Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kaieteur Falls - Day Two

February 15, 2014

Realizing that a couple of hours at the spectacular waterfall would probably not be enough, we arranged our trip to culminate in a day and a half at the falls, allowing us plenty of time to enjoy the falls from every angle and take advantage of having such a beautiful spot all to ourselves.

The falls are named after a local legend about a tribal leader, Kai, who sacrificed himself by riding a canoe over the mouth of the falls.  Teur is the local word for falls, hence the Kaie-Teur name.  We rose early to try to get a look at the swifts that fly in and out of the waterfall at dawn and dusk, but the rain was still falling hard, so we took it as a sign to take it easy and sleep in.  The morning then began on a quest for bird-watching and frog-spotting, specifically looking for the iconic Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock and Golden Frog, a tiny species living on the leaves of some of the unique plant life.  Our search for the frog was unsuccessful, though we did get two sightings of the bright orange bird (though no decent pictures).

We enjoyed our last day in Guyana, continuing to marvel at the views and the natural splendor.  At 1 or 2 in the afternoon, another group showed up, coming in on the day flight where we met up again with the Canadian/Guyanese family that we had met in Surama a few days earlier.  We also found the other small group doing a day trip, the group with which we would head back to the capital city.  It's not easy to arrange a one-way flight in and out of the falls, so it took a lot of coordination and perhaps some luck to make it happen.  Our flight wasn't confirmed until just 3 or 4 days before, and even then, our spots were almost sold out from under us.  Fortunately, our guide's wife spoke with the airline again, went straight to the airport in Georgetown and paid for our spots, so ASL (Air Services Limited) held our seats open on the day trip, and we were able to board the plane for our last views of the falls.

As is customary on these flights, we passed by the falls on both sides, providing some perspective from above the falls and the surrounding forest.  The flight then passed through miles and miles of untouched forest before finally revealing a few hints of villages and then the large river mouth of the Demarara and the capital city of Georgetown.  Unfortunately, our airport ride wasn't there to meet us, so after 45 minutes of asking around the small airport, we were lucky enough to get a ride back to the city with the security workers who were nice enought to drop us right back at our hotel and end our trip on a friendly note.  Other than that, our last night was uneventful, relaxing at the hotel before our early morning departure.  We got into the taxi weary-eyed at 2:30 AM and began our long trip home.  The taxi took us to the airport, where we had a very tight connection through Trinidad, and this was my one biggest concern in booking our trip so tightly.  We didn't have a lot of time on the trip, and I really didn't want to lose a whole day just to ensure our connections, but I knew things don't always run as planned in this part of the world.

When we got to the airport, the sign board brought about a sinking feeling in my stomach.  Our flight was cancelled.  Our connection in Trinidad only gave us about 2 hours if the flight were on time, which isn't a lot of time to get through customs/immigration and then turn around and check in for a flight on another airline, so I had checked the stats over and over before booking.  Things looked pretty consistent, so I thought we could make it, but the one factor I didn't consider was that both the early morning flights were so empty that they cancelled the first one and combined the two.  While checking in, I mentioned the situation in passing to the gate agent who continued to go about his business.  Perhaps because he felt sorry for us and wanted to be helpful or maybe out of pure chance, as we walked away, he called us back and changed our seats to the first row of economy class, so we could get off the plane as fast as possible.  The flight took off about 45 minutes later than I had hoped, but I knew we still had a chance.

We got to Trinidad, grabbed our bags (we intentionally didn't check any baggage) and hurried to the customs and immigration agents.  Being able to sit in the front of the plane worked out perfectly, as we ended up being the first people in line, speeding through the check-in process in just minutes, even leaving us enough time to go get a very quick breakfast of doubles (the spicy chick-pea and roti meal) at the stall just outside the airport before hurrying back in to catch our flight.  We had a wonderful view of the Caribbean below as we passed over countless islands and clear blue water before making it back to Houston and connecting home to Atlanta to finish off our whirlwind trip.  All in all, it was fantastic, and we were able to see a lot in a fairly short time.

(A very ordinary photo of the extraordinary Guianan cock-of-the-rock.  We searched early in the morning and found the colorful bird, though it quickly spotted us and simply flew further into the dense forest and out of our view.  These orange/red birds have a prominent crest along the top of their head and are only found in this region.  We also searched in vain for a golden frog that lives in the huge leaves of the tank bromeliads, peeking into the crevasses of many plants before giving up.)

(Fog typically covers the morning views, burning off around 10 am.  Here you can see the falls shrouded in the ethereal mist from Johnson's View.)

(Even the walk to Johnson's View is impressive, passing under some huge boulders and vines on the way to the exposed rock.)

(A close-up of some of the early morning light hitting the vegetation.)

(Laying out in the ochre-colored water just above the falls.  This area is protected from the current, so despite being just a few seconds from the falls, this was completely safe and very refreshing, given the heat and humidity.)

(Lunch was pretty much the only thing unimpressive that day.  Sliced potatoes and fish bones didn't add much flavor, but we were anxious to get back out and explore more of the waterfall, so we weren't too bothered.)

(After the clouds cleared, the amazing falls shone in all their splendor.)

(A close-up of the bottom of the falls.  Johnny/Soldier told us that it was very hard to hike to that point from Tukeit, where the uphill trail started, also mentioning a lot of snakes in that area, though who knows if that part is true.)

(A straight-away shot of the falls, or at least a piece of them.)

(If you zoom in very closely to this shot, you'll again see me with arms outstretched just to the right of the top of the falls, dwarfed by this massive waterfalls.)

(A shot from Rainbow View, named for obvious reasons.)

(Still, the view over the edge of the falls remains scary and impressive at the same time.)

(We hurried out to the Cessna to get our preferred seats on the plane, though it turned out that the pilot circled the falls from both sides, so everyone in the plane had a great view.)

(The view of the Potaro river just downstream from the falls and back into the untouched tranquility.)

(Kaieteur Falls from above.  The tiny house in the forest in the middle right of the picture (with a red roof) is the lodge where we spent the night.)

(One more aerial shot and our last view of the falls before heading back to Georgetown.)

(About an hour later, we arrived back in Georgetown and started the long trek home...I used "trek" liberally here, as we didn't actually walk home to the US.  That would be quite difficult.)


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