Night has fallen on the Rupununi River in the jungles of Guyana, the stars overhead bright as a Las Vegas skyline.
We’re chugging upstream in a battered aluminum runabout, underwater deadheads thudding against the hull every few minutes. Unnerving.
More unnerving is our quest. The boat in front of us flashes a spotlight across the water. The light focuses on a pair of reflected eyes in the water.
Both boats throttle down and the men in the first boat prepare a sort of noose.
These Amerindian adventurers, navigating a river roughly two hundred miles from the nearest sizeable human settlement, are about to catch a black caiman, Guyana’s answer to alligators. They will trap it, bring it to the nearest sandbar, weigh, measure, tag and release it.
While we will not be doing any wrestling, we will be close to the action, actually doing some of the measurements. Really close.
The name of this country, Guyana, is Amerindian for ‘Land of Many Waters’, which is no misnomer. You’ve got the Caribbean off Georgetown, the capital. You’ve got nearly fifty rivers.
But tonight, in the dark on a river where last week a jaguar took down two cows on a riverside bluff, I’m thinking they should call Guyana the ‘Land of Many Adventures’.
Case in point: the search for the nest of the Harpie eagle.
Somewhere between Surama Eco Lodge in a savannah surrounded by the emerald Pakaraima Mountains and Iwokrama Rainforest our guide, a native Macushi, leads the way along switchback turns, past trees that reach skyward, trees with trunks as big as compact cars. We clamor over rock outcroppings, we listen to a chorus of birdcalls, we stop when Kenneth points out a bright blue iridescent butterfly. “Good luck,” he says.
Said luck finds us later that day. We climb a rock-strewn ridge, grasping tree roots and rocks, passing through a gigantic cavern into a glade that is home to the cock-of-the-rock, a bright orange bird with a crown worthy of royalty. We see two of them on these steep slopes, stark contrast to a panorama that boasts a thousand shades of green. It is one of those moments you never forget.
Same for a journey down the Burro Burro River in another aluminum runabout. Waters rush past for a while, jade-colored canyons rise up from the shores, then the river widens a bit and our guide stops the boat and we just float, craning our necks toward the tops of trees a hundred feet high, perched like mountain goats on cliffs two hundred feet high.
“Look,” he whispers, and the tree branches are dancing as a pack of capuchin monkeys flit from branch to branch. Two or three stop and scowl down at us. “Show-offs,” he says with a snort.
One morning, touring a village called Rupakari, we stroll down a gravel path to a pond, where a woman accompanied by several children washes her clothes shore side, where a man takes off his shirt and proceeds to swim to a nearby island to bring back an errant cow. Neither people nor the cow seem worried by the fact that a caiman maybe ten feet long lurks in these selfsame waters.
The night before, the night of the caimans, we shared lies and beers with the locals who’d taken us out on the water. One told me then how a caiman had killed his brother.
The land of many adventures.
In Iwokrama Forest we ascend a hill and venture out on a trembling metal platform high above the forest floor, watching for birds and marauding monkeys on a canopy walk.
Late that night, when they turn off the generator, the darkness is so tangible you can reach out and touch it. The forest, now asleep, emits a wrapped-in-a-quilt silence.
Next morning, before anyone else is awake, I lounge in a hammock at Atta Lodge. A flock of red howler monkeys passes by overhead, a pair of red-rumped agoutis check me out while toucans and macaws exchange insults.
One day we take off from an ‘airport’ sporting a red dirt runway, a departure lounge we share with a monkey who stares at us as if we are crazy.
Airborne, we follow the course of a famous river that flows lazily from a hinterland of pristine rainforest into the Caribbean.
No ordinary waterway, this river we fly over (and would fly over again tomorrow on our way to another Guyana must-do, Kaiteur Falls, five times as high as Niagara).
Some of the world’s best cane is grown on these shores, resulting in some of the world’s best rum. The Demerara River reclines far below.
Not for nothing do they call Guyana the Land of Many Waters.
But for me Guyana is the Land of Many Adventures.
Adventures of a lifetime.