HIKING FROM ORINDUIK TO PARAMATOI
Miranda La Rose Stabroek News March 1999
During Mashramani, Ambassador James Mack and a member of his staff went hiking in the North Pakaraimas. They spoke to Sunday Stabroek about their experience, recommending the trails in the area as offering possibilities for adventure tourism, if the local communities were given management control.
It was during the height of the Mashramani celebrations when the capital city had surrendered to revelry, that US Ambassador to Guyana James Mack and Gregory Thome, Political and Economic Officer in the US Embassy in Georgetown could be found engaged in less hedonistic pursuits - hiking over the mountain trails in Guyana's hinterland. Their three-day trek over hilly forested terrain in the North Pakaraimas ended at Paramakatoi.
Sharing their experience with the Sunday Stabroek, they described how it tested their strength, stamina and determination, although they both agreed that "even though it was strenuous, it was satisfying."
Ambassador Mack said that they had landed at the popular local tourist attraction, the Orinduik Falls, on Sunday, February 21 in the company of a group of tourists which had included the Ambassador's son. They had flown there with Captain Malcolm Chan-A-Sue who had recommended the trail for the men who both liked hiking.
Thome who is in his thirties and the Ambassador who is in his fifties, have had considerable experience of hiking. Being "fitness conscious," Mack, who at one time had been based in Peru and Ecuador had often hiked in the Andes, while Thome had hiked in Brazil along the Atlantic Coast Forest. Thome had also been hiking more recently along trails on the Linden/Soesdyke Highway.
After spending the day at Orinduik with the other tourists, Thome and Ambassador Mack stayed behind when their companions (including Mack's son) headed back to the city.
Their trek began early in the morning of the following day taking them through trails which brought them to the villages of Kurukubaru and Kato. They were accompanied by Amerindian guides who hail from Kurukubaru.
The Americans had been told that the toughest part of the journey would have been the last leg from Kato and Paramakatoi, but they had found contrary to expectations, the stretch between Orinduik and Kurukubaru had provided the greatest physical challenge. (Kurukubaru is the highest community in Guyana, being some 2,800 feet above sea level.)
From Orinduik they were loaded with supplies which they carried in knapsacks on their backs. Their burden included dried pr preserved food and changes of clothing. They also carried a pump which purified the water which they drank from the streams.
The going, said the diplomats, was slow and their route was criss-cross with streams. Some of these had bridges and others only tree trunks, while there were three water courses which had the benefit of neither; these they were obliged to wade across.
Given the streams en route, bathing did not present a problem, their first bath on the trail being in the Ireng River.
They had left Orinduik at about 7:20 am and had arrived at Kurukubaru during the afternoon hours. According to Thome, that leg of the trip provided beautiful scenery, and from the top of the valleys vistas of neighbouring Brazil could be glimpsed in the distance.
On an average day they covered at least 10 miles a day, walking for about 14 to 15 hours on the last two days. In all they covered some 30 miles.
On arriving at Kurukubaru, Ambassador Mack, despite dehydration followed the Mashramani events taking place in the village to mark the country's republic anniversary. He said that a video of how Guyanese on the coast celebrated Mashramani had been shown, and that this had been followed by a bonfire and the traditional flag-raising ceremony at mid-night.
The Americans spent the night at the Roman Catholic presbytery where the catechist in the village, Tobias Peters, was their host. The Ambassador said that that night he slept like a baby, aware that the following night he would have to resort to the sleeping bag which he had used at Orinduik. Thome walked with a hammock which he slept in at nights.
The next day was Mash Day and they left Kurukubaru at the break of dawn arriving at Kato where there was a hive of activity marking the country's republic anniversary. Thome recalled a number of sporting competitions including a fathers versus youths in cricket and football. They rested during the afternoon heat at a businessman's home in Kato before embarking on a two-hour walk to a camp outside Kato on the way to Paramakatoi.
As mentioned earlier, the last day was not as strenuous as they had been led to expect. Trails had been cut through the forest and provided shade from the sun. "The forest was pretty", Mack said. The Ambassador noted, too, that the trails were well kept and even though there might have been a trail where just one person could pass, the clearing along the trail was in some instance 10 feet wide.
Throughout the journey Ambassador Mack said that they had not seen much wildlife, but that they had been very conscious of the animals and birds around them which had made the experience very special. They had spotted green and white-eyed parrots and some macaws, had heard the howler monkeys and espied the tracks of jaguars, among others.They were, however, concentrating more on the hike than on nature spotting.
In spite of the fact that they did not see much wildlife they still felt that the trail from Paramakatoi to Kato and back would be excellent for those tourists who like a mixture of adventure and eco-tourism, while the entire journey from Orinduik to Paramakatoi would better suit the smaller niche of adventure tourists who go for a more strenuous and rustic style of travel.
While noting that few foreigners had walked these trails, Thome was of the view that should any such project be undertaken, there would be need for community management so that the communities involved would benefit.