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Essequibo Expedition - Days 4 to 6

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Day 4 on the Essequibo

We named the latest camp fly island as there were thousands of them, as we began to prepare for the day ahead by preparing breakfast the fishing was not at its best last night so we supplemented it with cornmeal porridge I had bought in Georgetown before the expedition began.

So camp broken down and reminiscing of the conversation and what other animals could have been lurking around last night. We set off and said farewell to fly island The river coming up was shallow again. With a number of rapids to cross but before there we will get to The infamous Kurupakari where Campbell and ossiah had family friends who had made a livelihood from a small shop based on the main road where we would expect to get a cell signal. But this area was the one Campbell had mention on the first day where he was suspicious and wary all at the same

But this area was the one Campbell had mention on the first day where he was suspicious and wary all at the same time off. I was expecting a small town or village at the minimum name of the town was Fairview, it took around 2 hours on calm waters with a steady flow. When we did arrive it was an ideal time to stock up on fresh water some fruit and veg and possibly some meat such as beef or chicken, as we were looking forward to a different meal. When we did arrive nearer there was one fisherman the bank of the river who had lived in the jungle his whole life alone. He was removing scales from a huge freshly caught catfish he waved us in, to approach him out of curiosity 2 Amerindians and then a strange looking European in the mix. He asked us what we were doing around here and where have we came from on such an old boat made out of Angelina rock. I found it brilliant how the people of the region knew so much of their local biology. To ID an old rickety cracking wooden dugout canoe by the wood it was made of, amazed me. We explained what we were doing how we are doing it and why he was proud and thanked us threw a huge prepared wolf fish and catfish onto our boat and said I hope you continue to have good Treatings. I imagined it would have taken him all morning to catch them fish it just goes to show that good deed will help us out immensely in the coming days. We set off again with Kurapakari on our minds. We could see it in the distance a small almost unusable airstrip with a small port and 2 small boats with small outboard motors. And a house built on stilts we headed there glad to remove my boots and damp socks to change it to a more bearable pair of flip flops

We could see it in the distance a small almost unusable airstrip with a small port and 2 small boats with small outboard motors. And a house built on stilts we headed there glad to remove my boots and damp socks to change it to a more bearable pair of flip flops my feet were able to breathe. As myself and Campbell walked toward the house we were greeted happily as they were known to each other but unaware of our trip. They asked why we had come down all the way from apoteri I explained the reasoning behind this and our goal was to travel to Bartica from apoteri. The man and wife burst into laughter and in Creole “you got enough food for a month”. I laughed and said it can’t take that long he agreed and stated around a week as he had done, it and known people to do it on motorboat within 3-5 days. So on dugout, he said a week maybe 10 days. Campbell and his friend began talking about each others family how it was in apoteri and down here in Kurupakari and I sat on the decking enjoying the 35-degree heat from the shade of course.

So ice cold coca cola and an offer of beer I turned down the beer and relaxed, enjoyed my time here and imagined myself living in much less materialistic confusing times of the inner city life of the UK. We were intending to look for some items at the shop we would need for the coming days the lady of the house offered to drive us to the only shop for hours around a 10-minute drive down a long rocky badly damaged road from I imagine the constant rainfall. As we arrived me Campbell and ossiah we stocked up on batteries although not too good due to the sunlight exposure. We got some crackers and a number of toppings from guava jam to peanut butter, along with a lot of water for the time we could no longer drink from the river due to illegal gold mining activities which would contaminate the water. Happily stocked up we headed back all bundles back into the car and drive back down the rocky road. We noticed 2 individuals unpacking a van with clothing and kids toys an almost mini jumble/car boot sale we had a look where we all brought something pretty pointless from a strange sloganed top, or in my case 2 pairs of football socks a red and blue pair which had the Celtic football club badge on. So here we are in South America travelling down a river through dense rainforest to stop off at a small landing and be able to buy a pair of football socks with a Scottish teams emblem. I would bet not many Scotts had come to this part of the world so how they got them I would not know. Finished shopping we went back to the house where the man of the house would introduce me to his kids as there were a few of them. As well as a man they called dummy “dummy” was evidently down syndrome but he could cook like no other person I knew he was a jack of all trades he would be fixing cooking or cleaning something constantly busy. The food he had cooked was from the fish which was offered to us earlier in the day. We provided extra

Finished shopping we went back to the house where the man of the house would introduce me to his kids as there were a few of them. As well as a man they called dummy “dummy” was evidently down syndrome but he could cook like no other person I knew he was a jack of all trades he would be fixing cooking or cleaning something constantly busy. The food he had cooked was from the fish which was offered to us earlier in the day. We provided extra fareen for him and he had 6 pots on, 2 or 3 different types of fish being cooked along with rice and fareen. We agreed to stay here for lunch and head back off after lunch and for the hospitality, we had shared the fish with the homeowners who were grateful mainly to “dummy” who prepared it all.

By the time we had finished, we had gotten a bit more information on the coming days from the homeowner he had explained the coming days are a number of narrow passes with rapids yet again but which concerned the team a lot more was the illegal activities that happen around the area mainly gold mining and hunting also the ever notorious kaniama popped back up into conversation stories got more in-depth with accounts of people going missing or getting ill from an encounter with the dreaded kaniama. I for one did not take it seriously but extremely intriguing none the less and I learnt a great deal of the Amerindian culture. So food had been eaten and the spare was saved for later and shared amongst the homeowners we left and said our goodbyes. As we got back to our canoe I pointed out some birds and explained they are swallow-tailed kite they had a different name which was just the Latin name and not common Elanoides Campbell expressed.


So we were off again it was now mid to late afternoon around 3pm the search for suitable sleeping grounds was now on our minds. We traversed a number of winding narrow channels and avoided the large rapids and falls. The approach looked quite difficult from the sound of water coming up. To the things we could not see until we were right up close. We then had to stop and pick a line through the water a lot harder than it seemed. This days journey was the most physically demanding to date in and out of the water at least three or four times energy sapping, after a huge plate of food previously. After a number of disembarking and getting back in the boat with no major issues other than the frightening expectations of what could be lurking beneath the surface of the water after wading in and out it looked as if it was over, the river opened up to about a mile wide. With the greenest trees and densest jungles, you will find anywhere on earth. This area Kurpukari is traditionally believed to be kanaima land and untouched forest spans for 100s of miles to the Venezuelan border and links to the Amazon rainforest to the west and to the east the Atlantic ocean again from horizon to This area Kurpukari is traditionally believed to be kanaima land and untouched forest spans for 100s of miles to the Venezuelan border and links to the Amazon rainforest. To the west and to the east the Atlantic ocean again from horizon to the horizon would be primary rainforest.

By this time it was getting dark we were wet and tired, but I was still in awe. The giant otter was now as common as seagulls on a British beach at summer. And in the coming days, we were going to pass through the world famous Iwokrama reserve an immensely biodiverse region which is manned by the government and scientific research is encouraged, as well as land management for conservation. We were pointing out a few spots each for a night’s sleep the banks, were rockier as the land was different as we were getting further away from where we had started. Immediately we all point in the general direction of a rocky forested part of the bank it was agreed. We headed there and began making camp me with my trusty hammock and the guys with their trusty tarpaulin. Food was easily prepared tonight as it was the remainder of today’s lunch with the ever helpful fareen getting lower by the day. We sat around together sharing stories of our countries mine being England and the guys curious I was asked two very strange questions, one from Campbell. He asked if in the coldest parts of the UK do we have polar bears as he would love to see one? I explained no we do not, but countries such as Russia, Canada and Norway do he then said he would want to go to them one day and see a polar bear. I then explained it is getting harder to see them as it with peccary jaguar and harpy eagle here. Campbell then said ‘ok we will help with this trip’ I agreed. Ossiah quietly listening asked a bizarre question in his words I quote. “dan dinosaurs exist no?” I was taken back but understanding ossiah had left apoteri on a few occasions but only to a border town in Brazil where his grandparent still lives so it was an excusable question. I then answered with no dinosaurs such as T-rex and triceratops no longer exist and have not for a long time. But a crocodile the ones we see here the caiman was still alive in the days of the dinosaurs he thanked me for my positive answer I finished off my food and headed to bed. Again prepared the gear for tomorrow and retired for the evening. The sound of thunder in the distance kept me up for a while and expecting rain to get to us at some point in the night but it didn’t and off I went to bed listening to tree frogs and insects.

Day 5 on the Essequibo River

On day 5 we set off as normal no issues breakfast as usual cornmeal porridge which we all had appreciated so porridge milked with powdered milk which was quite nice in boiling water or distilled Essequibo river water if you wanted a cold glass of milk. So we were thinking of what his friends back at Fairview was saying. Such as the river has a few smaller channels and fewer rapids if we kept to the left and then a right at the big islands. But to stay aware so to speak as there more than a few unsavoury or genuinely not nice people in the direction and area we were heading to. We had heard this and my self on past trips to Darien region in Panama. I always listened especially the local knowledge was the best thing. I took note’ and put things in place best I could to limit the risks I would take but to get a job done when I am out there. So our first rapids coming up. The depth of them was no more than a metre in the centre of the channel, which does not seem a hard task to pick a line through and choosing a line through with the least damage expected from the boulders and jagged rocks that were scattered all over, with the force of tonnes of water pushing us down river and all this on a boat that was 15 years old. And signs of wear and tear were evident all over, from the small leak at the back to a deep gorge in the front plus the weight of a boat half the size of a tree was not an easy task, to say the least.

Hard work
Hard work

So our first set of rapids waist deep in water was done if they were like this in the coming hours we might be ok and get back sometime tomorrow. As we carried on paddling down crossing a number of more rapids and learning of pacu and arapaima trying my hand at fishing to contribute as much as I could with no luck at all I settled for being educated by Campbell and ossiah. Each time we would enter the water like this ossiah on the left in the above picture. He would always take in the water I asked him why he does this he sent something along the lines of it makes it easier for him to drink the water he was in. It always seemed to work he was positively a human fish. He got talking of his gran nan who lived in a small village on the Brazilian side of the rupunnuni and each time he and his sister went she would do a cleansing ritual. ‘you could call it that’ Where she would add hot pepper juice to his nose, his eyes, his ears as well, as his mouth. She would then recite a passage from a spiritual guide which will fight infection and allow him to be clear minded and as sharp as his senses would allow him.

By this time we had crossed 3 or 4 rapids and falls where the river just opened up and we could see the island mentioned by Campbell’s friend. We noticed a number of old fishing or camping spots which had been enveloped by either vines or termites this place was rarely visited and a true Jurassic park. As we were admiring the surrounding forest, Campbell said 3 men a boat we froze, then continued paddling. Campbell asked ossiah are they coming? Ozzy look if they are coming? Campbell with his trusty bow and arrow assessing our options a fight or flight maybe. So my take on the guys approaching from our front but a bit to the right, Three guys on a flimsy wooden dugout even older than ours Campbell stated do not look my curiosity got the better, two of the men got out their canoe to a makeshift camp. I continued to look he waved and smiled Campbell then copied and then Ossiah the tensest moment on our trip was over and a huge sigh of relief ensued us all.

Far left of the frame
Far left of the frame

We headed over to him and he ushered us to his camp where the two other men had been sitting. Only one was there we saw three again we worried a brief 3 seconds which felt a lot longer, of utter silence. Again a tense moment a man with a badly damaged eye came out of the bush with a huge knife and began preparing a fish they had caught. This place kurpakari was a supposed, lawless bandit territory yet the men who live out here most of the year and happily offered us their fish again which would have taken some time to catch and prepare he handed it to ossiah and his knife, Ossiah finished preparing the fish. We engaged in conversation from the type of fish to me asking a question of harpy eagles, they laughed shrugged my curiosity off and said Jaguar was seen here yesterday pointing at a small sandbar in the river. Campbell offered them $1 for the fish they said no thank you we do not need money out here Campbell insisted and said he appreciated it they obliged and took the $1 and placed it in a box. The man with the eye was a presence in himself. He was small, but you couldn’t fit any more muscle on his body if you wanted to. Scars from his back to a missing eye stated a man who had spent a considerable time in the forest long hair unkempt, but clean shaven. Which confused me slightly he also never spoke much until we explained what we were doing where we had come from and where we were heading. The mention of apoteri got him to engage in conversation with Campbell and ossiah he was asking of other people do they still live there and who had moved on do you get much police up there general questions but seemed as if he wanted information, Campbell and ossiah conversed with him for a time until it changed to the boats again they knew the wood what was used and the paddle which was crabwood a light wood that floated Campbell said he will need to make a new one as it was cracking. They laughed apoteri to bartica a lot of paddling.

After around 15 minutes of conversation as it was coming to an end Campbell asked how the river was again similar to today trip small channels but keep to the right and we would be ok. As it is a heavier boat we may struggle but tomorrow as we get further down we will need to carry it for a time through the forest, the thought of that was excruciating but exciting at the same time. As we would need to cut our way through the forest which intrigued me. We thanked the guys and we began setting of they shouted the right and then the one who had led us to his friends offered to help us pick a line through. Which was very helpful and we appreciated it all firstly the fish now he wants to guide us through 20 meters of rapids. Kurapakari was coming quite welcoming and a helpful region in Guyana so we got through and continued on we waved he waved and off we went. So the time now was around four in the afternoon and fast becoming dark Ossiah and Campbell kept looking back as if they were following us. Campbell said no matter who you meet on the river show kindness and wish them good treatings as you never know who you will meet on a journey. So Campbell said dan listen you know kanaiama i explained yes a person with a bad animal spirit he agreed, said you know the man with the eye who was talking about apoteri the police are looking for him. I asked why? Ossiah explained ‘he liked a girl from apoteri, he was not from our region he was from here kurupakari. He liked a girl from apoteri the girl did not like him he travelled to apoteri to find she was with another man and in the night he came back and stabbed the man who the girl was with and that is why he lives in the forest so police cannot get him but he is kanaima he believes he can change into a jaguar a very dangerous man’.

I sat back in the boat and contemplated the situation we were just in it could have gotten much worse. So we began seeking a place for the night the clouds were closing in fast and rumbles of thunder were heard. Campbell myself and Ozzy pointing spots out ossiah said to Campbell if you were a soldier dad you have no choice were to sleep we laughed and decided on a small island in the middle of the river. As each side of the river was high banks for miles onwards unless we were going to climb this was our best bet. So as soon as the front of the boat touched the island the rain began and constant torrential rain fell. Which you could feel as if it were hailstones ‘no fire tonight dan so no food’ Campbell said. I offered all a can of tuna all accepted and we rushed to set up camp flysheets first to keep us and our chosen spots as dry as possible. Then my hammock up all within 10 minutes we were under covers with the rain still pummelling us but drier. We spoke of our day today and the day expected tomorrow a physically demanding day none the less. Night routine done dry clothes on and prepped for tomorrow of I went to sleep surrounded by capybara poo and the sound of a huge tree frog not more than a metre away.

Day 6 on the Essequibo

As we set off after breakfast which was 2 bowls of cornmeal porridge and powdered milk. At our halfway point unbeknown to us just yet. We had what sounded like our hardest day physically yet from the local fishermen upriver. Where he has said we had a lot of rapids something our boat will not get through as we were leaving the dreaded kurpakari area. Within the first hour, we had come across a series of rapids fast flowing shallow water with channels in all direction where paddling made no difference as the paddles were touching the bottom through pacu grass and boulders. We disembarked ties the boat up and we all went and looked what was around or over the next 2-tonne boulder or corner. There was 2 huge king vulture on a fish carcass the giant otters would have wrangled earlier in the week or even last night and would have brought it to shore and the whole family of otters would have been enjoying it a site that would of been. But equally amazing was how close the king vultures were to us. With the constant yap of the yellow-headed caracara hoping for scraps.

King vulture
King vulture

We continued onwards and the rocks only got bigger and the channels more numerous and water more shallow. We got to a part where there was a sheer drop of at least 50ft of cascading water which was not going to be attempted, and I would not have expected even seasoned professionals to attempt it. So we opted to chop our way through the forest and haul the boat up over a narrow, but steep incline. We firstly attached a rope to the front of the boat and then cleared the path for an easier attempt and less likely to damage equipment or a person. Attempt after attempt was failing but persistence inevitably paid off although a few bruised egos once on top of the incline it was lowered down by the team with precision, our only way out of the jungle was via the river so to look after our boat was as important as looking after each other. Once over and secured we then had to carry the gear through the forest up and over a steep hill and back down to the main channel or flow of the river. It took a good 45 minutes chopping a path through. This part of the world forest which was millennia old and double checking our footing continuously a snake bite this deep in the jungle would likely be death which was a serious possibility. The snakes in this part of the world the ever-present bothrops species and the mystical lachesis. The bothrops accounts for 150 snake bites a year in Guyana alone and all are medically significant. Which would need urgent care at the very least a bite could cause loss of a limb and fatal if not treated.

As we travelled through the forest where we were cutting our way through, the wildlife that kept popping up from small unidentifiable frogs. Mainly tree fogs but we came across a number of poison dart frogs dendrobates species. Which is among the most toxic of the genus which produces a toxin called pumiliotoxin which has historically been used on the heads of arrows for the native people to successfully hunt. So being careful to watch where your feet are being placed. As by this time I was beginning to consider, not putting my heavy army jungle boots on and attempting a barefooted approach. But then I thought of the other dangers such as bullet ants, leeches, mites and ticks and of course the hundreds of spiders that could happily give you a bite and give the expedition a few serious issues. As we got through the forest unharmed just a little tired we sat pulled the boat around and then tied them up and sat fishing for the days’ food. The team settled for peanut butter and crackers this time around but fishing seemed a bit successful we had caught some fish for the night’s food add the fareen and then we have a meal for the evening. As we sat down and looking at the sheer size of the river its width was hard to comprehend.

As we gathered our strength through lunchtime it began again, the long slog over a set of two more rapids. It was around 2pm now and the rain began again with Campbell beginning to tell his stories of the time he was growing up in the forest and stories of hunting for his food with his dog Ossiah then joined in his the scariest time he said was when he was alone and his dog was off hunting and he has successfully shot an agouti a small rodent that eats fruit in the forest and a main food source for most of the communities around his region. As he shot it the dog would retrieve it, as the dog entered the water ossiah said he heard a splash as he looked toward it there was a huge black caiman approaching his dog as the dog sped up the caiman did also it was too late the dog was taken underneath and never seen. Ossiah and Campbell were full of interesting stories a lot about the turtle and jaguar as arch enemies the turtle the wiser of the two and the jaguar the much more fierce. A few a hard to recount as they all had a specific meaning one I do remember was the eagle and a baby. I will try to tell best I can, “There was a lady that lived alone in the forest and never paid attention to her child she would prefer housework or generally not paying attention to the young child and an eagle would try to protect the baby from vultures and other things such as kanaima or jumbie and one day the eagle swooped down and took the child as his own the mother was upset and tried to do all she could to get her child back from the eagle and the call of the eagle resembled her baby cries. “

The lady has supposedly been on the search ever since just wondering around the jungle. So as the river opened up and we had an ok tailwind to assist the paddling which would possibly make up time this day was our slowest yet we were doing around 15 to 25 miles a day and on this day of constant rapids disembarking picking a safe route down and restocking the boat and our equipment my bag alone was 60lbs at least. The time we could get back would be a great help we began looking for a place to stay for the night our hardest yet shortest day was coming to an end gladly the team would say. there was a lot of small islands and sheer banks so it would be difficult. The rain was finally subsiding now and the clouds were breaking away and in the distance, there was a huge island that looked as if it was part of the mainland once upon a time and the Essequibo just seemed to take it over. As if it was an inconvenience to the mighty Essequibo, trees were down rocks were strewn all over it from boulders to pebbles. But as we got closer a double rainbow seemed to begin on the island we all got of secured our boat. I headed to the rainbow almost as soon as I got off. When I got closer the rainbow seemed to shift it was one of the many highlights of the trip which then turned out to be a double rainbow. At that point, the hard day seemed to just drift away I was content in the middle of the jungle. If I could brush up on my fishing I could have stayed on that island with my hammock and a rod.

Our sleeping spot arranged for the 6th night Ossiah and Campbell seemed more relieved than I did although nearly as soon as I shot off to the rainbow, they began the familiar reccy of the island. Checking animal footprints and fishing spots as well as safe bathing spots. The animal prints all over the island were of caiman, jaguar and the familiar capybara prints I was beginning to recognise footprints in the sand and the conditions seemed perfect rain all day soft sand easily imprinted. As Ossiah and Campbell where off and our boats secured I went for a photography detour I went into the forest to try and capture something I had yet to see I was hoping to see or get a close-up of a capybara I would have settled for a razor-billed curassow. A bird we got fleeting glimpses of and heard each time we were close to the banks. Which if a person was unaware of what was making the bellow or growl it would scare the strongest or bravest of people.

So my solo attempt gave me no luck maybe I was too heavy footed or we scared animals off on our approach. So I headed back picked a spot between two huge spiky trees on a small mound. Ossiah and Campbell returned happily they had said they had seen some skimmers and rosette spoonbill which would have been nice to see. So as we sat down all sleeping quarters arranged night time fast approaching a fire was set turtle eggs on the boils small fish caught and prepared and the ever-reliable fareen a meal was laid out and coffee or tea in my case waiting to drink. The sky was so clear tonight a good rainstorm had passed through clouds disappeared stars and a full moon on show I was looking into the sky and what looked to me to be a shooting star I said to the guys to look at it and I was told not a start it is a satellite a laughed and said I should have realised there was no trail. Campbell then said it is what my SPOT Gen3 device is connected to it is letting my family back in the UK know I am ok he and Ossiah laughed. Campbell then said if you go into the shallow water and keep your eyes open under the water and just stare at the moon it seems like a plant is on the moon try it when the water is shallow and calm and no caiman eyes around I laughed and said tomorrow night I will try if the moon is still full. The team evidently tired from the day they seem to just drift off. I headed to my hammock maybe 10 metres away. It didn’t take me long to prepare for bed our clothes were drying off, attached to a few trees. I slid into my hammock and again listened to the tree frog same one as the night before who seemed to be like clockwork around the same time each evening the tree frogs would break into the evening chorus and help me off to sleep.

I am a light sleeper in general, which seems to be emphasized in a hostile environment or unfamiliar surroundings a trait that is evolutionary I would imagine. So a few sounds made me wake such as strong winds thunder an uncommon animal sound each night I would experience something like this. But in this case, it was hum of boat motors so I woke up instantly laid down low in the hammock trying to determine which direction it was coming from, within that time I then saw torchlight and indistinct chatter I opened my hammock zip slid out on the opposite side of mound grabbed a small knife and ran to ossiah and Campbell. Then a thudding sound they had hit our boat with their own. The motor went dead and the chatting stopped which heightened my state and the previous day’s story fresh in my head, kanaima people being stabbed and just outside the dreaded kurupakari area, I said “Ossy, Campbell” someone is on our boats. Ossiah jumped up grabbed the jungle knife and Campbell his bow and arrow we shouted screamed demanding they moved they shouted back indistinctively something! The motor began and they sped off. Wow, I said to myself in my head Campbell and ossiah said “just fishermen I think” a few times to me, I was oblivious for a short period. As It was a potentially extremely dangerous situation. To survive a situation like that you think and react as if it was the worst case scenario and hope it is not as anything less is a relief. Campbell and Ossiah giggled to themselves and rolled straight back over to sleep. In my case I genuinely struggled to get back to sleep I switched the GPS device on and checked the time it was 3am I sighed the treefrog still going, I began to get some rest as another day of hard work and relentless heat waited for us tomorrow.

Days 7 to 9 will be published in time

“Fear is only temporary, regret lasts forever.”