Northern South America Travel Diary


Northern South America Travel Diary 2012


I have had such a fabulous day that I feel as though I have had two days of exploring in one – which is a good thing, because all of tomorrow will be spent on planes and transiting through airports, with the only sightseeing being done through aircraft windows (if I get the right seats).

My main objective of including Guyana in my itinerary was to see Kaieteur Falls, and I managed that this morning – although not without some last minute anxieties.

Before going to bed last night, I remembered to set the alarm on my iPhone for 5:00 am (even including, rather impressively I thought, to remember that it was a Saturday setting, not the normal weekday setting).  I showered, dressed, ate a few odds and ends that I had bought yesterday at the Survival Supermarket, and walked around to the Roraima Airways office, arriving right on schedule at 6:15 am.

I stood around with eight other people for about ten minutes, when an employee came out, looked at me, and asked me (and me only) if I had a confirmed booking for the flight that day.  I did, and I proceeded to show him my ticket and receipt.  The employee muttered something about ‘a mistake’, and asked me to follow him inside so her could check his computer.  He did so, and when he eventually found my name on the right list, he shrugged his shoulders and said, with rather more reluctance than I thought was really required, that I had better get on the minibus for the airport.

I did so, and an hour later after a 45 kilometre drive, we arrived at Georgetown Airport.  The airport was humming with frantic activity as two airline flights were due to leave that morning, and this seemed to be taxing the resources of the airport to its limits.  As our flight to Kaieteur was a domestic flight, we were able to walk through the immigration as each of our names was called out, and we were soon walking across the tarmac to our waiting plane, a Britten-Norman Islander built in 1975 (while I was still an undergraduate student at university).

The flight was just 201 kilometres, but it took precisely one hour (making a fairly easy calculation for average air speed!).  There were glimpses of the rainforest environment below, but for the most of the flight, ground views were obscured by clouds.  The clouds became somewhat thicker as we approached Kaieteur, but with good flying skills, the pilot managed to fly through the narrow gorge on the approach to the runway and land safely on the short airstrip without any really major risk of a CFIT incident.

Kaieteur Airstrip is situated with a small national park, and within walking distance of the Falls.  Over the years the area of the national park has been reduced to open up more areas for mining, especially diamond and gold mining – such are the economic pressures in an LEDC I guess.

We were met by a local park ranger who led the entire plane load of nine passengers on a two-hour walk to see the Falls and its surrounding environment.  Given that Kaieteur Falls is located in a rainforest area, it was probably not surprising that it was raining lightly as we began our walk, although the precipitation soon cleared.

The ranger wanted to show us the Falls from three vantage points.  On the way to the first, he pointed out some fascinating plants, including two species of vegetation that are carnivorous (they trap insects).  The track was fairly level (for which my bad hip gave profuse thanks), but it was slippery in places because of the damp conditions, and in several places we had to walk through small creeks or overflows of water.

We wondered whether the effort was going to be worth it when we arrived at the first stop.  We could hear the noise of the Falls very clearly, but we couldn’t see them – the mist rising up from the deep valley below completely obscured everything beyond the edge of the cliff in front of us.  There was, however, a minor consolation prize when we saw a minute but brightly coloured frog sitting near the pool of water in a tube-like plant on the edge of the cliff; it was a rare Golden Frog that is apparently highly (as in extremely) poisonous - but very beautiful nonetheless.

We pressed on to the second observation post, and we were rewarded with superb views.  There were times when the mist rose and obscured the view here also, but for most of the time we had a clear view.  It became easy to appreciate why Kaieteur Falls are so special.  With a height of 741 feet (or 226 metres), Kaieteur Falls is the largest single drop waterfall in the world.  Its height makes it three times higher than Niagara Falls (USA/Canada) and double the height of Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe).  What made it very impressive was the combination of height with water volume.  Apparently its average volume is 663 cubic metres per second, and although the volume of water today was indeed impressive, we were told that the volume at the moment is unusually small.

The relatively low volume was a little more apparent at the third and final observation point.  We were able to walk out across part of the rocky river bed to the edge of the water; the area where we walked is usually covered by water.  Overall, I thought the Falls were a superb combination of geography (it is one hell of a nick-point!) and beauty.  I tried to make the most of the pictorial opportunities of this outrageously photogenic location, and the photos here are just a small sample of the many I managed to get.

All too soon, it was time to return to Georgetown, and a short walk found us back at the airstrip.  The return flight was slightly faster than the first flight (53 minutes this time), and we were back on the ground at a little before midday.  It took some time (more than half an hour) for the minibus to arrive, and I was back in Georgetown at a little before 1:30 pm.

By that time, dark grey clouds were building up for what looked to be a major thunderstorm.  I decided to make the most of the remaining sunshine before the storm to explore the city, just half an hour’s walk from the Roraima Airways office.  I walked westwards along Church Street and North Street (they are actually the same street, but with different names depending on whether the lanes are on the northern or southern side of the canal that flows along the wide median strip).

This brought me to St George’s Cathedral, the white exterior of which looked quite dramatic against the dark grey storm clouds.  As there was no service underway today (unlike yesterday), I was free to wander in and explore the interior.  The singing by a small choir of boys who were practicing really added a great atmosphere as I explored the magnificent interior of the Cathedral.

The storm clouds seemed to be stationary, neither coming closer nor going away, so I decided to push my luck further and head south along the Avenue of the Republic to see some of Georgetown’s best colonial-era buildings; the wooden Gothic-style Town Hall, the High Court with the broken statue of Queen Victoria (and surprisingly rubbish-strewn grounds), and the Stabroek Market.  I loved walking around, mingling with the crowds, marveling at the activity and colour, and getting some nice angles with the camera in some good light.

The storm had still not broken, but with a 40 minute walk back to my guesthouse I didn’t want to push my luck too far.  I decided to walk back along Regent Street, which is Georgetown’s man commercial thoroughfare.  I was needing a new watchband as mine had just broken, and I hoped that one of the street stalls that line Regent Street would be able to fill the need.  Sure enough, I found a stall that sold watch bands…

Me: “That looks good, but it is a bit too wide to fit”.

Vendor: “No it isn’t.  I just need to trim it as little”, at which point he produced an enormous pen-knife and trimmed it perfectly.  The cost?  $500, with free installation.  Or in US dollars, just under $2.50 – which I considered to be a real bargain.

By this time (about 4:00 pm), the storm had begun moving away to the north-west.  Having not had a real breakfast this morning and no lunch at all, I decided to stop for a combined lunch and dinner at Popeye’s on the way back to the guesthouse – my first time at a Popeye’s, and quite a positive experience.

When I arrived back at the guesthouse, I organized by trip to the airport in the morning.  Apparently Georgetown Airport requires check-in three hours prior to international flights, but I’ll try and push it a little and delay my departure from the guesthouse until 6:30 am for my 9:50 am flight. 

Another early night is warranted I think.

Day 7 - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana


30 June 2012

Today’s extra bonus images