Friday, April 06, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Kaieteur (and Orinduik) Falls

I mentioned yesterday that I was headed for the Kaieteur Falls here in Guyana today, didn’t I? Well, we made the trip and I can assure you that I haven’t had an experience as fascinating as this ever before. A writer in my place would have done a good job of describing the experience because even when I was in the middle of the experience, heck! I was woefully short of appropriate words (adjectives really).

Best I go about it in a sequential way to at least ensure something is right…

Woke up early, was picked up from the hotel along with Daryl Harper and his wife, some of the Ireland cricket team members (from another hotel, we met at the airstrip later) and a pile of tourists to go the Ogle Airstrip. Hung around for a long time there, because the aircraft that were supposed to take us were dilapidated eight-seater flying machines that can’t take too much weight. Forget luggage, even three fat persons would be too much for these babies. So four-five aircraft were arranged, and the organisers went through an hour-long addition-subtraction-permutation-combination process before figuring out who would sit in which place and so on.

The plane itself was more like an Ambassador taxi and I admit that I was scared shitless as it taxied and took off. Man oh man!!! It was scary! But then it did take off and it turned out to be quite a capable plane manned by a very, very able pilot, whose name I forgot to note down.

Now, while all the flying I have done on this tour has been from island to island and therefore over seas, this was the first inland flight. And instead of flying over the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea, we had the Amazon rainforests below us. And these flights don’t go up too high, which meant that we had one of those Hollywood-like sightings where helicopters or small planes go over these fantastic expanses of greens-and-mountains (like when the flight enters Jurassic Park, for example). And because the plane didn’t go up too high, the distance between us and the top of the forest was barely the distance from the top of a 30-storey building and the ground. It was like flying over a carpet of broccoli, because as we realised later, there’s practically no room for daylight in these forests.

Then we landed, and found a very entertaining guide – Colin Benjamin, who took us on a guided tour of all the amazing flora and fauna that thrive in these parts of the Amazons. The flora I was not interested in. The fauna sounded fascinating. Especially the inch-long Golden Frogs. These insect-like frogs are also called ‘poison dart frogs’, and as Colin told us, can kill even large animals like horses with their venom. Needless to say I stayed away.

The other thing we would all have tried to avoid was the ‘wagler’, if, of course, we crossed paths. The wagler is a snake unique to these parts, and is rumoured to be so fast that it can get its fangs into the legs of a galloping horse. Thankfully, we didn’t meet a wagler – mainly because waglers are supposed to be very scared of noise and stay away from tourist parties.

Let me tell you about the forest itself now. For all us Indians bred on the threadbare Corbett National Parks of the world, this is the real thing. In fact, this was only a trailer for the real thing (which would be the middle of the Amazons), but even this was denser than the densest parts of places like Corbett. The sun was shining, but you couldn’t tell by looking up; the trees go up so high and are so thickly leaved. There are some fascinating vines and trees that are supposed to have amazing powers.

And then we came to the Kaieteur Falls. If any of you watch Headlines Today, maybe you can catch the visuals I sent, because I really can’t describe it. From over a kilometre away, you can hear its roar. The roar begins to get deafening as you get nearer, but till you actually reach it, you don’t manage to glimpse it, because the spray that comes up from the drop creates a fog-like haze. Now, remember that this is a 700-foot drop. So the water goes down 700 feet, and the spray that takes place as a result of it 700 feet below bounces up all the way and then creates a thick screen of fog. The water itself is a dark brown because it comes over miles of red stones, but the haze is milk-white.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

You have to shout to be heard at this stage, because the roar is literally deafening. The 700-foot trek can be done in about 4 days’ time because there are trekkable routes. But as Colin told us, there’s a 7-second route also, to avoid which you should stay far, far away from the edge of the cliff, because it’s curtains otherwise.

Legend has it that once upon a time the cannibalistic Caribs attacked the peaceful Patamona tribe that inhabit the forests. In response, the Patamona king Kaie sacrificed himself by canoeing over the falls to appease Makonaima, the Great Spirit and to bring peace between the Patamona and the Caribs. ‘Teur’ means fall, and thus ‘Kaie-teur’.

Photos were taken. Memory pockets in the head were created. Wife was missed.

It’s around this time that the rains started and we relocated to our Ambassador-craft. Next on our agenda were the Orinduik Falls.

The flight from Kaieteur to Orinduik is interesting because the landscape changes very, very suddenly. The broccoli-like Amazons stop suddenly and instead you get the Rupununi Savannahs – barren, plateau-like landscapes without a speck of vegetation.

And then you touch down in Orinduik. No records here, but fascinating nevertheless. The Orinduik Falls are on the Guyana-Brazil border and are sold to tourists as the place to go to if you want a natural water massage. The deal is that the Orinduik Falls are much like the Ram Teri Ganga Maili variety and come down only from about a 12-foot high. But it comes down at a massive speed because it comes straight down from the mountains, and if you sit down under it as we all did, the water falls on your back like a masseur’s fists.

The Orinduik leg of the trip was interesting only because it was part of our itinerary and because of its proximity to Brazil, but the trip was really about the Kaieteur Falls.