomfortable by the second, however had not the heart to interrupt until Diane had finished or paused, as it would seem rude.
This got more and more difficult and my stomach continued to churn in cramps to the extent that in the end I could wait no longer and leapt up midway through one of Diane’s tales shouting “I HAVE TO GO…..RIGHT NOW!!!” and ran from the table out into the night and back to my hut.
Consequently I did not return to the table as I really was quite poorly.
I lit my candle and got under my mosquito net and that is where I stayed. My time laying there was entertained though by the bats that squeaked and flew around the hut and in the early hours I heard shouting and later learned that Bandit had got into one of the others huts, found toothpaste and squirted it all around the place. He also mischievously unzipped their bags and threw their kit around the hut, quite a character Bandit.
The next morning I apologised profusely to Diane for my unexpected fast exit and once she understood my dilemma she laughed heartily at the whole predicament.
The Journey to Surama
The next day I was up at 6am and for the last time sat in the food hut having breakfast of omelette and Aunty Dorothy’s marmalade with Diane, Salvador and the gang, I felt sad to be leaving there as it was such a special place and it is unlikely I will ever return.
Before leaving I asked Diane if I could have one photograph of her, she agreed and stood by the wall of bayonets that belonged to her father, dressed in her usual cool attire and jungle hat, she looked every bit the iconic legend she has now become.
We then walked down to the waiting boats, it began to rain heavily so I quickly covered my camera equipment and then slung it into my waterproof bags.
The boat journey was wonderful, the sun returned and shone brightly again and I sat in the front with a local boat boy and we both chatted for a while before listening to our ipods.
Eventually we docked the boats and scrambled up mud banks to a very large, battered army truck which was all open at the back.
The next part of the trip across was absolutely staggering as we weaved and bumped over winding dust tracks passing lush green foliage and going through the same rainforest mountains that I had photographed from the small aeroplane on the last journey.
There were so many birds, raptors, egrets and brightly coloured rollers scattered along the roadside foliage, the light was fantastic as the sun created a dark golden glow over the forested landscape.
We then came to a spectacular area, which to this day is my favourite part of Guyana, driving down twisted dust tracks with high rainforest on either side, greens dotted with yellows, reds and purples from orchids and punctuated by the dramatic lightening trees.
There were hundreds and hundreds of white and yellow butterflies, hoards of them flying over and past the vehicle, there would be huge patches of them clustered together on clay licks in the road and they would scatter as our vehicle passed by, this is called an explosion of butterflies.
We eventually came to Surama village and our guide who lived there was clearly proud to show us his home as we weaved our way up the long track past the smoking huts, he pointed to each hut saying “that is where my grandparents live, that one there is where my cousin lives and my best friend lives in that one……” he talked enthusiastically without pausing for breath.
We stopped at a large round hut perfectly topped off with a straw roof and were welcomed with lime juice and a dinner of rice and beans. It felt very homely here and I instantly felt happy and relaxed to be in Surama, the surrounding views were spectacular of rainforest and mountains, it really was a utopia.
I noticed that the light here is different to anywhere I have ever seen, a dark golden glow lights up the landscape which is contrasted by a darkish blue sky.
We were shown to our huts, mine was a perfect small round little sanctuary which would be my base for the next couple of days.
I hand washed my clothes to freshen them up and hung them on a tree outside my hut, they really did need it, especially the socks which on a daily basis smelled just awful.
I noticed two geckos laying on the mud path by my hut and watched them as they watched me, we simply stared at each other in a curiously nonchalant way.
Once my clothes were dry I sprang back into action and went off bug hunting before meeting the others for a walk in the rainforest. As usual the group went ahead while I hung back combing the grasses for anything of interest that I could find and was rewarded with a large praying mantis that looked like a piece of straw, it was beige with a white stripe and had a triangular white head.
One of the locals known as Gary stayed back with me and although initially I did not want him with me as I liked to look for things alone, I soon discovered that he too had a genuine fascination for insects so came round to accepting him being with me. He carried a machete and with his long dark hair looked every bit the Surama local, his voice was laid back and gentle and he had a calm nature to match. I liked him so we stuck together for the remainder of Surama.
I came across a couple of moths copulating end to end and some tiny Dragonflies in the long tall grasses, though by now had learnt to be careful as some of these were my old friends the razor grasses.
We came to a wooded area and caught up with the others who were standing hushed around a tell rotten looking tree, on looking up at first I could not spot what had caught their attention but then I saw it, a Potoo. These birds have always fascinated me and although I have always looked for them up to now have not been lucky enough to see one, they are nocturnal birds, rather owl like and their camouflage is the best I have ever seen in a bird as they look exactly like dried branches.
This one was a Great Potoo, minutes later we found a Common Potoo also extremely difficult to spot, in fact if I took my gaze away from it to re focus my camera, I was hard pushed to find it again and would search from branch to branch in a strategic manner.
I walked back with Gary and Ron the guide and as we approached the village backed by a huge rainbow in the fading sky, I asked Ron if he had ever seen a Jaguar, he said he had indeed:
When Ron was a young boy of about 11, he and a friend took their dog out into the forest for a walk, then tied it to a tree before going off to spy on an old man fishing and steal his poison arrows.
They could hear their dog barking continuously and went to see what the commotion was, as they came upon the track path their dog ran straight past them and off back up the hill to the village, it had torn itself free from the roped tree from fear. Looking at the path ahead, they stopped and saw a Jaguar crouched there watching them intently with its tail swishing slowly from side to side, it looked mean Ron said and the boys instantly knew its intention.
Ron fired an arrow at it and missed, it crept nearer growling, he threw the next one, that also missed the Jaguar was totally unfazed by this action and they felt that they were done for, with just one arrow left, he waited then aimed and fired it catching the large cat on the neck, it shrieked, jumped up and ran off.
The boys ran all the way back up to the village without pausing for breath and related their story to their people, everyone wondered if it would live or die depending on how much poison the arrow had on it of course as they are dipped onto the backs of Poison Dart Frogs.
Two days later one of their prize donkeys that they use for donkey racing on a Saturday was killed by a Jaguar as it drank from the local creek not far from where the boys had been, they guessed it was the same Jaguar and from then on avoided that area alone.
Gary said that many times they have lost their dogs as the dogs often lag behind when they are out walking, they would hear a yelp and the canine would disappear never to be seen again, the Jaguar is so fast and as Gary says they are always watching you, but you will never know they are there.
This statement had a profound effect on my usual lagging behind the group looking for insects and I found myself keeping in sight of the group a little more from then on.
After a meal of spiced rice and beans accompanied by rum, I returned to my hut and got under my mosquito net, writing up the days diary and listening to the night sounds of screech owl, crickets and the Great Tinamou which seemed to roam near to my hut.
This next day was my favourite in Guyana and this was largely thanks to Gary who accompanied me as a private guide on a long rainforest walk looking for insects while the others went ahead with Ron on their own mission for birds.
The forest was truly magical with different shades of green that would light up in patches of sunlight like emeralds. The sounds of the forest were just as impressive with the Screaming Pi-Ha birds making their call every few minutes accompanied by the percussion of the cicadas and other insects.
I was on the lookout for Bullet Ants as I had read alot about these ferocious ants whose sting is so painful it is said to be similar to being shot, not only that but the ants are said to let out a warning scream just before they sting you.
One of the more awful initiation processes for some tribes is to force the unfortunate person into wearing a glove interwoven in foliage with bullet ants in it for 5 minutes, this to me seems unnecessarily barbaric, however some tribes see it as a way of proving manhood.
I found some Bullet Ants by the base of a tree and Gary picked one up on a twig, I managed to get a photo of it just as it fell off the twig.
We passed by a large canoe and Gary explained that we were walking down what used to be a river bed, however it has now dried out and so the canoe stayed there as a reminder of what once was.
It was a long walk, but we finally came to an odd sort of camp where fishermen were sat round a large camp fire talking in hushed voices with clothes hung up in the surrounding trees, they did not seem overly pleased that we were passing through their territory, so we moved quickly.
We caught up with the group and scrambled down a narrow, rocky and muddy bank to canoes and went down river to look for birds, the passing banks were decorated with the twisting, unruly roots of fig trees.
A lookout on each canoe was needed as there were random logs and rocks scattered downstream that it was hard not to crash into.
On the return back upstream a couple of us rowed, it was hard work on the arms after a while, as the current was quite strong in places and a certain strength was needed to get the canoe moving through the water flow.
We ended up back at the fishermen’s camp and scrambled back up the bank to the edge of the rainforest, I could not help but be in awe of the sheer beauty of the area, it was just stunning here.
The walk back was more relaxed and I had more time to search for insects, Gary stayed with me and together we found some interesting specimens including a pair of very odd moths with pink feathery tails and a giant caterpillar hanging upside down from a branch with a fern camouflage that was very impressive against the plant it was on.
The others had long gone so we bided our time, reaching once again the canoe which had an iconic look about it. Gary was using his machete to cut plants and I asked him if I could photograph him, he was more than happy and obligingly gave me a display of his machete techniques jumping and twisting in circles, he skilfully swung it around him while it made a delicious swishing sound as it sliced through the air.
On the way back we discovered a really interesting little insect disguised as a bird dropping, it ran about in all directions quirkily on the leaf and was really fun to observe.
The deception of camouflage in insects has long been a fascination of mine and this sighting was no exception. Insects can assimilate to the colours around them, they can have the appearance of leaves such as the Leaf Katydid or ferns such as this caterpillar and they can also look like bird droppings to deter any predators.
After an evening meal a few of us went on a night walk in the jungle, once again the others went ahead and Gary and I stayed back taking our time in combing the undergrowth with our head torches. Consequently we found far more here than we would have had we gone at the speed of the others; a large praying mantis was hanging upside down from a leaf, also a scorpion eating a cockroach, a wood bug and a large Tarantula.
It pays to take your time when looking for things, if you go crashing through the jungle at high-speed, you will be heard, you will be seen, much better to move quietly, slowly and look at what is ahead of you and to the sides of you.
Without our head torches it would have been pitch black, there was no moon this night and even if there had been it not have penetrated the canopy above us. With this limited light the rainforest became a treasure trove of glowing insects, spiders webs reflected in the light and large patches of hanging fungi that illuminated a white glow in the dark.
My enthusiasm for looking up and to the sides for mantids and other insects in a sense became my downfall as I tripped over an armadillo hole, these are quite deep and I was lucky not to have twisted or snapped an ankle.
That night the forest was alive with the sounds of crickets and night jars, it was a magical night, back at my hut and under the mosquito net I wrote the days diary and fell asleep to these sounds.
The Journey to Rock view
The next day we left Surama, regretfully I must say as it had been so good there, looking back it had been the best part of Guyana for me. Before leaving I gave Gary a large tip as he had stuck by me and proved a worthy companion, I knew I would miss his company on the next leg of the trip, he did invite me back to Surama for a few weeks to work further on my own insect research and identification and I must say that I would be tempted to go back and perhaps measure a designated area of Surama, we also talked about putting a field guide of insects together.
The journey from Surama to Rock view was not too far, back on the large army vehicle in the open back we bumped our way over the dusty tracks to Rock view lodge. Though on the journey Wendy and I sat upfront and got soaked from a heavy rain storm that drenched the area we were seated in.
What an extraordinary place, Ron, clearly not a fan of it describes it as a false paradise, he is absolutely right of course, it is an oasis that has been ‘created’ lovingly by an eccentric Englishman called Colin Edwards, whom I can only liken to Elton John, in fact he is strikingly similar.
After a welcome from Hendrix, a cool man who never takes his shades off, I was shown to my hut which is more like an apartment, Prince Charles stayed here, next door to me in fact and a photograph of him still hangs on the wall in my hut.
At lunch time in the main area I was lucky enough to be seated next to Colin, though I said very little as I was more interested to listen to him talking about the history of the area and the lengths they went to in order to make it what it is today. His uncle painstakingly laid most of the steps going up a mountain to make it easier for guest to get up, he sadly died before he finished the job and there is a plaque of dedication to him.
Colins parents visited from England and loved it so much that they never went back and now have side by side gravestones in the gardens of Rock view, Colin told me that he has a plot for himself right beside them, I guess he is a forward thinking type of man.
After lunch I had a swim in the pool and minutes after I was in the water the sky opened and it poured with rain, this did not bother me though as I found the whole thing rather refreshing.
We later climbed the mountain step trail, this was quite tough as the steps were cut to different steepness and sometimes the rocks we climbed were very slippery, we reached a view-point at last then continued on and came across a toilet that consisted of a seat out in the open with the best jungle view, Chris one of the group decided to use this most wonderful facility.
The next day I got up at 05:30am and had a quick breakfast before heading out on the road looking for wildlife, I again hung behind the others and did my own thing. I found a small lake and told Ron I would stay there alone for a while, it was idyllic with colourful Dragonflies flying past each other in their territorial battles.
After an hour or so I caught up with the group and we saw a laughing Falcon with a snake in its mouth up a tree.
Later I was relieved to return to Rock view, as I had been suffering with stomach cramps and diarrhoea again, this has been a daily thing since being out here in Guyana typically from day two of arrival, however you do learn to work round it.
After lunch I opted to stay at Rock view as still felt unwell so I wandered the gardens and found the graves of Colins parents, along with numerous lizards.
Earlier I had asked Leon, one of the staff if I could do a sheet test to see what insects we could attract, at dinner Leon told me he had put up a sheet with a torch behind it ready for me to see what insects would come. I was very touched by this as I had not expected him to set it up and also by the rest of the group who all made the effort to come and see what the sheet had attracted.
There was quite an impressive turn out of moths, beetles, spiders and a particularly interesting moth with lights on its back that really glowed brightly plus a huge green bush cricket. Hendrix later appeared and helped us take down the moth trap.
Unfortunately my time enjoying this treasure trove of insects was cut short due to another very bad stomach upset meaning I had to dash back to my room at regular occurrences throughout the evening.
The next day was a great day as I lay in until 7am woken only by the breakfast food bell and after breakfast had more free time to enjoy the grounds, Leon brought me a brightly coloured caterpillar, I have been lucky here as once word gets around that I am interested in insects the locals bring me all manner of things.
Ron also came to tell me he had found a bright green Iguana up a tree, which was a brilliant find.
I later walked off up the road to a small puddle to watch some Dragonflies that Mike from the group had tipped me off about, I was pleased by the effort that people were making to find me things.
Lunch was catfish and rice with lime juice and rum.
Then it was time to leave Rock view.
This time instead of our beloved battered old army truck, we were give two small jeeps, however there was not quite enough room for myself and Ron the guide so we had to climb up and over a large tyre and sit on a plank across the luggage at the back holding on to the narrow window ledge.
The road was very bumpy and many a time one of us would almost get thrown off the back of the vehicle, the driver did not care it seems about this, it was a challenge for us not to get thrown off into the road, however the view of the surrounding rainforest more than made up for it.
As the sun was so intensely hot I wrapped my face in three bandannas and wore sunglasses, the effect of this was that I looked rather like a terrorist.
As we hurtled down the roads, the rainforest gave off the wonderfully familiar vanilla scent and hundreds of cloudy yellow butterflies flew at us, most of them navigated past us though some of them flew straight into my face.
As the journey was over 3 hours we stopped a few times to stretch our legs and on one such stop presented us with a rare treat of a jungle trail that is little known. We trekked over rocks, huge logs up and under and through some rocky, damp caves until we finally reached a spot where a natural hush descended on us and looking ahead we saw the bright orange beauty of the Guyanese Cock of the Rock.
Unfortunately my camera stopped working due to the humidity and the frustration of this brought me close to tears, you basically get one chance to see this exotic bird of paradise. We were only permitted 5 minutes at the spot and the group got up and left, I sat there unable to leave without my shots and pleaded with Ron to let me have 2 more minutes, surprisingly he agreed. I tried various different things with my camera until finally I managed to get a couple of shots, the bird had been openly displaying and not to capture this was would have been a kind of hell to me.
We trekked the trail back through the caves, under giant tree roots and over huge logs and rocks, it was an exciting walk that I really enjoyed, as I recall I think one of the group actually fell off a log into a river, which I photographed as it was an opportunistic moment for a great action shot.
I saw lots of Leaf Cutter Ants carrying leaves much larger than themselves along the branches of trees, they were fascinating to watch at work and also we saw a Common Potoo at the edge of the forest, I find these birds absolutley fascinating as they just do not look real.
We arrived at Iwokrama Biological research station, a huge rounded modern building in the forest with a view of a large lake, sadly the research scientists were all back in Georgetown which was very disappointing to me, as I had desperately wanted to talk to the resident entomologist.
My hut here was again impressive, I had lots of space, even my own writing desk, some books to study on insects with a hammock and veranda. A colony of bats lived in the hut too and I very quickly learnt to cover all my things as they dropped excrement everywhere and walking required shoes at all times, they literally shit on everything, my clothes and equipment got covered, though I quickly learnt to cover them in plastic to avoid all this.
The mosquito net did not really protect from the bat poo and often I would find it on my face and in my hair in the mornings.
The next day I got up at 05:00am and met the group at the docks for a boat trip to look for more wildlife, it was fairly unproductive though as it poured with rain continuously and so consequently we saw nothing.
After breakfast we did a walk out along the track trail and then into the forest, this was superb as I lagged behind and found some very interesting insects and opaque winged Dragonflies, which although high up in the trees were still absolutely stunning.
I came across a huge Ant known as the Dinosaur Ant (Prionomyrmex macrops) for obvious reasons as it is absolutely huge as well as being the worlds oldest living species of ant, look at the size of the ‘ordinary ant’ behind the dinosaur ant in my image below:
The forest was quite magical as huge Blue Morpho Butterflies wafted by followed by glass wing butterflies which landed gracefully on twigs and large numbers of exotic dragonflies whizzed by at high speeds navigating superbly their way through the forest foliage.
Further in I spotted a large Tarantula crawling lethargically down from a large leaf onto another, it somehow did not look quite right and I soon realised why, as a Spider hunting wasp flew down and stung the spider knocking it off the leaf onto the ground, I assumed this was the second attack on the spider.
It was stunned and the life literally drained out of it as it ended up laying on its back, it was a sad scene and I decided to walk away and not wait for the hunting wasp, which was now searching for it, to finish it off. I did photograph the spider hunting wasp though, see below.
There was a very nice looking Canadian who joined us on this walk called Dan, he was interested in Botany and walked with me pointing out an interesting plant that was black with thin purple stripes on the leaves which he said was rare.
We also found glow in the dark fungi, which hung randomly off the branches, the walk was very enjoyable and many millipedes, spiders and beetles were to be found on route.
The trail came back out to the grounds of Iwokrama camp and I spent some time searching the area for more Dragonflies and insects, I was not disappointed as it was teeming with life. The day was now baking hot, however I could not give up my search for insects and continued on, there was not a moment to lose and some spectacular insects virtually on every plant.
Afterwards we did a long walk up the forested roadside back into the forest which was full of butterflies and dragonflies, it was absolutely beautiful as the foliage was lit up by the sunlight which streamed down from the canopy. On the way back I was lagging behind transfixed by Dragonflies as there were around 50 of them flying in a small circle above me and I could not walk away from them.
Suddenly I heard shouting so hurried to catch up with the group and see what had occurred, a Fer De Lance snake had launched itself from the bushes at the group. These snakes are highly dangerous as they will not back away from you, but rather keep coming at you trying to strike, once bitten you only have 4 hours to get to the much-needed life saving antidote.
Luckily the snake did not manage to bite anyone (although this same snake struck before and bit a woman on the trousers, it did not penetrate the skin though luckily.)
It seems this snake will wait in the bushes and strike at anyone passing, the guides will not kill it as they are too frightened to get too near, so it is now a case of giving this area a wide berth as you walk by, word soon got around the camp, I am sure someone will get the snake at some point, but for now avoidance is the best bet. I was sorry I missed the snake as would loved to have photographed it.
After supper we went out in the canoes to look for tree snakes and found many large Boa Constrictors as we shone our head torches up into the trees, the boas seemed to be coming out along the branches up and down the river bank, there were dozens of them.
The Boa Constrictor can reach a length of anywhere between 3-13 feet, though there is what is called sexual dimorphism where the females are considerably larger than the males in length and width.
There were also bright green, very slim tree snakes and we saw a huge tree frog.
As we sat in silence admiring the reptilian wildlife a huge fish leapt out of the water and hit Mike, one of the group, square in the face. It was such a shock, but made me roar with laughter at the surprised look on his face as the thing hit him.
The following day I was up at 05:30am again and packed up my day bag ready for the long trek ahead, making myself a plantain sandwich as extra fuel for energy.
The group then took a long boat ride, Egbert our guide hit a rock, it was quite a jolt, but luckily the boat was okay as the some of the others had gone ahead and there was no means of communication between the two, I did not fancy swimming to shore with large caimans in the water.
We continued on across the open water until eventually we came to some mangroves and weaved our way through until we came upon a small muddy cove. On disembarking we got our backpacks on and Egbert became a water bearer for the day carrying extra supplies telling us that we would definitely need it. I carried my own water as I figured he had enough weight to carry.
We began the trail across forest to the base of Turtle mountain where we were going to begin our climb, the trail itself was rather long, but also very interesting for me as the forest was tantalizingly full of insects, birds and strange fungi.
I found it hard not to stop and photograph everything I saw along the way without holding up the rest of the team.
We proceeded to the base of the mountain where our climb was to begin, it did not disappoint as it was an extremely steep climb over rocks and twisted wet roots along the way ready to trip you at the one moment you took your eyes off the trail.
It was a long slog to the top and the heat and the exertion were challenging so I packed my camera away for a bit as I knew that I could not stop to take any pictures otherwise I would keep going, so I removed the temptation. The route was really interesting with huge rocks and giant tree trunks and roots, I felt like a miniature person in a giant land, below is a picture of one of the giant tree roots we walked under.
As with most mountains you come to what I now call a false summit, the first part of the top that you think is the top, but in actual fact there is still some way to go before you reach the very top.
Still once at the very top it was exhilarating to walk out of the darkness of the trees into sunlight and to look out over the vast rainforest canopy view, which stretched on for miles and miles.
I ate my plantain sandwich that I was very pleased to have packed and drank lots of water.
I watched a pair of colourful parrots copulating on a branch then wandered across the top to see what I could find and was delighted to find another of the strange white insects with the blue glow legs.
Also a huge, strange-looking cricket with multi coloured legs, however all too soon it was time to make our way back down the mountain.
As usual I hung back from the group and photographed everything that I could find, having not done so on the way up, there was a vividly coloured Cicada on a tree and further down I found a extremely primitive looking blue beetle that looked remarkably like a trilobite.
I photographed it from all angles and Egbert the guide came to have a look at it, like Gary, he had an interest in insects so I soon started engaging in conversation with him about what he has found in the past and how the station researches insects.
We then began looking for more strange insects and found to date, the most interesting bug I have ever seen, Egbert was as excited as I and I photographed it and promised to send the images on to the station. There were also many other interesting looking insects in this area, some of which looked like little toys.
We caught up with the group and scrambled down the long trek back to the water’s edge where they were watching a small river turtle and a very large caiman with its head out of the water. Ron the other guide made a noise like a baby caiman and this thing suddenly threw its head up out of the water and roared at us before coming nearer, a signal I felt for him to stop. He did. The power of nature is really something you should not mess with.
We climbed back into the small boats and keeping a mindful eye on the caiman we headed off out of the creek to open water and back out to Iwokrama camp.
On the journey back I asked Egbert if he would be willing to take me out in the boat somewhere to look for Dragonflies, he said he would and suggested an Island owned by his sister-in-law Michelle, known as Michelle’s Island.
I asked some of the others if they wanted to come and Chris, Doctor Spry and Marion all said they would accompany us after lunch at around 15:00.
In the meantime I went out around the camp grounds and found a couple of the opaque winged dragonflies, stunning to see, but difficult to photograph as they are quite flighty, much like fritillary butterflies.
I later met up with the others and Egbert was there at the dock waiting for us and off we set to Michelle’s island which was not far over the water and backed onto the rapids, a sight that we had as yet not seen as the boats can not travel that way.
Michelle was there waving at us heartily as we approached, she had her little girl with her who Egbert hugged once on land, he is clearly very fond of them and Michelle made us welcome giving us fresh coconut juice on arrival.
Egbert took me down to the water on the other side of the Island, which was tiny, and to my surprise there was a small beach there. I ran down to the sand and waded in for a swim to cool off, it was wonderful with the rapids in the background.
I ran back up the bank to get Doctor Spry, Marion and Chris and share the little beach with them, it was like a miniature private paradise.
We reluctantly left this little gem of an island, I would have happily camped out there for a couple of nights as it would have been wicked to sleep with the sound of the bubbling rapids.
After a meal a few of us went on a bug hunt through a forest trail, as soon as you enter the forest you become immersed in the darkness which consumes you, the tiny beam of a head torch suddenly becomes an essential comfort and a guide through the twisted route ahead. Walking on we saw a possum in a tree, its red eyes lit up by our head torches. We found a couple of Whip Scorpion Spiders, then a bright yellow light buzzed by in the darkness, it was a large fire fly and it was absolutely enchanting to see it flit by, I followed it and photographed it as it landed.
I was getting bitten by mosquitoes a great deal that night, however there really is little that you can do in the forest, even 100% deet does not work out here and the insects bite through your clothing, so it is a case of taking malaria tablets and using sting relief.
In the dark something shiny caught my eye, in fact it was gleaming in the darkness and on closer inspection I found it to be a sleeping Dragonfly, whose outstretched wings caught the beam of my head torch.
Eventually we came out of the night forest and back out onto the dirt track road with the forest edged either side, in a ditch there was a small pond and two huge tree frogs were copulating there. Looking up we saw South Americas most poisonous Tarantula known as the Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria spp.) these spiders are extremely aggressive and highly dangerous.
In daytime these spiders hide in termite mounds and bromeliads, however at night they wander the forest floors and in defensive pose the spider stands on its back legs with the front legs held upright and it sways from side to side.
A bite from this spider can cause respiratory problems from lack of muscle control which can cause paralysis and eventually asphyxiation, the bite also causes intense pain.
I photographed the spider but was not prepared to get any nearer to it, so left it on its branch.
We walked on back to camp and came upon a young Emerald Tree Boa hunting for bats, it slithered along the ground before rising up vertically to scale the wall and get to the bats, I took a few photographs before retiring to my bed for the night, as I was by now very tired.
I got up at 04:30am the next morning and my hut was full of bat excrement, it was literally everywhere, I put shoes on before getting out from under my net to walk through it.
My right hand had swelled up quite rapidly, which must have been a reaction from all the bites in the forest the night before, it swelled to almost twice the size.
The bat excrement was on all my things, so I quickly cleaned it all up, packed my day bag ready and went for breakfast at 05:00am.
I took all my bags up with me and saw the group who were all looking bleary eyed at the early start and left my borrowed books on a table for the researchers to take back.
Maria went downstairs to the loo of the bio building and came running back up saying there was an interesting moth on the wall for me to look at. I grabbed both cameras and ran down the stairs following her and sure enough, there was an interesting moth on the wall, however there were also three praying mantises, one of which was a Hooded Mantis. What a fantastic find, I was very excited about seeing them and took some photographs, although the mantises soon disappeared over the top of the wall and out of sight.
The others were shouting for me, so I grabbed my bags and climbed up onto the back of the jeep to join Ron for the journey across to Atta Jungle. This time we had to balance on a plank and as we bumped over the huge potholes in the track the plank kept slipping threatening to throw us off the vehicle. As we started up the track I spotted a parrot and went to take a photograph, but panic-stricken realised that my camera was not around even my neck, looking down I saw it on a plank behind me about to slip off into the road. I grabbed it and put it round my neck, flooded with relief that I had not smashed it on the road below, tiredness and hurrying to get onboard had perhaps been party to my negligence.
We drove by the same lush green jungle as before scented with vanilla and spices, passing by clay licks full of butterflies which flew up in a ‘explosion only to settle again once we were had passed.
Eventually we stopped and started a walk up the track, I of course began bug hunting whilst the others did their usual bird spotting. Ron said we should stick together in this area and not wander off, words that generally have little effect on me at the best of times.
Along the track we found paw prints of an adult Jaguar and continued further on up looking for all signs of wildlife, We had gone quite a way when nature called and I wandered off into the bush to have a poo. As I squatted there I realised that there was a large paw print right in front of me, I was going to the loo on the path of the Jaguar!
I hurried up and made my way down to a tannin creek to wash my hands, as I did so I heard some high-pitched calls and saw a nest of baby Caiman at the side of the river bank, I again hurried away as the mother was likely not far off from them. As I walked away I thought how much this place really reminded me of Jurassic Park and The Lost World, sounds corny I know, but it’s just like that.
Back on the track I saw the rest of the group further up, they had not even noticed that I was not with them, enthusiasm for ones interests takes away that type of awareness, just as it does with me when I wander off and ignore warnings. I quickly caught up with them.
Suddenly I heard Ron hissing the words “Jaguar, Jaguar” and there it was in all its majestic glory, it had emerged from the side of the forest onto the track right ahead of us.
I took many pictures of it, but also wanted to simply observe as it pottered along the track, stopping every so often to look back at us and see where we were in proximity. It knew where we were at all times and would disappear into the bush, only to re-emerge further away, yet interestingly still stay on its track rather than disappear altogether.
Of all the cats, the Jaguar is the third largest species and has a gruesome killing tactic of biting the prey between the head and the ears straight into its brain. Jaguars are generally shy cats, however are still feared as if you were alone, it would most likely attack.
We moved up-track back to the vehicle and Roger rather gallantly offered to swap with me for the second half of the journey and I gratefully took him up on it and rode in the back, it was nice to be able to take off my face scarves.
Every so often we had to stop, as the plank moved and threw them off just as it had with me earlier.
On arriving at Atta jungle lodge, I was delighted to encounter perhaps (apart from Surama) the best place of all, little huts surrounded by forest with delicious smells of home cooking on fires.
It was delightful, there was a patch on the ground packed with butterflies and Dragonflies flew back and forth across the clearing where I stood, it was a slice of paradise.
There were two communal jungle showers, these are great to stand under on a starry night, the cold water is soothing at the end of a humid day, you generally get a buckets worth of water so need to be stringent.
We had a superb lunch of fish cakes, rice, eggplant, pumpkin, etc. afterwards I bug hunted and walked don the edge of the forest alone, I found a multi coloured grasshopper and a Helicopter Damselfly, (which frustratingly I could not photograph as it flew up into the trees and stayed up high).
Further stomach cramps followed so went for a lay down to rest.
As I lay there I heard the cries of screaming Pi-ha birds in the forest, I decided to take my recorder in and record it, so did so and left it there resting on a branch, the sound came out quite well.
Afterwards I joined the group who were watching some Red Howler monkeys in the trees, I photographed the monkeys and then we made our way along a forest track scrambling over fallen logs of which there seemed to be many.
We came to mud steps and climbed up these until we came to the hanging bridges canopy walkway which we had to cross slowly and one at a time, we were instructed not to touch the wires at all as Bullet Ants tend to frequent these and the sting will be far worse than losing ones balance.
We did indeed see many of the Bullet Ants wandering the wires, once at the destination of the ’round tree’ as I called it, meaning the wired platforms that circle a large, very tall canopy tree, then you can observe the area from there.
We watched the sunset disappear down out of sight and did the journey back with head torches where we all got bitten to bits by the mosquitoes which are of course relentless at dusk.
I was relieved to get back and have a cold shower under the stars which soothed my itching bites, as we were instructed I examined myself after the shower for burrowing insects, ticks, etc.
I found a lump under my left arm that had not been there the day before, it was full of blood and had a black object in the middle slightly sticking out, an insect had burrowed into my skin.
I had my first aid kit on me and took out my pen knife and proceeded to cut it out of my arm, it was pretty painful and bled a great deal, as expected, however I had to get that insect out before it burrowed further under my skin. After cleaning the wound with an antiseptic wipe I went off to sleep in a hammock outside to the soothing sounds of the forest.
I do not recommend cutting out an insect infested lump with a knife, however sharp, it opens the risk of infection and is bloody painful to be frank, there are other methods of removing these insect, I was just in a mindset where I had to get it out instantly. It was not necessarily the right decision.
Throughout the night I slept fairly well occasionally waking to the rats below me which squeaked loudly as they scurried about looking for food until eventually I drifted into a deeper sleep, not even the thought of a wandering spider climbing in with me could keep me awake that night.
The following morning I got up at around 07:00am and had Arrowana fish for breakfast then packed ready to travel back along the bumpy track with the group for a few hours until we came to a private airstrip of a small field area cleared in the jungle.
A tiny plane flew in and took the nine of us on the hour and a half journey to Kaieteur falls, an uninhabited island where you are permitted just 2 hours to explore.
The flight in made me feel violently sick as the plane was not far off looping the loop at times to show off the dramatic scenery, which I photographed in between these feelings of extreme nausea. The plane swung side to side showing off both sides of the falls and felt like a fairground ride that I could not wait to end.
Landing on the island was a relief to say the least as it was great to get down onto solid ground after the turbulent flight. A woman appeared with a very sick child who needed urgent medical attention as the boy had malaria, so our pilot agreed to get them off the island.
I was then greeted by an amorous peccary who came and nuzzled against me, I was instantly in love with the odd creature and stroked the rough spines on its back, it was so friendly and I hugged it affectionately.
Ron walked across to us looking rather worried, we asked what was wrong, he said that we had to have a special permit to be allowed access to the island, it was not in our luggage and the pilot had flown off with the woman and sick child without leaving the permit.
We were stuck and a guard came and said that we could not move until we had the permit, so we sat down and ate our packed lunches and waited …. and waited…
Eventually Ron came back, his face gave away nothing, but luckily the pilot had been radioed and confirmed that the permit was there on the plane, so we were granted our two hours on the island.
Kaieteur falls is the largest single fall in the world and was discovered by C. Barrington Brown a British Geologist in 1870 and they drop down 741 feet down into the gorge.
We set off on the walk through forest and over rocky terrain, I found lots of Dragonflies, dark black darters and looked in the bromides for the Golden tree Frog, however I did not see any.
We came to the edge of the falls and you could literally stand on the edge and look down its bad luck if the wind blows you over, rainbows played in the spray with the sunshine going through it. The group walked on to another, too quick I thought, not enough time, there is never enough time when you are tied to a group or a limited permit, it was extremely frustrating to me.
I followed on, typically lagging behind looking for Dragonflies and other insects to the next area, just as the group was moving on again. I ended up taking pictures for a couple of them which slowed me up even more and so they disappeared ahead of me while I took in the view as briefly as I could and wandered on in the direction I thought they had gone. On the way through I was distracted by more Dragonflies/insects and could not resist stooping down to photograph them, this got me into trouble though as I soon realised that the others had disappeared completely.
I began shouting ‘hello’ a few times but no answer came: “not again” I thought, this is always happening to me it seems I have a habit of this sort of thing.
I tried several different directions but each led to a tangled dead-end of undergrowth so I realised that I had definitely gone wrong somewhere back along the track.
There was a cluster of rocks which I stood at the top of and looked around, though all I could see was forest, later a small plane flew by and I waved at it, more to say hello then help, I wondered if it was our pilot returning for us, so at least if he spotted me he could tell the others.
I walked on and came to a very old-looking hut house, which looked as though it had seen better days and knocked on the door.
I am not sure what I was expecting, possibly an old, one eyed hobo, however a very well spoken, good-looking guy answered the door and upon my asking him who he was he said “ we’re the BBC!”
“ Well Im very pleased to see you here, I’m Amanda and am completely lost!” Said I.
“Yes” he replied “one of our small planes flew over and spotted you, he radioed down to us so we knew where you were and we now know where your team are, my water bearer will take you to them.”
I was very grateful for this.
The bearer quietly walked me back to the team, Ron looked rather cross as I sheepishly slunk by and sat at the top of the falls with Chris and told her what had happened, she laughed and we sat and chatted by the water.
Chris said that she had sometimes felt distanced from some of the others, I understood this and told her that I often felt that on these sorts of trips, you are thrown together with people who you may or may not get along with, there are no guarantees.
Like mindedness does not always mean compatibility.
Tolerance and understanding must be applied when taking these types of trips and often it can work but just takes a little time, often at the end of the trip.
As we sat there talking sitting at the edge of the water with our feet dipped in the fast flowing water, tiny silver fish, that looked like small shards of tinfoil, nibbled at the dead skin on our feet, which was extremely soothing. The view here was beyond spectacular.
Ron called us and told us our time was up so we reluctantly made our way back across the island to the field airstrip, passing the BBC on the way as they carried crates of film, food and beer.
The flight back was not half as bad as the one coming, much to my utter relief and I found myself feeling well enough to take considerably more photos that I had before.
We arrived at the tiny airport and were checked through with ease then got our bags onto the bus which drove us across the city back to the lodge at our starting point.
I watched with fascination the people of the city on their daily business, hurrying to work, school and some with large loaves of bread and other necessities. I also started to photograph the houses, each one a wooden structure painted a different colour, some very grand, others very basic.
There was a little time to spare so we walked through one of the parks in Georgetown where Manatees swam in a lake, Dragonflies settled on giant lily pads and pelicans flew overhead. It was not the safest are to be in though and I much preferred the more solitary area of the forests, away from the bustling city.
Some of the houses were left unpainted, I spotted many a fading wood stained building that looked spooky and unkempt, these houses interested me the most with their expressionistic looking twisting columns and stairs.
One more bus journey and we finally got back to the Lodge where it all began and I felt a twinge of sadness that the trip had come to an end, but also extremely grateful to have experienced Guyana.
At Trinidad airport an odd thing happened in that while I was queuing to check in my bags a man walked up to me and said that he was a policeman and that I was to follow him.
He was plain clothed and as I could not see a badge or any evidence at all that he was a policeman, I refused. He asked me again and I said no, he then became very insistent and angry that I should follow him, again I said no.
He started to look anxious losing his initial cool demeanour and then simply walked off melting into the crowded airport, lone travellers do seem to get targeted by this sort of thing regularly.
Would I go back to Guyana?
Yes I would, it is a truly fantastic place and if I was to return I would hire a private guide and go independently to allow more time to look for insects and other wildlife. If you can, go for that option, then you are freer to explore the areas and concentrate on your special interests.
To view the entire Gallery of images on Guyana please go to: www.amanda-king-akimages.com