Guyana's lush rain forest is an ideal setting for ecotourism

Writer Joyce Dalton visited Guyana and explored its interior rain forest. Her report follows:

GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- It's a jungle out there. Or, in Guyana's case, it's a rain forest -- a very big rain forest.

In fact, 80% of this South American country's land mass is a dense equatorial forest and the broad savanna of the Rupununi region in the southwestern part of the country.

Scattered clusters of Amerindians live under the green canopy, along with l,200 animal species including jaguars, caimans (South American crocodiles), giant river otters and monkeys; numerous varieties of fish, such as the arapaima, the world's largest freshwater fish, and more than 700 species of birds.

The approximately two-hour flight southwest from Georgetown on a nine-seat Britten Norman Islander aircraft ended on a grass strip near Karanambo Ranch for the start of what was to be the definitive ecotourism day.

Guide Diane McTurk showed my tour group the ranch's wooden tourist cabins, complete with comfortable beds, flush toilets and running water.

Unfortunately, our fast-paced itinerary did not permit time for an overnight stay.

Before leaving the ranch, McTurk, also known as the "Otter Lady," introduced us to Peter the Great, one of the many orphaned otters she raises and then releases into the wild.

We then set off in boats along the narrow channels of a flood plain.

Thick vegetation closed in on both sides as we glided among gigantic lily pads and white blossoms that resembled morning glories.

After disembarking from the boat, we took off on a 12-minute flight to Annai. (Clients with more time can travel between the two points by boat, which takes several hours.)

"Guyana's natural beauty at its best," read a sign at the airport. With the forest, mountains and savanna surrounding us, we unanimously agreed.

Colin Edwards and his wife met us at their Rock View Ecotourism Resort.

Although hoteliers here use the term "resort" rather loosely, this property offers a pool, comfortable rooms and nature-oriented activities.

Rock View lies within an Amerindian community. The Indians showed us how to prepare cassava, shoot a bow and arrow and weave baskets and hammocks.

One artisan made an armadillo out of balata, a type of latex, and added it to his mini-zoo of forest animal creations.

As in other villages we visited, residents favored modern dress. However, four women donned traditional garb to sing for us.

Edwards showed us his guest book containing the signature of Prince Charles, a ecotourism advocate.

The next leg of our journey required an hourlong flight north to Kaieteur Falls, billed as the world's highest, continuous, single-drop waterfall.

The sediment at the base of the falls, churned by the force of the 741-foot drop, resembled butterscotch swirl ice cream.

Visitors with height phobias should stay well back of the cliff's edge at the top of the falls. None of the five viewing points we spotted had guardrails.

Waterfalls tend to attract rainbows, and Kaieteur's was a beauty.

So was its rain forest setting of bromeliads, bird-of-paradise flowers and orchids.

We didn't spot any swifts or brilliantly plumed cock-of-the-rock birds. Both species inhabit the area but apparently were in hiding during our visit.

Our last flight of the day took off to the northeast from a tiny concrete runway, a welcome change from the grass strips of our previous flights that day. In an hour, we were back in Georgetown.

Our ecotour was organized by Margaret Chan-A-Sue who, along with her husband Malcolm, operates Tarong Guyana Ltd.

The couple customizes single-day or multiday itineraries, including accommodations in Georgetown, interior flights and guides, if required.

The tours vary in comfort and adventure levels. Some forest lodges are accessible by boat or road.

Scheduled flights on small planes serve Lethem in the Rupununi region.

If chartered air service is required, the cost is calculated on the basis of eight passengers.

The small number of rain-forest lodges and their remote locations increases the per person tour costs considerably for this type of tour.

The approximate price of my daylong, rain-forest tour was $500, based on eight people.

Two local tour operators are:

Tarong Guyana
Fax: (011) 592-2 50749
E-mail: [email protected]

Wilderness Explorers
Fax: (011) 592-2 62085
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: wilderness-explorers.com/guyana.htm

For additional information on Guyana, visit www.exploreguyana.com

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