I’ll confess that the heading was a blatant lie. Contrary to popular opinion, Kaieteur Falls isn’t the World’s largest single drop waterfall. It’s the ‘single-drop’ tag that confounds the occasional well-read tourist. There is no such thing as the World’s largest single drop waterfall. Most of us are aware that the world’s largest waterfall is Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and world’s highest waterfall is Venezuela’s Angel falls. Kaieteur may not be the largest or the highest but nevertheless is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the World (not to mention beautiful) owing to an extraordinary mix of height and volume of water. Quite complicated.
As with most adventures from Georgetown, this one starts off with an indecent number of people being shoved into a tiny little mini van with barely enough room to breath, let alone move. Roads extend only up to 50km out of the city after which the minivan has no option but to plough through the mud. Fast-forward 8 hours and a frazzled bunch of hikers stepping out of a minivan in Mahdia doesn’t make a pretty sight.
Mahdia is a tiny little mining town with populations varying between 3,000 and 10,000 (depending on gold rush season). As with most mining towns, its quite difficult to find a building that’s not a bar. A beer later, we get our first glimpse of the beautiful Guyanese rainforest from the back of a 4×4 that takes us to the Potaro River. Cruising the peaceful river at dusk is amazing. Thousands of fireflies dotting the banks add to the experience. Foam on the river tells us that we’ve reached Amatuk falls and we put up our hammocks (with much difficulty) to camp for day one. A bottle of El Dorado rum provides liquid courage before round 2 of the hammock battle commences. Finding the sweet spot of a hammock is tricky business. Don’t believe me? Try spending a night in a hammock.
The morning brings a heavy downpour. Did we really expect to get through the rainforest without getting wet? We finally give up and head out in the rain to visit a diamond mine on Amatuk Island. Loading our stuff onto another boat (on the other side of Amatuk falls – smart eh?) we get back on the river. A pit stop at a river dredge provides momentary respite from the rain.
Rivers are one of the most erosive forces on this planet especially in early stages when they’re mountain streams full of energy (potential). As a result, they end up eroding rocks and dragging the gravel along as silt. River dredges operate by scraping the bottom of a river and sucking up all the loose gravel. This gravel is then flushed through a sifting machine that gets rid of lighter rocks and retains the heavier ones. These heavy rocks and then taken to a plant for gold to be extracted. The only flaw with this mechanism is that when you filter out lighter materials, diamonds get thrown away as well. This gives rise to a secondary industry. Lacking proper diving equipment, locals use tubes attached to an air pump to dive to the bottom of the river. Having no training or knowledge of diving safety procedures, they often fall victim to the bends.
Somewhere along the way we get our first glimpse of Kaieteur. Our guide explains that the next time we see the falls; we’ll standing right beside it. Our boat drops us off and we scramble along the rocks to visit Big Stone Waterfall but this being the monsoon season, our hike quickly turns into a swim. Fortunately at the time we didn’t know that we were swimming through electric eel infested waters and we happily swam to camp. Our hammock skills were noticeably better.
The trek from Tukeit to Kaieteur involves hiking past “Oh My God” mountain named for its steep slopes. The hike through this rainforest constantly reminds us that we’re in the middle of nowhere. Although Kaieteur is the top tourist attraction in Guyana, we hadn’t bumped into a single tourist this far. Hiking through pristine forest abruptly gives way to a clearing on the top of the mountain and in the distance we hear the roar of Kaieteur. Our first view of Kaieteur Falls up close triggered a photo frenzy that lasted 10 mins before we realized that we had a day to get to know this waterfall better.
Most tourists to Kaieteur take the easy way out and fly to the falls. A park guide ushers them around for 45 mins before bundling them back into the plane. This doesn’t do the falls any justice. The magnificence of the falls strikes you at first sight, but spending an hour alone at the waterfalls observing the forces of nature at their mightiest is a chance that rarely comes our way. The sheer size and raw power of this waterfall makes you question your significance on this planet.
Bullfrogs are found (and heard) everywhere though they’re nowhere as good looking as their distant cousins – the golden frog. Bromeliads grow in abundance here (pineapple is part of this family) and store water by using their leaves as a catchment. The golden frog lays its eggs between the leaves of these huge bromeliads. These small frogs are quite jumpy and we weren’t able to find a photogenic one.
Having had our fill of Kaieteur, we catch a little plane back to Georgetown. Although this plane is quite old, the style of flying is probably where air travel could get to 50 years down the road. People hop into the plane as though it were the local shuttle bus and the pilot proceeds to take off without much ado. He silently fills in his forms and pretty much ignores me in the co-pilot seat. Having watched the plane make 2 stops, I’m convinced that I could fly one of those. Fortunately it didn’t come to that and we arrive safe and sound back to Georgetown.