Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kaieteur Overland in Review: Part 1

For reasons that take too long to explain, I did not have a camera for 90% of my trip to Kaieteur.  Therefore, my journal posts about my trip will temporarily be unaccompanied by photographs.

Hopefully, I will have images of my trip posted just as soon as my friends can send them to me.  Until then, please use your imagination and my words to fill in the gaps.  My trip to Kaieteur was arguably the greatest hike I've ever been on in my life.  I will remember it as long as I have my sanity.

The following describes much of what I see regularly down here.  It comes from this non-fiction book, The River of Doubt, Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey.  I quote this as it explains the color of the rivers in Guyana (thanks momma for the passage!):

Each of the Amazon's thousands of tributaries starts at a high point - either in the Andes, the Brazilian Highlands, or the Guiana Highlands - and then steadily loses elevation and picks up speed until it begins to approach the Amazon Basin.  Scientists have divided these tributaries into 3 broad categories - milky, black and clear
 - in reference to the color that they take on while carving their way through 3 different types of terrain.  Alfred Russel Wallace, British naturalist and friend of Henry Walter Bates and Charles darwin, made the distinction widely known in the mid-9th century
 when he published his Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro.  Wallace noted the striking difference between the milky Amazon and the black waters of the Negro where they collide on the northern bank of the Amazon.  Seen from above, the meeting of these two colossal rivers looks like black ink spilling over parchment paper.  The visual effect is heightened because the Negro, which is warmer and thus lighter in weight, rides on top of the Amazon, and the rivers do not fully blend until they have traveled dozens of miles together downstream.

Milky rivers, such as the Amazon and the Madeira, generally have their origins in the west and are clouded by the heavy sediment load that they carry down from the youthful Andes.  Blackwater rivers, on the other hand, usually come from the ancient Guiana Highlands in the north and so wash over nutrient-poor, sandy soils.  Scoured by the millions of years of hard rains, these soils cannot retain decomposing organic matter - mostly leaves - which, when swept into a river, literally stains the water black like tea.

Although during the rainy season of the River of Doubt is nearly as black as the Negro and as murky as the Amazon, it is technically a clearwater river.  Like the Amazon's largest clearwater rivers, the Tapajos and the Xingu, it has its source in the Brazilian Highlands, and so it picks up very little sediment as it flows over ancient and highly eroded soil.  Clearwater rivers are also less acidic than blackwater rivers.  Some, most notabley theTapajos, are so clear that they look blue, perfectly mirroring the sky above them.  But most, like the River of Doubt, mix with either blackwater or milky tributaries as they snake through the rain forest, and so look neither blue nor clear by the time they reach their mouth.        
(pgs. 171-173)

The following is a journal entry about the first two of my five day hike to the falls:

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009                                                                                                                          6:15am
I am sitting on a field of jagged rocks in the middle of the Potaro River and looking out at the South American landscape before me.

Shear cliffs covered with thick vegetation and clouds dust their peaks in the morning sunrise.  It is like living inside the cover of a National Geographic.

Soldier (our trail guide) and his nephew are bringing in some supplies for today’s hike and the littlest, tiniest bumble bees graze like cows in the miniature flowers that grow on the rocks of the rushing river that surrounds where I sit.  The boat that Soldier is on is as tiny as my pinkie on the river ahead.  I feel as tiny as my pinkie, and it is a reassuring feeling.

The air is so clean here.  Much of the forest smells and looks quite similar to the forests in Oregon, near McKenzie Bridge and Crater Lake.  The water here, however, is black like Coca Cola.  It feels great on the skin and reflects the light of the rainforest differently than clear water does.

Yesterday, at the end of our hike, I watched the bottoms of the leaves of the trees above me reflect the sunlight that was reflecting from the water flowing slowly on the Potaro.  As the ripples and small waves met the shore where I sat, the light above, coming from the leaves, fluttered and flickered like hundreds of lamp posts in this jungle world.
After thoughts:

  • There is oil build-up on beaches near our camps.  It is undoubtedly from the boat engines.  Oh the irony of natural preserves in a post modern world (yes, I'm making a pretentious comment)
  • Foam from vegetation near the rapids and pools. Naturally made, I think
Yesterday we arrived at our first camp, Amatuck, and walked through ivory-white sand banks.  We bathed in a giant pool of water that has naturally dammed near a rapid.  It was black water, clean and cool.  The contrast of white sand, black water, blue & white sky, with sheer cliffs and the expanse of a green forest takes one aback, even the most seasoned traveler would be taken aback.  This is truly a unique and special place on Earth.

We drank, ate dinner, and visited with each other speaking about everything from politics to music to philosophy to gender roles.  Our Canadian couple (Narisa and Tom) make me feel home since they live in NYC.  I thought of Alexandra a lot that evening.

At night, under a half moon waxing, the sand seemed to be as white as Antarctic snow, cool and soft.  Vampire bats darted left and right over my head after the sounds of bugs and other small animals.  Howler monkeys made their guttural calls, breathy and haunting.  No mosquitoes in the dry season here!

In the morning, we walked around to see the area we had stayed overnight in and it was magnificent.  I bathed in a recessed pool next to some rapids that gushed and rushed gallons of water like the McKenzie.  There was a plethora of green moss and plants all around me.  I felt like the Nature Channel guy who finds unity with the universe while cleaning his dirty fingernails in this massive river.

Later that day we reached our next camp site via hiking and boating.  On our way, we experienced the forest from the river and from blazing trails along the Potaro’s banks.  No wide pathways, just hints of a trail every so many feet.  Seeing the gaps of vegetation in the faces of cliffs is really stunning.  From one’s perspective on land, they seem like the sides of miniature carpeted walls and the gaps are where someone may have dropped a cigarette and burned a hole to reveal the dirty tiled floor beneath.  In reality, they are as wide as two or three buses and as tall as big city buildings.  These mountain cliffs are behemoth structures of ancient rock and tree, teeming with life from its great canopy on down to the soil that gives such abundant life.

At sunset, we bathed next to a Spectacled Caiman and watched it hide from us under an enormous river rock.  The water was like black glass reflecting the afternoon sun and lighting everything underneath the forest canopy like a blazing bonfire.

Dinner was followed by two games of Mafia

*Fat bumble bees as big and fat as a grown man’s thumb.  Half velvet-black, half fighting Illini orange.
*The creaking of the ropes tying our hammocks up kept many of us awake into the night.  We were all so afraid of falling asleep and then having our hammocks come loose.

Part 2 is on its way.  Until then, please enjoy these photos.  There will be more images in due course: Kaieteur Overland Photos

To read part 2 of this journal - click here

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