Amatuk to Kaieteur
03.07.2012 - 03.07.2012 90 °F
Depending on how heavy of a sleeper you are, Amatuk island will either be a blessing or a curse for you. In my case it was the latter. Remember, the island is sitting in the middle of a waterfall, and it's only a few hundred m. sq. in size, so the rumbling of the waterfall is a constant reminder of where you are. At night, even more so. If the sound of thousands of pounds of water cascading over boulders hadn't kept me awake, surely the monsoon that took place that night would have. We slept inside our tent under the tarp roof, but the sound of rain hitting the tarp right above our heads could not have been drowned out by a million screaming cats. Let's just say it was a long night.
The following morning we packed up all our gear and filtered a few more gallons of water for what we knew would be the most strenuous part of our trip: the hike up to Kaieteur Falls. We had organized a guide to meet us at Amatuk and guide us through the trek for the rest of the day, but for reasons unknown to us no one but our boat and captain showed up, and even he was an hour late. Nonetheless, the journey must go on. With the boat, we continued up river towards the falls for another hour before we arrived at the trailhead.
The beautiful dense rainforest, dark brown river, an overcast sky amid a tropical heat gave me a feeling of freedom and serenity I knew was seldom found. Only the low hum of our boats’ engine could be heard for miles. I kept my eyes on the riverbanks to catch a glimpse of the largest boa species that makes its home in Guyana, the anaconda, but no such luck. Kaieteur is located in the middle of a geographical area known as the Guiana Shield, which includes large mountain plateaus and a rainforest system that is part of a watershed reaching all the way to the Amazon River. This area is considered to have one of the highest biodiversities in the world, in both plant and animal species. Some of the worlds largest animals call Guyana their home: Black Caiman alligators, capybara (rodents), green anaconda (boa constrictor), giant anteater, giant river otters, giant river turtles, false vampire bats, and of course the Jaguar (largest cat in the western hemisphere).
Our boat pulled up to the bank where another, older camp had been made. The tarp roof was mostly torn but it provided enough shade for us to fuel up with peanut butter sandwiches and water. We couldn’t have been more in luck that just as we were about to set out on the trail, to which we had no map and no guide, a young Guyanese man had been waiting for the boat to bring him back to town. He thought it strange that we didn’t have a guide so he approached us and offered to sketch a map of the trail for us. The result was a few lines drawn on the back of a business card. He said we couldn’t miss it, the trail was well worn in and once we crossed three bridges we should be on the lookout for a fork where we should take the sharp ascent up, and not go straight. OK, got it, here we go.
The trail was well worn in, and easy to follow. Counting bridges was not. Is a log fallen over a small trickling creek considered a bridge in Guyana? Hmm, how about this larger one with three logs across an even larger creek? Then we came to a concrete bridge over an empty waterbed. We had no idea how many bridges we crossed, each one of us had counted a different number. The forest floor was dense in fallen leaves, rotting wood, mushrooms, many tropical plants and large palm seeds. I’m sure if animals were watching us, we were clueless, our eyes were glued to one step in front of us. Colonies of leaf-cutter ants criss-crossed our path and just about everything around us was dripping wet. Even when it rained we could hardly feel more than a mist as the canopy of the trees was so dense. We continued along the only path we saw and about 30 minutes into the hike, we noticed a sharp ascent. I don’t think we ever saw the fork in the path, but we knew we had to go up at some point so we felt we were on the right track.
For the next 2 hours we climbed over 600 feet in elevation, at times so challenging that we could only continue by holding onto trees or rocks and pulling ourselves up by them, then resting, and repeating. The trail had a few switchbacks but for the most part continued straight up. We hiked past many creeks and small waterfalls, a rock wall completely covered in moss about 50 ft long and 10 ft high. We knew we were close when we reached a plateau at the top. The trail continued on through a less dense forest and eventually led us to a clearing with giant bromeliads lining the way. It was as if we had just stepped into the Land of the Lost. Continuing our lucky streak, Nate took a glance into one of the bromeliads to see if he could find the rarest frog of its species in the world, the golden poison dart frog. And what do you know, there happened to be one sitting in there. Known as one of the most poisonous frogs in the world, just 2 inches worth of its toxin can kill 10 grown men.
As exciting as that was, we could hear the loud rumbling of Kaieteur falls in the background and couldn’t help but continue all the way until we caught the first glimpse of it. It was absolutely astonishing. The height is incredibly overwhelming to even stand near the edge, so we all got on our bellies and took in the view.
Pictures don’t do it justice, it is the single most incredible view I have ever experienced. A thousand times better than Niagara Falls. There are no rails and no safety nets, what you do here is your own choice. At the edge of the cliff is a straight drop 800 feet down. If you even trip too close to the edge, its goodbye to you.
As we revered in the raw power of mother nature, swift birds were starting to gather above us in the light of the setting sun. One by one we would watch them dive with great speed behind the waterfall, where they nest during the night.