“What the hell am I doing back here?” is a question going through my head upon arrival at Georgetown airport. The last trip was so intense, do I want to revisit those emotions?
Day 1, I go to immigration to try extend my 3 month visa to 4 months. Too complicated so bail. Seeing and remembering how friendly people are out here, I find myself falling back into the swing of things.
Time to get the expedition sorted and contact the Wai Wai, Guyana’s most isolated community.
First port of call Roraima Airways, they know the right people. They ring the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. Perfect news. The Wai Wai Toshao (head) is in town with another elder, Yokkie, for Amerindian heritage week. Massive stroke of luck!
The Toshao, Paul Chekema, is a legend of conservation and has spearheaded the effort his village, in collaboration with agencies, have made to ensure the Wai Wai were given full control over their forest lands. They’ve said no to lucrative logging and mining contracts, so their land remains pristine and totally wild!.
The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs have been brilliant with sorting permissions and, after 2 days of plotting, I’ve formulated a plan with Paul and Yokkie over long lunches in sweaty lunch venues, with lots of comfortable silences (Wai Wai may pause for 5 minutes mid-story, so you have to hold your tongue!).
Essentially the expedition is looking very hardcore and everything I was hoping it to be. When Wai Wai elders are excited by the challenge you know you’re on to a winner. They’ve both made the journey over to Brazil to visit other tribes and said it’s pretty special and tough.
So exploring the Rio Mapuera is a green light. The logistics are pretty complex. I have to cut down my kit to the extent where I can carry all of it in just one bag and we’re ditching my fancy folding canoe (too heavy to carry over the mountains). My two Wai Wai guides and I will look for an abandoned dugout or we’ll make one when we hit the Brazilian side.
Feeling pretty nervous and many unanswered questions still. How can I carry a months worth of rations in my bag, with camera kit and the rest? How do I get back after the exped, the Wai Wai are so remote. The cost is adding up, is my budget sufficient? I’m meant to be leaving Tuesday on a Cessna 206 if my permit comes through and the weather is clear. Plenty to work on before then!
Only two western people have ever done this journey before (Holden, 1937, and Guppy, 1958) and this was when Guyana was a British colony and they had full support from agencies and months of planning. On the upside, there is no-one more skilled than the Wai Wai for throwing myself in the deep end with.
Sorry for lack of real pics, grabbed those off the internet, been to distracted.