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Pakaraima Mountain Safari 2012

Privation, suffering, depression … and we hadn’t even started the trip as yet. A few days before we were scheduled to go out on the annual Pakaraima Mountain Safari I came down with a flu.

That was to set the tone for me for the rest of the trip.

I had realized for a few days that I had a sore throat, but I was taking some strong painkillers for something else, and that masked the effect of whatever new and debilitating disease currently working on striking me down.

I knew from my previous trip that driving the safari route through the Pakaraima mountain range in southern Guyana would be no leisurely exercise. So in desperation, mere hours before beginning the trek, I ventured to a hole in the wall pharmacy that I knew would sell me the industrial strength medication I would need. And I’m not talking aspirin (although that is what the pharmacist tried to pawn off on me until a paroxysm of coughing convinced her of my plight).

Suitably fortified, I continued to wallow in the ordinary stresses of an unprepared traveler. Mere hours to go and we hadn’t gotten the vehicle ready, we hadn’t gotten our clothing ready, we hadn’t gotten the children ready and we hadn’t gotten ourselves ready.

Nevertheless, we somehow made it to the meeting point for the vehicles at the GUYOIL Service Station on Regent Street. We were even early, the first vehicle to show up.

A trifling 3 hours later we commenced the journey . . . and then we came back all safe and sound with big smiles on our faces.

Er, okay, there was a little more to it that that. And I’m pretty sure we can discount the smiles.

So, here’s what happened.

Annai Road an hour from Oasis

Illness (me), bone deep weariness (us), continuous squirts of adrenaline (me), lots of great photographs (everyone else). Maybe a bit of an over-dramatization, but not much.

In 2009 I was deceived. I drove the safari and it was, by comparison with this year, a lark. Sure, there were moments; like when we nearly drove off a cliff, or like when we couldn’t find a clean toilet. But nothing to cause you to regret not updating the last will and testament to cut out that ungrateful twit of a nephew. In other words, nothing like this time.

This time, we had the mud hole which put the vehicle on the side, and the vertical cliff descent with the chasm cutting the road in two. We had the forest diversion with the fallen purple heart tree that had to be cut with an ax (the army boys brought a dinky 18 inch chainsaw which wasn’t up to the task, not to mention not having any fuel) then winched out of the way by me.

We had the bridge approach which was a complete quagmire, the 40 degree ascent of completely smooth, water slicked clay, and many others.

Stuck in the mud

One of my favourites though, was the section affectionately (the same sort of affection the french peasants reserved for Marie Antoinette) known as “Rock World”. Let me tell you about Rock World, it was absolute proof of the relative nature of time; 21 minutes of agonizing driving that felt like an hour of torture.

This definitely was the trip for the inveterate adventurer I wish I was. I should have stayed home and let what little inveterate adventurer I have in me make up some stories.

As usual, for me, it was the people who made the trip worthwhile. The 3 who were with me; my wife, Michael and Naseem, and the other participants.

We had Jason on the trip. Jason is quite possibly the busiest and best equipped person on the trip. Need a spade? Jason has one. Need a hammer? Jason has one. Need a laptop? Jason has one. Need a chainsaw? Jason doesn’t have one?? WTF?? Seriously though, he packed more stuff into less space than anyone else we know. And it was endlessly fascinating to see Jason off walking at 15MPH looking for a photo, while his wife Lily trailed desultorily behind, well shaded by her black umbrella.

Then we had Cecil. Cecil unflappably drove the entire way without once appearing to break a sweat. Did I mention that he is 68 years old? Well he was ably supported by passengers like Jai Singh, who was along with him for the scenery.

Jai is the man who took the chainsaw away from the army boys because they were being so inefficient, and proceeded to calmly demolish half the rainforest in a 10 minute span (its called “hyperbole” tree huggers, he only took down one sapling . . . and part of an errant buttress root . . . and maybe another sapling). But it was the brisk and ruthless efficiency with which he handled that chainsaw (especially by comparison to the rather hapless appearing previous wielder) that really impressed.

The army had been re-supplied by plane at Orinduik Waterfalls (the objective of the safari was to drive to Orinduik and back) and part of the re-supply was a proper, man sized chainsaw.

Or how about Jan and Matt, the drivers, accompanied by Sandra? They were driving a 30+ year old (if it was a day) Toyota Land Cruiser with a 4 wheel drive system that made functioning the exception rather than the rule.

Jan fixing the four wheel drive

Given some of the rocky, broken, slippery near vertical ascents that we had to make, I initially thought that those dudes might have some real brass ones. But after experiencing a few more sphincter clenching drives made slightly easier by my functioning 4 wheel drive (and hearing the solid metallic clanging coming from their Cruiser) I could only assume that they are possessed of solid cast iron ones (or maybe something else broke in the Cruiser). Pity the fool who assumes they are merely brass.

It was quite extraordinary to see Sandra hop out after what must have been a hair raising ride, calmly pick up her watercolours and begin painting a scene.

Sandra and the watercolours

Then we had poor Bibi. That is the only term that comes to mind when I think about her; “poor Bibi”. Clearly unprepared for what the safari had to offer, Bibi eventually arrived at the solution of pulling a blanket over her eyes anytime some interesting driving was about to be undertaken. I wonder if the blanket was wool. Mind you, Bibi is a woman (albeit one who would probably weigh 80 pounds soaking wet in winter clothes) with two big children.

Can’t forget the indomitable pair of Frank and Rodney. Frank is the Manager of Rainforest Tours and the man in charge/organizer of the trip. He is the one who struggles to keep you alive when you are trying so hard to drive off a cliff. In a crew of a dozen Generals, he is the Captain you want to pay attention to when you need to be directed out of the latest mud hole.

Frank and Rodney, fixing

Rodney is his assistant, with a greater degree of unflappability than a well starched flag. I can’t help but remember the moment Rodney kept directing me up a hill as I was traveling towards him at what felt like 30MPH. I think his instinct for self-preservation might have been surgically excised. I saw him repeat the same actions with several other drivers.

I cannot neglect to mention Eddie, the leather craftsman with the typical outdoor sportsman rough sense of humour. For this lawyer, Eddie’s joking was a breath of fresh air. His driving, on the other hand . . . 🙂

Seriously though, I understand that you get better at driving this kind of road with practice, but I cannot understand how drivers like Eddie can cover such broken ground so quickly.

As with the previous trip, the real motivating factor for me was the potential for great photos. I should have learned my lesson from my 2009 trek and realized that the driver never gets much of a chance to explore photography. Having to drive most of the hours of the day, coupled with utter exhaustion at any other time does not make for contemplative photography.

Settlement at Karabaiko

Nevertheless, I tried my best and the slideshow which follows are some of my top picks. All the images I found satisfactory can been seen in my online gallery.

During the trip I became convinced that this would be my last safari drive. This always happens, it takes me a month or so before I begin planning (more like scheming) for the next trip. This time around though, I think it may take me a little longer to recover, particularly after getting the repair bill for my vehicle.


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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Michael C. Lam says: May 21, 2012

    As always, well written, but I don’t think any written record of the trip can ever truly convey what we felt on that trip (or any trip for that matter)

    Your descriptions of the people are spot-on! I could never have written this half-as-good! 🙂

  2. Cindy Farr-Weinfeld says: May 21, 2012

    Nik, it sounds like you got off to a rocky start health-wise, and then it continued to be a tough trip, but sounds like it was rewarding ultimately! You got some beautiful shots too! Cindy

  3. cecil beharry says: June 21, 2012

    Hi Nikhil
    Man what a Safari. I was on the safari, but reading your/this report of the Safari as you saw/experienced it, there is nothing that I can add to it, save to say that if I were a writer of your skill I would tell most of the story just like you told it. I am already plannng for 2013 and with two vehicles, accompanied with my four children. See you in 2013, God willing. Regards to all the Safarians. Cecil

  4. Moe says: July 4, 2012

    Hello “Safarian” Cesil,You did it again and I am proud to say that I met you on the 2011 safari and trust that I’ll see you on the 2014 of which I am planning to be a part off again; your zest for adventure is remarkable and only hope that I’ll be in half as good shape as U R. Looking forward to seeing you in 2014 for some rain, mud, sun and river crosings.

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    They’re really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very brief for starters. May just you please extend them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

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