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MY friend and fellow consultant Dr Karam Ramotar, another native Guyanese son since fled to Canada, said of Kaieteur Falls, “Why bother? It’s just water falling from a cliff.” But even the cynical Dr Ramotar had a change of heart when faced with the unfiltered ferocity of this natural wonder, the world’s highest single-drop waterfall. (Angel Falls is higher, but the water falls in stages).
Having seen Kaieteur, having waded at its edge and peered over its precipice, I must say that Niagara holds no further appeal for me. Places like Niagara Falls have become throwaway experiences more than God-given wonders. They have been modified to service people, with turbines, restaurants, guard rails, hourly boat tours and such. To get to Kaieteur, you fly in on a small diesel-spitting turboprop, then hike an hour through ancient rainforest, known for its jaguars, poisonous snakes and its famous tiny golden frogs, whose skin exude a toxic stimulant many times more powerful than cocaine. The falls itself explodes from the granite and preside over an eternity of sprawling rainforest; there is no human activity visible till the horizon.
The falls gets its name from King Kai, the chief of a local Indian tribe. To prevent war with the cannibalistic Carib tribe, he offered himself as a sacrifice, and drove a lone canoe over the falls to his death. The wonder now bears his name in remembrance of this feat. It is impossible to observe this violent expulsion of water without imagining Kai’s thoughts as he appraoched the edge. Unlike such wonders in North America, one is able to walk to its edge, as the water rushes over the precipice just by your feet; one slip and you take the 7 second plunge to Kai’s watery tomb. But it’s the only way to channel Kai’s final scream, or his peaceful resignation, whichever appeals more.
In Guyana, this holds a certain living importance, as many AmerIndian peoples still populate the rainforest regions, however sparesely, many living not so differently from when Kai took his fateful plunge.
But the day was not over. From Kaieteur we flew to the Orindiuk Falls, which lie upon the Orindiuk river, which demarks the border with Brazil. I and three others decided to wade across the river and bathe beneath the berating falls, braving the slight risk of being taken by the current and drawn over the next stage of falls further downstream. This marks my first technical foray into Brazil, though no passport was stamped, and no immigration official interrogated me.
Tomorrow is the Mashramani parade, and I must go to bed to conserve my energy. It’s tiring being Abstinence, you know.