Anthony, first introduced himself by toting around some skinned lizards, wiping his hands on his slacks and shaking our hands. He appeared like a little boy, slingshot in hand, a pocketful of small, round rocks and a boyish grin. “What are those for?” I asked. though the man is probably in his late 20’s he pipes up loudly, “FOR FISHING ARAPAIMA”, then as though astonished at the strength of his own voice, he repeats the same only much quieter, “for fishing arapaima”. Arapaima is a huge amazonian fish, the largest fresh water fish weighing up to 40-50 pounds. It is reputedly quite delicious, though hunting it is supposedly forbidden. However, park wardens and amerindians are granted certain privileges with regards to hunting and camping within the grounds of the national park. “So, you go to Kaieteur today?” “Well, I don’t know if we’ll make it all the way there, but that’s the plan”. He nods, “you’ll make it. from here to Tukeit, maybe 4 or 5 hours and then pffffft…”, his hand launches into the air like a rocket, “straight up to kaieteur, no more than 45 minutes”. “Well, that sounds promising”, I tell him…secretly already wearying of the bushwhacking, ticks, creek crossings and razor grass. “So how was the way you came?” “Painful”, I admit, and I relate our journey thus far. He nods in a kind of been there done that way. When I get to the part about the razor grass he smiles that same knowing smile I had seen on Sammy’s face. “Ah yes, the machetes of the jungle…only they never get dull”, he says with a wink. “Well, if I catch a fish you can try”. I nodded my thanks. Sammy walked around with Anthony, apparently they knew each other from some of Sammy’s previous traverses over the region. Meanwhile I wandered into the bushes to do some photography.
Part way through the day Sammy disappears and I can’t figure out where he is, though all his supplies are still in camp. He comes back a couple hours later, apparently he had accompanied Anthony and some tourists up to Tukeit. In so doing he had also bartered us a ride on up to Tukeit with Anthony who needed to take his wife up to Tukeit and then on towards Mendie’s landing to get some food and supplies. So we were in luck. A couple hours later, we were all on the boat fighting the current upstream. The river wound round and over and cut back on itself so many times that I don’t know how anybody could have accomplished the walk from Waratuk to Tukeit in 5 hours. Luckily by boat it was done in about 45 minutes. Sammy again gives me ‘the look’ as I exit the boat. This time having an inkling of what he is on about I tip Anthony and Sammy looks at me like I am his well trained dog doing a particularly good trick, and smiles approvingly.
So we arrive in Tukeit and meet the passengers that Sammy and Anthony had escorted up earlier. They are guided by a fat Guyanese man who asks Sammy how to get up the mountain. What guide hasn’t been up to the premiere tourist destination in Guyana I don’t know. But once again I’m glad to be travelling alone. Well almost (I glare over my shoulder at Sammy). Sammy tells the guide that there is only one trail up and there is nothing to worry about. Nothing turns out to be an understatement where I’m concerned. I believe I mentioned the potential for death to those who surround me. Well, with that we set off. I have to say that thus far we have been exceptionally blessed with the weather. Not a drop of rain. Frankly it would have made the creek crossings more difficult if not impossible. We are both refreshed and it feels like we are almost running along the trail, I feel really good.
We get to a stream and stop for lunch. From here on the mountain begins in earnest. I look up the steep mountainside, “fucking Tolstoy”, I mutter to myself before I have even taken the first step uphill. “Oh man”, I groan! “Too bad there’s no 4 wheel drive”, he kids. 15 minutes later I’m crawling on my hands and knees up a particularly steep section, “says who?”, I say in answer to his previous comment.
Steps start to become cut out of the mountainside and we climb. Again the sweat, the strain, this is nothing new, except for the fact that now I am stopping every 15 minutes, wheezing to catch my breath. Hunched over, I pull at the straps and release the buckle. Like a spring under pressure I stand like a ramrod until weighed down again 5 minutes later. My desperation for water knows no bounds. At first we had abundant creeks where I filled up on water. Then I had a small water bottle that was left over from what we’d filled at the creek. Gradually, pitifully as we extended beyond any water sources I squeezed the damp moss, wringing out the few droplets into my mouth. Smacking my lips with that annoying, self-satisfying “Ahhhh” that some really annoying people do. I do this in the same unconscious way that some people snort when they laugh. It is one of those things that I am quite ashamed of and I apologize in advance. Anyways, whenever this happens Sammy looks at me with a mixture of contempt and pity. If I were to see someone scrambling on their hands and knees, choking the life out of the moss for its last few drops of life I too would probably feel that way! So we (read I) grumble and stumble our way up the mountain…