Caribbean life is slow, if you expect organization, infrastructure, etc… well, just don’t. Next day we waited until midday before finally getting our ride. I was eager to get this adventure started, but Sammy kept saying all in good time. We saved some money because a police officer needed to investigate a claim that a miner had made that someone else was encroaching on his staked ground (Guyana is known in South America for its diamonds and gold, and in the interior, miners or pork-knockers as they’re called locally is the common occupation). So with the police officer levelling his gun menacingly over the boat, glowering at the miners and myself I couldn’t feel happier, well perhaps “safer” is the word that I’m looking for. A couple tugs of the drawcord and the motor tears the river a new one. We travel upstream at a good clip, after 30 minutes or so, we make it to Amatuk falls. This is a pretty falls but not especially impressive. However, the rapids divide the Potaro river. “First we need to stop sot they can investigate the miner’s claim”, Sammy tells me as we near the falls. “Then they will drop us off”. “Oh, no problem. Where is it?” I ask. Sammy nods across the frothing, turbulent water to the other side of the river, “just over there”, he says nonchalantly. “Uh-huh”, my options are looking a little limited at this point and I’m thinking that I’ll start lumping boatmen in with taxi drivers on my list. After all, they’re like the taximen of the sea. Bracing the sides of the boat and covering my pack from the spray we powered through the rapids. The boat jumped up and down, at one point below the waves and then riding above it, looking like nothing so much as one of those salmon that is trying to make it upstream, back to its breeding grounds (how many of those salmon actually make it? …and then, don’t they all die once they finally do make it? …suddenly I don’t like this metaphor so much). The water that’s spilling in we are frantically bailing out. At last we make it to the other side and we can breathe again, we (read I) can stretch are pained muscles drawn taut by the effort of what turns out to have been a totally unnecessary crossing ( I look down the shore and see a peaceful area, quite close by where the men could have simply parked and walked). “Good, good”, Sammy says, “now we just have to make it back”, he says with a wink. I look longingly at the quieter waters downstream, hoping to impart my message to Sammy I shift my eyes from the boat to the further down shore and back. Sammy takes absolutely no notice and we lounge around talking about mining and dredging and the jungle while the miners and police attend to their business. We make it across to the village of Amatuk and stay there the night as we are told we might get a ride further upstream the following day. When we get off the boat Sammy stares at me like I have breached some dire form of etiquette. I look a little cluelessly from him to the others rather cluelessly. “Pay the man”, Sammy finally says. “Oh”, I scramble to give the man $3000G and Sammy takes the money from me and hands it regally to the boatman who thanks him. Seinfeld fans might know this as the “He should have thanked ME for the big salad” moment. We settle into the village, cook up some lunch, bathe, drink and for now, we take it slow. I’m eager to be off though,”Well why don’t we start walking?” I ask. “Don’t be so impatient”, Sammy answers from his hammock without opening his eyes”. And so I go down to the stream and pump us 2 litres of fresh water. The pump is great, but it takes effort and 2 litres takes like a 1/2hr to pump and can be hard work. I bring it back. Sammy takes a swig, pours some in the charred pot to cook some rice, washes his face and hands and pours it on his head to cool down. “Well that’s a lot of wasted effort” I think to myself, vowing to let him pump his own damn water in the future.
I putter around at night in the village looking for something to photograph. This is the starting point of the journey to Kaieteur overland, so there is a whole lot of ‘mostly’ untouched jungle around.
Termites can often be found at night in the open. But during the day they prefer to use their tunnels constructed from a mixture of soil, particulates, saliva and excrement, the same materials as their nests, this is because they are photophobic (light fearing), typically having reduced or completely absent eyes. This species was relatively large maybe an inch or so long and had the most formidable jaws that I have seen on a termite. They were incredibly aggressive as well. Most termites I come into contact with will back away and run back into their tunnels, these ones challenged me and actually drew blood!
Cordyceps is an interesting entomopathogenic fungus (a fancy way of saying a fungus that parasitizes and kills insects/spiders). Each Cordyceps is species specific and is something pretty horrifying. The spores will land on an insect and gradually the fungal mycelia will grow down past the insects exoskeleton and into the body where they will spread like tree roots, invading and replacing host tissue. This kills the insect in a very slow, lengthy process. In the final stages, the fungus takes the neurological reins and modifies the insect’s behaviour so as best to befit itself. In ants it will cause them to climb to a high perch and bite down on a leaf or stem with a death grip. The ant will slowly die, perhaps from starvation, perhaps from the deterioration of its body, but after some time there might be seen movement. To be sure it is extremely slow and small but it is there. If sped up, it would look like a worm wriggling out of the body. And this isn’t far from the truth. It is the fruiting body of the cordyceps fungus. Which grows a stalk several inches long, terminating in asci or sacs containing the spores that will lead to a new round of infectious dissemination. Why go to all this trouble to cause the ant to climb to a high perch? Well, the jungle is very humid with rain falling often and in large quantities. Ants being principally ground dwellers, it wouldn’t do to have the ants and fungus along with them washed away, covered in mud or stuck together. Additionally, just like climbing to the top of a mountain will afford a better view of the surroundings, so too will climbing to the top of a plant or bush in a jungle microenvironment. From here, the fungus is free to be blown in all directions by the slightest current of wind, the spores, like insidious grains of pollen, waiting to be planted in the fertile backs of their hosts.
I slept well…