Monday, March 7, 2011

Guyana - The Rupununi

The Rupununi is an area of southern Guyana, mostly covered in grassy savanna, that surrounds the Rupununi River as it wends its way from the Kanuku Mountains to join the mighty Essequibo River. Having landed at Lethem and travelled east across the savanna in my last post, we were now back in the rainforest on the edge of the Kanuku Mountains. Awaking to a rainforest dawn, in a straw-thatched hut in a small clearing is a truly awesome experience. The bulk of the noises we were hearing were coming from one of the most famous of rainforest noise-makers - the Screaming Piha. This bird is not much to look at, but it has the most incredible call, made famous by many a film producer when searching for an inappropriate backing track!! Breakfast was punctuated by tales of tarantulas in the shower, bats in the ceiling and 10-inch centipedes on the floor - but it was all harmless stuff! We were to spend the day walking up through rainforest into the Kanuku Mountains to reach Jordan Falls, a waterfall only relatively recently discovered by the western world during an aerial survey project and still having been visited by less than 100 tourists! After our adventures at the falls, we headed back across the savanna, breaking our journey with a night with the caiman researchers at Yupukari and a wonderful breakfast with the remarkable Diana McTurk and her Giant Otters. So here's today's picture essay for you.

Maipaima Eco-Lodge sits in a tiny clearing in pristine rainforest. The lodge buildings are all on stilts as the river overflows here during the rainy season.

This was no straightforward hike - even the very start of the hike saw us crossing a fallen tree over the river to get into the rainforest.

Some of the enormous, buttressed trees that we passed in the lower section of our walk were well over 100 feet tall, their heads disappearing above the main rainforest canopy. Such trees offer some great opportunities for artistic photography.

Intricate roots weave their way into the ground from a rainforest giant.

On one of biggest trees, we came across this lone Greater White-lined Bat (Saccopteryx bilineata) which was spending the day in a typical posture for the species. This is one of the group of species known as sac-winged bats and these animals habitually spend the day resting head down on a vertical surface (most often a tree trunk). Note the two pale lines down the back of this species.

Further up the trail, we detoured to an outcrop of large rocks, a number of which were to be a feature of this walk. Large caverns formed between the rocks offered dry roost sites for bats, such as these Seba's Short-tailed Bats which grinned at us as we peeked in on them - I'm sure I saw one wink at me too!

As well as the large rock outcrops, a seemingly never ending network of crystal clear streams needed to be crossed and re-crossed as we pressed on up the mountain. Here's just one of countless pictures I couldn't resist taking!

Fording all those streams meant inumerable footwear changes - though in the end we gave up and just sacrificed sandals to the wet! Megan's still in repetitive footwear changing mode here, while our guide, Wally has seen it all before!

Jordan Falls, our destination! We arrived late afternoon and sat out on the rocks while staff from the lodge cooked dinner in a make-shift kitchen that they have built just back under the trees. The waterfall drops in several stages and we were actually on a flattish section about half way up the falls - this picture is looking up towards the top, which is up beyond the trees here.

As evening drew on, mist began to form in ribbons over the cool valleys below us and we sat on the rocks and listened to White Bellbirds chiming away in the forest. You can just see the rest of our group, sitting above the main drop of the falls which takes the river down through the valley ahead. We stayed here until well after dark and marvelled at an incredible sky full of stars, all free of artificial light polution (oh, and we sank a fair amount of Guyanan rum too - something that was to become a regular feature of this trip!!).

Frugal living! Yes, we really did spend the night in hammocks under a blue tarpaulin. Rough as it sounds, it was an incredible experience which was very restful until 12:30 when a heavy rainstorm had us all making sure that our overnight bags were safely in the dry!

After lunch back at the camp next day, we said fond farewells to the Makushi people who had looked after us during our stay at Maipaima.

With so many rivers and so few roads, travelling around Guyana by boat is pretty much an inevitability. It's certainly a pleasant way to get around and far better than bouncing around in four-wheel drive vehicles! Our next port of call was Caiman House at Yupukari where we spent the night.

During the evening at Yupukari, we went out with the research team who are studying Black Caimans. Using a lot of skill and guile, they catch the caimans after dark and bring them up to a nearby sandbank for processing. This male was about seven feet long and more than a handful - note the tape on the snappy jaws! The caimans are measured, weighed and various other sets of data collected. Each one is individually marked so that it can be identified if recaptured and the data is used to study populations, movements and various other things. It was quite an experience to get a chance to handle such amazing creatures...

Travelling by boat again the next day, we took time to enjoy some of the riverine wildlife. On this particular stretch, Cocoi Herons were plentiful.

Also common along the river were Green Iguanas, some a good five feet long.

We had a long way to travel today and left Caiman House at first light. We broke our journey for breakfast at Karanambu Ranch, a place that still has traces of a colonial past.

Breakfast at Karanambu Ranch was shared with the local residents; here, an adult and immature Red-capped Cardinal and a Palm Tanager (at the back) tuck in to bread scraps.

Karanambu is home to Diana McTurk, one of those extra special people that you chance upon just a few times in life. Diana has established a rescue centre for Giant Otters, which she works at rehabilitating back to the wild.

Diana currently has two young Giant Otters (yes, these really are not fully grown yet!) and we got a chance for a photo call when they were taken down to the river for their breakfast.

Giant Otters at six feet away are pretty awesome!!