Jungle Survival Journal — Day 1: Kaieteur Falls and Meeting the Group

Bushmasters says on the kit list that our luggage limit is 10kg, because the small planes cannot take off if there is too much load. I am about 1.3 kg over the limit. Not sure how strict they are going to be tomorrow, at Ogle, the small domestic airport.

Since I have time this morning, I’m doing a trial run for tomorrow, repacking some of the heavier things into my pockets, lightening my luggage, carrying the weight on my person. I look like a hamster with its cheeks stuffed to the hilt, LOL. If they ask me to empty out my various shirt and pant pockets and weigh the stuff, I’m screwed. Oh well, I will just have to see. (Overthinking things again!)

The cab only takes 12 minutes to the airport. Ogle seems much better organized than Cheddi. Each airline has their own little hangar. I go into the ASL office to pick up my ticket from the cashier. They all laugh because the story of my dealings with Western Union has made the rounds (ASL doesn’t do online credit card payments, and it took days to finally get them money for my ticket ahead of time, so I could reserve my seat). They weigh me on the big luggage scale.

Then I go into the lounge/waiting room. They ask me to take stuff out of my pockets (I take the camera out but keep the rest in) and weigh me again. Then I finally get to go through and sit down. I’m here way early and watch an hour of video on the falls and flora and fauna, and how to make the staple food farine out of the (otherwise toxic) cassava root.

Our plane is a 12 seater, which I’m sharing with a bunch of other tourists, some guys in shorts and flip flops, three muslim men in long robes, and two little old ladies in saris. This definitely has a touristy feel to it. Nobody seems bothered by the fact that we’ll be flying over hundreds of miles of uninhabited rain forest; they are all acting like this is the morning commuter flight from Boston to NYC. Except for me: I’m glued to the window, trying to take it all in. My first flight over the rain forest!

During the flight, I play mind games: I keep looking down on the green rain forest and trying to orient myself, river on the left, hill on the right. If the plane were to go down now, which way would I need to go to reach the river…how many miles away? Which way would the sun cast shadows if I was on the ground? I have no knife, no lighter, no cordage, none of my gear. Well, the plane had better not go down, because I’m not prepared, LOL!


We land on a packed dirt strip near the cabin that’s the national park headquarters and a guide comes out to meet us. He explains some of the history and points out interesting plants (“you really don’t need bug spray here, since we have two species of bug eating plants!”) and rock formations (“we can tell from the inclusions in this rock that this used to be on the ocean floor,” Cool!). Every one of the three overlooks is a little closer to the falls than the previous one and the falls become louder and more impressive as we get closer.

The guide tells us that it’s a three day climb up from the bottom and a 7-second fall down, “so please stay at least 8 feet away from the edge!” Which of course nobody does. And there’s no guardrail.

Total insurance nightmare if this was in the US. But it’s not. And we all creep up to the edge. Belly crawl to the edge and angle our cameras/iphones/whatever over the precipice…just don’t let go!

Everyone wants pics taken of themselves with the falls in the background and the guide gives us time to do that.

On the way back, I talk to the guide: he is Amerindian and one of 6 guides stationed here. They take 3 month tours of duty and then have 2 weeks off. He says their living quarters are in back, out of sight. Whatever food they eat needs to be brought in, and they have to pay for that themselves. $1/pound for freight for whatever he has brought in. By the time he pays for food, it doesn’t sound like his salary stretches to cover much else. I ask him how he makes it work and he tells me that his mom sends most of his food by boat, from the next village down; the river is a half hour walk away.

It’s an uneventful flight back. I want to sit up front by the pilot, but the guy who hogged the seat on the way out (and then fell asleep!) hogs it again: supposedly gets airsick in other seats. Personally, I think he just wants the legroom.

We have a spectacular view of the falls from the plane as we leave. Kaieteur is the highest single drop waterfall in the world. For a while, we follow the Potaro downriver from the falls.






I have a female cab driver on the way back. We talk the entire time. She is interesting, and strikes me as unusual in a male dominated profession: very strong and confident.

I pick up my bag at the Marriott and then she drops me at the Status Hotel, where the rest of the group is staying. She leaves it up to me how much I pay her. I pay her in US $$ and give her a few bucks more than the guy who took me out to Ogle. She seems happy. Then I check in.

The hotel looks nice from the outside, but is pretty worn on the inside. Well, I wasn’t expecting luxury. My room is fairly big and I wonder if I have to share, but they tell me it’s a single. The room is nice, but the bathroom smells like backed up sewage, from the hole in the floor of the shower stall. Yum. Best keep that door closed.


I meet the rest of the group in the restaurant downstairs, where they’re drinking beer and eating Brazilian BBQ. Three Brits, an Irishman, a German, a Russian who now lives in SF, and an American from NJ. And me. The ninth guy emailed and said his flight got cancelled and is delayed to Monday a.m. and he would try to make it on another flight and meet us in the morning at Ogle.

Ian comes and talks to us for a few minutes. I am not sure what I expected an ex-British Special Forces guy to look like: big, beefy-looking, with a drill-sergeant attitude maybe? Ian is nothing like that. Not much taller than myself, he seems easy-going and has a sense of humor, but is sort of steely underneath. He tells us to be ready at 7am the next morning, and says we can leave stuff we don’t want to take into the jungle in his apartment in Georgetown in the morning.

The group hangs out for a while. Seems like a great group. Fun people, really interesting backgrounds: people work in digital media, satellite mechanics, on a merchant marine ship, in marketing for a big consulting firm, and for explorer companies; some have military or paramilitary training.

Turns out, I am the only female: the woman I had seen on the email list was the wife of one of the group members – she gave him the trip for his birthday! This is going to be an interesting trip!



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