Day 10 January 21st 2017
We began today in high spirits as the river was said to be clear until after an island called gluck island. Where the river had separated into, two wide channels where was looking forward to seeing. So the morning we woke checked GPS device and ate breakfast the rest of the previous day’s lunch. We had a hand full of fareen left each and then we were without food so successful fishing was a must if it lasted another 2 or 3 days. Which we didn’t expect it too. We packed all we had unpacked got rid of our rubbish, we set of again a slow flowing it was relaxing but a sense of success in the air as we were approaching the finish line and we all knew it Campbell began wishing me a happy birthday I let him carry on as yesterday was my birthday. I was hoping to open one of the 2 bottles of rum tonight but we will see how it goes. Campbell was concerned about the paddle he had been using since the beginning of the journey which was a light wood which floated with ease it was cracking and bending slightly through the strokes of paddling and when it was used you could feel it bit by bit. Seemed any stroke now it would split in half so this was a huge worry for the expedition and our safety as we would be floating in the middle of the Essequibo’s dark waters with no hope of manoeuvring.
We came across abandoned canoes which had been left for years they were crumbling at the waves each time they were struck. A small piece would drop off or creek due to the age of some of them they were older than I was all were dull sun baked and mould infested chunks of wood. Evidence of bad weather in the past and potential to be dangerous now, to our trip. As we continued on, the sound of dredges would crop up and we would get past them as quickly as we could as hearing gunshots recently and being a prime target for criminals, the gold dust or actual nuggets that are regularly found in the region. And so close to bartica in motorboat would be a nice amount of money earned in a days work. They would undoubtedly be armed.
These machines would be often smaller and larger than the image above some would be regularly homemade on two pontoons with a pipe which would blow the sediment on the river bed down up to a metre or more. Then a separate pipe which would suck up the disturbed sediment and then a machine on the boat base which would be separated by the crew on board. Most cases on a boat this size would get around 10 to 12 grams of gold per individual. A lot further up river on a smaller scale these vehicles would change the environment on a huge scale from causing new islands, chemicals being pumped out which helps separate gold from rocks. Which in turn affects fish population which in turn affected birdlife as ospreys was a regular site until the last few days of the expedition and it was genuinely hard to see them after iwokrama.
So we got past the gold mining crew only to be shouted to come back over we decided not to go back. So we continued on our way there was another crossing coming up where huge pontoon could be heard from some distance away before you could see it. I asked Ossiah and Campbell had they been here before and neither had which was exciting. The area seemed to be a busier than the rest we had come across for some time and a quick look on the GPS on the right of the river between 5 and 10 miles there was the Linden highway so I could only assume there was a few small settlement or townships within the forest not mapped. They did not make much conversation they would pass by and shout hello we would reply with a hello back. Kids were, in what looked to be school uniforms travelling across the river from west to the east bank on motorboats the pontoon and canoes. Which were not school uniforms turned out to be a church as we stopped by the crossing we arrived at a landing meaning a crossing over the river, each one had a name this one I couldn’t remember but the coordinates are here. Which looked like the previous crossings, but a little bit smaller as we got to the bank myself and Ossiah got out headed up to the main hub of the town we didn’t need anything particularly just that we had not been so curiosity got the better of us there was a group of young men all climbing up a tree to collect fresh mangoes and coconuts. Which they would, in turn, sell on the river or in their makeshift shops. The people were welcoming and warm by offering fruit they had just collected although curious they would ask what I was doing around here we told them and what we plan to do in the next day or so.
We carried on with the brief conversation, and then we headed back past the young people climbing the trees they waved to us we waved back. And we were off again Back on the canoe checked the GPS device and noticed two large islands coming up the flow of the river was fast and we kept to the plan keep right for the first we agreed and then as we get to the huge gluck island and then Rockstone was relatively close. We arrived at the first of the 3 islands. The water was much faster and shallower on the left we decided we could all do with a rest, Campbell agreed and needed to make a new paddle. We stopped for a bit of fishing and to salvage some wood. Ossiah and I sat down to fish and talk about what we will do when we get to Bartica I replied to open the rum and celebrate my birthday. Ossiah said he will get on the radio and contact apoteri to inform his family and neighbours of the successful end of the project.
Campbell sat 15ft away found some wood he said it is purple heart it didn’t look purple until he splashed it with water it seemed as if it glowed bright purple the colour changed to I was amazed. He laughed and began fashioning a paddle. As we sat there I just looked around and on a smaller island half a mile away or so ossiah said “wuttrash” “wuttrash” It was the Amerindian name for the capybara so, capybara made an appearance and tapir do you want to get closer dan we will try and get a picture I of course agreed and of we went with a half-broken paddle to snap a pic of a capybara. We left Campbell to create a new paddle and of we went. Campbell took over the fishing as we left him with no luck, we got back continued down the river with a new paddle seeming to just follow the flow we arrived at the south end of gluck island which was a busy point again a crossing point to one side to the other. The river flowed quite fast people were a common site now but larger boats from small 5bhp to larger 40bhp outboard motors ebbed and flowed up and down and across the river. It seemed to take a good amount of time to get from one side of gluck island down to the other. When we finally did the river again opened up although the island would have been a nice camp spot it was too populated, so we decided against it.
As it was getting dark, clouds were continuing to loom over us we heard the familiar and dreaded sound of rapids we looked at each other rain pouring by now and a scout of the many blind corners the river seemed to open up and looked like a huge rockpool. Shallow rocky outcrops scattered all over. We took it head on although we ended up kneck deep most the time trailing the boat through bit by bit.
This continued into the night, where we had to get out and walk through the forest for some time. After a number of corners and cutting our way through the forest to get in and out of the water we hoped that was the last of the rapids. it went on until about 2200 that night the forest is extremely daunting at the best of times when it is wet dark and a number of sounds you can only hazard a guess at. Your mind plays tricks, you just keep on going. We got back on to the canoe soaked through tired and to be honest fed up with it at this point, the lowest of our time on the Essequibo. We saw a small sandbar and we made beeline for it. As we got onto it Campbell made a fire I set my hammock up Ossiah went on an egg hunt and returned, with about 10 plover eggs, water began boiling eggs were placed in the water. Clothes changed and slightly more upbeat. I went for a walk around camp, the sheer number of spiders in the forest was mind-boggling an arachnologist would be in his or her element here small one’s large ones, extremely dangerous ones and the pretty ones. I was called back by ossiah he offered me a few eggs and a glass of water. I happily took it, sat around the fire listening to Campbell and his Amerindian folklore stories. I retired with a tired goodbye and of I went to get in the hammock watched the stars and satellites pass by I dozed off to the rainforest symphony.
Day 11 January 22nd 2017
Past the maze of islands with what now looked like a free-flowing open river on the GPS we woke up with an excitement and prospect of finishing this trip. A first of its kind documented via tracking on a 15-year-old dugout canoe. Which would raise the profile of all involved on a personal level and opportunity to raise awareness for the cause? We packed up with no breakfast just a healthy amount of water and we were off again. So a quick look back at camp and a few narrow channels we were scott free straight after the maze of islands the water opened up it was a huge our aim ultimately was Bartica but firstly head to baganara a tourist resort and then recuperate. The river now was a huge opening where waves were much bigger than us which was quite scary I couldn’t understand why until Campbell explained the water was much more dangerous here and deeper and saltier he said. We were entering the mouth of the river from the Atlantic ocean water would rush up the channel causing this to happen each time we paddled it knocked us back 5 metres. The only way we could get by was to hug the side of the river there was a line of dense mangroves on either side which when we got there it was a lot less dangerous. But getting there was hazardous the amount of water we were bailing out was near capsizing us how deep this part of the river would there be no hope id of happily fell out 6 days earlier than here and now. People were staring at us like how mad are they even offering help to tow us if we held a rope we turned it down on a number of occasions after 1 or 2 hours of travelling maybe half a mile we stopped at a small home. We took it as a much-needed rest and to buy pineapple of the homeowners we could see baganara resort.
Sat eating our pineapple looking at the width and the many more waves to come we checked the GPS and worked the distance out to 3-5 miles and at the last hour’s pace, it would have taken another whole day. That is if we never capsized and all fell in the river we asked if we could be towed by a boat so a lady and her son offered for 15USD to bartica we obliged. So we prepared our kit in the towboat Campbell sat in our canoe and controlled it myself and Ossiah sat in the boat that would be towing us. And off we went our last 5km off 288km. So the owners and our 2 newest members of our team began half way down we followed the shore as the waves were much too dangerous for a small boat to be in the middle of it, but to cross from the east bank to the west we had to. As soon as we did Campbell broke the silence of the latest leg with a shout “water get the water out” we all were thrown a plastic container the owners of the boat began screaming the water was up to our knees and was coming over the front the back and the sides we all panicked so bailing water out as quick as possible the boat is on the verge of capsizing with us all in. As we got to the other side the water began receding everyone seemed to sigh at the same time and Bartica was pointed out. We had used our satellite phone to ring ahead to D’Factor interior guest house Where we had secured two rooms. As we arrived we were greeted by a small skinny man shook all our hands he said hope you had good treatings so far in Guyana, I said yes so far. He called taxi for us all we unpacked the boat the mother and son who had towed us here asked what are we doing with the boat. I said you can have it she said she will use it for a pontoon. Although in my opinion, I believe it should be in a museum of some sort I am sure they will put it to good use. I paid Campbell and reminded him of our agreement of our first night he said if we make it I can pay him then we laughed about it our taxi arrived we headed to our accommodation in Bartica.
“life is either a daring adventure or nothing”
My time in Bartica will be posted soon.