Some years ago I was in Georgetown, Guyana on part of a six months' survey for gem occurrences around Central and South America.
Two of us decided to go and examine the alluvial diamond areas around the magnificent Kaieteur Falls. At 226 metres, these falls are nearly five times as high as Niagara.
We packed jungle hammocks, nets and basic food supplies. A lorry driver was supposed to take us to a place called Issano Landing where we expected to meet a local guide who had a boat. Instead, the driver detoured, dropped us off at his house clearing and left. We soon realized he was gone for good. What to do now?
I decided to camp on the jungle edge with the camera equipment and supplies while my partner walked back to the village about five miles away. I slung my hammock under the trees as high as I could above the ground and dozed fitfully, awakened off and on by the snarling and fighting of wild pigs, jaguars, or whatever they were in the thicket nearby.
Breakfast was crackers and sardines eaten at misty dawn. Then I waited. Late in the day a grizzled black prospector walked in and handed me a note. It said my partner was coming back with a group of Porknockers (local diamond prospectors) and that they planned to take a boat up the Potaro River.
When the ragged, mixed-coloured group walked in later, we loaded our gear in a boat equipped with an old 10-hp outboard motor, and with a string of smaller dug-out boats in tow behind, we set off in procession, like a duck leading its ducklings. The extra load of gear and passengers put the boat under a lot of pressure. The seams leaked like taps left running. We bailed continuously.
Further up river we stopped for the night at the diamond buyer's hut, a Mr McCorreia. I thanked heaven for the mosquito nets, even though the fine mesh netting cut off air circulation. In the sweltering heat you couldn't wear anything, and if you dared let your elbow or leg graze the net you'd be eaten voraciously. I lay there awake in the pre-dawn light watching a palm-sized spider walk down my hammock rope.
Next morning, to our dismay, we found the boat had sunk. Fortunately the gear had been unloaded, and with native divers in the group, there was no problem to salvage it, though the motor was reluctant to start.
We were delayed several hours. Later, winding our way upriver, we had to portage around two sets of rapids at Tumatumari. The motor gave continuous trouble, and with the slow going we were already two days late. As we approached our camp below the Kaieteur Falls we saw, reflected in the glassy river, a float plane disappear overhead toward the falls. That was the plane we had booked to take us back!
We were left behind. Darkness closed in rapidly. With several miles and some rapids yet to get past, I stood in the bows with my flashlight guiding the steersman around the rocks and through the white water. From the river's edge I could see 6 or 8 pairs of alligator eyes orange in the dark. The overhanging jungle left nowhere to go. I prayed that the motor would not cut out.
It did. We were swept downstream through the brushy overhang towards the rocks. I was almost knocked overboard by a hanging branch, which turned out to be our salvation. Managing to grab hold of it, I hung on, yelling to the others to fix the motor while the rest of us held steady.
One more time the motor coughed to a start, and we finally made it to camp battered but not beaten.
Next day we trudged up the Roraima plateau to see the spectacular falls before continuing up river to the raft where the Porknockers were diving with deep-sea "hard-hat" (brass helmet and canvas) gear. They'd dive down 30 to 40 feet to dig in the underwater gravel pockets that contained substantial numbers of diamonds.
By this time our food had run out. We were living off rice and jungle plants, so it was time to break camp and hike through the jungle to a village we knew had a landing strip. A DC-3 was expected that day, and after several hours of waiting it did arrive.
We were glad of the lift even if this plane wouldn't qualify for any comfort awards. It had side flip-down aluminum seats, which were mostly up as cargo filled the plane's main compartment. One passenger tried sitting on a box. The "attendant" said "Don't sit there man, bad ones in there." It was full of poisonous snakes.
Back in the Park Hotel in Georgetown, after ten days in the jungle, I headed for a long-awaited shower, turned on the tap and soaped myself from head to foot. When I was truly and luxuriously covered in suds the water went off and stayed off for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, I stood there yelling and cursing as the soap dried on my body and in my hair.
Looking back it seems a fitting end to one terrific adventure. An adventure I would not wish to repeat.
The lesson: Always rinse the soap off progressively.