Mahdia to Amatuk Island
02.07.2012 - 03.07.2012 90 °F
We spent our one night in Mahdia at the RH Hotel. RH stands for Roger Hines, and he is the unofficial king of Mahdia. Not only does he own the nicest hotel in town (newly built, each room comes with hot water showers, complimentary toothbrush and condoms!) but he personally gave us a tour of the town's grocery store, music store, and the new compound he is building - all of which he owns. While on this walking tour, we were escorted by two body guards with (semi)concealed weapons (the butt of the weapon could be seen sticking out of their pockets) while a man took our photographs as if he were Roger's personal paparazzi.
Considering most people live under a pile of 4x10s with screws, Roger was doing pretty well for himself. Apparently the upped security was as a result of an assault he survived during a visit to Georgetown, where he was shot in the arm and robbed at gunpoint. He also casually mentioned that the perpetrator is now dead. We didn't bother asking how that came to be.
From Mahdia we spent another hour and a half on the road til we got to Pamela's Landing - our put in for the river journey.
We piled into the small boat - just enough for the 4 of us, our captain and our packs - and sped past beautiful dense jungle on the dark Potaro river.
When I think back on all my previous experiences while traveling, there was always a recurrent theme - a strong desire for going off the beaten path and sometimes doing things that can be considered a little scary. I was totally obsessed with Indiana Jones when I was a kid, and I have to think that it has strongly influenced the types of trips I've taken. Exploring Guyana's Amazonian jungles and rivers could easily have been another chapter in Indiana's adventures.
We met a friendly Guyanese business man on the plane who sternly warned us of the country's most prized natural resources:
“You'll get into less trouble trying to smuggle drugs out of the country than attempting to take gold and diamonds with you. Leave the gold and diamonds to those with licenses.” He repeated this mantra no less than three times.
During the 2.5 hr ride up the Potaro River we got a glimpse of what this man was talking about, deforestation from mining and dredge barges on the river made it clear that even though we were without modern conveniences, we were never too far from another human being.
However much the thought of deforestation may have been a buzzkill, the Blue Morpho butterflies we saw teleporting through the air with each flap of their wings brought us back to the realization that we were still in some of the most pristine jungle in the world. Perhaps the last of it.
As the name implies, the blue morpho's wings are a bright, iridescent blue at the top. The underside is a brownish color, providing camouflage when its wings are closed. However, when the butterfly is in flight, the contrasting bright blue and dull brown colors flash, making it look like the morpho is appearing and disappearing. Blue morpho's only live in the deepest parts of the rainforest in latin america, and even then, only come out of hiding to find a mate.
As our boat neared the island around 10am, we could hear the roar of Amatuk waterfalls get louder and deeper. Amatuk island is nestled into Amatuk waterfalls, and was completely empty, waiting for us to grace its presence for the next 24hrs. The island is often used by tour groups and hikers as a half way point to Kaieteur. A simple guesthouse, equipped with cookware and a few spices, as well as a free standing tarp roof, a picnic table, and an outhouse completed the camping facilities available to us. We pitched our tent under the cover of the roof, hung a couple hammocks, and went on a quick tour exploring our new island home.
Nate climbing one of many cashew trees on the island
Amatuk falls envelops the island on two sides
I mentioned earlier that most people do (and should do) this kind of trip as part of an organized tour, with local guides who know their way around the jungle, and even cook your meals with local (eat what you catch) ingredients. Well, not us. We braved this by ourselves and, thankfully everything went fine. However, if we had a guide, perhaps he would have advised us not to go swimming around in the dark, dark Potaro river and stay away from the edges of the river at night. We did in fact do all those things, including a night swim, and found out the following night that we had been swimming in piranha infested waters and that a large caiman makes his home on the shores of our island as well. I even remember Nate jokingly thrashing in the water and pretending to be pulled under at one point. It could've been a scene out of a terrible teeny bopper suspense thriller, right before tragedy strikes.
They say ignorance is bliss.
After making lunch we started a fire and began finding creative ways to empty the bottles of rum we brought.