Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mahdia, Guyana - A Mining Town and Kaieteur Falls Overland

February 13 - 14, 2014

The overland trek to Kaieteur Falls was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Guyana, so we had to figure a way to work it into our busy plans for the trip.  Most overland tours take four days through the rainforest and up to the waterfall, but after many iterations with our guide, I came up with a plan that worked better for us, mixing in time in other parts of the country and cutting off a bit of the initial hiking.  We would still experience the boat journeys up the river and the accomplishment and toil of hiking up to the spectacular falls, but we'd just cut out some of the less-inspiring bits along the way.

Continuing up the road from Iwokrama (and Surama early that morning), we made our way through a few river crossings by ferry and ended up at the outpost of Mahdia late in the afternoon.  Mostly a mining town and tiny trading post, the few blocks of development mostly cater to the men who mine the area, so the town has a rough feel with bars, ladies of the night and a few supply shops.  Finding a spot to eat an early dinner, we found armed guards sitting with shotguns outside the shop next door, so we decided we wouldn't explore too much around the area, though we did take a nice walk around the edge of town at sunset to find some kids playing soccer and a few locals sitting on their porches.  Our hotel, Roger Hinds Hotel, is the "nice" hotel in the village, but we stayed in the cheaper part of it and were a little worried by some incessant moaning in the room next to us.  At first we thought it might stop, but this wailing continued for about 20-30 minutes before a worker came to see what the problem was.  The noise stopped for a while, but soon enough, we heard it again.  We weren't sure if it was some sort of drug issue, but we decided not to get involved in the odd situation.

The next morning, we drove down to the river at Pamela Landing, hopped on a boat with our guide ("Soldier"/Johnny) and his three sons and headed up the river.  Surrounded by rainforest and the oncoming plateaus, the placid river was incredibly beautiful and peaceful.  A few mining tents could be seen along the way, but most of the ride was completely untouched by mankind.  Soldier's son, Freddy John entertained us with tales of debauchery from the weeks before as we headed up the river, interspersed with knowledge of medicinal plant uses and way to survive in the jungle.  We arrived at a small waterfall called Amatuk Falls after about 90 minutes where we had to land the boat, take it out of the water and walk it a few minutes through a trail to put in above the falls.  Another 45 minutes on the river took us to Waratuk Falls, more of a series of small rapids, where we also had to take the boat out and around.  30 minutes later, we arrived at Tukeit, the start of the trail up to Kaieteur Falls.

The well-marked trail is easy enough to follow, but this is no easy walk.  The stifling heat and humidity, in addition to our small backpacks (we left some of our supplies in the Georgetown hotel), made it a difficult hike as we marched on through the forest and up the steep mountain.  The hardest parts are called Oh My God #1 and Oh My God #2, based on the hiker's sentiments when they reach these steep climbs.  We took a few breaks along the way, but fortunately the hard uphill part of the climb was over in 1.5 - 2 hours.  We were still in thick forest, nowhere near the waterfall, but we were happy to hear that the rest of the walk would be mostly level.  So we trudged along for another 30-45 minutes before coming to a clearing.  After being entrenched in untouched nature, the clearing revealed a long strip of pavement, certainly an incongruous sight for this area.  We got a little closer and saw that it was the airstrip for the planes that take day tours in and out of the falls area a few times a week.  Many people choose to see the falls this way, but I wanted more time to explore every bit of the huge falls, so we opted for the overland route and ended up having the area to ourselves for the majority of two days there.

(The main road running down the middle of Guyana, connecting Georgetown on the North coast to the interior and eventually to the border with Brazil, making it one of the major trade routes.  Even so, it remains a dirt road with potholes and huge mud puddles.  There is talk that it will eventually be paved, but it may take a while before that happens.  This is a typical view of the forest encroaching on the road with no other signs of development in sight.)

(Our minivan backs onto the ferry.  Heading from Surama to Mahdia, we had to take a few ferries across the river, as there aren't bridges to make the crossing.  As you can see, our van was a bit muddy from the ride, and this is during "dry season."  Our driver/guide told us that it's impassable for most normal vehicles during wet season.)

(A small river beach and island as viewed from the ferry.)

(The remains of an old minibus outside a snack shop on the other side of the ferry crossing, backed by a small shelter with a couple of hammocks.)

(After a night in Mahdia, we headed up the river from Pamela Landing.  Rivers are still an important mode of transportation in the undeveloped region, as evidenced by this huge pontoon boat that we saw floating by.)

(The only real development in the area is due to mining of gold and diamonds.  This post-apocalyptic machine is dredging through water and soil to try to sort out minerals from the riverbed.  A few barking dogs warned us to stay back, but the owner on the boat smiled and waved, as there don't seem to be a lot of people that pass by these parts.)

(A far-off view of Amatuk Falls.  It doesn't look like much here, but as you get close, it's very clear that you would not be able to get a boat up the river, so you have to stop along the side, walk a few minutes and carry the boat up and around to the next point where you put in.  The ride from Pamela Landing (the start) to Amatuk was about 90 minutes, followed by a 45 minute ride to Waratuk Falls where you have to take out again, and then another 30 minute boat ride to Tukeit, the start of the trail.)

(One of the makeshift mining spots along the river.  They basically cut away the side of a river bank, set up a few tents and dig through the area in search of diamonds and gold, but the operations here are still fairly small scale.)

(This steep uphill section is known as the Oh My God #2 part of the trail.  While most of the walk is uphill, Oh My God #1 and Oh My God #2 are the steepest portions.  It's a difficult hike, and the heat and humidity just add to the challenge.  Fortunately, the hardest part of the hike from the river's edge up to the top of the plateau lasted about 1.5 - 2 hours, and the final 30 - 60 minutes was somewhat flat, making our way along the plateau towards the river and spectacular falls.  Drenched in sweat, this was no easy walk in the woods.)

(Kristina and "Soldier" (aka Johnny), our guide, cross the tiny airstrip on top of the plateau, marking our arrival at the lodge and the falls.  The hike was definitely a difficult one, but it was a great way to get a feel for the vast size and undeveloped feel of this entire area.  That being said, it was an experience where we are both very glad we did it, but we won't be rushing back anytime soon to make the hike again.)


Mr. Brian and Ms. Yvonne said...

Great post. Planning on same trip to falls. How much cost to Soldier for boat trip? Thanks

Derek said...

Hi Brian and Yvonne,

We booked the whole trip to Kaieteur Falls with Adventure Guianas, so I don't know the cost for just that portion of the trip. I would recommend that you contact Navin at Adventure Guianas to talk about your itinerary and potential trip, and he could give you some up-to-date price quotes.

His prices were either cheaper or comparable to other companies, and we had a good experience with him overall.

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