Saved in the Nick of Time

December 8, 2006
Day 436
Kaieteur Trek Day 1

Picture of canoe.

We get paddled upstream in a leaky canoe.

The route to Kaieteur seemed pretty simple: Drive down a road to Pamela on the Potaro River, take a boat upstream to a settlement called Amatok, walk along the river to another settlement called Wartok, then walk the rest of the way to the waterfall. Nobody seemed to walk there, but the Lonely Planet (a budget guidebook) suggested taking a tour that would involve traveling by boat all the way for $750, so we opted to walk and hopefully spend less than $75.

Getting a truck to Pamela was no problem, and the driver didn't even charge Sally to ride with us. We were told the boat to Amatok would cost $10 each, but the driver said he wanted $70 because we would be the only passengers. We told him no thanks, we'd wait until more people showed up, but we wouldn't pay more than $10. Suddenly the driver said he'd take us "because he was heading that way anyway." Once again, Sally didn't have to pay. He may not have had money, but he sure had his connections.

The boat ride ended at Amatok, a mining settlement located on a beautiful set of Class V rapids on the Potaro River. We sat around for awhile and talked to the friendly locals who ran a shop for the miners. Eventually a porkknocker who happened to be walking the same route as us showed up and led the way.

We walked through a couple huge areas that had been completely cleared by mining. Eventually, we hit the jungle. It was more difficult than I had in mind. There were rivers that we had to wade through and razor-sharp vegetation everywhere. There didn't seem to be much of a path, but with two locals leading the way, it wasn't too difficult to keep making progress.

A lot of the deeper rivers had fallen tress spanning them that acted like bridges. They were slippery, and I had to move slowly at times, but I didn't fall in. At one point, the miner who had been leading us headed off in a different direction. A few minutes later, we were greeted by a river that was too deep to wade and too wide to have any tree-bridges. Craig wrapped his backpack in some plastic and swam across the crocodile-piranha-anaconda-infested river. Just as I was prepping my backpack for the swim (and crossing my fingers that my camera, which was in a dry bag, wouldn't get ruined), the porkknocker came back with a couple other miners in a canoe with a big hole in it. They took us up the main river for a few minutes to their mining camp. I was saved in the nick of time.

The rain that had fallen for each of the last few days told us that it would be a good idea to stop for the day at the mining camp. I set up my tent under the ubiquitous large tarp, dug some trenches in preparation for the upcoming downpour, and helped Sally cook some thick loaves of bread.

Shortly after dark, we were sitting under the tarp in the pouring rain and Sally was telling us about his life as a miner. In addition to mining for gold, he occasionally looked for diamonds, and participated in the importing and exporting of all sorts of illegal goods. His nonchalant attitude confirmed how little police presence Guyana has.

Suddenly, a couple guys showed up in a canoe and announced that "our friend" was here to see us. A minute later, none other than Diego walked in from the rain! He said that he couldn't make it to Mahdia until late this morning, so he hired a couple people to paddle a canoe up the river for a few hours to catch up with us. Even though we didn't know we were going to stop at the mining camp, it was easy to find us, he said, because everyone in Mahdia knew what we were up to. Apparently Craig and I are like a couple of celebrities in the area because there are so few tourists here. So tomorrow, the Guyanese, the Argentine, the Australian, and the American will continue their trek up the river, through the jungle, and to one of South America's little-visited delights.

This photo album for this trek is here.

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