Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kaieteur Falls

Departing from Iwokrama Forest by plane, we had one major appointment which we had postponed on the way out due to bad weather. And what an appointment it was! Flying north-west from Iwokrama, the land gradually became more hilly, more rocky. Still the area was rainforest to the horizon, broken just occasionally by some very remote gold mines along some of the smaller waterways. Suddenly, we were turning sharply and there, out of the port windows was one of the world's most spectacular waterfalls - Kaieteur. The pilot did us proud, making two passes so that everyone got a chance to take a picture out of their window (though Muggins here had landed the seat with the wing strut in the way!) Information on Kaieteur Falls seems rather conflicting and confused; it is often called the world's highest single-drop waterfall, though it isn't. What it does have is an impressive combination of height and volume of waterflow which puts it well up into the spectacular bracket for most people. The long drop of the falls has been measured at 226 meters (741 feet); adding on the cascades at the bottom, the total drop becomes 251 meters (822 feet) which puts it almost five times the height of Niagara Falls and about twice the height of Victoria Falls. For me though, what makes Kaiteur Falls so special is not the statistics but the location.

Kaieteur Falls is probably the greatest tourist attraction in Guyana (depends on your interests of course, some people may prefer the rum distilleries!) and yet, when you visit, you may be the only group to go there that week! This makes it a very special place indeed in this overcrowded world of ours. There is no entrance gate (- no entrance fee!), no queue to get in, nobody walking in front of you just as you press the shutter on the camera. There's not even a road to it - yes that old chestnut "You can't get there from here" almost rings true for Kaieteur! Best of all, there is no litter from those hateful people who pop up everywhere and feel the need to ruin everything for everyone else. Just your group and the wildlife.

Tank bromeliad (Brocchinia micrantha) towering over its admirers!

We landed at the small airstrip and walked out to the first overlook - but our route was not without interest for the area has some spectacular tank bromeliads, massive plants that get most of their water needs by storing it in the leaf bases. Many bromeliads grow high up on the branches of rainforest trees but others are terrestrial (such as the Pineapple) and the Kaieteur bromeliads grow so large they would surely bring down any tree that they tried to grow on!

Looking into the heart of a bromeliad.

The bromeliads had a special treat for us in store too, for there is a wonderful little golden frog, about the same size as the top section of your thumb which lives in the bromeliads and I'm sure that their tadpoles do a good job feeding on mosquito larvae! This is Colostethus beebei, a species of frog related to the poison-dart frogs found throughout the Neotropics.

Another really special treat lies along the walk to Kaieteur Falls for those prepared to look. It's a species that we had seen several times already this trip but I had managed to get a photo - due to a combination of too many trees, poor light in the rainforest and the usual dice-roll in the unlucky stakes! Now was my turn though, for right in front of us was the most awesome pompom in dayglow orange, flaunting itself before us...

Guianan Cock-of-the-rock - one of the most stunning members of the cotinga family, a family which has more than its fair share of stunners!

Guianan Cock-of-the-rock males display themselves in arenas called leks. The leks are visited by females who pick their favourite, mate with them, then shy away to a large rock somewhere to raise a brood in a nest which is somewhat precariously stuck to the side of the rock face. When sunlight hits a male - you need your sunglasses on!

And so to the falls; the one tiny downside to the remoteness of Kaieteur is that you usually only get two hours there - so you have to get busy with the camera. Here's just a few of the ludicrously large number of pictures that I managed to cram into my time there!

First views, as the plane makes a photo pass of the falls.

View from the first overlook - we started from the furthest viewpoint and gradually worked closer. Note the tank bromeliad in the foreground.

Long-lens shot of the top of the falls.

Looking away from the falls over the tank bromeliads, the valley of the Potaro River cuts through the rocky plateau on its way to the coast. If you want to put a road in to the falls, this is what you're up against!

View from the second overlook.

Another view down the Potaro Valley. Coming to the falls by river is possible - but then you've got to find a way of climbing up through that lot if you want to visit the top of the falls!

Sunlight + mist from the falls = rainbow shots!

PLEASE DON'T DO THIS - WE DIDN'T!!!! OK, we're all very naughty children, but it was kind of special being somewhere without a ton of guard rails and barriers; it really is fun looking over the edge of an 800-foot drop!

Some of the USA's top bird tour guides and award-holding travel writers contemplate not coming back from Guyana! Not only is it 800 feet to the bottom, but this rock has a spectacular undercut!!

At the falls themselves - here's the view from the top of the falls - where the water just disappears over the edge!

Another view from the top, with the Potaro Valley and rising mist.

Standing on the very edge of the falls to get this shot looking straight down was something I might not do again in a hurry!

OK, I did do it again!

The parting shot; a farewell to Kaieteur Falls from the plane as we head to the coast and our last couple of days in Guyana...