I'm met by David again (4x4 taxi driver) at 7:00 am and we try the Tu-shau once more - success! The Tu-shau writes me note on a scrap of paper, much like what a parent would write when trusting their child to take a note to their teacher.
"To whom this may concern, I have given Steve Eynon permission to visit..."
It then gets sealed with the official stamp. I pay my village dues ($1000 GYD a day) and we leave to pick up Mike. Apparently he marked his road with a white bit of paper in between 2 posts. Here in the wilderness, surely we can't miss it, right!? Hmm, and we don't either! Bizarre. Then we see the Camu Village senior en route to the mountains and he checks my note. My documentation is infallible - it has the official Tu-shau stamp. No-one argues with that.
We drive on, do a bit of 4x4 off road and get out. I pay David $30,000 GYD ($12,000 there, $12,000 back and $6,000 for yesterdays prat around), it's a rip off but I don't have much choice. By comparison Mike only charges $5,000 a day for his services.
We leave David behind and Mike and I continue on foot. We walk for 2 minutes and wait at a waterfall for his trainee, Philip, to turn up. I notice they both have little day packs whereas I have an almighty (10 kg-ish) rucksack! Contents: Tevas for swimming, towel, basha sheet, mosie net, sleeping bag, lightweight change of clothes for night time, food, cooking pot, torches and 1st aid kit. Let the venture begin!
We follow the river up the mountain. We climb up massive boulders using either overhanging vines as ropes or build dodgy makeshift ladders. We pass caves and waterfalls, use fallen trees as natural crossings for rivers, streams and canyons. We constantly have to chop and hack our way through the undergrowth. Given that this is no organised trip, I'm lugging all my own gear, I'm deep in a South American jungle being led by my own personal local guide - this really is proper Indiana Jones stuff!
I sweat and swelter non-stop, the heavy rucksack makes everything hard work. I drink lots and refill and iodine my water bottle at every opportunity. We stop at Quagamera Falls for lunch. It has a clearing through the trees where you can see down to the bottom of the mountain. From there on, it's just the Savannahs of Guyana all the way to the horizon. Stunning. I also notice the display of my camera is broken, rendering it virtually obsolete. Bugger.
Later on we stop for a bathe and a wash in a scenic waterfall before continuing our upward climb. Every now and then you look down and see some living "thing" happily stuck to your hand. Apparently we've been following a trail - meaning Mike thinks he came through this way one, maybe two, years ago. Come 4 O'Clock Mike looks at some trees and proclaims it to be our camp site for the night. We sling our hammocks, start a fire and I cook some noodles and mini sausages. They eat dried farine - okay, so I share my noodle soup with them! And I'm in bed, asleep before dark, before 6:00 pm. It's been a hard day.
I wake at 6:30 am after sleeping rather soundly for at least 13 hours. I must have been shattered! Mike and Philip complain they didn't sleep much due to the cold. Eh, cold? Oh well, credit must go to my sleeping bag then (Snugpak Merlin Softie 3)! Mike boils some water so I grab some hot Chicken'n'Tomato soup and a choccy bar for breakie and pack up. After ½ hour we reach a clearing, sorry, a campsite where we ditch our main packs. We're about to attempt the final accent to the top of the mountain and as we'll be passing through here on the way back, why carry all the extra weight eh? I'm down with that, so I clip my Camelbak to my belt, grab my Sigg (water, always need more water!) and we set off.
The climb is steep, steep, steep and takes us 1 hour. Along the way we pass 14 stations, markers in the shape of a cross tied to a tree which are supposed to be symbolise the 14 stations of Christ in Catholicism on Good Friday or something or other. Religion is yet another topic I'm ignorant in.
From the undergrowth we emerge onto the peak, the rock on the top. The Guyana Savannah flats stretch out unbroken and undisturbed from the floor of the mountain below us. Our perch is some 3,700 feet high (1,200m). The height itself may not be that impressive but when everything else is at sea level the views are immense. The sudden sloping drop off as you approach the edge of the rock gives you a real sense of vertigo too! We chill there for an hour or so, lying down and taking in the views. It's great to close your eyes, doze, open them again and see nothing but the vast expanse of Guyana (and a bit of Brazil) in the sky.
We head back down, see Howler monkeys, grab our packs and set up camp - but not in the campsite for that has too many old and dry trees - the chance of dead fall is too great! Mike delights in making me a bush table by my hammock and a bush clothes horse while Philip goes off hunting.
Come 16:00 Philip returns empty handed and we head back to the top again, only this time to make a signal fire (read giant bonfire!). Mike says he always does this to let people know where he is, that everything is okay and that we're heading back tomorrow. After another hard slog to the top we sit and wait for dark. Guyana has no street lights and the only light pollution we see are orange bush fires and the small sprawl of Bonfim in Brazil. We get the fire going - it's awesome! We start pulsing our torches to Guyana below and get 4 individual locations signaling back! Cool! The wind on top is fierce at 30 mph (measured on my Windmaster watch!) meaning our fire burns hard, hot and fast. Once it goes out we leave for camp where Mike and Philip make themselves a large fire to see them through the cold night.
We're up, packed and leave by 8:00 am where it becomes a race to get to the bottom of the mountain by 10:00 am to make our rendezvous with the 4x4 ride back to Lethem. The route is straight down the mountain but progress is hampered by the uneven surfaces - you're either dancing down pointy stepping stones, clambering under and over fallen trees, slipping down steep muddy slopes or discovering that some logs and branches are rotten and no, they won't support your weight! We also come across a troop of large, black Spider Monkeys and we watch them watching us! As we race on, time becomes tight but as we emerge out of the jungle and into the flat Savannah, our white taxi is just pulling up. A perfect, military precision, jungle extraction! David (the driver) notes I'm looking hot, sweaty and jungle rough and says the only thing that'll get him to the top of the mountain is a "White Chick"!
We bump into Ian and Sarah in Lethem (it's not a big place!), they're waiting for the Georgetown (GT to locals) bus to arrive with a couple of Canadian girly mates of Sarah's. Back at Takatu, David the driver wants more money. I begrudgingly pay up another $12,000 GYD (25 GBP-ish) as he seems to be mates with Ian. Daylight robbery. Shower, change, brekkie (yet another variation on egg on toast) and to the bank to cash more Traveller Cheques as that David cleaned me out (Okay, I take back previous comments on Traveller Cheques being useless). I bump into Charlo (ranch owner, leatherman extraordinaire). He independently says David robbed me. I wince but claim it's not like Lethem has a taxi service or anything. Bummer.
Sarah has 2 fowls but they've been missing / roaming free for 6 months - until now! Paddy has just been picked up by a nearby farm so I join her, Ian and Monica (one of the new Canadians on the scene) to check Paddy out. Ian has procured me a 50 foot real raw hide lasso! (A steal at $25 US!) So while Ian and Sarah coo over their horse, Monica and I try out my humongous lasso! Not many people can claim to have one of those now!
We pick up the other Canadian (also a Sarah) and head to Moca Moca waterfalls for a splash around, but not before picking up beers and 2 American lads en-route; Shaun and Clay. They're tall, skinny and have their own air-con pick-up truck. The new girls can't stop talking about them. I've been out classed already!
At the falls we strip off and jump in - being selfish and body conscious I'm pleased to note that Shaun has a sticky out belly like a hungry Ethiopian - not that it seems to deter the girls at all. Humph! Clay jumps off a massive rock into the shallow pool below. Testosterone fuelled Ian and I just have to follow suit. The girls don't understand. It seems so high standing at the top (well, it is!) and the pool is so shallow that when you land, your feet touch the bottom - I love it! I go again! I'm about to go a 3rd time when Ian proposes I jump off even higher, and out through the over hanging bush. I climb back up and contemplate it. Hmm, it's dangerous, has difficult angles and requires a large forward jump for clearance. I dare myself, proclaim I'd like to see the inside of a Guyanese hospital (if they exist!) and jump. Awesome! I go again! Only this time Ian jumps off a lower ledge at the same time. We rule! The girls aren't impressed.
There's just enough time to shower and change before we all head to the Bonfim rodeo (well, all except the Canadian Sarah). Ian really wanted to drive his 4x4 over, through the border river but is deterred by broken headlights and the fact Bonfim, being in Brazil, is a real town with real Police! We grab a couple of Duck Curries each (a stubbie size bottle of Rum) and take a water taxi instead. The rodeo is a large metal corral and a couple of multi-tiered stands. There are no bulls or horses to start with, just pre-show hype and entertainment. So we drink instead. It's a fun evening with a mix of fairground rides and real rodeo bull action!