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Essequibo Expedition - First 3 Days

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Day 1 apoteri

We headed to where we asked for a boat on the previous days as well as a guide. With a high expectation of it being successful 2 boats set off from King Williams eco-tour islands all family with food in hand which was the best-tasting food I had to date freshly made ‘BAKE’ which was a sweet cake traditionally used for breakfast in indigenous culture freshly prepared food on the Essequibo river. So with our bags checked and re-checked as well as our support raft not yet pumped up.

So we were off to our starting point Apoteri the journey took around 1.5 hrs and we were greeted by a small family who has lived on the banks of the Essequibo for their entire life and would have it no other way. A young lady offered us some rum Guyanas national rum el Dorado aged 10 yrs said to be very sweet as it is made with Demerara sugar. As I found a place in my huge bag for the 2 bottles a young man shouted ‘if you are stranded on monkey island or the Canaima gets you at-least you have El Dorado rum’. I replied I hope it helps they all laughed.

The young lady who offered the bake came paddling around the corners with a breastfeeding baby and our dugout canoe, with ease. I laughed and then to really begin to fear what was coming up, to paddle the mighty Essequibo river with countless Rapids caimans, anaconda, piranha and fish that weigh double my own weight also Jaguar and Canaima. As I headed down to pay the young lady she said it was her father in-laws fathers boat from about 15 to 20 years ago and she introduced me to my chosen guide. Who I had already met it was the father of Fay. The lady who ran the KWA fishing retreat. I was happy about this as he was passionate about his environment and Guyana he also knew Portuguese, wapichanna and English but a strong creole accent was there. I asked him about his traditional language wapichanna he explained he taught his kids and he has also introduced it into rural schools so his traditional roots would not just disappear like a lot of older cultures and languages.

As we were packing our equipment and blowing up the support raft we heard a lot of shouting and snarling in the not too far distance but covered in shrub, I occasionally caught glimpses of a naked man running through the breaks in the forest, I was knocked back a bit as the rest was busy drinking coffee and planning a route, I asked is it a hunt. They exclaimed ‘yes you have never seen one before’. I said no I live in a big city although I have travelled a lot I have never seen it. They asked me to be quiet as we watched and as the hunter got closer they approached him with high pitch squeal or scream he did the same. Eventually, the snarling and running had stopped. And a man in a ragged cloth approached with a bloodied animal known as an agouti with a small terrier type dog following with blood still around his mouth. I asked if I could take a picture he said yes no problem so off I went snapping away. He shook my hand we spoke of my trip he then said do you know the Canaima I said yes I tried to learn about them before I came here to the Essequibo he said well you know then. “Enjoy your trip” he and my new guide Campbell began talking in wapichanna. It is unlike a language I have heard before completely alien to my mind and how I could even conceive to come to understand it.

I left them to it and began recording on my GoPro an introductory video, I then offered to help they point blank said no you are our guest. There was not a lot left now just a tub of farin left which is a sustenance of long jungle trips of the indigenous people. We got comfortable on our boats myself and Campbell set off on the dugout canoe and Ossiah follows with his sister in tow on the blow-up support raft on the other seat. I and Campbell got along well asked if we had a machete he said no as he has a jungle knife a large rainbow type knife as we would pass a small village in a day or so we can pick up a machete then.

The first day was a strange feeling we seen a lot of bird life each time we got to the banks of the river. You could hear all kinds of animal sounds from birds, to insects I would always imagine a Jaguar just poking his head out of the thick forest which would have made the trip perfect from then onwards whatever happened. As we all got accustomed to the mode of transport for the coming days by having a conversation as the boats were alongside each other. Mainly of what to expect as the explained where will be tomorrow and the day after there was a place Kurapakari a region a 3-4 day paddle away they were wary of this area Known for its so-called lawlessness illegal mining and hunting as well as strong belief in Kanaima. As the locals worried about this area I was looking forward to passing through.

So the day went on serenely not much happening apart from me nearly falling out a number of times, with my camera wrapped around my neck. I think I would have been alright in the murky waters but my camera would have been in trouble. So we have to pass by another river, the Rupununni there waters clash at a turn and the currents run slightly different the rupnunni whose waters clash with the Essequibo being dark black, and the rupununni being a dull grey. You can see an extreme differents even from the wildlife it attracts to the fish that occupy it. To explain the river as best as I can being from the UK You don’t see much of rivers, being that wide they house islands as big as some countries. As the Essequibo does it truly makes you respect it along with its many dangers we had travelled around 12km within 4-6 hours and the guide Ossiah Campbell shouted the island coming up, we will stay there this evening. We all agreed as we were all tired, as we got closer it was a small beach and old fishing posts had been erected some years ago. We disembarked we set up our camps and all participated in a bit of fishing. Some luckier than others, I was feeling accomplished my first day on the mighty Essequibo river as well as my first time in a traditional canoe nearly as old as I was.

The night came in extremely quickly out here and the forests changed completely from what I had heard since being in Guyana this time we heard water slapping all around us if it was not the South American fishing bats it would be the huge black caiman. The caiman was made worse by the sheer number of eyes looking back at you. Some getting extremely close to land, but as we arrived on the island there was a lot of animal prints so each night the animals would have used the island which we had commandeered. We sat down around the fire and ate the fish we had catfish we had caught and enjoyed where we were I headed to my hammock said good night and off I went to sleep. My imagination going ten to the dozen of all things that could go wrong although I was too tired at this point and off I went.

Day 2 incopati beach

We woke up to a morning chorus like never heard before although the guides were all too familiar with the morning sounds they could and did name almost every sound I questioned them about. Mainly in local names, for example, the strange sound of the cicada a deafening buzzing almost electrical sound. They would call it the sun beetle I would give it, it’s common (English name) Ossiah with the local name and Campbell the fountain of knowledge would casually call it by its Latin or scientific name Carineta diardi or Quesada gigas. Depending on the sound made. So between us 3, we would have a good chance in successfully IDing whatever we may come across.

As we made breakfast, fish we had caught in the night mainly small freshwater fish and a few of them would be sufficient to get us going for the day ahead. We began taking camp down the daily talk would begin about what to expect throughout the day due to the route we were taking. A few wide Rapids although shallow how it was explained would make it a little more difficult due to the heavyweight of the boat and our load also. As we set off we set the cameras up on the GoPro attached to a stick at the back of the support boat and the front of the dugout where I was. All set and we were off without a trace, so today we encountered our first set of rapids and had seen countless fish species and heard howler monkeys. Campbell today spoke a lot of his history and experience of the forever changing region and told a few Amerindian stories one that stuck out to me was, of the ole higue which we experience first-hand in the coming days.

So Campbell has always lived in apoteri I asked him of the huge black caiman who was watching us most of the previous night. Campbell told me a story of a man being taken from a boat very similar to the one we are on. As he was telling the story of a man who spent a lot of time within the jungle and on the Essequibo river who was out fishing and as he retrieved his catch the caiman had latched onto his arm and had since then, not been seen presumably dead.

The days seemed to go by at a constant pace from breakfast to lunch to camp was the plans and in between take as much footage as I could manage. We had come up on a scene from Jurassic park huge boulders scattered throughout the width of the river known as monkey rock where if on my own would have been extremely hard to navigate with the most up to date GPS device with the latest maps available on a consumer level. We settled here for lunch. Where ossiah and myself went on a search for more sustenance rather than just salted beef. In Guyana they eat eggs of most animals where they always left more than they took, again I would not have known what to look for in the huge sandbars throughout the river. But it was disturbed parallel lines in the sand and when they stopped, a stick was used to prod into the sand and find the eggs. It was giant South American river turtle, nests so they were added to the salted beef and fareen, they were prepared in a manner of hard-boiled eggs. We tucked in and we spoke about life within England and Guyana from family to the work I do, which soon changed to Amerindian stories and where we were presently seated. Campbell explained some points in the year there is a sound which you can hear under the ground what a local fish does when caught, a low growling sound. Campbell said he believed that there was an underground river which flows alongside the Essequibo or an underground cave system which has yet to be discovered throughout the Essequibo basin. As a local man with as much knowledge as he has, his statement should be taken seriously.

As soon as the conversation got started we needed to get going to make our time to the next camping spot before it got dark. So we were off again with no evidence we were there so another couple of hours with sights of toucans, macaws and monkeys of all kinds a few lizards were seen again they have local names the most common animals we did see was the Jesus Christ lizard, the basilisk another more common name. We could hear the crash of falls in the distance where they began to worry although Ossiah had been down this far in the past he did not seem to worry. Which didn’t make sense to me but it eased me a little bit. So as we got closer there was a small island between two channels and Campbell shouted we will camp here. We all agreed with no issues we got out and done a reccy of the spot, by checking footprints of the animals that may call the island home. There were Jaguar prints capybara prints and a number of small prints I was uncertain

We all agreed with no issues we got out and done a reccy of the spot, by checking footprints of the animals that may call the island home. There were Jaguar prints capybara prints and a number of small prints I was uncertain of most likely ocelot or a species of small dog ossiah stated. Hammocks were set up a fire was made and fishing began, the sun goes down extremely quick on the equator. Campbell began fishing as normal and Ossiah was jumping in and out of the shallow rock pools. Flipping rocks and fallen trees, Ossiah was strong, stronger than he looked by a long shot he was a stout man smaller than me maybe 5.6, 5.7 who was as natural as any person could be in the water. I was sat minding the fire after all hammocks were set up. To my surprise, Ossiah popped back up with a big freshwater shrimp he casually put it in a plastic tub and cooked it alongside the eggs from this morning. And salted beef and a few small fish and a sweet flour called bake. He offered it me as a gesture of kindness or acceptance so to speak I said no you did the hard work he laughed and said he will share it I agreed.

Myself and my guides were now sat around the fire enjoying our food and talking about the day and hunting methods they use, or the biggest arapaima they had caught. As a few rich American tourists come a few times a year which is their main point of income, the conversation soon got to politics and what we would say to the Guyanese president Granger, if we got the chance which would be to enforce strict punishment for illegal gold mining and illegal land reclamation. As well as funding for eco-tourism such as this trip we are doing, which could be a new form of income for local people and maintain the region. To put my mind at ease I changed the topic to the Jaguar footprints we had spotted not 2 metres away from where we were sat, they told me gruesome stories of Jaguar taking family dogs and not so much on attacking people, but close encounters with a stare between the person and the Jaguar they told me not to worry and to just enjoy the night sky. I thanked them for the food and readied for bed with a quick dip in the rock pool Ossiah had earlier caught an extra meal for us all. I freshened up prepared clothes for the morning and secured my backpack. Off I went to my hammock and dozed off I got to sleep easily with thoughts of Jaguar and being lost in the jungle, that evening I had a few surreal dreams. I remember it vividly as I jumped up in the night almost snapping the hammock ties off with a scream Campbell in turned jumped up and ran over with his bow and arrow ‘all ok dan’. I said yes I nearly fell out of my hammock no mention of my dream and the real reason. Although I had done this type of trip in the past alone, Guyana had a sense of extreme remoteness and if something was to happen from a sprained ankle to a snake bite to a whole array of other things. You would more than likely be screwed 4 days away on speed boat down the river as we were in a paddle boat going up river from where we came from, would be next to impossible. I apologised and went back to sleep ready for the next day.

Day 3 pacu falls

We set off after breakfast from pacu falls I had switched my satellite phone on for the 1st time on the journey it was at the bottom of my bag in a number of waterproof cases. Along with a small notepad where I would add coordinates of each camp spot for my own records in years to come. Although I did have a one-way Messenger device known as a spot that was tracking each day and would register our camping spots each night with a press of a button on the device. So with my sat phone on and a few calls to make today at some point, I would first call Luke Johnson our in country contact in Georgetown. To give him an update on the project so far and how the team are doing I would call him around midday so, for now, I continued to enjoy the leisurely paddle down the Essequibo our 3rd day.

So the wildlife today, to begin with, was perfect giant otters all swimming up river faster than we could paddle down river curiosity seem to get the better of them and each time another passed us, they would pop their head and at least a quarter of their upper body out the water to just stare at us. Until we got a bit further from them they would continue on their way. So we continued on our way, we came across the most interesting bird I had ever seen a sun bittern I say the most interesting up until now as it would have these patterns on the wings that could only be seen as the wings opened to fly away. We got pretty close to a number of animals as our mode of transport was extremely quiet. They would only realize when we were within meters of them, I and Campbell got talking about our next spot to camp he then asked Ossiah as he had been down this far in the past. He said it would be a place called Chaney landing or just before it as there a few falls the nearer we get, as he knew a family there and a small shop we could get extra item batteries and so on.

As we carried on past the otter’s nest there were 2 fishermen on the river bank Campbell had noticed before anyone else. He seemed to get cautious as we were approaching the infamous kuripakari region of Guyana’s interior. We passed them with a short hello they called us back in an offering of fish they had caught that morning as a bragging right. Fishing in Guyana is a thing people especially of the indigenous communities such as catching the biggest wolf fish, Arapaima even pacu and catfish were amongst the most popular or preferred catches. We turned around which was now early afternoon and the sun was baking and we had yet to eat. As we disembarked and greeted each other they offered us a few of the catch Campbell reluctantly accepted. For reason, I don’t know maybe he did not want them to hand over a catch they may have took a while to get or possibly a return gift money presumably. So as we got talking we all agreed to stay here and eat with them food was prepared last bit of salted beef, fareen and the freshly acquired fish. I took this time to make a call from my satellite phone first call to Luke Johnson to give him an update and what had happened up to now. The call went something like this, Why did you not send me your co-ordianates last night and the night before I said I did through the spot gen 3 device he stated he had not received any as Luke was the first point of call for rescue efforts it was paramount he would know where we are in an instant. I apologised and began talking about the good points from the Jaguar footprints to sun bittern to the countless macaw’s kingfishers cormorants and shags as a birder he genuinely appreciated it. I gave him the last two nights coordinates as I had written them down. I said farewell and promised to send the coordinates each night by satellite phone now. As we finished our lunch with our new friends we said bye to them they then wished us luck on our journey with a shout of look out for the kanaima the guys and myself waved and we were paddling away. I had my GPS device out with the most up to date birdseye view of the region and we see how the river from above was like a maze all linked up to the main river system, but some were much harder to traverse. From the depth to the amount of rocks and speed of the water. All accounted for the approach. Mainly Ossiah would decide as the most competent river goer on the team.

The clouds were seeming to grow larger and darker which would only signal a downpour animals began howling, roaring and squeaking which again to Campbell they did before the rain began. Of course, within 15 minutes we were paddling in the storm, it was rain which was constant but was welcomed from the relentless heat. But we were fighting a constant battle in emptying the bottom of the boat from the rainwater. We began considering camping spots some were ideal if the rain wasn’t so heavy. Shortly we came up to a small sand bar with an island maybe 5 meters above, the beach as we all decided on the island as a group we would head to it and disembark. I got some of my food what I had bought in Georgetown as it was too wet to get a fire going which would be able to boil some fish. Ossiah and Campbell chose to sleep on the beach simply wrapped in a tarpaulin but as it was getting dark quite quick I headed into the forest maybe 15 meters away from the beach and Ossiah and Campbell. We hurried to set my hammock up and we sat down to eat tinned fish and cold fareen. With our head torch on we were an instant target for 100s of biting flies I sat down as Ossiah and Campbell set off on the scheduled nights fishing trip for tomorrows breakfast. I sat down waited but I was in awe of the fishing bat which skimmed literally feet away from me I was temporarily unaware of the biting flies mosquito and moths that flew into my face due to the light. I then remembered, I read an article somewhere insects are not attracted to red light so eagerly switching my head torch to the red light and almost miraculously they had stopped flying into my face and almost stopped biting with the added dousing of DEET. I was a little more comfortable and began tidying camp of our rubbish from our small dinner. I continued to listen to the nocturnal sounds of the jungle and continued watching the fishing

With our head torch on we were an instant target for 100s of biting flies I sat down as Ossiah and Campbell set off on the scheduled nights fishing trip for tomorrows breakfast. I sat down waited but I was in awe of the fishing bat which skimmed literally feet away from me I was temporarily unaware of the biting flies, mosquito and moths that flew into my face due to the light. I then remembered, I read an article somewhere insects are not attracted to red light, so eagerly switching my head torch to the red light and almost miraculously they had stopped flying into my face and almost stopped biting with the added dousing of DEET. I was a little more comfortable and began tidying camp of our rubbish from our small dinner. I continued to listen to the nocturnal sounds of the jungle and continued watching the fishing bats. As they returned they presented a meagre catch of about 8 small fish, I told them it will be fine for the morning. I have porridge I can use and they can, in turn, have some also. They managed to get a small fire going as the rain subsided I done my night time routine prepared my baggage for the morning and changed into sleeping clothes, checked my hammock ties and the countless footprints spread all over my chosen camping spot.

I got into the hammock relaxed and of I went to sleep. Yet to be rudely awoken by footsteps surrounding myself I shouted to the guys they ran up! To me asked if I was ok, I agreed and said I thought it was use they replied with ‘Dan you use the bathroom lots in the night yes’ They heard me and my heavy footsteps, the night was now becoming the dawn. I sat there for what felt like a minute which was around 3 seconds I said I never got up once ‘what do you mean’. They checked the area there were scuff marks in the soil underneath my hammock, they explained it could be armadillo or porcupine. But then it really hit home when we spotted Jaguar prints 2 meters away from my hammock pointing in my direction. We froze they said very careful tonight we will sleep close by.

Days 4 to 6 will be published in time.

If you could get up the courage to begin you have the courage to succeed
David viscott