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Title: Through British Guiana to the summit of Roraima
Author: Clementi, Mrs. Cecil
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THROUGH BRITISH GUIANA TO THE SUMMIT OF RORAIMA



[Illustration: KAIETUK FALL.

Frontispiece.]



                             THROUGH BRITISH
                              GUIANA TO THE
                            SUMMIT OF RORAIMA

                                   BY
                       MRS. CECIL CLEMENTI, M.B.E.

                  WITH FOURTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS AND A MAP

                        E. P. DUTTON AND COMPANY
                       681 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

                       _Printed in Great Britain_

                          _All rights reserved_



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

       I. THE DEMERARA RIVER                                            11

      II. THE ESSEQUEBO RIVER                                           29

     III. THE POTARO DISTRICT                                           47

      IV. THE POTARO GORGE                                              59

       V. KAIETUK, MOTHER OF MISTS                                      71

      VI. THE ASCENT TO THE HIGHLAND SAVANNAHS                          89

     VII. THE HIGHLAND SAVANNAHS OF BRITISH GUIANA                     119

    VIII. A CORNER OF BRAZIL                                           149

      IX. THE VENEZUELAN APPROACH TO RORAIMA                           183

       X. RORAIMA, FATHER OF STREAMS                                   199

      XI. THE RETURN JOURNEY                                           217



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    KAIETUK FALL                                             _Frontispiece_

                                                               FACING PAGE

    THE DEMERARA RIVER: VIEW FROM THREE FRIENDS’ MINE ACROSS TO AKYMA   24

    WATERSMEET OF COMMINGLED CUYUNI AND MAZARUNI RIVERS WITH ESSEQUEBO  31

    MOUNT SAKWAI ON POTARO RIVER NEAR TUKEIT                            62

    WATERSMEET OF POTARO AND AMUK RIVERS AT AMATUK, SHOWING MOUNT
      KENAIMA ON RIGHT AND MOUNT KUKUI IN CENTRE ABOVE RIVER-MIST       62

    POTARO GORGE FROM KAIETUK                                           78

    BARAMAKU SAVANNAH                                                  113

    MOUNT KOWATIPU FROM THE KARTO TABLELAND                            128

    WARATUK RAPIDS                                                     172

    OPAMAPÖ WATERFALL                                                  172

    FORDING THE KOTINGA RIVER                                          174

    THE SOUTH-WEST FACE OF MOUNT RORAIMA, SHOWING THE TÖWASHING
      PINNACLE                                                         186

    CAMP ON MOUNT RORAIMA                                              208

    MOUNT WEITIPU FROM THE LEFT BANK OF THE KOTINGA RIVER              225

    MAP OF ROUTE FROM HOLMIA TO MOUNT RORAIMA                      _at end_



THROUGH BRITISH GUIANA TO THE SUMMIT OF RORAIMA



THE DEMERARA RIVER



CHAPTER I

THE DEMERARA RIVER

    Men travel far to see a city, but few seem curious about a
    river. Every river has, nevertheless, its individuality, its
    great silent interest. Every river has, moreover, its influence
    over the people who pass their lives within sight of its
    waters.—H. S. MERRIMAN: _The Sowers_, chap. ii.


British Guiana, as first seen from the shoal-water near the Demerara
lightship, is a mournful and monotonous picture. Mud flats, fringed with
courida and mangrove, stretch endlessly along the shore. Never a hill
is to be seen. The coastal flats are four feet below the level of high
spring tides, and the Atlantic slops over the sea dams in yellow waves
of muddy water. The wide expanses of rich sugar-fields and smiling rice
lands begin about a mile from the seaside and stretch “aback” to the “wet
savannahs,” by means of which they are irrigated. These wet savannahs
are vast natural swamps converted artificially into shallow lakes by
“stopping off” their seaward outlets. South of them spreads “the bush,”
that great primeval forest so hostile to man, but sheltering in its
mysterious recesses a million varieties of insects, a multitude of beasts
and reptiles, and a wealth of bird life unequalled, perhaps, in any other
part of the world.

Little, however, does the average colonist or the chance visitor to
British Guiana see of the wonder and beauty of South America. The forest
builds an impenetrable barrier, keeping him a close prisoner upon seaside
mud flats, which are in the main a dreary waste of uncultivated land.
Lack of labour renders it impossible for more than a small fraction
even of the coastal fringe to be made to yield its increase. A land the
size of England, Scotland, and Wales combined; a population equal to
that of Hertfordshire, and a cultivated area less than one-fifth the
size of Kent; a land for the greater part unknown and unsurveyed, whose
only roads extend along the seaboard and for a few miles up the banks
of its main rivers—such is British Guiana, ever since the close of the
Napoleonic Wars a possession of the British Crown, the only one in South
America, and rich in unexplored possibilities.

But the colonists of British Guiana have never made any serious attempt
to investigate the interior of their heritage. Their revenue has always
been spent upon coastal development; and a conviction exists that the
interior is not only a death-trap, but also a wilderness of useless
jungle and sandy deserts. Many attempts were made to dissuade me from
venturing into it with my husband, and I was assured that I was risking
my health—nay, my life. But the call of the wild was too strong, and I
shall always be glad that I decided to go; for the fact that a woman has
traversed these forests and the highland prairies beyond during many
strenuous weeks and came back with health and vigour renewed may perhaps
dispel the legends accumulated about the horrors of “the bush,” and
induce people to investigate for themselves the charms and opportunities
of this neglected land, or at least to travel with us in spirit into
those great expanses of sleeping Nature which await the day of man’s
occupation. British Guiana lies, like the princess of the fairy-tale, in
an enchanted sleep. One day, surely, the fairy prince will come, mounted
upon an iron horse, and bid her awake!

Two long years my husband and I lived continuously in Georgetown, at
the mouth of the Demerara River. Then, exhausted in mind and body by
the enervating atmosphere and dismal monotony of a tropical coast, near
the equator and below sea-level, we decided to spend a brief holiday in
exploring a part of the Colony’s interior hitherto blank upon the map,
hoping to find there some of that strength which cometh from the hills.
A journey up cataract-barred rivers and through primeval forests by
Indian trails was in itself an attractive prospect; but we had a still
more potent lure. On the 21st March, 1914, my husband had spent a day
at the Kaietuk Fall, and had gazed from the brink of the great chasm
into which the Potaro River there plunges, up its dreamy reaches towards
the forest-clad ridges that stand above the Arnik creek and away to
the towering, cliff-faced mass of Mount Kowatipu. It was then that he
resolved to visit some day the wonders which Nature might hold in the
forests and savannahs farther to the west and the south-west, and perhaps
even to make his way to that famous Mount Roraima, of which the residents
in British Guiana hear so much and see so little. Then, in October,
1915, he made the acquaintance of Mr. J. C. Menzies, whose occupation
as a diamond and gold prospector had carried him into distant parts of
our Colony’s interior. Mr. Menzies’ account of prairie tablelands at
high altitudes, to be reached by travelling a few days beyond Kaietuk,
and affording a view of Mount Roraima, where the boundaries of British
Guiana, Brazil, and Venezuela meet, and whence streams flow to the
Amazon, Orinoco, and Essequebo, determined us to attempt the journey
across those tablelands to that mountain of mystery. During the previous
seven years Mr. Menzies had frequently traversed the little-known and
unsurveyed part of the Colony that lies between the Potaro River and our
frontier with Brazil, and he had been greatly struck by the opportunities
for cattle-ranching afforded on its highland savannahs. He had, moreover,
bought and driven cattle from Brazil over the Ireng River into British
territory, where they wander freely under the nominal guardianship of
a tribe of Makusi Indians. He was therefore well qualified to make the
preliminary arrangements for the expedition which we had in mind, and he
very kindly agreed to place his experience unreservedly at our disposal
and to accompany us. His knowledge of our proposed route did not extend
beyond the Colony’s boundaries; but he felt sure that an Indian guide
could be found in one of the villages near the Ireng, who would be able
to lead us on to the goal of our hopes, Mount Roraima.

We started on the 20th December, 1915, our first stage being by steamer
from Georgetown to Wismar, a small settlement sixty miles up the Demerara
River. The journey takes eight hours, and the scenery is not interesting.
For the most part the land on both sides is absolutely flat and screened
from the traveller by a dense fringe of jungle growth. Not that the
river-banks are entirely unoccupied; tenements and farms are dotted along
each bank for miles after the tall chimneys of the sugar factories are
left behind. Indeed, between Georgetown and Wismar there remains hardly
an acre of Crown land by the river-side, and the titles of some estates
date back to the year 1746, when the Dutch still ruled in Demerara. But
a former Governor of the Colony decreed that a belt, several yards wide,
should be reserved along the façade of all riverine grants, so that
his successors might be free, if so disposed, to make roads or build
wharfs on the river-bank. This untenanted strip of land was, of course,
rapidly overgrown with jungle, and the dense _mokka-mokka_ which grows
at the water’s edge makes a forbidding-looking fringe to the Demerara’s
yellow tide. This plant, a member of the arum family, is said to offer
an excellent paper-making material. It grows sometimes just above the
surface of the water, and sometimes reaches a height of thirty feet
or so, forming a happy sanctuary for birds of many kinds. Their nests
among the broad leaves, that clothe the thick stems rising straight out
of the water, are secure from snakes and such-like enemies. Once I saw
a tiny humming-bird, a veritable jewel of colour, seated on her minute
nest, regarding us trustfully as we paddled by. This was not, indeed,
on the banks of the Demerara, but during an expedition to one of the
wet-savannah conservancies already mentioned. She sat on her airy throne,
perched in the fork of a low _mokka-mokka_ stem, a few feet above the
wind-swayed rushes and broad lily leaves which cover the wide expanses on
each side of the water-paths, kept clear for boats. As we sat in our low
corial, her background was blue sky, and a prettier sight can scarcely be
imagined.

The Demerara River has several large creeks, navigable by corials or even
motor-boats for many miles, but their mouths, screened by _mokka-mokka_
plant, are mostly impossible to distinguish from the deck of a river
steamer. The only one of these streams I have explored is the Kamuni
creek, which my husband and I once visited in order to see the now almost
deserted Chinese settlement of Hopetown. Strange that such lonely jungle
should ever have had attractions for Chinese settlers! Everywhere broods
the heavy silence of the tropical “bush,” broken now and then by the whir
of a beetle or the cry of a bird swooping across the creek; nor does
this forest afford any variations of colour save in the intense green
of the overarching foliage, reflected leaf for leaf in the still, black
water. Now and then some glorious orchid decorates a decaying tree-trunk,
or the blossoms of some brilliant flowering creeper, fallen from the
distant tree-tops, float down the stream. Here and there a splendid blue
butterfly flits into the sunshine, and an occasional splash betrays an
alligator subsiding into a dark pool.

The Hopetown Settlement, which was once a flourishing village engaged
chiefly in charcoal-burning, now consists only of a few hovels, thatched
with troolie palm, and of some ill-kept rice-fields, the one redeeming
feature being a nice wooden church. When we went in, there were flowers
on the altar, and a pair of Cantonese vases, which must wonder how they
got there. An aged Chinese catechist conducted the service, and a priest
visits the place at rare intervals.

The people, I remember, welcomed us gladly, and were delighted to
hear a few words in Cantonese spoken by my husband. The whole village
accompanied us as we walked along the dam, which serves it both as a main
road and as a safeguard against inundation. We visited the “cultivation,”
but there was nothing satisfactory to be seen. A few miserable plantains,
a few poor cacao-bushes, untended and uncared for, was all we could
observe. A paddy-field, to which we were led, was merely a rough clearing
in the bush, the trees having been cut down, but the stumps left
standing, and no attempt was made to irrigate or drain. There had been
no manuring, nor, indeed, was there any sign of tillage. The sight was a
sad one to eyes accustomed to the smiling, carefully tended rice-fields
of China, with their neatly dammed divisions for conserving water, fields
from which the laborious Cantonese, by unceasing toil, reap their annual
reward of two rice harvests and one crop of “dry cultivation.” The
Hopetown settlers told us that they could only raise a rice crop from a
given area once in five years; but with care the land could, of course,
be made productive. The settlement possessed no animals; not even the
pig, so universal in China, was to be seen. In fact, the people evidently
lacked energy to make an effort to improve their condition. Most young
Chinese, desirous of better things, have doubtless discovered that by
going to Georgetown they can with thrift, industry, and the business
instincts of their race, find more promising openings for making a
livelihood, in trade or otherwise, than Hopetown offers. Hence only the
aged, the feeble, or the indolent, remain in the settlement; and Hopetown
no longer answers to its name, for little hope of its future is now left.

The Chinese, however, came late in the story of the Demerara. Only Caribs
lived there in 1598, when the river was first made known to Europe by the
report of two Dutch ships that had cruised along the coast of Guiana, but
had not traded in the “Demirara,” because they were pressed for time, and
because the Caribs informed them that “not much was to be found there,”
and also, perhaps, chiefly “because their provisions were growing scant.”
In those days, maybe, there was a numerous Carib population hereabouts;
but the inhabitants are now a curious medley, almost amphibious, for
once the sugar estates are passed the river is their only road, and the
smallest child navigates his corial. The census of 1911 records that
only 8,101 people were in that year inhabiting the Demerara. Of these,
2,983 were blacks; 1,756 were East Indians; 1,741 were of mixed race;
124 were Chinese; 178 were Portuguese; and 48 were Europeans other than
Portuguese. Only 1,229—say 15 per cent. of the whole—were aborigines.
There is the history of British Guiana in a nutshell! A ceaseless
struggle to people from overseas an empty land! The Portuguese came from
Madeira. The blacks are descended from negro slaves brought here from
Africa by the Dutch West India Company. No black slaves were ever brought
to Demerara under British rule; for the slave trade was abolished by
Parliament in 1807, and this Colony did not become definitely British
until seven years later. The East Indians have all been introduced as
indentured labourers under a system of immigration which began in 1845
and ended in 1917. They hail chiefly from Bengal and Madras. The Chinese
also came here under indenture, as the result of a scheme of immigration,
from Hong-Kong, Canton, and Amoy, which lasted from 1853 intermittently
until 1874, and was then discontinued.

On the whole, the Lower Demerara is distinctly monotonous and void of
interest, but shortly below Wismar there are hints of better things. The
river, which at Georgetown is a mile wide, narrows considerably; the
banks rise on either side, crowned by big forest-trees, telling of their
mighty brethren in the far interior, and greenheart logs lie steeping in
the river, waiting to be shipped. They cannot be drifted downstream in
the usual fashion, as greenheart is heavier than water and does not float.

Moreover, the river-water, previously an opaque yellow from the influx
of the tides that wash seas of mud along the British Guiana coasts, now
changes to the beautiful black “bush-water,” which, coming from the
forest depths, is darkly stained by vegetable matter held in suspension.
Sometimes it has a reddish tinge, and then again turns amber-coloured,
especially over sandy shallows. It makes a wonderful mirror for sky,
cloud, and tree, reflected in its sleeping depths; and it is quite safe
and pleasant to drink, when boiled.

The township of Wismar on the Demerara River is the terminal point of
the small piece of railway built in 1896 by Sprostons Limited to cross
the divide, here less than nineteen miles wide, between the Demerara and
Essequebo Rivers. Close to the railway-station, alongside which is a
steamer wharf, cluster the police-station, post office, magistracy, and
a few shops. The train is a little toy affair, very dirty; the engine
burns wood fuel, and the sparks which fly from its funnel give as fine
a display of fireworks after nightfall as one could wish to see. They
are, however, somewhat dangerous. A case in point was the occasion when
Princess Marie-Louise travelled over the line in 1914. The train had been
specially decorated in her honour; but it had not proceeded more than
half a mile from Wismar before the sparks set all the decorations on
fire, and a halt was necessary in order to divest the passenger-coaches
of all combustible embellishments.

Crossing the divide by motor-trolley is quite an agreeable experience,
especially in the cool of the evening, and the line is seen to better
advantage. The scenery, however, is disappointing. On the Essequebo side
of the water-parting, Sprostons have considerable timber-cutting grants,
to which they run branch lines. But near the main line all big trees have
long ago been cut down, and some years ago a terrible forest fire swept
down the divide, leaving behind it a desolation of stark and charred
tree-trunks, unlovely to look at. The soil is a white sand, dazzling in
the equatorial sunlight.

Just above Wismar the Demerara Bauxite Company has begun mining
operations, and it is very interesting to visit the Company’s settlements
at Fair’s Rust and Akyma. Fair’s Rust is a mile above Wismar and can
be reached by ocean-going steamers, but the principal bauxite mines,
or rather quarries, are twelve miles farther up, where the low hills
consist of almost solid pink-coloured ore, once the overburden has been
removed. The Company pays great attention to the health of its employés:
good houses are built; bush is cleared away, and drainage and sanitation
carefully contrived.

[Illustration: THE DEMERARA RIVER: VIEW FROM THREE FRIENDS’ MINE ACROSS
TO AKYMA.

To face page 24.]

A very pleasant way of accomplishing the journey to Wismar is to travel
as a guest of the Company in one of its comfortable motor-boats, starting
from Georgetown at about tea-time and following the silvery pathway of
the river, aglow in the setting sun; to anchor in the starlight and sleep
in the grateful coolness and velvet silence of the river night; to get
under way again in the dawn, and to reach the settlement at Akyma before
the full heat of the day. Especially is this delightful when such a
journey is but the first stage on towards all the glories of mountain and
river which lie awaiting those who venture to explore the wonders of an
unknown land.



THE ESSEQUEBO RIVER



CHAPTER II

THE ESSEQUEBO RIVER

    Vainly does each, as he glides,
    Fable and dream
    Of the lands which the River of Time
    Had left ere he woke on its breast,
    Or shall reach when his eyes have been closed.
    Only the tract where he sails
    He wots of; only the thoughts,
    Raised by the objects he passes, are his.

                     MATTHEW ARNOLD: _The Future_.


The problem of improving the Colony’s lines of communication into the
interior may be said to be the problem of circumventing the Essequebo
River. For instance, it is the Essequebo and its tributary the Rupununi
which ought to form a natural highway across British Guiana to Brazil.
But the cattle-track, just opened to Georgetown from the Colony’s lowland
savannahs near the Brazilian border, studiously avoids the Essequebo,
which it touches only at Kurupukari, there crossing the river and leaving
it for good. Again, the Essequebo and its tributary the Cuyuni should
form the main avenue of approach from British Guiana to Ciudad Bolivar
on the Orinoco, in the heart of Venezuela. But it is very likely that,
when the time comes for linking this Colony to Venezuela by road or
railway, the line will but touch the Essequebo to bridge its estuary,
and then make across country to the Tumeremo savannahs. Similarly, the
problem of reaching Kaietuk and the highland savannahs of British Guiana
has now become the problem of avoiding the Essequebo.

It is a tantalizing river. Twelve miles wide at its mouth; two miles wide
at Bartika, where the commingled Cuyuni and Mazaruni join it; and still
fully the same width at Rockstone, where the Demerara-Essequebo Railway
strikes it—nevertheless, its innumerable cataracts and rapids make it
a snare and an illusion to the navigator. In fact, the _raison d’être_
of the Demerara-Essequebo Railway is to short-circuit the extremely
dangerous series of cataracts between Rockstone and Bartika, in which
many lives have been lost. By crossing the low divide between the two
rivers, the traveller reaches the Essequebo at Rockstone, well above
these dangers. He then has a navigable stretch of sixty miles before him
to Tumutumari.

[Illustration: WATERSMEET OF COMMINGLED CUYUNI AND MAZARUNI RIVERS WITH
ESSEQUEBO.

To face page 31.]

This short-circuit, however, misses some interesting country. At Bartika,
thirty miles below Rockstone, the commingled Cuyuni and Mazaruni Rivers
flow into the Essequebo, and very beautiful is the watersmeet of the
three stately streams. On one hand, the shining waters of the Cuyuni
invite one, as the morning mists roll away, to follow its gleaming track
to Venezuela; whilst, on the other, Mazaruni, “black water,” as its
Indian name implies, though flecked with spume from its dread cataracts,
has lured on many a diamond-seeker to the very shadow of Roraima’s
unscalable precipices.

Amid the mingling Mazaruni and Cuyuni, with a clear view down to the
Essequebo, lies Kyk-over-all, a tiny island, where the earliest Dutch
settlers lived in a fort, whose picturesque ruins still remain. These
hardy pioneers established themselves here as early as the opening years
of the seventeenth century, and traded with the Indians chiefly in anatto
dye. To “see over all” was indeed a necessity for that tiny handful of
white men, whose sole connection with Europe, civilization, and succour
was but one solitary ship in a year! The Dutch also established a
settlement at Kartabo, a bamboo-crowned point on the nearest mainland,
about half a mile away, whence a speedy flight to the fort could be made
in case of danger descried. Kartabo Point lies exactly between Mazaruni
and Cuyuni, and here the New York Zoological Society hopes to establish
a permanent research station under Dr. William Beebe, who considers the
neighbourhood a paradise from the naturalist’s point of view.

Within sight, a few miles downstream, His Majesty’s Penal Settlement
affords to the convicts all that Nature can offer to cheer their toil!
There is naturally no stone in the silted mud flat on which lies the
inhabited part of British Guiana; but the excellent granite of which the
hills near the Settlement are composed forms the quarry whence all the
stone used on the coast has been obtained. Convict labour has also built
a dry-dock adjacent to the prison.

I have never been beyond Kartabo on the Mazaruni, but I remember a
delightful expedition up the Cuyuni to Matope. We started from the Penal
Settlement in the delicious freshness of the early morning, and were
carried by the big prison launch to the foot of the Camaria rapids,
where there is a road-portage of three miles. “Jack” and “Jill,” two
panting Ford lorries, conveyed us with many bumps and jerks over the
uneven, hilly road. A prison gang was out “improving” the road-surface
by shovelling loose sand into the ruts. Their work looked very nice,
and certainly had not exhausted or overheated the dusky road-menders;
but poor “Jack” and “Jill” found sand-filled ruts more than they could
bear and constantly stuck fast, whilst their boiling radiators protested
noisily with spurts of angry steam, and “all man” found assisting them
out again distinctly more strenuous than road-mending. Next I have
memories of a long, lazy afternoon, when, embarked once more, we puffed
and panted slowly upstream from Camaria, or else drifted in lazy silence
on the bosom of the big sleepy river, whilst our out-board motor refused
to function. The delightful blue hills on each bank of the Cuyuni seemed
shouldering each other aside to catch a glimpse of the unaccustomed life;
and the exquisite peace made me wish “ever to seem falling asleep in a
half-dream,” until the diabolical spitting and puffing reasserted itself
and restored me to reality again.

We managed to reach Matope before dusk in spite of many breakdowns. Here,
amid tree-crowned rocks, the river swirls down in fifteen separate
cataracts; and, in the days of Wenamu and Pigeon Island gold booms,
Matope rest-house, post office, and bond-store were established on the
two most accessible islets, and a launch service plied thither. We were
joyously greeted by the black officer in charge of the station, who
proudly displayed to us the attractions of his lonely little domain and
ferried us in the gathering dusk—for twilight is, alas! unknown in the
tropics—across to the rest-house island, a most enchanting spot. Here,
after the bustle of disembarkation and the long, hot day, a bathe in the
cool, soft river water, like cream to the skin, was delightful indeed,
though it had to be accompanied by a furious splashing to frighten the
_pirai_, an unpleasant flesh-eating fish that nips off the fingers
and toes of the unwary ere they know it. Then, lulled by the musical
roar of the cataracts, we slept soundly until, at 3 a.m., the “howling
baboons” howled. To anyone who has never heard these creatures it is
perhaps impossible to convey any idea of this marvellous sound. The South
American baboons have howling bones in their throats, and at a distance
of some miles their “howl” sounds merely like a storm-wind soughing
through distant tree-tops; but, when they are close at hand, the whole
air is alive with the din, so that you cannot tell from which direction
it proceeds. Every nerve in your body tingles, and there is a curious
fascination in the great volume of sound, which used to remind me dimly
of the boom of the big temple-bell through the cryptomeria groves of
far-distant Japan.

Near Matope, on a hill-shoulder on the right bank of the river, stand
the ruins of the house in which the government gold officer of the
district used to live in the days of the big gold rushes. He must have
had a charming abode. We explored remains of a lovely garden terraced
in the hill-side. Beautiful clumps of feathery bamboo framed delicious
views of sky, river, and forest, adream in the golden sunlight; whilst
bougainvillea, oleander, and petrea made the foreground a riot of
colour. But Nature in tropical climates pursues her task of blotting
out the works of man with surprising swiftness. The house, a wooden
structure of the usual Creole type, had fallen to pieces inside under the
influence of wood-ants, and its three stories were filled with a glorious
alamander-bush, thrusting its golden blossoms everywhere, filling all
the deserted space, and forcing its way out over the roof.

Doubtless one day in the far-distant future these lovely reaches of
river will be colonized. Plantations of limes, coffee, and rubber will
replace the all-enveloping forests, and managers’ houses will crown the
little hills. Although so close to the equator, the sun in British Guiana
has little of its eastern fierceness and the climate is wonderfully
healthy, if elementary principles of hygiene and sanitation are observed.
Once away from the mosquito-ridden coastal swamps, our experience has
always been that we can expose and exert ourselves in a way that would
be impossible in the East, and I believe that on these inviting hills
white men, with wives and children, could live in health and comfort.
Communications are needed; motor-roads to run through the forest
connecting the settler with civilization and his neighbours. One pioneer,
Mr. G. B. Withers, has cleared and planted with rubber the hills on the
Mazaruni opposite the Penal Settlement, and has constructed a motor-road
through the forest to connect his estate with the Agatash Lime Plantation
on the Essequebo above Bartika. No metalling was necessary, since the
forest floor, once cleared of stumps, makes an admirable surface. All the
big forest trees have been left standing, only the “under-bush” being
removed, for shade thus prevents the swift upspringing of vegetable
growth which would occur in any place exposed to the direct rays of the
tropical sun. Cool even at midday, with hats and helmets removed to enjoy
the delicious shade, to drive along these cleverly-aligned gradients is a
treat indeed; and one dreams of the transformation which might be wrought
by motor transport in this unopened land.

But the day of motor-roads into the interior has not yet come, and we
reached Rockstone on our journey to Roraima by railway from Wismar.
At Rockstone the great width of the Essequebo is disguised, as almost
everywhere else, by islands; for immediately opposite the railway
terminus is Gluck Island, fully seven miles long, in whose marshy
jungle the Victoria Regia lily was originally found. Apart from the
railway-station, the only other building there is a pleasant little
bungalow hotel, in which we spent the night. The full moon over the
Essequebo was very pretty.

We started upstream from Rockstone at 6.30 a.m. on the 21st December,
1915, and arranged ourselves for a long day’s occupation of the _Ark_,
a primitive sort of house-boat, towed alongside the motor-launch which
plies regularly, when the state of the river permits, between Rockstone
and Tumatumari. The launch was a terribly noisy affair, and even in the
dignified seclusion of our _Ark_ we could not hear ourselves speak.
However, once comfortably established in hammocks, we could lose
ourselves in our books. One of the most important parts of an outfit for
a bush journey, and certainly one that requires very careful thought,
is the choice of one’s library; for who would dream of starting, like
Musset’s _Ninon_, “en voyage sans livre”? You want, first of all, books
that contain a good deal of reading matter in them, so that you may not
run through the pages too quickly; and the more they afford of piquant
contrast to the surroundings you are likely to encounter, the better;
whilst an enduring charm will be thrown for you over any favourite work
which has accompanied you across hill and dale and cheered hours of
weary waiting in the rain, or of provoking delays on the part of the
food commissariat. Sir George Trevelyan’s _Life and Letters_ of that
most delightful of men, Lord Macaulay, Macaulay’s Essays, _Kim_ and
_Vanity Fair_, have all acquired for me a peculiar and indescribable
flavour, since this or that passage recalls some incident of travel or
lazy hammock hours in river and forest, when, as supper was a-preparing
or the pit-pat of rain beat on our tent-roof, I lay luxuriating in the
delightfulness of freshly-donned, dry footgear and in the anticipation of
“pigtail soup.”

The Essequebo was unusually low on this occasion, and the silver
sand-reefs jutted out of the water like bones. At midday we were stopped
by the Kopano sands, which forbade further progress. Here we waited a
long three hours for a smaller launch, the _Nelly_, which was expected
downstream from Tumatumari to discharge her crowd of “balata-bleeders”
and “pork-knockers” into our bigger launch for their return journey _via_
Rockstone to the joys of a Christmas in civilization. We found the time
long, in spite of lunch, Lord Macaulay, and the view of a flat-topped
hill known as the Arosaro Mountain, a welcome sight to eyes that had
scarcely seen any rising ground for two years. It is a low forest-clad
hill with a flat top and cliff-edges, the first sounding of the Roraima
_leit-motif_. We were, however, anxious to reach Tumatumari that night,
for we knew that the _Ark_ must be left behind with the big launch, while
the tarpaulins and camp gear, that would have made a bivouac on the
river-bank tolerable, had preceded us by some days with our stores. At 3
p.m. we welcomed the sight of a puff of dark smoke on the wide stretch
of smooth, still water before us; but it was close on 4 p.m. before our
transhipment was complete and our fate committed to the launch _Nelly_.
She was quite unspeakable—filthy dirty, with a shocking vibration—but
we were thankful enough when she did vibrate, for the hateful little
thing constantly broke down and floated helplessly on the vast expanse
of desolate water, as we anxiously scanned the lingering daylight, the
while an unhappy son of Ham wrestled in vain with his engine. My husband
managed to sling a hammock for me inside the launch, and that was a great
comfort; but the noise was excruciating. The coxswain, a nice fellow
called Lekha, half East Indian and half black, said his orders were to
get us through, if possible, but that Crabbu Falls could not be run in
the dark. As he spoke, the vixenish launch broke down again, and required
half an hour’s patching up. A little later the engines stopped once more
for a quarter of an hour. We felt rather miserable, as a more comfortless
place in which to spend the night than that abominable little _Nelly_
could hardly be imagined, and no food was available, save tea and the
remains of a cake, with some slabs of chocolate which I fortunately had
handy; so we were now pretty hungry. By 6.30 p.m. it was dark. Rich,
fresh, sweet scents were wafted to us from the banks; but, though the
moon rose beautifully at 7 p.m., she hid her fickle light soon afterwards
behind a cloud-bank. However, our cox was a real good fellow. By help of
a very feeble light from the dimmed moon, he got us safely through Tigri
Rapids—a tortuous race between rocks—and at about 8.30 p.m. we got to
the foot of Crabbu Falls. Here another launch, the _Potaro_, was waiting
to help us up the rapid, and the blazing crude oil of her engines made
the night a weird _inferno_ of noise and glare. She was lying near a
sandy spit; and, when _Nelly_ got alongside her, we managed to push out a
plank, scrambled ashore, and strolled about to stretch our cramped limbs.
There was a banaboo of Patamona Indians near by, whose inhabitants came
out silently to watch at a safe distance our strange proceedings. The
flickering light of the burning oil lit up their dusky figures uncannily.

At length the moon, which was full, cleared somewhat, and Lekha decided
to risk the attempt of climbing the rapid. _Nelly_ and _Potaro_ were
lashed side by side and, steaming together, were to surmount the rapid.
But the first attempt failed. We steamed up, gaining ground inch by
inch, till, just as we were at the crest of the rapid, _Nelly’s_ engines
stopped again, and we had to slide back. Next time, however, _Potaro_
made the attempt towing _Nelly_ as dead-weight, and just did it. Lekha
then said that _Potaro_ drew too much water to continue safely upstream,
as she might hit on a sand-bank. But I declared that I would prefer
any fate to that of returning to _Nelly_; and Lekha, who was really a
sportsman, agreed to transfer our few belongings to the bigger launch
and take us on. Two miles above Crabbu Falls we entered the mouth of
the Potaro River, and puffed our hesitating way over its black course,
the moon having disappeared again as soon as she had seen us safely
surmount the rapid. Darkness, of course, hid from us the lovely view of
blue mountain ranges, which we have subsequently seen from Potaro mouth,
hills which verily looked to us the “delectable mountains.” We reached
Tumatumari, ten miles up the Potaro, shortly before midnight, as tired as
dinnerless folk well could be; but that was the only really unpleasant
day of all our forty days in the wilderness.

Such an experience naturally prompts the question: Is there no better way
of getting from Georgetown to the Potaro? Cannot this section also of the
Essequebo be circumvented? Yes, a better way has been found, but it has
not yet been made available for public use. There already exist eighteen
and a half miles of railway from Vreed-en-hoop, on the Demerara River,
opposite Georgetown, to Parika, on the Essequebo estuary. There also
exists a much-neglected road, 67 miles long, built years ago by prison
labour, from Bartika to the Kaburi gold-fields. It is now proposed to
extend the railway for a distance of some thirty-four miles from Parika
to a point opposite Bartika; and the trace has also been cut of a road
extension from Kaburi to a place known as Garraway’s Landing, on the
Potaro. The total distance from Bartika to Garraway’s Landing would be
about a hundred miles; and, if this route were made available for motor
traffic, it would be possible with suitable arrangements to make the
journey by train from Georgetown to Bartika and onwards by motor-car from
Bartika to the Potaro River in a single day between sunrise and sunset.
Such a line of communication would be a boon to the colonists both at
Bartika and on the Potaro River, besides being a great step towards
bringing the Kaietuk plateau within reach; and I hope the day may not be
far distant when its construction will be taken in hand.



THE POTARO DISTRICT



CHAPTER III

THE POTARO DISTRICT

    Quid non mortalia pectora cogis,
    Auri sacra fames?

           VIRGIL: _Æneid_, iii. 56.


Tumatumari is a formidable cataract with rocky islands amidst its
swirling rush of waters. The name is said to mean “as hot as pepper.”
All river traffic, whether upstream or downstream, is stopped by this
obstacle, and a portage between the lower and the upper landing must
be made over about half a mile of good cart-road. On the right bank
stands a nice wooden bungalow, belonging to Sprostons, built on a bluff
overlooking the river. There are also several other houses, including a
land office, a police-station and a post office, in this little outpost;
and many “bucks,” as the aborigines are called in local parlance, live
in the neighbourhood. From a point just above the cataract Sprostons
run a launch service for another ten miles upstream past Garraway’s
Landing to a place known as Potaro Landing, and there all public service
ends. Potaro Landing is the northern terminus of a cart-road, about
twenty-three miles long, running between the Potaro and Konawaruk Rivers
and serving the Minnehaha Gold Mining Company’s settlement. It runs as a
sort of Nile through a desert of dense forest.

Great is the energy of the white man! In lands where all Nature cries to
him, “Be still; do not exert yourself; keep a dry skin!” and where she
relentlessly obliterates with importunate veils of quick-springing jungle
all traces of his efforts, if ever he suspends them, he nevertheless
pursues his way, dragging his machinery, and defying the mosquito! But
in British Guiana he is hopelessly handicapped by want of labour. What
can he do, if he cannot command the hands effectually to conquer the
wilderness, to roll back the jungle, to plant and tend and reap?

The road up from the river-side at Potaro Landing is wide, but
excessively bad. It begins by climbing up a hill of loose sand, in which
the heated wayfarer toils along ankle-deep, save where a very rough
corduroy of timber changes the form of his penance. Even the fortunate
occupant of a dogcart is little better off, for the jarring to one’s
spine as the wheels jolt from log to log is almost more than body and
bones can endure. After the first seven miles the road-surface changes
and becomes ironstone gravel, good enough to permit motor traffic,
provided one does not set too much store by the springs of the car. From
the road there are interesting glimpses of the black cliffs of Eagle
Mountain and another range of grim precipices, frowning like prison
walls on either hand. The valley, thus shut in, is intensely hot. The
soil is fertile, and limes especially thrive, though all cultivation
is precarious, when established on an oasis, amid the jungle, and thus
woefully exposed to the depredations of birds and cushie ants. These ants
frequently clear a patch of cultivation in a single night of every blade
of greenstuff.

When, in 1917, we visited the hospitable manager of the Minnehaha Company
at his house, situated near the tenth milestone of the road, there was
a big dredge at work washing gold in Mahdia creek at “Nine Miles,” and
another was in process of being shifted from “Fifteen Miles” to a point
lower down the Minnehaha creek, near the twentieth mile-post. The Company
also maintains a comfortable and picturesque bungalow at “Eighteen
Miles.” Near the fifteenth mile you cross the divide between the Potaro
and Konawaruk Rivers, and the road then runs along the banks of the
Minnehaha creek. This once was a picturesque stream, but the washing
for gold has discoloured it and altered its course. A track branches
off from “Fifteen Miles” and runs up into the Eagle Mountain, where
quartz-mining operations had just been begun when war broke out and work
was unavoidably suspended.

The administrative headquarters of the district are at the eleventh
mile, where the Government maintains a court-house, a police-station,
and a dispensary. Several shops are dotted at intervals along the
road, and more than one church. Nor must I omit to mention the “Potaro
Library,” an imposing-looking shed consisting of side-posts, a roof,
and a floor, and proclaiming its title in large letters, but (apart
from the total absence of all books) a somewhat strange building to
enjoy the title of “library.” I understand it is frequently used for
dancing. The shopkeepers of the Potaro Road and, I believe, in all the
Colony’s gold districts are Chinese. I shut my eyes and imagined the
difference that would be wrought in that desolate scene if a million or
so of their almond-eyed brethren could be transported hither. How would
the wilderness blossom as a rose, air and light enter, where reigns
mosquito-breeding jungle, and the fertile land smile with all that maketh
glad the heart of man! Now, if you bump over the excruciating corduroy
and the large stones embedded in the road, and especially if light is
fading and darkness gathering, the melancholy of the long, dreary,
winding way, with its scattered settlements and struggling clearings,
penetrates your very bones and gives you a sensation of physical disquiet.

I have, nevertheless, very pleasant recollections of the Potaro District
and of the cheery hospitality of the Company’s manager and his three or
four white assistants, chiefly New Zealanders. Their pluck, good spirits,
and eagerness in their work made a vivid impression on my mind, as did
the interesting process of gold-washing, which we observed on Mahdia
creek. The dredge-buckets bring up quantities of yellow mud from the
bed of the stream, and this mud is washed by water along a sort of wide
gutter with gratings across the bottom. The gold-bearing matter, being
heavier than the rest, gravitates down through the gratings on to coconut
matting sprinkled with quicksilver. This process is called “washing
up.” When it has continued for a considerable time, the coconut mattings
are carefully washed and beaten, and all that comes out, including the
quicksilver, which has charged itself with the gold particles, is again
washed through a box by a jet of water. The box has three layers of
plush in it, and the water is strained through these layers. The residue
is very fine black dust, from which the gold-bearing quicksilver is
carefully separated and carried off to be smelted. This process is called
“streaming down.”

From the manager’s bungalow at the tenth mile a very pleasant alternative
route back to Tumatumari, avoiding the launch trip, is to ride over the
seventeen miles of Tiger creek trail. This trail was opened as a bridle
track for the accommodation of the “pork-knockers,” who washed Tiger
creek for gold, at one time very profitably, though the “placers” are
now worked out. A branch line, also made up as a bridle track, goes off
from this trail to St. Mary’s, on the Konawaruk River, where the British
Guiana Gold Mining Company have dredges at work. The ride is delightful,
if one be mounted on a sure-footed mule. The forest trees are veritable
giants, and their deep shadow prevents the suffocating undergrowth
from springing up. The line, when we rode over it, was clean, and all
bridges were in good repair. It is absolutely cool even at midday in
the exquisite shade, and we enjoyed charming little views, where the
path wound pleasantly up and down small hills. At times it runs beside
the deep pools of beautiful Tiger creek and its picturesque slides of
amber water and creamy foam. Being mounted, we had the pleasure, rare to
travellers in the bush, of looking about us instead of being obliged to
watch our feet carefully all the time, or pay the penalty by a stumble.
Thus I caught sight of an ant-bear, and we observed that remarkable
animal, with its enormous tail and long snout, ambling along on the
hill-side below us for quite fifty yards. It appears that ant-bears are
bold creatures and fear nothing, as everything else takes care to give
them a wide berth. Though they only eat ants, they have a way of rising
on their hind legs, gripping an adversary with their inturned front
claws, and then tearing him open with their hinder ones. Big ant-bears
have been known to do this to men.

When the time comes to improve communications in this part of the Colony,
the Potaro River will doubtless be bridged at Garraway’s Landing,
where it is only 300 feet wide. Then a line will be cut to join the
Potaro-Konawaruk Road at “Two Miles”; and from this second mile-post
another road will branch off to rejoin the river and climb to Kaietuk and
the highland country beyond, up the wonderful Potaro Gorge.

To-day a trail leads away into the forest westwards from “Two Miles,”
where a rough sign-board proudly points the way “To Kaieteur.”[1] Gladly
does the wayfarer step into the restful shade after the glare of white
sand on the cart-road, and grateful indeed is the cool springiness of the
leaf-strewn forest floor. After five miles along this trail, where from
time to time the roar of unseen cataracts breaks the silence, the path
emerges on Potaro bank once more, at a place known as Kangaruma. Here, on
a low hill immediately above the river, is a small clearing with a wooden
rest-house, belonging to Sprostons, a couple of Indian troolie-sheds, and
some provision-fields.

It is on account of the long series of rapids below Kangaruma that the
portage of seven miles from Potaro Landing has to be made, and the
river’s big loop to the north is also thus circumvented.

When travelling up the Potaro Gorge we have always sent our stores on
ahead of us to Kangaruma, and arranged for our Indian carriers, or
_droghers_, to await us there. Then from this spot one fairly “pulls out
on the Long Trail, the trail that is always new.”



THE POTARO GORGE



CHAPTER IV

THE POTARO GORGE

    He lured her away so far,
    Past so many a wood and valley and hill,
    That now, would you know where they are?
    In a bark on a silver stream,
    As fair as you see in a dream.

                A. O’SHAUGHNESSY: _Zuleika_.


Once the stores are all safely packed in the tent-boat, the paddlers
established on their thwarts, and after the last wild rush up the bank
to secure some precious, almost forgotten article, such as kettle or
saucepan, how delightful it is to feel that at length one is off into
the very heart of the wilderness! The soothing splash of the paddles is
inexpressibly welcome after the din of launch travel, and we surrender
ourselves to the enjoyment of the big restful silence and unchanging
peace of the dreamy forest-wrapped river, and to delightful anticipation
of wonders to come.

On the journey to Roraima, we left Kangaruma in the afternoon of 22nd
December, 1915. Our party consisted, besides Mr. Menzies and ourselves,
of Haywood, our black cook, a most excellent and capable fellow, and of
fourteen aborigines. Scanning the expressionless bronze figures of these
Indians as they paddled steadily upstream, I speculated on what manner
of men they might be, these dwellers amid trees and waters, whose home
lies in the very bosom of Nature, and who look to her alone to supply all
their needs. Nine of them came from the Demerara River, and the remaining
five were Makusis from the highlands whither we were bound. Two of these
five—Johnny and Thomas by name—were headmen of Puwa, a village near the
Ireng River and close to the Brazilian frontier. The Makusis were good
fellows and did yeomen service; but the natives of the Demerara River,
as we discovered to our cost, were an idle and worthless set. They had
already suffered the contaminating effects of civilization, and great
were the delays and annoyance we had to endure from them, until we
were able to exchange them for the willing and athletic Makusis of the
highlands.

Above Kangaruma stretch some seventeen miles of smooth water to Amatuk,
where once more the roar and rush of a cataract break on the river’s
repose. Amatuk is a delightfully pretty place. The Potaro here is
joined by the Amuk creek, and then rushes in two cataracts round a
rocky tree-crowned island, swirling out, all foam-beflecked, into a bay
below. In the centre of the right-hand cataract, down which the great
bulk of the water flows, there is a sheer drop of some thirty feet, and
a fountain of white foam leaps upward. On a low knoll, looking over
the bay and immediately above the left-hand cataract, stands another
wooden rest-house. This knoll has been cleared of the dense bush, which
dominates all else, and delicious English bracken grows freely on its
sandy slopes.

We arrived by starlight; and, whilst the baggage was being carried up to
the rest-house and supper made ready, I lay in my hammock watching an
exquisite moon rising from out the million tree-tops of the forest, with
a foreground of dimly shining river. The music of falling water filled
the air, and the stars gleamed like great lamps hung athwart the night.
Wherever we may in future travel, a hammock shall always accompany me. It
enables one to be made as comfortable as possible in two minutes, though
for sleeping at nights we must confess to being luxurious enough to
require camp-beds. To our delight, we each of us needed a warm blanket
that night; and, when you have scarcely used the lightest blanket for two
years, it is a real luxury to enjoy a good heavy one again. Rain fell all
night long, and at dawn heavy mist-wreaths lay about the hills.

[Illustration: MOUNT SAKWAI ON POTARO RIVER NEAR TUKEIT.]

[Illustration: WATERSMEET OF POTARO AND AMUK RIVERS AT AMATUK, SHOWING
MOUNT KENAIMA ON RIGHT AND MOUNT KUKUI IN CENTRE ABOVE RIVER-MIST.

To face page 62]

Amatuk is the gateway to the beautiful Kaietuk Gorge. Looking upstream
from the bay below the fall, we saw towering on one side the peak of
Kenaima Mountain, and on the other side the vertical cliff-face of Mount
Kukui. Just above Amatuk the Potaro emerges from between these mountains,
and is at once joined from the right by the Amuk creek, which also flows
in a narrow gorge, so blocked by huge boulders and so difficult of access
that it has never yet been explored. Streams, which are almost better
spoken of as cascades, spring down the faces of the cliffs, gleaming like
white threads against the red sandstone. Another hint is thus given of
the Roraima _leit-motif_ which rules the land. We had, indeed, throughout
our wanderings the impression of a mighty symphony. The wondrous Kaietuk
Fall was the first movement whose introduction began with Amatuk.
Thereafter we realized that several days of river and forest journey
were but the transition passages to a movement of shining tablelands,
whose jasper-bedded rivers repeat everywhere the same _leit-motif_,
though with a myriad tiny variations, for all the streams of the highland
savannahs tumble in cascades down vertical faces into a succession of
pools, while long-sought-for and much-dreamt-of Roraima, with his cliffs
over a thousand feet in height rising out of primeval forest, standing on
his pedestal of rolling savannah uplands, with waterfalls leaping from
his mysterious flat-topped summit, forms a magnificent résumé and finale
of the whole.

Next morning, whilst the stores and baggage were being portaged from
the bay below Amatuk to another boat moored above the falls, we had
leisure to study the beauty of the cataract. The river was low, so we
made our way to the edge of the water over rocks generally covered by
the rushing stream as it changes from the normal dark—almost black—flow
of its peaceful progress to the amber swirl and creamy spray of coming
excitement. These diabase rocks are all flat-topped and deeply fissured,
and they contain here and there curious “jigs,” made by pebbles swept
round and round in some tiny whirlpool, till, as the long ages pass,
they dig for themselves deep circular holes. These “jigs” are eagerly
explored by the diamond prospectors, as sometimes they contain precious
stones. I baled out one such deep, dark hole with the help of a Makusi,
and obtained a plateful of extremely pretty pebbles, all tiny and
agleam with many different colours, rose-red, turquoise-blue, pieces of
malachite-green, and many a shining speck of quartz to raise my hopes. I
felt that to be the actual winner of a real diamond, however small, would
be a delightful experience; but my pebbles, although pronounced by the
authority of Mr. Menzies and Haywood to be “good diamond indication,” did
not, in spite of their intrinsic beauty, harbour any stray speck of real
value. Nevertheless, I feel that diamonds will always have an added charm
for me when I think of them as gifts from that lovely land of unknown
streams and as the ornaments of Nature herself.

We spent a delightful three hours paddling upstream to the next portage
at Waratuk, surrounded by the wonderful scenery of the gorge. Rain fell
in little misty veils of shower; and exquisite forest fragrance, wafted
to us from the banks, was strong enough to overpower even the smell of
salt beef and pork which emanated from our provisions. Potaro here flows
between flat-topped cliffs towering on both sides about a thousand feet
above their own reflections, mirrored in the black water. The hidden
bases of the hills are clothed in forest, while their sides are grim
precipices, revealing overhangs of castellated rock and toppling crags
with great fissures and clefts, wild and wondrous to behold.

At about noon we reached Waratuk, where another portage is necessary.
This is a much smaller cataract than Amatuk. In fact, at high river,
boats going downstream can run it, whereas no one would dream of running
Amatuk, in the centre of which is a vertical drop. On the right bank at
Waratuk stands a little shelter with corrugated iron roof, supported by
wallaba posts. Under its cover we lunched, or rather took “breakfast,” as
the midday meal is invariably called in this Colony; and at 2 p.m., when
all our stores had been portaged, we set off again in another smaller
craft known as the “parson’s boat,” used by the Church of England for the
missionaries who at one time travelled up the Potaro to mission-stations,
now abandoned.

From Waratuk to Tukeit was two hours’ paddling. The shining lazy river,
lying half asleep between its sentinel hills, seemed already to have
forgotten the wild leap over Kaietuk. But from our boat we caught several
glimpses of the Kaietuk cliff, which bars the end of the gorge, and we
could just see that corner of the fall itself which is nearest the left
bank.

The river is studded by rocky islets, and the stunted trees growing
thereon are often literally laden with long bags of woven sticks which
are the mocking-birds’ nests. At high river I once counted seventeen on
one small tree, which appeared to rise straight out of the water, its
rock pedestal being entirely submerged.

Above Tukeit the river is a series of racing cataracts, curiously broken
by deep, still pools, where the main current would appear to flow beneath
the surface. It is, of course, an entirely unnavigable piece of water,
and to pursue the valley on foot to the base of the mighty Kaietuk
precipice is an enterprise of extreme difficulty, not to say danger.
Masses of giant boulders make progress all but impossible; and, save at
very low river, the attempt could not be made. The Potaro has therefore
to be abandoned until some miles above Kaietuk, and no full view of the
waterfall from below is obtainable along the present line of ascent.

Sprostons have made a little clearing at Tukeit, and have put up a wooden
rest-house on the left bank of the river, about a hundred yards from the
water. The forest closes in densely all round, so that the place has no
view, and besides being very stuffy, it is full of big biting cow-flies.
It is not a pleasant spot to spend a night in; but nevertheless, when
encumbered by baggage, one cannot with the existing means of transport
get up from Amatuk on to the Kaietuk plateau in one day. On the opposite
side of the river, however, there is an excellent camping-ground on
a beach of shining silver sand, and a rocky dell at the forest edge,
watered by the clear, cold Tukeit stream dropping from the cliff-tops a
thousand feet above, offers delightful refuge in the heat of the day. So,
if time were no object, a camp on Tukeit sands for fishing would be an
agreeable interlude in a “bush” journey. The very deep, still pools of
the river near by are a favourite haunt of _haimara_, which are excellent
eating. These fish sometimes grow very large, and Indians wading in the
pools are on occasion savagely bitten by them. The aborigines usually
obtain fish by shooting them with bow and arrow. This they do with much
skill and dexterity.

But who would delay at Tukeit when Kaietuk calls? We must be up and on!



KAIETUK, MOTHER OF MISTS



CHAPTER V

KAIETUK, MOTHER OF MISTS

    The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep.

                                W. WORDSWORTH: _Ode_.


There were showers at dawn, but these had passed over when we started
from Tukeit in the early morning to climb up on to the Kaietuk plateau.
The existing forest trail, after leaving Tukeit, traverses some low
foot-hills, and then rises sharply to cross the Washibaru creek. Next
follows another steep ascent to the Korumê creek, which is bridged by
_tacoubas_ at a point whose Indian name has been translated as the
“Devil’s Mother’s Pillars.” Here the country is very broken, and the
whole channel of the Korumê has been strewn with large boulders that
completely hide the water from sight. It would seem probable that in time
past cliffs stood on both sides of this gorge, and that they crumbled
inwards, so blocking the exit of the Korumê, which, nevertheless, has
burrowed a way underneath the rocks and hurries down in a very abrupt
cataract to the Potaro. From the Devil’s Mother’s Pillars there is an
exceedingly steep climb, with a gradient resembling in places a ladder
rather than a road, until the edge of the Kaietuk plateau is reached at
a tree on which the word “Amen” has been cut. Gossip has it that on one
occasion a respected colonist was hoisted up to this point, two Indians
pulling him with a rope in front and two more pushing him behind. He lay
down under this tree almost at his last gasp; and, while he recovered
breath, his companion cut the word “Amen” in the trunk. It certainly is
a villainous climb, especially in rainy weather, when the moss-covered
stepping-stones are wet and slippery, and it does not improve with
acquaintance. From Amen Point the forest trail runs along a ridge more
or less level for another couple of miles or so to the Kaietuk savannah,
with the precipitous gorge of the Potaro on one side and the deep-cut
valley of the Korumê on the other. The Indians say that this path
originated in a track by which otters descended from the Upper to the
Lower Potaro; and, whether this be so or not, the line is certainly quite
unsuitable for human traffic even on foot.

The whole trail runs always in forest, never affording any view of the
Kaietuk Falls or of anything save the vista of tree-trunks immediately
ahead. Big boulders lie scattered pell-mell round about in the jungle,
some as large as houses, and many curious orchidaceous plants thrive in
the drenchingly moist atmosphere. The so-called “Kaieteur lily,” whose
green leaves are striped with brown and black lines and whose heart, when
in flower, is a scarlet feather, grows gaily on boulder and tree-stem.
Then suddenly, when we had been about two hours on the march from Tukeit,
the forest ended and the trail debouched on a savannah of flat rock,
covered with a thin layer of sand, in which grass and many charming
wild-flowers grow freely. No sooner do you reach the savannah than you
also come upon the last of Sprostons’ rest-houses. It stands out in the
open, at a considerable distance from any water, save what is caught upon
its corrugated iron roof and conveyed to a vat. Behind it and on both
sides all view is cut off by the forest, which is only a few feet away.
In front there is a small open savannah, and beyond range upon range of
blue, forest-clad hills. But there is still no sign or sound whatever of
the mighty waterfall, and those who do not know could never guess that
anything extraordinary was near by.

We rested for a few minutes in the bungalow, enjoying the view and the
delicious change of climate which comes from ascending some 1,500 feet.
Then we walked on a hundred yards or so across the savannah. The first
sign of danger ahead is a deep fissure in the ground, which must be
crossed carefully. A few steps more, and with appalling suddenness a
terrific chasm yawns at one’s feet. From the rest-house nothing can be
seen of precipice or chasm, and the forests which clothe the cliff-tops
upon the opposite side of the river gorge appear to meet the edge of
the savannah. Indeed, this abrupt rift in a landscape which does not
otherwise suggest anything stupendous startled me afresh each time. It
takes hours to realize the scene. We stood on the overhanging lip of a
precipice: thin air below us for many hundred feet. Still, however, the
waterfall was almost a mile away across the gulf; and nothing could be
seen of it, for the whole gorge was filled with mist and thick, white,
fleecy cloud. “Mother of Mists” should Kaietuk be named, as Roraima
is called “Father of Streams.” In point of fact, however, the word
_Kaietuk_ (Dr. Bovallius writes it _Kaijituik_) means “Old Man’s Rock,”
and the falls are so named by the Indians, because of a folk-tale to the
effect that an aged Indian, becoming a nuisance to his relatives, as his
feet were infested with chigoes, which they had to pick out for him, was
put in a woodskin and sent to drift to his death over this abyss. Strange
that Kaietuk’s majestic beauty should have inspired no better legend
than this! The word _tuk_ or _tuik_ means “rock,” and is also found in
Paka_tuk_, Ama_tuk_, Wara_tuk_, and _Tuk_eit, all of which are well-known
cataracts on the Potaro River. The usual spelling “Kaieteur” is a mere
mistake.

The mists of the waterfall are drawn up and dispersed in the sunshine,
but directly the sun goes they fill up the gorge and hide everything.
Indeed, it was not till the afternoon on the day of our arrival that the
weather cleared and Kaietuk stood revealed in all its grandeur. I fear
it is almost impossible to give in words any idea of this wonder, but I
will make an attempt. Lazy, dreamy Potaro suddenly leaps down fully eight
hundred feet vertically into a great black caldron below, and then flows
through a vast amphitheatre of precipices, towering to an equal height
on either bank, their bases clothed in forest. The black bush-water, as
it reaches the lip of the fall and the sun strikes it, turns first amber
and then to a creamy spray, and falls in festoons of foam, which seem
living and change incessantly. The river was low on this occasion, so
that comparatively little water was going over, and it looked as though
the whole mass turned to spray before reaching the black depths beneath;
but sometimes a puff of wind blew the opalescent foam-curtain aside for
a second, and one caught a glimpse of the amber column descending. The
contrast between the grim, black and red, weather-stained cliffs and the
flying, gleaming, living, falling water is marvellously beautiful. Little
wisps of mist float ceaselessly forth from out the black cavern behind
the fall. A glorious rainbow hovers about it, whilst flights of swallows
cross and recross before it, bathing themselves in the spray in a manner
that would enchant a Japanese artist. Pairs of macaws sail majestically
past the background of white foam, the crimson of their under-wings and
the brilliant blue of their bodies gleaming like jewels when the sun
catches them. The fickle come-and-go of shape and sheen in the restless
cataract makes its strange beauties alive with caprice and mystery; for
the eye can follow during several seconds the lace-like, ever-varying
tracery of each water-wreath as it drops from the lip of Kaietuk to meet
the foam tossed up from the black whirlpool underneath.

We spent all the afternoon studying the fall from various points of
view. At the cliff-edge near Sprostons’ bungalow one can see, but not
photograph, its entire length; and there is a good view of the tumbling
reaches of the river below, which alternate with large, still pools. You
can also look fully a mile upstream above the fall, where Potaro flows
in a straight reach through a vast, densely forested plateau, stretching
away to distant blue hills, also forest-clad, save on their vertical
cliff-sides—hills that beckon the traveller onwards, prophesying further
wonders. For from the Kaietuk savannah a view can be obtained of Mount
Kowatipu, round the spur of which we were to travel on our further
journey to Roraima, and of the lofty range of mountains, called by the
Indians Kamana and Morakabang, at the head of the Kopinang River. There
is also an extensive panorama of the plateau and the mountains on the
right bank of the Potaro.

Sir Walter Egerton, who visited Kaietuk in 1913, had a path cut for him
from Sprostons’ rest-house in a downriver direction, near the edge of the
precipice, through an awesome forest among black fissures, huge rocks,
and forbidding caverns, for a distance of about a quarter of a mile,
to a bare jut of cliff, which overhangs the gorge at a point about one
mile as the crow flies from the brink of Kaietuk. From this spot it is
possible to photograph the abyss in its entire height, but not from any
point nearer. The vertical fall is sixfold that of Niagara, and the whole
scene is on so enormous a scale that it is difficult to realize how huge
is every detail of it all, and one sorely needs something to give the
sense of proportion with the ordinary workaday world. There is also a
trail from the rest-house to the brink of the fall, where one obtains a
wonderful view down the gorge to Mount Kenaima at the Amatuk Gateway and
to the dim plains beyond, a distant sea of forest. But from the water’s
edge it is, of course, impossible to see much of the chasm into which
the river falls, unless you lie prone on the overhanging rock and look
straight down into the caldron below. Round about the head of the fall
on the left bank of the Potaro is a curious open plain of hard, smooth
rock. It is almost flat, with a gentle incline toward the river-side,
and is strewn with small, round, white pebbles. Save the wealth of
wild-flowers, only scrub wreathed with golden “Kaietuk vine” and big
orchidaceous plants, some of them ten or twelve feet high, grow there;
but it is a curiously fascinating place, and forms a weird and fantastic
approach to the fall itself. Surely it would be a good thing if British
Guiana made the whole of this unique savannah in the immediate vicinity
of Kaietuk, abounding, as it does, in interesting plants and flowers,
into a colonial park, after the model of the national parks in the United
States; and, if so, when made readily accessible, it should be a source
of health and delight to many generations of our colonists, whose work
compels them to reside, as a rule, on the hot coastal plains.

[Illustration: POTARO GORGE FROM KAIETUK.

To face page 78.]

We reached Kaietuk on Christmas Eve; and, as all our baggage and stores
had to be carried up on the back of our Indian droghers from Tukeit
to a point above the waterfall, where Potaro is again navigable, our
headquarters during all Christmas Day, as well as for the larger part
of Boxing Day, were at Sprostons’ rest-house. I shall never forget that
Christmas Day at Kaietuk. The lights were so wonderful on the gorge,
and a lovely rainbow hovered over the fall. Each time that I turned away
from Kaietuk and looked down the valley I said to myself: “It is more
lovely than the last time I looked this way;” and, whenever I turned back
to that living, moving water, I felt, “This really _is_ more wonderful
than a second ago.” One of the most striking things about Kaietuk is its
silence, due, I suppose, to the foot of the fall being so far below.
Occasionally, when the wind eddied upward, a great sullen growl came up,
and the Makusis standing beside me at the brink of the cliff stepped back
with a grunt of superstitious alarm.

The wonder of it all makes coming away very hard, for one becomes
fascinated by the ever-changing glory and can never look enough. When, in
October, 1917, my husband and I were three weeks in camp on this plateau,
it did not seem one day too long; and we studied Kaietuk in all its
moods—in misty dawn, magnificent day, and ghostly moonlight. We pitched
camp about fifty yards from the edge of the abyss, a few feet above the
river-side. It was a heavenly spot. Our tarpaulins were slung in a little
strip of forest for protection from the weather; but a big rock, jutting
out into the river and overarched by trees, made us the most perfect
“parlour” in the world. As I lay in a hammock, listening to the delicious
swish-swish of the hurrying river, I could see miles and miles of blue
hills and shining stream below me, right away down the gorge to Amatuk.
What happy, lazy hours that hammock afforded me, too blissful even for
reading, when one seemed not wholly awake, yet not at all asleep, and
altogether aware of the loveliness around one! The fall, of course,
could not be seen from the camp, but the air came to us chilled by its
moving waters, cool and invigorating even at midday. Curiously enough,
the mists, which float ceaselessly forth from behind Kaietuk and often
fill the gorge and roll in clouds over the savannah, seemed somehow to be
abruptly cut off by the precipice, and never came our way. Altogether it
was the most perfect of many delightful camps.

But the day’s occupation was by no means limited to hammock musings,
for our object, during those three weeks, was to find a practicable
alignment for a motor-road from the Kaietuk plateau down to Amatuk. A
very interesting and attractive job it was, though it involved us in
many an hour’s hard climbing and scrambling, only to reward us at first
with disappointment.

The work of trail-cutting in the vicinity of Kaietuk is like groping
in the dark. One can see little or nothing beyond the few yards just
ahead; for the forest shuts out all view, save when one reaches an abrupt
cliff-edge or a little patch of rocky savannah. In country such as this
every step has to be cut toilfully up and down hillsides, and no rapid
reconnaissance survey is possible. Oh for a hydroplane, with which to get
a bird’s-eye view of plateau, ravine, and river!

The Indians we found to be of no use to us as guides to the country, and
they did not at all relish the job on which we were engaged. They have
a superstitious fear of Kaietuk and all its surroundings. They consider
that the whole place spooks, and they constantly murmur about “kenaima”
whilst at work. This is their word for ghosts and spirits, and they
have given to the mountain standing above Amatuk, at the entrance to
the Potaro gorge, the name of Mount Kenaima. From its summit the smoke
as of fires is said constantly to ascend, though no man walks thereon.
Between Kangaruma and Chenapowu, some fifty miles of river, there is not
a single human habitation, and the surrounding country appears unknown
to the aborigines. Our men dared not even look at the Kaietuk Fall when
by themselves, and, if obliged to approach it, hurried past with averted
eyes. They would not leave camp unless two might go together, and they
plainly were reluctant to cut lines through the rock-strewn forests
round about, painting their faces with red streaks to ward off malign
influences. Would that evil could indeed be averted by so simple an
expedient! The truth may be that the numerous caverns of this region are
haunted by jaguars and possibly by other wild beasts, and that Indians
have been killed from time to time when passing through the gorge.

Still, after many failures we at last succeeded in finding a line. My
husband’s first idea was to circumvent entirely the ravines of the
Washibaru and Korumê creeks, which form the chief obstacles in the ascent
to Kaietuk. So he cut a path from the edge of Kaietuk Fall in a direction
at right angles to the Potaro across the Kaietuk plateau, descending into
the Korumê valley. He then continued up this valley until he reached a
saddle, where, at a height of about 1,150 feet above Tukeit, is the
source of the Korumê. After that he crossed over on to another plateau
above the left bank of the Korumê, and so made his way to the head-waters
of the Washibaru creek. But, although the two ravines had thus been
circumvented, no reasonable gradient could be found downhill, beyond
Washibaru Head, either to Tukeit or to Waratuk. At last we decided to
explore the Korumê defile itself, in spite of its forbidding aspect at
Devil’s Mother’s Pillars, and shortly after dawn one day we walked to
Korumê Head, taking four Makusis with us.

The Indians had so persistently declared this valley to be “no walky”
that we scarcely dared to hope that it would be possible to get along
it for any distance; and my husband, anticipating some very troublesome
scrambling, desired me to return to camp and leave him with the four
men to make the attempt. But the men hung back so much that I was
obliged to follow to drive them after him. My husband led the way,
plunging ahead through a thick jungle of scrub and bush-rope. Then,
when he reached the farthest point from which he could see me through
the forest veil, he signalled to me, and I gave the word to the men to
cut a straight line to where he stood. This process we repeated again
and again hour after hour. The going was amazingly good—too good to
last, and we expected every minute to be stopped by a waterfall or by
a jumble of rock and cliff. It was very exciting and very delightful.
The gradient was 28 per cent. over the first 4,854 feet, there being
no rock obstruction whatsoever. Then for another 4,438 feet of gentle
descent the ground surface, though by no means bad, was less easy, and
the line had to be graded round the hill-side instead of running on the
valley floor. Eventually we were held up by a welter of huge _tacoubas_,
and turned back, our men being tired and sulky. But on later days my
husband completed the trail, though from the point where we had stopped
on the first day things were not so easy. Obstacles were incessant for
the remaining 2,400 feet to Devil’s Mother’s Pillars, where it will be
necessary to make a hair-pin bend in the road alignment, and the country
between the Korumê and the Washibaru creeks is also rough and difficult.
Nevertheless, when we broke up camp at Kaietuk to return to Georgetown,
we had a complete track to Tukeit, and since then the line has been
surveyed, continued to Amatuk, and examined by an engineer, who reported
on the 31st October, 1918, that the cost of a motor-road from Amatuk
to Washibaru would be about $92,000, and from Washibaru up the Korumê
valley to Kaietuk plateau about $37,300. It only remains now to trace
the alignment of a road from Garraway’s Landing to Amatuk in order to
complete the scheme of a highway from Bartika past Kaburi and across the
Potaro-Konawaruk Road to Kaietuk. What a difference it will make to life
in British Guiana when it is possible to reach that wonderland in a day’s
drive by motor-car from Bartika!



THE ASCENT TO THE HIGHLAND SAVANNAHS



CHAPTER VI

THE ASCENT TO THE HIGHLAND SAVANNAHS

    I will make a palace, fit for you and me
      Of green days in forests.

                   R. L. STEVENSON: _Romance_.


In the long, straight reach of the Potaro, immediately above Kaietuk,
there are several rapids; and the dangerous proximity of the
Kaietuk abyss itself makes this stretch of the river an undesirable
starting-point for an upstream journey. Mr. Menzies told us a harrowing
tale of a bushman who years ago, wishing to cross from the right to the
left bank of the Potaro in this reach, made a raft to ferry himself and
his kit over the river. When out in midstream, he found to his horror
that his punt-pole would not touch bottom, and the raft began to drift
in the direction of the waterfall. The man did not hesitate long, but,
abandoning all his belongings, threw himself into the river and, being
a strong swimmer, successfully reached the bank. So, in order to avoid
all such dangers, the landing-stage for the Upper Potaro has been placed
a couple of miles above Kaietuk, at a point about thirty-five minutes’
walk from Sprostons’ rest-house. For the most part, the trail to this
landing-place traverses the rocky Kaietuk savannah, the only patch
of ground clear of forest on our whole journey from the coast to the
highlands; but for the last fifteen minutes it goes through forest and
involves a troublesome scramble over tangled tree-roots, resembling piles
of giant “spillikens.” The path emerges on the left bank of the Potaro
at a point where there is a small inlet, and where all view of Kaietuk
and its surroundings has already been lost. Here were two boats, one
being a second “parson’s boat,” and the other belonging to Mr. Menzies.
Mr. Menzies’ boat is thirty feet in length, built of silver-balli wood,
very handy and buoyant. It came up from Georgetown in sections, and was
screwed together by Mr. Menzies with the help of two men in this little
cove, where it is safely moored even in flood-time. The “parson’s boat,”
on the other hand, came up whole, and was many days in transit from
Tukeit. What a job hoisting it to Amen Point must have been!

We put six Indians into the “parson’s boat”; the remaining eight, with
Mr. Menzies, Haywood, ourselves, and all our baggage, embarked in the
other. A tarpaulin shelter was stretched amidships over a frame of bent
boughs, to which a hammock was slung for me. Mr. Menzies steered, and
had four paddlers with him in the stern, while Haywood was bowman with
four more; and so we started off upstream on the afternoon of the 26th
December, 1915.

The Potaro above Kaietuk is as calm and peaceful as below Tukeit.
Its reflections are so wonderful that it is hard to distinguish the
waterline, where the foliage of the banks ends and its mirrored
reflection begins, while the deep blue of the tropical sky shines yet
brighter up from the river’s heart than from overhead. Primeval forest
is unbroken on both banks, save occasionally where patches of secondary
jungle and “congo-pump” suggest that in bygone days there were Indian
settlements on the banks, now abandoned, probably for _kenaima_ reasons.
Whenever a chief dies in an Indian village, the people are apt to
attribute any subsequent run of bad luck to his _kenaima_, or spirit, and
they migrate from the place. Indeed, a village is nearly always deserted
for a short time after the death of any important villager. There are
also whole districts besides the Kaietuk country into which Indians will
not go for fear of _kenaima_.

We did not get far that day, as the men, who had been droghing our stores
from Tukeit to the landing on the Upper Potaro, complained of fatigue. So
we made an early camp on the river-bank at a place where the forest was
“clean,” as the bushmen express it—that is, without choking undergrowth.
Very soon we were most comfortably established. A tarpaulin stretched
over a framework makes a nice roof; and we also had tarpaulins hung on
the two sides for the sake of privacy, and another spread as a floor to
keep our feet dry. It is not the custom in this country to use tents,
so we had not brought ours. But this was a mistake, for a tent can be
rigged up as easily as a tarpaulin, and it would have ensured greater
comfort and privacy. Moreover, on the open savannahs a tent is needed as
a protection against wind and rain. Haywood built himself a camp-fire,
placing a stick horizontally on two forked uprights and slinging pots on
it above the flames, just as the bushman does in Canada and probably all
the world over. Our fire and those of the Indians lit up the damp forest
glade and made it look quite friendly, but an hour after dusk torrents of
rain fell, which speedily extinguished the warm glow.

Next morning we paddled steadily upstream, halting only for an hour and a
half at noon, when we lunched. It was a very restful day. No rain fell,
but the sky was overcast until 3 p.m. Then the sun broke through the
clouds and lit up the river with its perfect reflections most prettily.
We passed the mouths of several creeks emptying into the Potaro, the
largest being the Amamuri, the Seebu, and the Ichirak, and from our
boat we could at times see the mountains in which are the sources of
the Ichirak and the Arnik creeks. Above the mouth of the Ichirak the
Potaro becomes very winding, and there is a place where two reaches are
parallel, flowing in opposite directions, so that Indians travelling in
woodskins make a portage over the neck of the bend. We noticed frequent
maipuri tracks on both banks as well as on spits of sand, where the
animals come down to water; and occasionally the river-edge turns to
eta-swamp, where muscovy duck are said to abide. We also saw several
divers, some beautiful white cranes, and a pair of otters, so much
interested in us that they kept bobbing up close to the boat, trying to
get a better view. The trees on the Upper Potaro are magnificent, and the
forest looks friendly; whereas the dense, suffocating, tropical jungles
of the lowlands give a horrible impression of hostile, evil Nature.

This night we camped at the mouth of the Arnik on a small island round
which the creek flows into the Potaro. The ground is slightly rising and
makes a picturesque and comfortable camping-place, with a view straight
down the main river. As usual, rain poured down all night long, making us
thankful that our tarpaulins were waterproof.

Next morning, after paddling an hour and a half, we reached the
watersmeet of the Potaro and the Chenapowu creek. This is the limit of
navigation, for the Chenapowu is blocked by _tacoubas_ and cataracts,
and the Potaro itself, a short distance above Chenapowu, is impeded by
serious rapids. The river being low had been favourable for our upstream
journey, and we covered the thirty miles from Kaietuk to Chenapowu in ten
and a half hours’ actual paddling. River travel is, of course, always
governed by the state of the river; and Mr. Menzies told us that once
in time of abnormally high flood he made the whole journey downstream
from Chenapowu to Kangaruma, a distance of fifty miles, between sunrise
and sunset. We, on our way back, there being then about three feet more
water in the river than on our way up, paddled from Chenapowu to Kaietuk
in six and a half hours; but we were far indeed from approaching Mr.
Menzies’ record. At Chenapowu several trails from the highlands converge,
and it was here that an old Swedish gentleman, Dr. Carl Bovallius, some
years ago made a settlement which he called Holmia. He cleared a hundred
acres of land and built himself a house, admirably situated on a knoll
overlooking the watersmeet of the Potaro and Chenapowu, furnished his
home with every comfort, and began a trade in balata with the Indians of
the neighbourhood. Mr. Menzies did the transport work for him, and by his
direction explored the forest trails to find a short-cut to the highland
savannahs. It was thus that he found “Menzies’ Line,” which balata-laden
Indians could travel in two days, and which is certainly a capital path
from the Potaro to the highlands. We ourselves travelled over it. Its
length was estimated by Dr. Bovallius’ foreman to be thirty-two miles;
but, as the track is now interrupted by fallen trees, it must be somewhat
longer, for détours have to be made to avoid all the bigger obstacles.

It is unfortunate that Dr. Bovallius did not come here as a younger man.
He was over seventy years of age when he began his enterprise; and,
though he lived to be seventy-eight, yet time was lacking for him to
establish his work on firm foundations. When he died, the Indians carried
off everything that could possibly be removed, and his entire clearing
is now covered by secondary growth and the horrible “congo-pump,” which,
bearing a ghastly resemblance to rubber, grows habitually wherever a
clearing in the primeval forest has once been, and mocks at abandoned
human endeavour. We could, however, still see traces of the roads and
bridges which Dr. Bovallius had made, and a small corrugated-iron
powder-store remains in good repair. Of the house at Holmia nothing is
left save the four main posts and a few panes of glass scattered on the
ground.

We approached Chenapowu in some anxiety, for at this point we were to
leave the waterways and begin our long march overland; and it was here
that Mr. Menzies had instructed the Makusis of the highlands to meet
us as baggage-carriers. He fully believed that the Makusis understood
and meant to execute his instructions, until, just before we got there,
Johnny of Puwa observed casually that his people “Chenapowu side no
come.” Unfortunately, on arrival, we found that Johnny had spoken but
too truly, for at Chenapowu we found no one but John Williams, a tall
Patamona, attired only in loin-cloth, knife, and belt, who, with his wife
and children, was the sole inhabitant of Holmia. He came down to our boat
and insisted on shaking hands with us, saying very firmly and politely,
“How do you do?” but he equally firmly said, “Me no carry load.” In these
depressing circumstances the only thing to be done was to camp for the
time being on the site of Dr. Bovallius’ house. We never discovered why
the Makusis had failed us; for, when we eventually reached the highlands,
they were all eagerly awaiting us and most anxious to be of use; but
it did not seem to have occurred to them that their services would be
needed in the forest. Of course, explanations with a people whose best
interpreters understand only a bare dozen words of the English language
and can speak but half as many are apt to miscarry. Anyway, the Makusis
were not there, and we were faced by a forest trek of thirty odd miles,
with carriers insufficient to make the attempt. It was a difficult and
unpleasant position.

As soon as the boats had been unloaded, and camp made at Holmia, we sent
off two Indians, Robert and Hubbard by name, to Arnik village, which in
Dr. Bovallius’ time was some two and a half hours’ walk from Holmia, and
whence he supplied himself with ground provisions. We instructed these
men to make great haste, and to induce as many as possible of the men
of Arnik to return with them at once, bringing cassava for the forest
journey, and we hoped to make an early start next day. Our stores were
packed in the powder-house, and we sat down to await the arrival of the
Arnik people with what patience we could muster, by the help of Sir
George Trevelyan’s _Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay_. Our camp, shut
in by congo-pump and dense secondary growth, was most unattractive.
There were no mosquitoes—indeed, we never saw mosquitoes after Rockstone
during our whole journey. But other horrible insects, such as cow-flies,
sand-flies, and ticks, made life a burden. The day dragged wearily by
and night fell with the usual heavy rain, but without any sign of the
Arnik people or of our messengers. Early next morning Mr. and Mrs. John
Williams called with their two children. Mrs. Williams wore a bead apron
and had tattoo marks on her face and body. They asked for sugar; but
John had been so little helpful that we did not feel in the mood to be
very generous with that precious commodity, and consequently only gave
a teaspoonful to each child, whereupon the family, apparently offended,
disappeared into the forest and we saw them no more. All day we waited
for the men of Arnik to arrive, but no one appeared; and when, as
daylight died, heavy rain again began to fall, and we had finally to give
up all hope of starting next morning, we felt thoroughly depressed and
miserable. Before going to bed it was decided that at dawn Mr. Menzies
should make a start, with all our Indians and as many loads as they could
carry; take them to Akrabanna creek, where the trail to Arnik branches
off from “Menzies’ Line”; should there deposit the loads at the junction
of the trails, send the Indians back to us to be ready for further
service, and himself go on to Arnik to ascertain the position. The inroad
being made on our food-supplies, without our getting any nearer to the
savannah plenty, was beginning to cause us great anxiety.

Next morning Mr. Menzies set off early, as arranged, with all the
Indians, leaving Haywood as our only camp attendant. Haywood’s optimism
and cheerfulness were unfailing, but even Macaulay failed to cheer
_us_ as the long hours crawled by. Heavy rain fell at intervals, and,
imprisoned by sodden forest on all sides, the position was certainly not
enlivening. During some hours we hoped that Mr. Menzies might return,
having met the men of Arnik in the way; but we were disappointed, and

    The weary day dragged to its rest
    Lingering like an unloved guest.

Late in the afternoon nine of the Indians returned with a note from
Mr. Menzies which informed us that Arnik village had been shifted to a
considerable distance from its former site, but that he was going thither
with one man, leaving two to guard the loads, and sending the others
back to us. He suggested that we should move to Akrabanna next day,
with as much of the baggage as the nine men could carry, and meet him
there. This not very cheery epistle still comforted us much, because it
accounted for Amik’s delay, and our spirits also rose at the prospect
of moving on. After an early supper we had gone to bed with a bright
camp-fire to cheer us, when we heard a shout, and then beheld the joyful
sight of Mr. Menzies with a lamp, followed by Robert and Hubbard and a
line of seven men and three women. As they filed past our tarpaulin, the
firelight gleaming upon their naked brown bodies, I could have cried for
joy. Mr. Menzies had met the men of Arnik on the trail before he reached
the site of their new village; and it appeared that Robert and Hubbard
had got there on the night of the day they left us, but had found all the
men away hunting. A day had been spent in palaver and in making cassava
for the journey, and therefore not until the morning of the third day did
such hunters as had returned set out with our messengers for Holmia. With
anxiety much relieved, we calmed our emotions and went to sleep. Heavy
rain fell all night.

We struck camp early in the morning of the 31st December, 1915, and a
walk of twenty minutes up the left bank of the Chenapowu creek brought
us to the point where the Tumong trail branches off to the west. All
previous travellers to Mount Roraima, _via_ the Potaro, had gone by the
Tumong trail; and, according to their accounts, it is by no means a good
one. But we continued along the Chenapowu, and after another fifteen
minutes forded the Wong creek, its tributary, while a further quarter
of an hour brought us to the point where the Chenapowu creek itself is
spanned by two _tacoubas_, for crossing at low water and at high water
respectively. The silver-sand bottoms of these creeks contrast prettily
with the deep amber bush water. Thence an ascent over a couple of low
hillocks brought us after a walk of one hour and seventeen minutes from
Holmia to a clearing on a bracken-covered sand-hill above the right bank
of the Akrabanna creek, where there had once been a Patamona village, and
where now the line to Arnik branches off eastwards from our trail. The
Akrabanna falls into the Chenapowu, which latter creek, though invisible
in the dense forest, continued on our right hand, until we saw it again
five hours’ march farther on at its watersmeet with the Sirani-baru creek.

It was delightful to be up and doing, and we enjoyed our walk to
Akrabanna very much. On Mr. Menzies’ recommendation, we had equipped
ourselves with rubber sole canvas boots, and we found them most
comfortable and practicable. Our feet were always getting wet, since
we had constantly to wade across streams, but canvas dries quickly
without getting stiff, and the rubber sole is a great safeguard against
slipping. Moreover, it is possible to feel through it the nature of the
ground underfoot, and whether it is likely to bear one or not. Forest
trails are a mass of tangled roots covered by deceptive layers of fallen
leaves, and one must, therefore, concentrate one’s attention upon one’s
feet. To glance up even for half a minute, without first standing still,
invariably results in a stumble or in goring the feet upon some spiky
stump; but the path is springy underfoot, and it is possible to walk
long hours without fatigue. Nevertheless, the monotony of forest trek
is extreme. Generally you cannot see twenty yards in front of you.
Indians walk so silently that sometimes the long file of carriers appears
noiselessly and suddenly at one’s side, when one had perhaps believed
them to be some distance behind. They do not speak on the line of march,
and they move their feet very carefully, seldom cutting them. We soon
became quite adept ourselves at walking quickly without stumbling, and
at clambering over the fallen trees that barred our progress every few
yards. It would not, I think, be possible for a woman to negotiate
these trails in a skirt, for not only would it hamper her greatly in
surmounting the continual obstacles, but it would at once become sodden
with water from the dripping trees and bushes, and from the perpetual
fording of streams, when water often rises nearly to the knees. I wore
knickerbockers and puttees, and found myself able to move very quickly
and easily.

We lunched at Akrabanna and considered the situation, which was not
particularly reassuring. We could reckon on but seven carriers from
Arnik, for the three women had only come sightseeing and were about
to return to their homes, each one having an infant with her. They
were neat, squat little people, attired only in the bead _queyu_, or
apron, and carrying their children on the hip. We had, therefore, only
twenty-one carriers all told, and of these the nine Demerara River men
were totally inefficient. Not a cheerful outlook! So we reluctantly
resolved that it would not be advisable to travel that day beyond the
Akrabanna camping-ground, some thirty minutes farther on, where we would
open all the boxes containing stores and pack the contents in quakes,
thus appreciably lightening the loads. Having come to this decision,
we descended to the Akrabanna creek, which is wide and crossed by a
primitive bridge in the shape of an enormous tree lying athwart the
stream. This _tacouba_ was rather slippery, but rubber soles steadied
our feet, and we crossed it and many others without mishap. After that,
we ascended some distance up a sharp incline and chose a very nice
camping-ground. We found a level floor for our tarpaulin, while the steep
slope below promised good drainage. The trees around were magnificent,
and the rare sunshine made all look charming. Bell-birds, giving thanks
for the fine weather, sounded their musical “ding-dong” everywhere.

After establishing ourselves with all our comforts about us and a good
fire burning, we wandered downhill to look at the rest of the camp,
which was made some distance below us. We saw the seven men of Arnik
busily engaged on making quakes out of split palm-stalks, having already
thatched themselves a little palm-leaf _banaboo_. They were fine,
strongly-built fellows, destitute of clothing save a loin-cloth, but
their skins are so nice and red that their whole effect is eminently in
keeping with their surroundings. They have also a fine native dignity
about them. On they went with their quake-making, cooking, etc.,
without troubling themselves at all about us as we stood watching their
extraordinarily dexterous fingers, and they talked, cracked jokes, and
told stories among themselves like a gay dinner-party at some club. No
word of English could they speak, save their names, which were Samuel,
George, Austin, William, etc. Our “civilized” Indians were mostly
lounging in hammocks. This sort of droghing was not what they liked at
all. After surveying the loads, we realized that some stuff must be left
behind, and we decided to leave to their fate our two side-tarpaulins, in
future using our carpet as a wind-break or screen when needed, and also
to desert a couple of tins of salt which we carried as barter. Money was
no more use once the Potaro-Konawaruk Road was behind us. Then we dined
under our tarpaulin, that good fellow Haywood making nothing of running
up and down the hill between us and his “kitchen” with the viands.
We had for supper soup, rice, and potatoes, with fried sausage, tea,
bread and jam. Our bread lasted very well in a tin till we were on the
savannahs and could obtain cassava. We went to sleep with a bright fire
burning, and very snug in our blankets. There was tremendous rainfall as
usual all night.

New Year’s Day also began with rain; and, after some delay in
redistributing loads, we set off, following two of our men, appropriately
named Moses and Aaron, through the wilderness, whilst Mr. Menzies came
behind with the rest. From the Akrabanna to the Sirani-baru our trail
crossed no water at all, save two small brooks, both of which are within
half an hour’s walk of the watersmeet of the Chenapowu and Sirani-baru.
The path runs for two and a quarter hours’ march dead level along a
plateau, sometimes narrowing to a ridge, which, we assumed, must divide
the valley of the Chenapowu on the west from that of the Akrabanna on
the east. At the northern end of this plateau there is a stiff climb of
1,200 feet by terraced ascents from the Akrabanna, taking one hour and
forty-six minutes, while at the southern end there is an easy descent of
800 feet, which lasts sixty-five minutes. The trail was very indistinct,
and once or twice we lost it for a few minutes; for Indians are content
to mark trails by merely breaking an occasional twig, and it is extremely
easy to stray from the right line—in fact, one is bound to do so, unless
an Indian guide is immediately ahead. We marched, of course, always
in single file, one behind the other, looking warily at our feet and
requiring all our energies for laborious scrambles over huge fallen trees
and their ramification of branches. It was but rarely that anyone spoke,
and our party of twenty-five souls scarcely broke the oppressive weight
of silence that broods over the sombre forest depths, though sometimes
birds, alarmed by the sight of us, sent shrill cries of warning through
the tree-tops. In one place we crossed a deep fissure in the ground,
resembling that of which I have spoken near the Kaietuk rest-house. No
rain fell in the afternoon, but the dripping forest kept us very wet.

Our progress was slow on account of our lagging droghers, and we had to
halt at the first of the two brooks between Akrabanna and Sirani-baru.
The place looked an unpromising camping-ground; but it is wonderful how
quickly the most desolate glade of rain-soaked forest assumes a snug and
comfortable air when man has pitched his bivouac there. On this occasion,
the ground being utterly sodden, we placed our spare tarpaulin on the
ground, and caused the Indians to build us a side-screen of palm-leaves.
Our excellent roof tarpaulin (twenty feet by fourteen feet) was soon
spread; then our two camp-beds with their equipment of blankets, blue
pillows, and mosquito-nets, our table and three chairs, lunch-basket with
cups, spoons, plates, knives, etc., and my husband’s prismatic compass,
boiling-point thermometer, and aneroid barometer, all combined to make
the place look quite civilized and home-like. Mr. Menzies had a smaller
tarpaulin, under which he slung his hammock and sheltered the baggage,
whilst the Indians speedily rigged themselves up leaf-thatched _benabs_.
Then, with a dozen fires burning all around, the whole aspect of the
place changed in a twinkling.

Soon after we had made camp a few cheery sunbeams found their way
down to us. In the forest sunlight falls like a most precious but
sparingly-scattered largesse. Haywood provided us for supper with an
excellent creole soup, piping hot, made of onions, potatoes, and salt
pork. It was very welcome in the chilly damp, and we did it ample
justice. Of course, there was a downpour all night.

There was also rain at dawn of the following morning, and showers
alternated with sunshine during the whole day. We soon found ourselves
at the edge of the Sirani-baru, within a few yards of its confluence
with the Chenapowu creek. This is halfway-house between Holmia and the
highland savannahs. We crossed the creek by means of a huge _tacouba_,
and the trail ascended sharply on the other side. Ten minutes later
Thomas shot a marm, and announced triumphantly, “Marmu for Mamma.” The
Indians always called me “Mamma” and my husband “Pappa.” We plucked the
bird on the spot, and then continued our march. When the Sirani-baru has
been crossed, a very short ascent of 200 feet again takes the trail on to
a level plateau, which continues until the path drops slightly to recross
the Sirani-baru near its head after close upon three hours’ march, and
that was all we achieved during the day owing to our laggard droghers. We
were, in effect, making our way round the spur of Mount Kowatipu, which
stood at our right hand; but nothing could be seen of the mountain, and
the only object of interest during the day’s march was a deep excavation
at the side of the trail. It may possibly have been made for gold, but it
might equally well be natural.

Our Demerara River men were now very sulky, but the Arnik boys were
as good as gold, and appeared to enjoy life. We took much interest in
watching them. Primitive man is wonderfully neat and dexterous. He seems
to be able to fashion a leaf or a twig to his will, be it spoon or basket
or house that he wants; and it is touching to see him hold a palm-leaf
carefully over his head to serve as an umbrella, or pick a large leaf
to squat upon; for his primitive mamma has evidently taught him not to
sit on damp ground. When missionaries or traders introduce clothes, the
Indians soon suffer in health; for it never occurs to them to take their
garments off, and they wear their sodden raiment day and night till they
die of pneumonia. You cannot keep dry in the bush; and, as an American
once observed to Mr. Menzies, while prospecting for gold with him in the
forest: “In this place your shirt is sopping wet in two seconds, and
three months won’t dry it.” Rain fell heavily all the time while camp
was being made, and also most of the evening and night.

Next day we started in a downpour, and were instantly soaked to the
skin. A climb of twenty-four minutes brought us on to the crest of the
divide which, sloping down from Mount Kowatipu, forms at this point the
water-parting between the Essequebo and the Amazon, 2,520 feet above
sea-level. Here on a hill-saddle is a little swamp, out of which two
tiny streams trickle in opposite directions, thus marking the divide.
Thereafter the trail runs almost level for one hour twelve minutes to
the point where the path over Nose Mountain from Arnik comes in from
the east. After that you descend for twenty-six minutes and cross on
stepping-stones the Huri creek (2,090 feet above sea-level), a tributary
of the Yawong, which falls into the Kowa, and so feeds the Ireng and
the Amazon. Next follows a steady and at times a steep ascent along
undulating hill-ridges, narrowing in places to a knife-edge, until
after one and three-quarter hours’ march from Huri creek the trail
emerges from the forest into the Baramaku savannah at a height of 2,680
feet above sea-level. The character of the forest towards the end was
quite different, and we had to push our way through tall bamboo grass
and among thickets of small trees before we at last came out into the
sunshine of lovely Baramaku-toy. “Toy” means “savannah” or open country
in the language of the local Indians. I wonder if anyone can imagine the
ecstasy it was to us rain-sodden, half-drowned rats who had not seen
clear sky for seven long days to find ourselves out of the dark, gloomy
twilight of the forest, standing in the scented flower-starred grass,
able to look over long views of distant tiers of hills into the fading
blue distance, whilst glowing sunshine warmed us through, and the most
delicious, cool and fragrant breezes blew in our faces. Welcome seemed to
smile from every blade of grass in that enchanting little place.

[Illustration: BARAMAKU SAVANNAH.

To face page 113.]

The whole march through the forest between Holmia and Baramaku-toy can
be done, and was done by us on our return journey, in fourteen hours and
twenty-six minutes. My husband estimated our average rate of progress
at two and a half miles an hour; and the length of the trail in all its
windings would therefore be some thirty-six miles. On the outward journey
this march through the forest occupied sixteen and a half hours, and
was spread over four tedious days, because of the inefficiency of our
Demerara River droghers. The gradients of the route are shown in the
diagram (p. 237), drawn by my husband.

At Baramaku-toy our forest trek ended, and we never again spent a whole
day in the forest during the remainder of our journey to Roraima,
although frequently we passed through belts of woodland fringing a river
course between one savannah and the next. The British Guiana jungle
is certainly a place where you cannot see the wood for the trees. The
effort of getting along quickly without catching your feet absorbs
the attention, and I am afraid that I have laid much emphasis on the
damp and gloom. Nevertheless, the magnificence of some of the forest
giants induced us often to stand still and marvel. The mora-trees, in
particular, grew to a great height, and their trunks, when a few feet
from the ground, spread out ribs of twisted wood like bastions all
round them. When they lie fallen, you are astonished to see how short a
depth the foundations of the monster penetrated into the soil. We saw
no orchids in flower in the forest, but orchidaceous parasites grow
everywhere on bush and stone, and send out fibres to suck moisture from
the earth. Even those perched on the tops of mighty trees, more than a
hundred feet above the ground, drop down these little, thirsty, fibrous
mouths. Occasionally we noticed brilliant blossoms lying at our feet,
fallen from some creeper, stretching itself in light and air over the
tree-tops; and at one point we picked up and enjoyed some delicious
_suwarri_ nuts. But, taken as a whole, primeval tropical forest is a
hostile thing. It can harbour no fairies, though there might be demons
and goblins. To be alone even for a minute in the jungle is alarming, for
such is the profound silence all around that one has a terrifying sense
of being inimically watched by unseen things, and I can imagine nothing
worse than to be lost in the bush.



THE HIGHLAND SAVANNAHS OF BRITISH GUIANA



CHAPTER VII

THE HIGHLAND SAVANNAHS OF BRITISH GUIANA

                The shining tablelands,
    To which our God Himself is moon and sun.

                 _Tennyson_: _Ode on the Death of
                      the Duke of Wellington_.


By contrast with the forest, the Baramaku savannah seemed fairyland. It
looks like an English park: smiling slopes of grass with here and there a
clump of bracken or a cluster of trees; undulating knolls and dells, and
a delicious little brook at its far end. Its area is between three and
four square miles, and it is situated about 2,700 feet above sea-level.
We walked right across it and pitched camp near the brook. A tarpaulin
shelter was quickly made, and we changed luxuriously into dry clothes,
after which Haywood produced excellent tea almost at once. In spite of
all the drenchings of the last week, my husband and I were in better
health and spirits than at our departure from Georgetown. The cool of the
forest had been invigorating, and the sole evil result of the ceaseless
damp was rheumatism in my shoulder, which disappeared after two days of
the savannah sunshine and dry air.

But the setting of Baramaku-toy is far from English, for all around
this little Eden looms the dark tropical forest, while to the north
cliff-faced, forest-crowned Kowatipu glowered at us from among his
rain-clouds some ten miles away. He rises a thousand feet or more above
the sea of forest, a rectangular plateau edged by precipices, true to
the Roraima _leit-motif_. He is the magnet for all the rain of the
neighbourhood, and is generally wrapped in forbidding cloud. But as we
gazed at him for a few minutes from Baramaku-toy, he stood out clear and
grand, until once more he wreathed his head in mist, while rain fell
about his feet. We watched, rejoicing in our escape, when, as it were,
he shook his fist at us by sending an ugly black cloud straight for us.
I ran to the shelter of the tarpaulin, having no mind to get my nice dry
clothes soaked again. But it was only an impotent threat. He could not
touch us in Baramaku’s charmed keeping, and the cloud drifted off on to
the forest-clad hills near by, whilst the thrushes sang on undisturbedly
and we basked in the sunshine, lying in the lush grass with no _bête
rouge_ to annoy us and fanned by cool breezes. The air had a delicious
mountain nip in it, the thermometer at 5 p.m. being only 69° F. The night
was quite cold, and I was glad of three blankets. Here we slept without
mosquito nets, untroubled by insects. No one at present inhabits this
savannah, but there are the remains of a deserted banaboo; and the spot,
when made less difficult of access, would be a charming little country
property. It has pasturage suitable for horses and cattle, with plenty
of room available for pleasure-grounds and park-land, as well as for a
kitchen-garden and poultry-farm. Within a short time a family established
here would make itself almost independent of supplies from the coast.

After our usual breakfast of porridge and coffee, we set off next
morning, having first been taken by Mr. Menzies to look at a little
meadow sprinkled underneath its grass with water-worn pebbles. He said
that he had once prospected this place for diamonds, and thought it
showed good promise, but could not go on with the work for lack of
dynamite. He had found some ancient beads in the ground, of a kind not
now used by the aborigines, and concluded that the place had been an
Indian settlement in bygone days.

Crossing the brook which bounds the Baramaku savannah, our trail plunged
again into forest, and ran uphill and down-dale over a number of small
rills that drain northwards into the Kowa River, until, after a hot, dull
walk of about five and a half miles, we reached the Quaibaru savannah.
Ten minutes before emerging from the forest we came upon a stream
with provision-fields on its banks, where cassava, yams, bananas, and
plantains grew plentifully; and here our droghers washed themselves,
brushed their hair, and titivated generally, preparatory to a state entry
into Quaibaru village, whilst one of their number sounded a cow-horn to
announce our approach. We could see that we were expected by the fact
that the path had been carefully and recently cleaned for us.

The savannah of Quaibaru is not nearly so picturesque as that of
Baramaku, but it occupies a commanding position high above the left bank
of the Kowa valley. As the forest veil falls, you step out on to the
ridge of a grassy hill, whereon are perched three banaboos, one on the
hill-top (2,550 feet above sea-level), the two others in _échelon_ lower
down the ridge. Then come in succession two narrow savannah valleys,
divided by two more savannah ridges, on which also are banaboos. The
houses of the savannah Indians are, as a rule, circular, about thirty
feet in diameter, and they accommodate a large number of people and dogs.
The walls are of mud, about four feet high, and the thatch slopes up
sharply to a high pointed top, so that inside there is a sort of upper
story, where provisions can be stored out of the way of the starving curs
who abound in every village. The houses are only lighted by the doorway,
and are, therefore, very gloomy within, the reason for this being that
the pest of the savannahs, the biting kabouru-fly, never enters a dark
place. The doorways generally face north-east, so as to get all the
breeze possible, the wind blowing almost as steadily from that quarter
over the savannah as it does on the coast.

We had anticipated much delay at Quaibaru, for we feared that our
droghers, after short rations in the forest, would insist on celebrating
their arrival in inhabited country by a feast. Luckily for us, the
Quaibaru folk, who are Patamonas, were not in a hospitable frame of mind
towards our convoy, though friendly enough to us. They declared that
they had no cassiri and scarcely any cassava, so that our men were soon
anxious to leave. Accordingly we made and ate our breakfast beside
a stream in the first Quaibaru valley, a shadeless and uncomfortable
place, where the Quaibaruvians brought us some excellent bananas, a
limited supply of hard cassava—“wood-bread,” Mr. Menzies called it—and
a bucketful of limes. Mr. Menzies had given the villagers some limes to
plant a few years ago, and the trees had done extremely well. The limes
were welcome, as the stock we had brought up from Potaro Landing was
nearly exhausted. The villagers also undertook to fetch up for us the
salt which we had left behind at Akrabanna, and to bring it after us to
Puwa.

After a short midday halt we pushed on, winding in and out of the
little Quaibaru valleys under a blazing sun; but a fresh breeze saved
the situation. From a hill-ridge before descending a very steep forest
slope to the Kowa River, we caught our first view of the big savannah,
rising as a shining tableland high up behind smaller tree-clad hills on
the other side of the river. It was a sight for sore eyes, and looked
a veritable “Land of Promise.” An Indian trail always goes bang up the
side of a hill in a straight line, and bang down the other side, with no
thought of gradient or of avoiding unnecessary exertion, so down we had
to go, sliding perpendicularly to the Kowa, hanging on to handy trees
as we passed, and more than once taking an involuntary seat. We crossed
the Kowa on a _tacouba_, just awash with the stream; and after a short
rest and cool down, the process assisted by a limade, we went on through
a forest of luxuriant wild papaw and banana for some distance. Our path
then turned sharply out of the Kowa valley and proceeded to ascend a hill
very nearly as steep as a house in a bee-line upwards. It was a bit of a
scramble, and the stiffest climb we had had since the ascent to Kaietuk,
the last part being a dry watercourse. Once on top, the forest dropped
away. We had a superb view back over the Kowa to Quaibaru-toy, and we
could just see a savannah hill with a tuft of trees on it away behind the
Quaibaru forest. It was Baramaku-toy standing a-tiptoe to see the last of
us. Kowatipu would have been in sight had he not been characteristically
concealed in a rain-cloud. We sat down to admire the glorious breadth of
landscape, hoping also to see our carriers emerge from the bush, for we
were somewhat anxious to know how the Demerara River men would negotiate
the hill. Haywood, who always kept up well, arrived almost as soon as
we did, and inquired exultingly whether “Madam don’t think this country
worth the walk.” I said, “Indeed I did.”

Haywood always carried his possessions in a bag upon his head, and
managed most skilfully to look after his feet without upsetting his
balance. Indians carry their loads on their backs, with a strap over
each shoulder and a third strap across the forehead. Their hands are
thus free, though Haywood always gave each drogher of our party some
additional etcetera, such as a saucepan, lamp, or a teapot. I used often
to wish I could sketch the oddness of a pair of extremely stalwart,
naked, red legs, surmounted by a mighty bundle, trotting along in
front of me, naught else of the man being visible save a pair of hands
carefully conveying some absurdly civilized object, like a teapot or a
kerosene lamp!

In days to come it is to be hoped that one of the main roads of British
Guiana may lead up to this plateau; and, when the time is at hand for
building such a road, its trace will probably be carried from the
watershed of the Sirani-baru into the Kowa valley by easy gradients, and
thence round hill contours, without ascending the Baramaku or Quaibaru
savannahs up to the high-level tableland. But the existing trail could
with a few détours at small expense be made into a bridle track suitable
for pack animals and for cattle; and if this were done the savannah
highlands, which are to-day within nineteen hours’ march from the Potaro
at Chenapowu, would be made economically and speedily accessible. A
launch would place Chenapowu within two hours of Kaietuk, and a motor
road would bring Kaietuk within a day’s journey of Bartika. It would
then be a matter of no difficulty and small expense to travel up or down
between the highland savannahs and the coast in three or four days.

We got tired of waiting for our laggard carriers, took tea, and started
off again. The trail now went once more into the bush for a few minutes,
up and down one more hill, and then emerged into savannah for good. The
sun was very hot and shone straight in our eyes; but the glorious air
prevented fatigue, for every breath of it was like a draught of strength.
Our path ran fairly level through high grass; but, like all Indian
trails, it was uncomfortably narrow, as the Indians put their feet down
one immediately in front of the other. The hills above the right bank of
the Kowa, below the point where we crossed it, form a grassy tableland
with high savannah crests; and, passing through a col between two such
crests, we debouched after two and three-quarter hours’ actual marching
from Quaibaru-toy on the magnificent plateau which forms part of Mr.
Menzies’ ranch. The path dipped down to the deep pool of a stream, near a
waving fringe of high bamboo. To the right rose a low tree-clad hill, and
at its foot we camped in a banaboo built by Mr. Menzies near the northern
boundary of his grazing land close to Karto village.

[Illustration: MOUNT KOWATIPU FROM THE KARTO TABLELAND.

To face page 128.]

Towards sunset my husband and I went up a neighbouring knoll to take
observations. The view over the lovely rolling plain, with its smiling
valleys, was entrancing, and old Kowatipu actually put his head, rather
crossly, out of his cloud for a few seconds. The Karto tableland is a
flat, grassy plateau some 2,400 feet above sea-level. It is bounded on
the east by the Kowa River; on the north-west and south-west by the
Chiung River, both flowing in rifts far below the plateau level; on the
south-east and north by hills which divide the Kowa from the Chiung
valley. Its extreme length from north to south is about seven miles,
and its extreme width from east to west is some eight miles. Its area is
roughly fifty square miles; and the distance across the plateau by our
trail, which ran in a tolerably straight line, my husband estimated at
five miles. The whole tableland forms an excellent grazing-ground; and,
although there was at the time of our visit no water on the central part
of the plateau, there were many streams at its edges, falling into the
Kowa and the Chiung, while across it ran a few dry channels, which are,
no doubt, full of water in the rainy season. The Indian village, named
Karto, stands at the north-west corner of the plateau, not far from Mr.
Menzies’ banaboo. Its provision-fields are partly in the tree-clad hills,
fringing the plateau to the north, and partly down in the fertile Kowa
valley near the point of our crossing. We saw no cattle on the tableland;
but the Karto villagers told us that there was a herd on some very
attractive-looking pasture-grounds near the head of the Chiung River. For
it must be understood that the highlands suitable for grazing are by no
means confined to the tableland which we crossed, and from which we could
see the savannahs round the upper reaches of the Chiung only a little
below our level, while across the valley of the Chiung, lower in its
course, we looked up to a yet higher, and apparently not less extensive,
savannah plateau. These attractive and spacious highlands deserve to be
developed, and would support a considerable population. They would, as it
is, make an admirable hill-station. The scenery is beautiful. The climate
at the season of our visit was delightful. The locality could be made
easily and cheaply accessible from Georgetown, and would, I venture to
think, prove much superior as a health resort to the West India Islands.

We did not see Mount Roraima from the Karto tableland; but I do not doubt
that from one or other of the savannah hills which surround that plateau
it would be possible to see Roraima, if by fortunate coincidence one
reached the proper point of observation at a time when the mountain was
free from cloud; for on our way back we saw Roraima from many hill-tops,
and even from valleys, which on the way out vouchsafed us no such view.
We did, however, from Karto get our first sight of Mount Chakbang,
standing out conspicuously far away to the west, a rugged finger pointing
to the sky, and the mountains of Mataruka were plainly visible.

We awoke next morning to find a slight drizzle falling, but it soon
cleared off into a brilliantly sunny day. All the Karto people came to
see us—men, women and children, dogs and waracabra. Indians are very
fond of tame birds, but do not keep them in cages. They fly about as
they like. These villagers were Makusis, and appeared very friendly. Our
droghers were revived and gay, having had overnight a feast of cassava
and cassiri. Cassiri, which is a drink made from cassava, has a magical
effect on these people. It seems to cheer without inebriating—in fact, it
has rather the effect which a cup of good tea or coffee has on a tired
European.

Our road for a couple of hours now lay over the glorious grass plateau
which forms part of Mr. Menzies’ ranch. Walking was perfectly delightful
in that exhilarating highland air. We had enchanting views of blue
distance in all directions. Far on our left the tableland was bounded
by the rift of the Kowa River, beyond which rolling forest-clad hills
faded into the horizon, whilst nearer to the right the head-waters of
the Chiung River wound away among green savannah mountains, in the knees
of which lay little rounded terraces and small gulleys, studded with
eta-palm. These hills form another tableland about five hundred feet
higher than the one which we traversed, and would probably be a good
country for sheep. None of these smiling, healthy highlands are marked
on the Colony’s maps, and their very existence has, in the past, been
steadfastly denied.

Mount Mataruka lay south-west of us, almost in a straight line with
our path; but, although we ultimately climbed over its shoulder, our
route first made a wide détour, taking us to Puwa village. From the
south-west end of Mr. Menzies’ tableland we descended some seven hundred
feet in half an hour to a narrow gorge, where four streams, falling in
picturesque cascades from the plateau, converge to form the Kowyann, a
tributary of the Chiung. From this point the Makusis had opened a bridle
track for us through the small forest belts which separate the wide
stretches of savannah; and we could have ridden on horseback the rest of
the way to the Ireng but for the fact that, owing to a misunderstanding
between the chief at Mataruka and a chief in the Kotinga valley, where
the horses were, “shanks his mare” had still to be our mount. We
breakfasted beside the Kowyann, and then took our way down its valley,
steep grassy hills rising on either side of us. We travelled alternately
through little savannahs, whose long waving grass and crooked trees,
pretending to be apple-trees, had a queer resemblance to an English
orchard, and through patches of woodland. The shade in these little
forest belts was very grateful, as the sun was extremely hot. A march
of one and a quarter hours down the Kowyann valley brought us to Chiung
village, where we spent the night.

This village stands on the left bank of the Chiung River, and here a
large gathering of Makusis had assembled. They seemed very pleased to see
us, and explained that they had cut a broad trail all the way to Puwa.
They also provided an abundance of cassava and cassiri for our droghers.
The village consisted of two houses, with a third unfinished one, which
was being erected for us. The frame was all in place, the wooden bars
tied neatly together with bark-fibre, according to Indian fashion, for
these people do not use any form of nail. The roof of our house was only
partly thatched, and the sides were all open, a fortunate circumstance,
as it was very hot in the enclosed valley. We used our tarpaulin to
screen ourselves off from the rest of the village, which was about fifty
yards away, and at night we enjoyed the brilliant stars, looking down
upon us. We placed our beds immediately under the small portion of thatch
which had been completed, for the excessively heavy dew of the savannahs
makes it unpleasant to sleep entirely _à la belle étoile_. Until
darkness fell we were much troubled by the biting kabouru-flies, which
are slightly larger than the ordinary sand-flies. Their bite is much
more irritating, and raises a red lump with a black spot in the centre.
Though the lump soon dies down, the black speck remains for several days.
I defended myself from the kabouru with a dark veil and gloves, but my
husband and Mr. Menzies were soon sorry objects. The savannah Indians
appear to suffer little, if any, irritation from the bites of kabouru,
but the poor fellows from Arnik and from the Demerara River, being
unaccustomed to this pest, which is not known in the forests, were very
much afflicted. In the highland savannahs kabouru-flies are generally
found near water, and the larger the stream the worse the kabouru; so
we had to pay for our close proximity to the Chiung River, which flowed
with a delicious gurgling noise close to our banaboo. During the night
Mr. Menzies’ quarters were invaded by a raiding dog, who carried off our
excellent ham. This would have been a serious business had we not been
approaching Puwa, the “Land of Plenty” as far as food is concerned.

Next morning (6th January) we left Chiung village at dawn with a large
convoy, for all the village, including women and babies, came with us.
Ten minutes after our start we forded the Chiung River, an operation
which took another ten minutes and was great fun. The water, deliciously
cold, rose to my knees. But very little walking in that savannah air soon
dries one again completely, a delightful contrast to the bush!

The path we followed from Chiung to Puwa was nothing more than a big
circuit round a hill. We should have preferred a short-cut over the
summit; but the Indians having prepared a level track for us with much
care along the valleys, we felt that it would be ungrateful not to take
their line. This track ran through a thick belt of forest, fringing the
banks of the Chiung; and the Makusis had most carefully straightened and
cleared the forest path to a width of six to ten feet, removing most
of the tree-stumps, while in places they had actually swept the ground
clean of fallen leaves. The job must have given them a great deal of
trouble, for the trees, though small, were of hardwood varieties, such as
purple-heart and letter-wood, and the road-makers were justly proud of
their work. We were two hours in this forest, but I was walking slowly,
being tired by the unaccustomed exposure to sun during the two preceding
days. Then the trail again emerged into savannah, having left the river,
which winds away to the left round some hills that we crossed over a low
col (1,550 feet above sea-level).

We now found ourselves in the Ireng valley, though at some distance from
the river, and we halted for breakfast in the little belt of forest
beside a small brook. Here we discovered that we were an enormous party,
for half Puwa village, including Johnny’s wife and sons, had come out to
meet us. The Makusis, as young men, are extremely handsome and well-made,
full of life and movement. Johnny’s sons it was a treat to see, the
eldest especially, a lad of about fifteen. He wore only a loin-cloth and
necklace, with bracelets of beads, carried a bow and arrows, and simply
flew about the place—never walked, but he ran, and every movement was
as graceful as a cat’s. Then there was a dear little fellow about six,
Edward by name, who greeted Haywood most affectionately, and became
a zealous little cook’s mate. I remember we gave him and some small
companions a few of the dried prunes we were eating, and they tied up
each one most carefully in a separate leaf, and said they would take them
to their mothers. I also remember in connection with that meal that Mr.
Menzies and I incautiously partook of red peppers, supplied us by some
hospitable friend, and cried in consequence many bitter and involuntary
tears.

Our path next lay through a succession of little valleys with graceful
eta-palms growing in all the creeks, and occasionally patches of bush,
through which the Makusis had cut us a royal road. The trail, which had
hitherto run east-south-east, now turned back on itself, the direction
being west-north-west to the Puwa creek, which we forded after another
two hours’ march; and from the ford it took us twenty minutes more to
reach Puwa village. Our path was practically level and very good going
all the way from Chiung to Puwa. The distance, as the crow flies, between
those villages over the hill-tops is only some six miles, but we had
come at least twice that distance. The provision-fields of Puwa village
are in forest, close by the ford, and are very fertile. One yam brought
from these fields and given to us was as much as a man could carry. The
village itself stands on the right bank of the stream from which it takes
its name, and is situated in a ring of hills, two of which we climbed,
being rewarded by a very good view of the Ireng valley and of the river
itself, flowing in a deep-cut trench. Everyone in Puwa was drawn up in
festal array to meet us, very anxious to shake hands, and all who could
boast clothes of any sort had them on. The ladies mostly had their
skirts hung round them, immediately below their arm-pits, whilst the
correct Puwa wear for trousers is to hang them round the shoulders, the
seat forming a sort of mantle behind and the trouser legs quite handy
to flap away flies or wipe a perspiring forehead, as need may arise.
One boy there was who had, I should imagine, been away to work on some
Brazilian ranch, for he was most magnificently got up in a white coat,
blue trousers _on_ his legs, and three necklaces; and he had a larger
number of pins stuck through his lower lip than anyone else. He evidently
fancied himself no end, so we christened him the “Nut.” Both Patamonas
and Makusis have a habit of sticking pins, or, failing these, pieces of
stick, through their lower lips. The Makusi women are very much shorter
than the men, but their figures, save in girlhood, are not pretty. They
carry splendidly, and I should think are as strong as the men. They are
very squat and have immense legs, being beasts of burden from childhood,
whereas the men only carry loads on state occasions. Indians generally
live at a considerable distance from their provision-fields, and often
at some height above water, so that the women are perpetually engaged
in droghing. The Indian children seem to abound everywhere and to enjoy
life. Indeed, I think they live in a children’s Paradise—no lessons, no
clothes, no bed-time!

Puwa village consisted of three houses, and another, in process of
building for us, was in much the same state as that we occupied in
Chiung. The villagers made me a nice little dressing-room in one corner
of our _benab_ with tarpaulins and a cowhide; and on arrival I subsided
into my hammock to enjoy a glorious cool breeze blowing up the valley,
whilst my husband climbed the steep rocky hill just above the village
to take observations. Meantime all sorts of offerings came in. Piles of
cassava, plantains and bananas, enormous yams, pumpkins, eggs, and a
couple of fowls, one of which Haywood had in the soup in a jiffy. The
people seemed to have a great affection and respect for Mr. Menzies,
and he usually got them to understand somehow what he wanted, although
he does not speak more than six words of their language. “Walky” takes
the place of “makey” in pidgin Makusi. “Um” represents “piecey” of
pidgin Chinese. We went to bed early, the young moon and stars shining
in beautifully upon us; but dogs marauding about amongst our baggage
disturbed us a good deal, as did attendant fleas. Indian dogs are never
fed, so that they may be keen hunters, and they are always mangy and
horribly thin.

Next day we spent in Puwa, as there was so much to do. Everyone was very
busy. Haywood did some satisfactory and much-needed laundry work. The
Indians drove up a herd of fine short-horn cattle for our inspection,
then a bullock was separated from the rest, driven down to the edge of
the stream, and killed at a blow by a Makusi, after which all the village
assisted at the cutting up and salting. The rest of the cattle smelt
blood, and set up a fearsome bellowing. This herd had been purchased by
Mr. Menzies from Indians in Brazil, and by him driven across the Ireng
River. Another matter to be settled was the method of carrying me, when
necessary, on the line of march. My husband insisted that from time to
time in the heat of the day I should be carried in a hammock slung on a
pole between two carriers. This, of course, was never possible when the
trail ran at all steeply up or down hill. It was quite impossible in the
forest, and my hammock did not come into use for this purpose until we
left Puwa. The expedient was adopted principally to give me opportunities
of rest without thereby delaying the progress of our caravan. Johnny and
Jack, two stalwart Indians from Chiung village, undertook the carrying
job. Then we selected from our stores what we thought we should ourselves
consume during the next fortnight—jam, oatmeal, sausages, chocolate,
dried fruit, cheese, biscuits, tea and coffee, enough to make a load
for one man. The rest, together with a few of our personal belongings,
we handed over to the headman of Puwa, to keep in his banaboo until we
returned. We also settled that the whole of our droghers from Chenapowu,
save two, should remain and be fed in Puwa during such time as we were
on our way to and from Roraima. The two we took with us were Edward and
Moses, both Makusis, who particularly requested to be allowed to come.
The Amik boys went with us next day to Mataruka, and then returned to
Puwa to rest, so that they might be fresh for the return journey through
the Kowatipu forest.

When the chief part of cutting up the bullock had been accomplished and
long strips of it had been salted and dried in the sun, Mr. Menzies
worked a gramophone, to everyone’s great delight. This gramophone had
been brought up in fulfilment of a request from Albert, the headman
of Mataruka. He had asked for a church bell, a gramophone, and “high
wines”—that is, rum—as a reward for the services which he would give us
in connection with our farther journey. Mr. Menzies had undertaken on
our behalf that the first two of his wishes should be fulfilled if he
arranged to have his people ready to convey us from Mataruka to Roraima.
With the gramophone we supplied half a dozen records; and as I listened
to the hideous machine screaming out its ragtime, “Tipperary,” etc., sung
with an appalling Yankee twang, I wished we could have done something
better for the poor dears.

A nice breeze blew all day, and we were not troubled by kabouru save in
the very early morning. After tea-time we strolled up a little hill close
by and enjoyed the cool of the afternoon and a lovely view of the Puwa
and Ireng valleys. We had excellent grilled steak for dinner; but the
dogs were worse than ever at night, trying to get at the meat that had
been hung up to dry. The Indians sat up eating the remains of the bullock
nearly all night. They made remarkably little noise over their feast, and
appeared perfectly fresh and gay next morning.

On the following morning there was great delay in getting off owing
to the redistribution of loads; so my husband and I started off by
ourselves, with my hammock-bearers ahead to show us the way. But more
haste, less speed! Johnny and Jack, for reasons best known to themselves,
saw fit to guide us down into a low stuffy valley, shut off by high hills
from any breath of wind, and we struggled along for an hour and a half
through bush and old yam and cassava cultivation by a path which at times
did not admit of our standing upright. Finally we climbed out of the
valley, up a steep col, where we joined our caravan of droghers and Mr.
Menzies, who had come by a shorter and quicker route along a hill-ridge,
affording a fine view of mountain scenery far and near. From the point
where the two trails converge, an hour’s march over a charming and
spacious savannah valley, in which there are some rice-fields, and up a
low hill, leads to a banaboo, beautifully situated some six hundred feet
above the Ireng, now in full view, and commanding a superb panorama. To
the south lay the fertile, golden-looking Mataruka plain, crossed by the
line of the Waikana creek; to the south-east was a tangle of big hills
beyond the Ireng; to the east the Puwa hills and a glimpse of the Karto
tableland; from north through west to south, beyond the winding Ireng,
the most glorious stretch of open rolling grass hills and valleys that
one could wish to see; and beyond all that, in the far, far distance,
was Roraima’s great block, some sixty miles away in the direct line of
vision. Of course, it was impossible at that distance to distinguish
between Roraima, Kukenaam, and Weitipu. We merely saw a dim blue mass,
obviously very much higher than anything near it.

The air on our hill-top was absolutely glorious, and a strong breeze blew
steadily. The place is too high for the kabouru, and we spent a couple
of hours enjoying ourselves, and ate a most excellent midday meal. Our
menu consisted of beefsteak, potatoes, onions, yams, biscuits, cheese,
prunes, lemonade and coffee; and we laughed at the idea of the starvation
journey which an expedition to Roraima is always supposed to be. Haywood
cooked inside the banaboo, to get out of the wind, and his grilled steak
was first-class. The banaboo gave us pleasant shade during the meal, for
we sat in the open immediately under the thatch-eaves. In the afternoon
we descended sharply to the left bank of the Ireng, which is here the
boundary of British Guiana. By the river-side the kabouru were one black
cloud, and I was thankful for my dark blue veil, which appeared to scare
them off me. The boat we wanted was on the Brazilian side of the river,
so one of our men sprang into the water, swam across for it, and paddled
gaily back to us, apparently not the least out of breath, although the
Ireng here is wide and flows with a swirling current. We hastily got into
the dug-out and crossed the river, landing at a point where the Waikana
creek from the Mataruka plain flows into the Ireng. So we left British
Guiana for Brazil.



A CORNER OF BRAZIL



CHAPTER VIII

A CORNER OF BRAZIL

    Across the hills, and far away
      Beyond their utmost purple rim.

           TENNYSON: _The Day-Dream_.


It took some time to ferry our whole party across the Ireng, as there
were only three boats available—namely, two small dug-outs and a large
one, the latter specially made for us by the Mataruka people. The
crossing was an amusing performance to watch, and very picturesque the
dug-outs looked piled up with baggage and people. Meanwhile, my husband
and I rested in shade under some trees at the mouth of the Waikana creek,
which drains the Mataruka savannah and joins the Ireng through a narrow
rift between hills that completely conceal the plain from the river-side.
But, once through this gate, an extensive flat prairie lies before you;
and an hour’s march over it brings you to Mataruka village, at the foot
of the mountain of the same name, which we had first seen from the Karto
tableland, and which had been in view off and on ever since. Even at the
village you are only halfway across this admirable pasture-land, which is
flanked on the east by Mount Bulak-köyepin, a landmark conspicuous during
many days of our journey, and on the south by the hills that divide the
Ireng from the Kotinga watershed. A tropical sun blazed down out of a
cloudless sky, and I was extremely glad to avail myself of the hammock,
and to find that the men carried me very comfortably. They bore me along
faster than I could have walked.

Mataruka is a large Makusi village; and we found all its inhabitants
drawn up in two long lines, with their chief, Albert, at their head,
waiting to shake hands. I did wish that the fashion of shaking hands
had not spread to this far-away corner of Brazil, and I left the brunt
of it to my husband; but all the mothers brought their babies to me to
shake hands. They seem to regard it as a most important ceremony, and,
of course, we should have hated to hurt the feelings of this friendly,
pleasant people. Albert, a very stout and heavy personage, whom we did
not much like, wore a pink shirt and grey trousers, all much too small
for his portly figure. In expectation of his church bell and gramophone,
he had mustered his people from far and wide to meet us. He had also
caused a banaboo to be built for us, a very large, though unfinished
edifice, of which the greater part of the roof had been completed and
also the sides to windward—a fortunate circumstance, as the wind sweeps
ceaselessly over the Mataruka plain. We went into our house, followed by
the entire village; and Albert then brought up Joseph, our future guide,
a very shy Makusi cowboy. My husband asked him how many days the journey
to Roraima would take, and he answered by nervously reeling off all the
names of mountains and rivers we should pass. This certainly made it
sound a very long way indeed. Joseph we found to be a really good fellow,
and we became very fond of him before the end of our journey.

These preliminaries being over, “gramophone talked,” with great success,
and was duly handed over to Albert after he had been instructed how to
work it, together with his church bell. No sooner had that been done than
he proceeded to ring the bell as a summons to the villagers to come to
church. Albert, who has strong ecclesiastical leanings, has set apart
as a church in his village a very nice banaboo with a pointed apse
containing a picture of the Madonna and Child. Logs on the floor serve
as pews for the congregation, which trooped in dutifully at the sound of
the bell—men, women and children, dogs and poultry. Then began a sort of
religious service; for Albert conducts lengthy prayers and hymn-singing
every morning and afternoon. We could frequently catch the words “Ave
Maria” and “Spiritus Sanctus”; and, whenever the congregation fastened
upon any phrase or tune they knew, they all shouted lustily together.
Albert himself intones rather well, having been taught by an itinerant
Roman Catholic priest. On every day we spent in the village Matins and
Evensong were duly celebrated, while in the intervals the gramophone
proved a great success. There are several houses in Mataruka, and also
a corral for the cattle. At our request, a herd of about fifty head was
driven into the corral for our inspection; and the Makusis said there
were, in addition, plenty of wild cattle round about. Here we enjoyed a
plentiful supply of new milk, brought to us in large gourds, and on our
return journey a bullock was killed for our benefit.

The dogs of Mataruka were unfortunately even more insistent than those
we had hitherto had to endure. Nothing was safe from the miserable
starving brutes. They sprang upon the rough tables made of cross-wise
branches and snatched anything that was put down for a second. Poor
Haywood was almost beside himself, and was quite hurt with me for
collapsing with laughter as a dog swallowed three eggs and made off with
two fish that had been brought as a gift. The fish were certainly very
stale and the eggs probably likewise, so it was not a matter to grieve
over, as the loss of a precious ham at Chiung had been. We went to bed as
usual at dusk. The night was chilly, and the glory of the stars above the
wide plain was wonderful.

We were up again breakfasting on porridge and fresh milk by starlight
with a sinking Southern Cross before dawn of day (9th January). There
was, however, much delay in starting off, as we had an almost entirely
new set of carriers. The Mataruka folk appeared to regard our expedition
to Roraima in the light of a pleasure trip, and a large number of
women, and even one baby in arms, accompanied us on the march there and
back. I think they enjoyed the idea of a pilgrimage through the Arekuna
country under a safe escort. There is no love lost between Makusi and
Arekuna; the latter are stronger men and fiercer, but the former are
much more numerous. So, our camp-followers being many, the usual load
for a drogher, which is between fifty and sixty pounds, was considerably
reduced, and several men carried next to nothing. Our rate of travel was
thereby much accelerated, and everyone was extremely cheerful, regarding
the whole jaunt as great fun.

From Albert’s village our trail ascended between Mount Mataruka on our
right and Mount Kako on our left. The valley, up which we climbed, was
very hot, even at half-past seven in the morning, and we wound up it with
the sun at our backs towards an elusive pass over a succession of ridges,
each one pretending to be the real summit, and when we had surmounted
it, behold! there was yet another beyond. It was an exceedingly pretty
valley with long golden grass, dotted with picturesque shade trees; but
the Indians behind us set fire to the grass, and on our return it was a
blackened desolation. Indians always set fire to the prairies when they
travel, partly to keep the trails clear and make walking easier than
it would be in long grass, and incidentally to drive away snakes, but
partly out of merely childish pleasure in the blaze. It is very bad for
the country, as the soil after a burning tends to get washed off the
hills by the next heavy rain.

When, after climbing for an hour and a quarter, we really reached the
final ridge at a point 2,350 feet above sea-level, the view was glorious
and the air so keen and invigorating, so strong and beautiful, that
with each breath we seemed to be drinking health and energy. From this
pass the most striking feature of the landscape was Mount Chakbang, far
away to the west-north-west. It looks in shape somewhat like a clenched
fist, with one finger pointing up to the sky. This mountain is indeed a
surveyor’s friend, for it is visible and unmistakable from nearly every
elevated point in the country.

Joseph, our guide, a most picturesque bronze figure, with his scarlet
loin-cloth, his little quake containing a hammock and drinking gourd on
his back, and a pair of chickens on his arm to assist the commissariat,
was always close to my husband, telling him the names of all the hills
far and near, whenever we halted for observations. He was tall and very
lean and carried a knife in his hand, with which he would gesticulate
to himself as he walked, describing semicircles in the air with it, or
pointing away to distant hills, evidently reciting in his mind all the
different trails of the neighbourhood.

From the col between Mount Mataruka and Mount Kako, the trail taken
by Joseph descended slightly across an upland savannah and led us in
forty-five minutes to another col between the hills to the east of
Rera, a plain almost as large as that of Mataruka and exceedingly well
watered, draining into the Kotinga. Rera is Joseph’s home, and he pointed
out his house far away to the south of the golden savannah on a knoll,
where stood three banaboos with cattle grazing close by. No breath of
air stirred in the Rera plain, and I was glad of my hammock. Johnny and
Jack had evidently found my weight the day before more than they could
bear, and had each provided himself with a tin canister instead; but
I had two fresh volunteers, an old man, whose name did not transpire,
and his son, who called himself “Misterquick.” Mr. Quick is an Anglican
parson who used to visit the district. These two Makusis carried well;
but Indians dislike weights on their shoulders, as they are accustomed
to carrying on the back, and they often complained, “Mamma heavy.” I did
not, however, require them to carry me for long at a time, though the
hammock was very useful in enabling me to rest every now and then for ten
or fifteen minutes without delaying the line of march.

After skirting the Rera plain for some distance past the foot of Mount
Kurowya, we crossed a rather nasty little eta-swamp, and then turned
off at a right angle to ascend a pass between Mount Kumâraying and
Mount Sakmann—a steep and rocky track. Halfway up we stopped to take
lunch, where a delicious rippling brook crossed our path. Unfortunately,
there was little shade and no breeze, so it was very warm. We made an
excellent meal off our Puwa beefsteak, for meat keeps several days in
this atmosphere. We also took note of the extraordinary number of people
in our train; but, as only nineteen claimed rations, we realized that the
others had come independently for the sake of the journey. There were
some uncommonly good fellows amongst our men. Daniel, Joseph’s great
friend and ally, was a thoroughly hard-working boy. A younger Thomas
formed with Haywood our commissariat, and a very efficient one too.
Thomas carried the lunch-basket and all the materials and implements
immediately necessary for making and eating a meal, and he stuck firmly
to a position just behind Haywood, which meant that he was always well
to the front. Thomas also became a very handy man about camp, and learnt
with Indian deftness to manipulate our folding beds, chairs, and table.
In return for these services, he was admitted to mess with Haywood, who
took care that he should always have enough to eat, or rather that there
should be plenty, for an Indian has an infinite appetite and can never
have enough. Haywood observed to me once: “I does like to see Thomas eat.
He eat so diligent”; and it was an apt remark, for Thomas would squat
down to finish the remains in a saucepan with an air of rapt thought,
the complete concentration of a man who is faced with one of the great
tasks of life, and he would scour and scour again the inside of the pots
with his spoon, until no smallest speck of food could possibly be scraped
together, before he would consent to wash them. Thomas’s wife came too,
carrying a baby, as well as a quake with their hammocks and food. I was
rather anxious about that baby the first day, exposed to torrid sun with
nothing on its head; but it was perfectly well and cheerful the whole
time—a fine little boy. Johnny and Jack of Chiung were another pair of
stalwart friends. Jack wore a felt hat with a green ribbon run in and out
round the crown. It looked a very quaint apex to his brawny, bronze-red
figure. He was an exceptionally powerful fellow, whilst Johnny was a
dear old man to whom we became much attached. He would come holding out
his hand, saying “Mamma” in a most appealing way, to beg for a piece of
chocolate; and if I refused him a bit, he would sulk just like a spoiled
child, and pretend to be deaf when spoken to. Then the “Pirate,” as we
christened him on account of a red handkerchief he wore tied round his
head, his real name being Alexander, was a cheery personage, always to
the fore, despite the fact that he was very elderly; and he was closely
followed by his nimble, if likewise elderly, wife. The “Nut,” too, having
discarded necklaces and trousers, proved a useful retainer.

After our meal we started again up the hill. It certainly was a roasting
climb; but a delicious breeze met us on the top and fanned us as we went
down the other side. We descended into a small grass plain, at the end
of which we crossed a narrow strip of bush, where, as usual, a path
had recently been cleared for us; and then, following the bank of a
delightful jasper-bedded little stream with pretty cascades and crystal
clear water, we wound in and out between low hills in a narrow valley
until the trail again took us to a hill-top, whence we perceived that we
had come in a sweeping semicircle from Mataruka back to the Ireng, which
was again at our feet. At this point we were two and three-quarter hours’
march from the col between hills above the east end of the Rera plain,
say six miles by the trail in all its windings; but the distance back to
the col between Mount Mataruka and Mount Kako was only four miles in the
direct line of vision. Plainly, therefore, there must be some straighter,
if more arduous, path over this stretch of country; and, as a matter of
fact, the Arekunas who accompanied us on our return journey did make a
short-cut, which took them from the Paiwa valley to the saddle between
Mount Mataruka and Mount Kako without traversing the Rera plain. Their
path was, however, described by Joseph, with an expressive gesture,
as “Mountain-top, mountain-top, mountain-top.” We could now see the
savannah peaks above Enamung as well as those near Puwa, and it would
evidently be possible to reach Enamung from the Karto tableland by a
route far more direct than ours had been. Indeed, Joseph afterwards told
us of a trail leading from Karto village to Enamung in two stages. That
would undoubtedly be the best line for any future traveller bound for
Roraima, as the long détour through Chiung, Puwa, Mataruka, and Rera, is
thus avoided. Still, we did not object to the longer march. It was all
very delightful in the keen air and sunshine, and I realized with great
thankfulness that I was now hardening to the sun and felt extremely fit
and well.

From our hill-top we continued for some time along a ridge, descending
gradually at first, and then sharply, till after twenty-three minutes’
walk we forded a beautiful clear stream, almost at the level of the
Ireng, which it joined a short distance to our right. Then, on a low
knoll beyond, we stepped upon some stone slabs with curious markings on
them, and here Joseph said, “Makunaima pickaninny, he dead.” Makunaima is
the goddess whose tears, shed for the loss of her pickaninny, are said to
form Roraima’s waterfalls, and this we supposed to be the child’s burial
place. Then came another little flat meadow, a strip of woodland over
some undulating ground, and we again emerged into a large grassy plain in
the middle of which stands Paröwöpö village. I say “village,” but there
was only one banaboo and an open building, which the few women about the
place called “church,” but which contained no holy pictures nor any sign
of worship. Our whole party established ourselves in this “church”; and,
while we took tea, the women brought cassiri for our droghers. As each
fresh batch of men came in, the cassiri bowl was handed to Joseph to give
them at his good pleasure. After tea we had some difficulty in getting
our caravan to restart from Paröwöpö. They explained that Enamung was
“far far”; but, Joseph having prescribed Enamung as our destination for
the night, we would not listen, but pressed on.

Another hour and a quarter brought us to Enamung village. The trail,
after leaving the Paröwöpö plain, passed through the forest-belt which
fills the low saddle between the hills that separate the two savannahs.
The trail in this forest had been admirably cleaned and widened, and even
the leaves had been swept off the path. Towards sunset we emerged from
the bush into a lovely scene, open savannah, with a broad stream curving
through it in a semicircle. On our side of this stream the ground rose
and fell in pleasant undulations, whilst on the other side it rolled up
into high grassy peaks. We could hear a cataract roaring on the right,
where the river disappeared from view. This river, called the Wairann,
is a tributary of the Ireng, and we followed its course upstream for
several miles next day. The Enamung village consists of two houses and
a cattle-pen, perched up on a grassy knoll just above the right bank of
the Wairann. A more beautiful spot for a camp cannot be imagined. But
we had barely time to spread our tarpaulin over a wooden framework that
stood between the two banaboos before night closed in on us; and just as
dusk was falling some children drove up cattle into the pen. We counted
twelve head. They were a good, short-horned, straight-backed breed. This
was the last place at which we saw cattle on our outward journey. Of
course, the herds one sees at the various Makusi villages are only the
tame cattle; and we were told that a far larger number roam wild among
these uninhabited savannahs, and are shot by the Indians, when they have
a craving for fresh beef.

It grew very cold directly the sun had gone down, and the moon circled
with earth-shine was glorious, likewise the stars. Luckily there was no
wind, as our camp was most exposed. The Indians and Mr. Menzies all slept
inside the banaboos; but we were in the open, and, as we lay with all our
blankets over us, looking into the infinite depths of the starry skies,
the muffled roar of the distant cataract filling the air, four lines of
Matthew Arnold’s which have always haunted me and filled me with longing
since I was a child came into my mind:

    In the moonlight the shepherds,
    Soft lulled by the rills,
    Lie wrapped in their blankets,
    Asleep on the hills.

On the morrow we were up again by starlight and admired an exceptionally
bright Southern Cross. Then, after swallowing a large plateful of
porridge each, washed down with some coffee, we were off on the trail as
day dawned. From Enamung village a climb of twenty-three minutes took
us to the brow of a hill, whence we had a good view up the valley of
the Wairann and far beyond to Mount Weitipu, one of the giants standing
near Roraima. The path, however, dropped down again to the river, which
curved back to us, and we followed its right bank upstream for two hours
in a beautiful valley. On the left bank rose an almost perpendicular
grassy hill; but we wound alternately through meadows, strewn with big
black boulders, and through belts of woodland, where, as before, a
bridle track had been cleared for us. The river was roaring in cataracts
or meandering in still reaches beside us or racing round islands. It
contains a large volume of water.

Our caravan halted for “breakfast” unusually early, and we expostulated
with Joseph; but he waved his hand in the direction of our onward path,
which was now to leave the beautiful Wairann, and said, “Tuna (_i.e._,
_water_) far, far.” The Indians have a manner of saying “f-a-a-r-far” in
a faint voice that is wonderfully expressive of distance.

When the meal was over we resumed our march, and a five minutes’ climb
uphill, followed by a seventeen minutes’ march across a small plateau,
finally took us from the watershed of the Ireng to that of the Kotinga.
From the small plateau we again obtained a glorious view of Mount
Weitipu, rising high and blue above all intervening hills. The next hour
was spent in descending from the plateau, fording a little brook which
falls into the Karakanang, a tributary of the Kotinga, re-ascending on
to another and very stony tableland, to the south-east of which was the
Karakanang gorge, far below the level of our trail, and so reaching the
point where that river is forded by stepping-stones of red jasper just
above its leap from the plateau level into the gorge. The heat of the
sun, though intense at midday, was mitigated by a heavenly breeze that
fanned us steadily. Flights of locusts rose at our approach and flew
round us, hitting us all over. The Indians eagerly caught as many as
they could and ate them raw on the spot, regarding them, apparently, as
titbits.

The Karakanang is a most fascinating river, flowing crystal clear in a
succession of little vertical falls, or else sliding over long, smooth
slabs of jasper into limpid green pools. This is the regular formation of
river-beds in the upper Kotinga watershed. The colouring of that country
is exquisite: greeny-grey grass, red soil, and blue-green crystal-clear
water, flowing over coral-red jasper bottoms. When we had crossed
the Karakanang, the tableland widened into a fine grassy savannah,
surrounded by a stately amphitheatre of hills, and we marched over
easily-undulating ground for an hour and a half, crossing in that time no
less than six small streams, that flowed through gulleys in the plateau
to join the Karakanang. The course of these tiny cañons could be traced
afar off by the eta-palms growing in them. At last we came to a rift in
the tableland, where, beyond another small stream, there was a strip of
forest, through which, for the first time since leaving Karto tableland,
we found that no trail had been cleared for us—a plain hint that we were
now passing from the land of the Makusis into that of the Arekunas.
Moreover, the stream, where we reached it, ran in a deep pool, too deep
to ford; so, while Joseph and some of the men were felling a couple of
small trees for us to cross by, and clearing a path through the wood,
we sat down under a big tree, drank cold tea, which Haywood had handy,
and ate chocolate. Joseph’s arrangements being complete, we crossed the
pool on his makeshift bridge, and a few minutes’ walk brought us to the
other side of the bush. Thence our trail gradually sloped down over a
grassy savannah to meet the Warukma River, where it races down over a
jasper bed, glittering under the sun, from the heart of the mountain
amphitheatre that swept round in a majestic circle to our left.

We forded the Warukma and camped on the ledges of its left bank. These
torrents, when swollen by heavy rain, must be a splendid sight, but they
would then be very difficult to cross. A delicious current of icy-cold
water was flowing in the bed of the Warukma; but wide stretches of
jasper floor were uncovered and dry, and on one of these Joseph and
his men improvised for us a most ingenious tent. They placed one end
of a ridge-pole in the fork of a tree on the bank; the other end they
supported on cross-wise poles, whose bases they propped up with big
stones. They then stuck short uprights, on which to tie the tarpaulin,
in cracks of the ledge and buttressed them up with stones. It was very
picturesque. The ledge made us a beautiful, clean, level floor, and this
was, in fact, the nicest camp of our journey. We bathed in a natural
“porphyry font,” a few yards upstream from our tent. The water was
stone-cold and clear, and the pool very deep. Little fish, about the size
of a trout which would be thrown back as too small, and of a bright green
colour, with black “eyes” on them, came swimming up curiously to examine
us. We had a still, cloudless night; the moon was very bright, but not
large enough to dim the radiance of the stars.

We woke to find the weather deliciously cool and grey; and, after our
porridge and coffee, we started “under the opening eyelids of the
morn” to climb steadily until we reached the ridge of the mountain
amphitheatre. It was an hour’s ascent. At the top we found a fine,
grassy, high-level plateau, well watered, but almost treeless, which
it took us just half an hour to cross. The freshness of the grey
morning gave wings to our feet. We crossed a brook and a water-hole
on this plateau, for the country is wonderfully irrigated, and every
tableland seems provided with springs of clear water. At the far end
of the plateau, before descending, we had a superb view back to Mounts
Mataruka and Bulak-köyepin. Given favourable weather conditions, Roraima,
Kukenaam, Wei-assipu, Weitipu, and Muköripö can all be seen from the
trail itself at this point, which is 3,150 feet above sea-level; but on
our outward journey they were densely veiled in cloud. If you climb a
peak rising above the plateau a little to the east, Mount Chakbang also
comes into sight. It is a splendid observation-post for a surveyor, and
for that reason my husband labelled it “Landmark Peak.”

Our path now descended very gradually in the valley of a stream,
which rises on “Landmark Peak” and soon becomes a fine jasper-bedded
watercourse, the trail betaking itself to the river-bed, where the smooth
slabs made excellent going. This stream is called Aimaratökpai. It was
very nearly dry—a fortunate thing for us; but I should love to see these
rivers rushing down in spate over their smooth stone floors. The bed of
this particular stream had weathered to a slate-blue colour, but there
was a good deal of pink, disintegrated jasper sand lying on it. The
effect of the blue floor, with its pink streaks of sand and the grey
hills above it, was very lovely and curious.

Too soon the line suddenly decided to leave this friendly river-bed,
and we had to scramble up a steep bluff about sixty feet in height. An
Indian trail always makes a great point of doing the unexpected. We then
traversed a very switchback of a path, winding over hill-spurs, until
we gained the top of a steep slant into the valley of the Waraïna, a
confluent of the Kotinga. The view from this spot, before we descended,
was beautiful, and our whole company sat down to admire it. Indians love
to look out over a big stretch of country, and it is amusing to watch a
crowd of them pointing out to each other all the salient features and
tracing with finger-tips the directions of different trails over distant
hills. Their language seems onomatopœic, and at times one can gather the
gist of their conversation without understanding one word. It sounds
very much as though they spoke in tones, like the Chinese, but, much
more quietly. They are a curiously quiet people, the result, I suppose,
of living amid that big, silent Nature. We never heard them sing on the
line of march, or even when paddling, and they seldom raise their voices.
In camp, with thirty of them close by, they never disturbed us. If we
happened to wake in the night, only the flicker of the fires, which they
keep going throughout the dark hours, reminded us that they were near us;
and even in their villages they make little noise. A mere dozen blacks or
Chinese would give one a very different tale to tell.

A steep scramble downhill brought us to the side of a brook, which we
followed for a short distance, and which flows into the Waraïna. We
left the brook just before the watersmeet, and crossing in the fork
a little belt of land, where some fine cassava was growing, we forded
the Waraïna. Then a short walk took us to our breakfast camp on the
Opamapö, another confluent of the Waraïna. This is one of the prettiest
spots in the country; for here the Opamapö makes a vertical leap of some
sixty feet over a red jasper cliff into a clear, deep, jasper-ledged,
tree-girt pool. The crowning note of colour came from a purple-blossomed
tree projecting over the cliff-side. We sat on the tree-shaded ledges
above the fall, drawing water for our meal from a limpid, green pool,
and the stream beyond wound away fringed with eta-palm. Steep, green
hill-shoulders formed the far horizon.

[Illustration: WARATUK RAPIDS.]

[Illustration: OPAMAPÖ WATERFALL.

To face page 172.]

After an hour and a quarter’s rest, during which we ate cold chicken, one
of the four brought with us from Mataruka, and our men regaled themselves
with cassava and dried beef, we proceeded on our way, fording the
Opamapö. The weather was still delightfully grey and cool, and we met a
few light, passing showers—greetings from Roraima behind his cloud-wall.
We marched in a steadily widening valley for fifty minutes until we
reached the crest of a low ridge that forms the water-parting between
the streams that feed the Waraïna and the basin of the Kotinga itself.
The latter river, however, as had previously been the case with the
Ireng, remained invisible until we reached its edge. We were now in the
gently-sloping pasture-lands of a magnificent valley, beautifully watered
by numerous streams, whose course is marked in the lush grass by avenues
of eta-palms; but no human habitation or sign of cattle could anywhere be
seen. We put up a big deer, but it escaped us easily. There were signs
that a fire, probably lit by travelling Indians, had recently passed over
the place, the grass being very young and green, and the stems of the
palms blackened and scorched. On our right we now saw Mount Weitipu quite
clearly, with Mount Muköripö, an oddly-shaped rocky cone, close beside
him. The ground undulates gently, forming a plateau some three hundred
feet above both banks of the Kotinga, which flows in a narrow trench
below the spacious acclivities of the surrounding country.

At last from the edge of this plateau we saw at our feet the Kotinga
itself, with its turquoise-blue water, flowing through a valley of
brightest green, dotted with eta-palms. So attractive and refreshing
it looked that we little guessed the hidden plague awaiting us, until
Joseph said resignedly, pointing down to the river: “Kabouru plenty,
plenty.” We now descended quickly to the left bank of the river, crossing
the ravine of a boisterous little brook on the way. The river-bed is
here about 2,200 feet above sea-level; and the ford is not far below
the confluence of the Kwating from the north-west and the Pipi—another
blue jewel in a setting of eta-palms—from the north-east, to form the
Kotinga proper. It was by far the most serious obstacle of the kind that
we had to negotiate. The river at the ford is some two hundred feet
wide, and contains near the left bank an island of some size—the usual
camping-ground of Indians on their way over this trail—and near the right
bank another much smaller island. The ford runs diagonally across at the
brink of a small rapid over jasper rocks, water-worn and slippery, and
would doubtless be quite impassable when the river comes down in spate.
As it was, the water came well above my husband’s knees; and, the current
being strong, we had to plant our feet carefully at each step to avoid
an accident. We had by this time become quite accustomed to wading over
streams, and much enjoyed the delicious feeling of the stone-cold water
round our feet and legs. Our clothes and our canvas rubber-soled boots
dried very quickly in the sun after each such crossing. Joseph wanted us
to camp on the island near the left bank, but we did not like the look of
it. It was covered with dense bush, and the kabouru, from which pest we
had been happily free since crossing the Ireng, rose in their millions
to receive us. Besides, we felt that a ford, once begun, is better done
and finished with. It was great fun getting across. Joseph held my arm
firmly, and piloted me with much care and skill. The long file of our
Indians, men and women, gingerly picking their way along the brink of the
rapid, was a quaint sight.

[Illustration: FORDING THE KOTINGA RIVER.

To face page 174.]

On the right bank of the Kotinga, in the neighbourhood of the ford, there
was no “bush,” without which, of course, one cannot camp, as firewood
is essential, and the Indians must have trees on which to hang their
hammocks. So we moved on, the trail turning downstream to the left and
then up an eta-fringed brook. After a little while we forded this brook,
and, having crossed a low ridge, we made camp at 4.30 p.m. on the banks
of another stream in a clump of bush at its edge. Alas! there was no
escaping the kabouru! As soon as we had halted, they came about us in
swarms, and rendered life intolerable until dark, at 6.30 p.m., when they
all disappeared. The ups and downs of camp life are truly astonishing!
The night before, in the Warukma bed, we had had as perfect a site for
our camp as we could possibly desire, whilst the Kotinga valley camp
could not well have been more disagreeable. It was not a picturesque camp
either, for the surroundings had recently been scorched by fire. The
stream beside us was, however, pretty enough. It dropped in a cascade
into a steep gulley at our feet, there disappearing into a dense thicket.
But there was no level ground, so that we spent an uncomfortable night
with our beds at a slant. I would strongly advise future travellers by
this route to endeavour to ford the Kotinga early enough in the day to
permit of their camping for the night some way up the hills to the north
or south of the valley, at a distance from the river.

Next day (12th January) we were up, dressed, and packed before dawn,
to avoid the kabouru. It was a glorious, cool morning. A heavy dew
sparkled on the grass, and the air was keen and fresh. Our path continued
obstinately to the left, despite the fact that our goal lay behind
Weitipu on the right; and we passed over beautiful undulating meadows,
like English hayfields ready for the scythe, and then round hill-spurs,
until after one and three-quarter hours’ march we reached the valley
of the Chitu, a large confluent of the Kotinga, crossing on our way
frequent little brooks that tumbled down steep gulleys. Here the Indians
and Haywood killed a snake in the grass, and the latter said it was a
_labaria_ and poisonous; but is a snake ever killed which the people
concerned in the daring deed do not declare to be deadly?

We forded the northern fork of the Chitu close to the point where it
descends out of a steep line of hills, and up the steepest part of these
hills our trail then proceeded to climb. Pink soil showed through the
grass, which was now short and growing in tussocks, so that we knew
we were still on jasper formation. The hill ascended in a series of
terraces, the ascent between each being almost vertical; and on each
terrace we paused to drink in the wonderful beauty of the widening view,
for our hill-side commanded a great stretch of the Kotinga valley,
shut in far away by the mountain ranges we had crossed in the previous
forenoon. The sun filtered through the clouds enough to light up the
scene with the most extraordinary and exquisite colouring, the far hills
being a marvellous sapphire and the nearer country a brilliant emerald,
patched with purple cloud shadows. It reminded me dimly of old stained
glass and of the colouring of Rossetti’s pictures. We were climbing the
crest of the hill-ridge in the fork between the northern and southern
branches of the Chitu River, and one hour’s effort brought us to the
summit. We then had a view right back to “Landmark Peak,” while in front
of us stretched a tableland, over which the wind blew keen and cold,
for we were 4,500 feet above sea-level. Such a country! And there it
lies, all untouched and unknown, the great silence of solitude brooding
over it! Save for a handful of nomadic Indians scattered over the vast
prairies, never a man treads these lonely regions.

For the next hour and a half our path lay over charming upland savannah,
with here and there a strip of woodland, intersected by numerous brooks
hurrying down in cascades to meet the Chitu. We halted beside one of
these rivulets, crossing, as usual, just above a cascade that fell into
the customary deep green pool. We had to put our coats on directly we
stopped to rest, for the sky was overcast and a chilly but invigorating
wind was blowing. Anyone who filled these highland valleys with cattle
and built himself a jasper house amidst the life-giving breezes of the
hills would have his lot cast in a fair land. After luncheon we walked
on again, and were caught in one or two light showers of cold drizzle,
though not enough to soak our clothes. We descended slightly to cross the
southern fork of the Chitu, racing down to its valley. The ford is short,
but deep. Then we climbed to the head-waters of the Chitu close by. Here
is, we believe, the divide between the Amazon and the Orinoco; and, if
so, at this point we presumably crossed from Brazil into Venezuela.
These two republics, however, have not delimited the frontier in this
neighbourhood.



THE VENEZUELAN APPROACH TO RORAIMA



CHAPTER IX

THE VENEZUELAN APPROACH TO RORAIMA

    There, among the flowers and grasses,
    Only the mightier movement sounds and passes;
      Only the winds and rivers,
        Life and death.

              R. L. STEVENSON: _In the Highlands_.


From the ridge above the head-waters of the Chitu we descended gently,
and after fifteen minutes’ march we forded the Maipa, a deep, sluggish
stream, with a belt of forest at its farther side. On the projecting
branch of a tree a glorious purple orchid, the only one we saw during our
journey, was admiring its reflection in the water. The Maipa probably
belongs to the Orinoco watershed. We then traversed the narrow forest
belt on the farther bank, and emerged into a curiously-rifted savannah,
which led us to the foot of another abrupt hill-side. Up it we went,
and found ourselves at the edge of a vast rolling plain, Weitipu on our
right and far beyond a big fog-bank, which we knew concealed Roraima.
His great form loomed dark in the cloud. This tableland, at the extreme
south-east edge of which we stood, extends past the foot of Mount Weitipu
almost to the foot of Roraima, and then drops down to the Kukenaam River.
Its average level is fully 3,800 feet above the sea, its gentle grassy
undulations, broken here and there by clumps of trees beside intersecting
watercourses, spread out before us for a distance which it took no less
than five and a half hours’ actual march to traverse. This plateau is
a superb pasture-land, but no animals now graze there, save a few wild
deer. What a country to lie fallow!

We proceeded on our way, fording the Arataparu and the Weiwötö, both
large tributaries of the Arabupu. All these streams undoubtedly feed the
Kukenaam River, and thus form a part of the Orinoco basin. The ford of
the Weiwötö was just above a lovely flashing waterfall, and we camped on
its right bank. Now at last did Roraima and Kukenaam deign to take note
of us. First the head of the Töwashing pinnacle, which forms Roraima’s
south-east corner, emerged from out of a fog-bank; then a piece of grim,
grand shoulder, then cloud-drift once again; but gradually more and more
of the twin giants was exposed, never clear all at once, but hinted at
sufficiently for us to grasp their outlines. I felt smitten with awe and
fear. We seemed so minute and so presumptuous to venture unbidden into
the presence of these towering monsters in a land that knew us not. The
glory and the beauty was very great, as the evening sun fell on them, the
fleecy clouds now revealing, now concealing, the black precipices. Well
may the Indians feel that the place is holy ground!

I must try to describe the scene more exactly. Weitipu lay on our right
almost due north of us, rising sheer up from the plain. This mountain
seems to be made of quartz, cliffs of which stood out where the savannah
slopes had been washed away. Its southern end is roughly circular at the
base, the sides being terraced and the small plateau at the top being
surmounted by a sharp peak, which would afford an uninterrupted view to
every point of the compass. All this part of the mountain is savannah
dotted with occasional tree-clumps, and it is seamed by the gulleys
of small streams tumbling from its terraces in sparkling waterfalls.
To the northward the mountain is forest-clad, and is shaped into the
cliff-sided, flat-topped rectangular block, so characteristic of this
country. From its north-west side stretches a sea of forest, in which two
crags jut out fantastically side by side, the more conspicuous of the two
being known as Muköripö. Between Weitipu and Roraima the land drops very
considerably and is densely forested. Then arises Roraima’s south-eastern
wall, which is said to be ten miles long. From our camp at Weiwötö we
saw it, of course, greatly foreshortened, and the south-western face, up
which we eventually climbed, we could not yet see at all; but Kukenaam’s
southern end projected far beyond the Töwashing pinnacle. At one moment
the clouds cleared away almost entirely, and we counted six long white
streaks of water falling vertically down Roraima’s cliff-face. It had
evidently rained heavily, for we did not see these cascades again after a
spell of fine weather.

Our Weiwötö camp was very exposed and bleak. Joseph looked so shiveringly
cold that we spared him an outfit of clothes, which, alas! greatly
impaired the dignity and picturesqueness of his appearance. The Makusis,
with Mr. Menzies and Haywood, went off for the night to a little wooded
island amidstream for shelter. They had stretched one of our tarpaulins
for us over an old hut-frame on the open plain, and had made a most
inefficient wind-break with the other. As we tossed and shivered on
our narrow camp-beds through the chilly night, we could see the dim,
cloud-wrapped mountain forms looming against the moonlit sky.

[Illustration: THE SOUTH-WEST FACE OF MOUNT RORAIMA, SHOWING THE
TÖWASHING PINNACLE.

To face page 186.]

For the first and only time on the journey Haywood failed to have his
fire alight before dawn. His excuse, as he arrived by daylight, was an
entirely adequate one. To reach the bush-covered island, where he and
the Indians had slept, it was necessary to wade knee-deep in water, and
he did not like to attempt the ford in the dark. So we got off somewhat
later than usual, and after fifteen minutes’ march forded the Arabupu.
This stream, running very fast and deep, at times nearly carried me off
my feet. The water rose well above my husband’s knees, and the squat
little Indian women were up to their waists. From now onwards until we
halted for breakfast we were walking over prairie land, mostly on the
upward trend, towards the nearest corner of Roraima’s south-eastern wall
where the Töwashing pinnacle separates itself from the mass, and we came
gradually round to face the south-western side. Flights of locusts rose
in all directions on our approach. We walked sharply to keep ourselves
warm. Roraima and Kukenaam were at first impenetrably hidden in fog; but,
as the day wore on, the sun came out and very gradually dispersed the
clouds. Nearer and nearer we came, the great cliffs, rendered peculiarly
mysterious by the flying clouds that partly enveloped them, for ever
changing their shapes, till I said to myself: “Either I am dreaming it
all, or else I have had a touch of sunstroke; but that scene cannot be
real.”

We breakfasted in sun and wind in a hollow by a small brook, and then
set off again, proceeding to the edge of the tableland, which then falls
abruptly down in steep-sided terraces to the basin of the Kukenaam
River. We dropped down some one thousand feet into this valley in the
course of an hour, and then walked up the left bank of the Kukenaam
River over flat ground, intersected by streams and swamps, under a
broiling sun, in blinding glare—not a pleasant walk. A march of one and
a quarter hours through this country brought us to the Töwashing, a
stream which leaps from the Töwashing pinnacle of Mount Roraima to join
the Kukenaam, and, fording it, we filed into Kamaiwâwong village half an
hour later, amidst an ominous silence. My mind had been plagued with a
presentiment that some hitch would befall us here. Several travellers
have reached this spot and yet failed to conquer Roraima, one of the
last being Dr. Crampton, a professor from the United States, who became
convinced that the Arekunas meant to murder him, and simultaneously that
the ascent of Roraima “to satisfy a purely personal ambition” would be
“unjustifiable.”[2] The fact that Kamaiwâwong was entirely empty and
deserted was far from reassuring. Not so much as a dog was there to bark
at us. We sat down in the shade of one of the banaboos and sent Joseph
with a deputation up a small hill to the village of Tekwonno, about half
a mile off, across the Kukenaam River. This, too, looked ominously empty,
and soon the deputation returned saying, “No man.” Roraima and Kukenaam
stood for the first time entirely clear of cloud, gazing down upon us as
much as to say, “There is many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip.”

It was rather an uncomfortable position. We had about thirty very hungry
people with us. They had been reckless with the food-supplies; and,
when Mr. Menzies remonstrated, Joseph had declared: “Arekuna, plenty
cassava.” But at the “breakfast” hour this day more than half of our
followers had had nothing to eat. We resolved, therefore, to establish
ourselves at Kamaiwâwong as comfortably as possible for the night, and on
the morrow, if the Arekunas did not return, as we hoped they would do, to
send out a raiding party to find their provision-fields and to bring in
cassava, whilst we, with another party, would attempt to make our way up
the mountain. With field-glasses we could see quite clearly, running up
the cliff-face, the ledge by which all ascents of Mount Roraima have been
made since Sir Everard im Thurn first found the way in 1884, a line of
green across the red face of the rock.

Roraima and Kukenaam stand on the same vast pediment of highland
savannah. Doubtless in remote ages they were one mountain.[3] Above
the savannah slopes is a girdle of forest, out of which the gigantic
cliff-walls start up vertically a thousand feet into the air, dominating
and dwarfing all beside. The whole scale is so huge that eyes
unaccustomed to it are easily deceived as to the distances involved. The
precipices seemed to be close at hand, but in reality they were not less
than four miles away from us in the direct line of vision to the nearest
point. The twin mountains are divided by a deep rift between their
cliffs, and from the summit of Mount Kukenaam on the west side of this
rift the Kukenaam River leaps in a mighty waterfall, the spray and mists
of which surge to and fro in the gorge, filling and concealing it, and
often making the cliffs of the two colossi appear to be one continuous
escarpment.

Rather glumly we established ourselves in Kamaiwâwong. The village
takes its name from the Kamaiwa, a small stream which, after springing
vertically a thousand feet downwards from the point on Roraima where
the ledge athwart the cliff-face reaches the summit of that grim wall,
flows past Kamaiwâwong, between it and Tekwonno, to join the Kukenaam
River. The banaboos are built on a little plain, some 3,700 feet above
sea-level. We chose a circular one for our dwelling. Only its walls to
windward had been filled in, so that it was the reverse of stuffy. Mr.
Menzies, with Joseph, Haywood, and Thomas, occupied a house near by,
whilst the others spread themselves about in other buildings. Kamaiwâwong
was quite as large as Mataruka village, and had an imposing church. The
house of Jeremiah, its late chief, stood in the centre, the doorway
blocked up with earth-sods. He had recently died.

We unpacked and settled down, and it was beginning to get dusk, when
Joseph called out “Arekuna yebu” (_i.e._, _coming_), and pointed to a
hill on the other side of the Kukenaam River, where his keen eyes had
detected moving figures. The word went round the camp, “Arekuna yebu.”
It was a very great relief! Just as night fell, three stalwart fellows
strode up in single file, all carrying guns, the first and last naked,
the centre one attired in a blue coat and trousers and brown wide-awake
hat. All had ear-rings and painted faces. They wore an absurdly jaunty
delighted-to-see-you air, held out their hands, ejaculated “How-do?” and
laughed cheerily. They then pointed to the mountain and said: “Roroyima
(such is the Arekuna pronunciation) piff-piff-piff-paff-whizz,” or
at least that is what it sounded like; and it clearly meant: “It is
a long way up there; do you want to go?” We signified that we did,
and, moreover, that we wanted cassava and _kapong_ (_i.e._, men). They
squatted down beside us, and said: “Yes, yes, to-morrow, Schoolmaster
yebu.” “Indeed?” we said; “but what side Schoolmaster and what side all
man?” They pointed across the hills, over which they had come, and said,
“Wrayanda-aniafpai banaboo”; so we sent off the blue-suited fellow with
a lamp to return to, and hasten, his people, the other couple remaining
with us.

Kamaiwâwong had evidently been abandoned by the villagers, Indian
fashion, so that Jeremiah’s _manes_ might have peace; but we never
discovered for certain why Tekwonno also had been deserted. The Arekunas
afterwards said, “Wrayanda-aniafpai plenty cassava,” as though to imply
that they were all employed there preparing cassava; but this would
not account for every man, woman, child, dog, and fowl having cleared
out. It is more likely that they misdoubted our intentions, and removed
themselves and their belongings until they were reassured. Mr. Menzies
laid it to a “guilty conscience.” He said the Arekunas are often
brigands, raid Makusi fields, and carry off their women; and that, seeing
a large party approach, they preferred to seek safety in flight until
they were assured that vengeance was not about to overtake them.

We went to bed much relieved, and hoping to make the ascent next day—a
fallacious hope as it proved; but really we were all the better for
having a day’s rest forced upon us, after six consecutive marches, during
which we had covered the distance of some ninety-three miles between Puwa
and Kamaiwâwong. The night was very cold. We piled our mackintoshes on
top of our blankets to keep in the warmth; but from 3 a.m. onwards it was
too cold to sleep, and we were up at dawn preparing for the climb. Only
our camp-beds, our two bedding-bags, and one small canister, were to be
carried with us, and we were ready to start before any more Arekunas had
come in. So we sat down to solace ourselves with “the virtuous Macaulay,”
hoping to make at all events a half day’s march. At about 11 a.m. a long
string of Arekunas arrived, beating a tom-tom, and much decorated with
paint and necklaces. One man had painted coat-buttons down his naked
chest! They brought with them cassava and bananas, a clucking hen, and
sat-on eggs, also nineteen magnificent pineapples, which they laid out in
rows on the floor of our banaboo. Those pineapples were quite the most
delicious I ever tasted. But to all inquiries as to making a start the
Arekunas merely replied, “Schoolmaster yebu,” so that we had to resign
ourselves to further delay. The newcomers brought a gourd of _paiwarri_
with them, which they offered to our people. This is a highly alcoholic
beverage, and made the eyes of the drinkers shine unnaturally. We were
glad to see that there was not much of it.

The day was brilliantly fine; not a cloud speck on either of the great
mountains, whose cliff-faces shone red above the green tree-belts.
We felt we were letting opportunity sadly slip by us, but there was
nothing to be done. The glare from the barren earth-terrace, on which
an Indian village always stands, was blinding, so we spent nearly all
day within the welcome shade of our banaboo. Arekunas—men, women, and
children—arrived in small parties at intervals all day long, and our
hungry Makusis were regaled with the much-desired cassava and cassiri.
Towards nightfall Schoolmaster came in, evidently the chief of the
tribe. Why he has this peculiar name I do not know. He is a big, stalwart
individual, all muscle and sinew, full of gaiety and laughter, as seems
to be the Arekuna habit, and we explained to him, pointing to the summit
of Roraima, that we wished to be there the next day. After nightfall
the moon shone brilliantly, so that we had an opportunity of seeing the
mountains in all lights. It was an unforgettable scene of mystery and
beauty.



RORAIMA, FATHER OF STREAMS



CHAPTER X

RORAIMA, FATHER OF STREAMS

    It was the rampart of God’s house
      That she was standing on;
    By God built over the sheer depth,
      The which is Space begun.

          D. G. ROSSETTI: _The Blessèd Damozel_.


Saturday, 15th January, 1916, was the day on which at last we climbed to
the summit of Mount Roraima. We were most fortunate in having a cool,
grey morning; and after sundry delays, at which Indians are adepts,
we started off from Kamaiwâwong at 7.38 a.m. Our party consisted of
Schoolmaster and twelve other Arekunas, some to act as baggage-carriers
and some to cut open a trail where the ascent was through forest. Mr.
Menzies and Haywood also accompanied us, but none of our Makusi droghers.
We had asked Joseph and Daniel whether they would like to come; but
they said “No,” possibly under pressure, for I don’t think the Arekunas
particularly wished the secret of their mountain to be disclosed to
Makusis. However, Joseph and Daniel subsequently changed their mind,
hurried after us, and overtook us just as we were reaching the cliff-top.

Roraima stood in clear-cut outline before us, untouched by clouds.
There was heavy dew on the grass, and it was delightful walking up the
savannah slopes. The hill-track led us off to the right over ground which
was in places very stony but for the most part good going, if steep.
Schoolmaster pointed to the top of the mountain, and said, “To-morrow”;
but we firmly answered, “No, to-day,” whereupon all the Arekunas smiled
and shook their heads, and Schoolmaster shut his eyes, beat his breast,
and gasped, to show how exhausted we should soon be. I retorted by
running past him, laughing my contempt, and pointing up to the sky, while
I told him, “Paranakiri [_i.e._, _overseas_] mountain so!” He opened his
mouth, pointed down his throat, and said, “Brandina!” which I fear throws
a lurid light on the proceedings of former travellers. It was really
quite an amusing dumb-crambo argument; but our steady pace soon convinced
him that we meant business. The path wound unremittingly uphill over
long grass, with big boulders, doubtless once part of Roraima’s mighty
cliffs, lying on all sides, much as they do on Dartmoor tors, whilst the
depressions are boggy and filled with marsh-plants. The ever-widening
semicircle of panorama behind us was very beautiful and interesting.

From Kamaiwâwong to the forest fringe was a hard three hours’ walk, with
no halt save an occasional pause for breath. At 10.24 a.m. we reached the
highest point of the savannah hills, 6,510 feet above sea-level. Then
we dropped down some fifty feet to the edge of the forest, and made our
first halt, from 10.35 a.m. to 12.17 p.m., in thick jungle by the side of
a delightful gurgling brook, which dashes down icy cold from Roraima’s
bleak heights. The ascent to this point can hardly be less than five
miles by the trail in all its windings. Schoolmaster introduced the spot
to us as “English pappa banaboo”; and we believe he meant to indicate
it as the site of Sir Everard im Thurn’s camp, when he was searching
for a path to the top of Roraima. As far as is known, Sir Everard was
the first human being to find a way up the precipice and to set foot on
Roraima’s summit. He did so on the 18th December, 1884, after spending
about a month in camp at the edge of the forest-belt, whilst his Indians
cut a trail to the toe of the ledge, whereby alone the cliff-face can be
surmounted; and our midday halt must have been near the place where he
persevered with such patience. We had a thorough rest and made a good
meal. Our limes having given out, we took a bottle of lime-juice with
us; and I made Schoolmaster drink a spoonful of it, lest the appearance
of a bottle should make him believe that his “brandina” prophecy was
being fulfilled. Close by, there were growing some delicious-looking
blackberries; but, just as we were about to eat some, the Arekunas cried
“No, no!” and made so much fuss that we desisted.

Restarting, we addressed ourselves to the ascent through the forest-belt;
and this, to my mind, is really the only disagreeable part of the
whole climb. The ground here is a pell-mell of huge boulders, pieces
of disintegrated mountain that have broken away from the overhanging
cliffs above during long ages past; for Roraima and Kukenaam are but the
“fragments of an earlier world.” Over these rocks grows a dense mass of
small trees, and magnificent tree-ferns root upon the débris of earlier
decaying jungle, which is covered with a carpet of slimy green moss and
has a horrid corpse-like smell. The whole place is dank and cold, and
the thick matting of moss makes it impossible to know whether one is
stepping on a secure foothold, or on a rotten tree-branch, or on nothing
but a layer of moss and twigs concealing a chasm between two great rocks.
It was a thoroughly nasty scramble, and feet and hands had to be used
almost equally. Our rate of progress was necessarily slow, with many
short pauses, while the trail was being cut open ahead of us, and it was
2.15 p.m. before we reached the base of the cliff at the point where the
diagonal ascent by the jungle-covered rock-ledge begins. During these two
hours I must confess that I was very unhappy, and I reflected much on the
superior wisdom of all the other women in the world who had refrained
from placing themselves in this predicament. I expected to sprain knee
or ankle at every step, and the struggle was dreadfully exhausting—in
places more like tree-climbing than mountaineering. Schoolmaster with two
Arekunas kept ahead of us to chop open a track.

At the base of the ledge we were 7,680 feet above sea-level; and here it
was that Mr. J. J. Quelch camped in 1894, when he and his party climbed
Roraima. It is awe-inspiring to stand at the very toe of that mighty
precipice, with its blue and red stains, and, looking vertically up,
to see the overhang of great masses of rock, ready, it would seem, one
day to topple over and grind to pieces the ledge and all that is on it.
But until the day of that impending catastrophe the climb up the ledge
will present no great difficulty, although there are some bad places in
it. I put my ear against the cliff, and could hear the drip of water
percolating inside.

During the forest climb we had no view at all, but the vegetation on the
ledge, being stunted and less dense, permits not infrequent glimpses of
the glorious landscape below, spread out like a great green sea. Lovely
flowers abounded at our feet, and the cool air was like a tonic after
the damp oppression in the forest. We reached the first obstacle in the
ledge at 3.45 p.m., when it became necessary to use a rope to assist
the droghers in hoisting their loads up an almost vertical rock-face
some twenty feet high. An active man, unloaded, can, however, scramble
up without such assistance. A troublesome point about the ledge is that
it has three V-shaped dips, and its general nature can best be shown
diagrammatically thus:

[Illustration]

These three dips are very steep, and we had fairly to slide down them,
clinging on to every root, bush, or stone we could catch hold of, while
getting up again on the other side was, of course, an even more severe
struggle.

At the third dip we met the only other considerable obstacle presented
by the ledge. We reached this point at 4.20 p.m., and found a diminutive
waterfall trickling down the face of the precipice and falling in a
shower of icy-cold spray upon the ledge, which the action of the water
has swept clean of all bush and scrub. A sharp V-shaped depression has
here been cut in the ledge, which ascends under the waterfall in rock
steps, covered with moss and very slippery. Care is necessary, but in dry
weather, such as prevailed at the time of our ascent, there is little or
no danger. After heavy rain, however, it might be impossible to pass
beneath the waterfall, although I doubt whether, except in the case of
continuous rainfall lasting many days, a traveller would be held up long
by this obstacle, as water appears to drain away very rapidly from the
reservoirs on the rocky summit of Mount Roraima. For example, from our
camp at Weiwötö, after a rain-storm had passed over Roraima, we counted
no less than six waterfalls on its south-eastern face; but next day,
after some hours of fine weather, none of these could be seen with the
naked eye. They may possibly have continued as small trickles, but were
quite inconspicuous, as, indeed, was the waterfall under which we now
passed, for it could not be seen from Kamaiwâwong.

Save at this waterfall, the ledge is everywhere many feet wide, and there
is no danger whatsoever of falling off it. From the waterfall another
forty minutes’ direct ascent over rock-boulders brought us to the top of
the escarpment, 8,625 feet above sea-level. We reached this point at 5
p.m. The whole climb had, therefore, taken us three hours over savannah,
two hours through forest, and two and three-quarter hours up the ledge.
For purposes of comparison, I may here say that the descent of the ledge
occupied one and three-quarter hours, the descent through forest one hour
and fifty minutes, and across the savannah two and a half hours. Roraima
was kindly disposed to us, for we had splendid weather for the climb—a
grey, cool morning, followed by a sunny, windless afternoon.

The scene when one has at last scaled the cliff-face of Roraima is
fantastic and almost grotesque. Little meets the eye save rock, which the
weather has blackened and worn into many weird shapes—a dragon, a frog,
and a couple of umbrellas, all of rock, were conspicuous objects at the
spot where we camped for the night; but there is in general a monotonous
lack of differentiation in the rock-shapes, making this rugged plateau a
maze where one would soon be lost, especially if mist settled down on the
mountain. Here and there are stunted trees (_Bonnetia Roraimæ_): but all
wood on this bleak summit is so sodden with moisture that it is difficult
to kindle a respectable fire for cooking purposes, and quite impossible
to make such a blaze as would keep out the cold. Water is abundant, clear
as crystal, and icy cold. We found no really satisfactory camping-ground;
but Schoolmaster took us to the spot where, it would appear, all those
who before us had spent the night on the top of Roraima took shelter. It
was in the middle of a big amphitheatre of crags, encircled by what one
might almost call waves of stone, about five minutes’ walk from the edge
of the precipice. Here two large rocks converge at an angle which gives
protection from the prevailing winds; and by spreading a tarpaulin over
the gap between them we made ourselves a rock-sided tent, commodious
enough to contain our two camp-beds. Unfortunately, the floor was not dry
rock, but spongy, wet moss.

[Illustration: CAMP ON MOUNT RORAIMA.

To face page 208.]

Haywood had ready-made Bovril in his kettle, and soon supplied us with a
hot drink, after which we made our arrangements for the night. Directly
the sun had disappeared, it felt desperately cold, and we longed in vain
for fires to warm ourselves. At 6.15 p.m. the thermometer was 51° F.—not
very low, of course, but when you are used to a tropical climate it feels
like freezing. A fire can only be maintained by an Indian squatting
beside it and tending it all the time. Even then it gives but little
warmth. Mr. Menzies arranged his tarpaulin in a place somewhat similar
to the one where we were camped; but when the wind rose in the night
he discovered to his cost that the entrance to his cave-dwelling was to
windward. He sheltered (if “shelter” is the word) Haywood, Joseph, and
Daniel with him. We gave our spare tarpaulin to the Arekunas, and as many
as could got behind it; but several preferred the lee-side of our rock,
where the poor things chattered, shivered, and blew up fires all night
long. The night was clear, and Roraima looked wonderful by moonlight, the
fantastic shapes around us being even stranger than by day. We slept a
little, not much; and I think that my husband and I were the only ones of
our party who slept at all.

Next day was gloriously fine. We rose at dawn to find gusts of icy
wind and wisps of cloud blowing all over the place. Our naked Indians
looked numb with cold; and, as the few of them who could boast of a
shirt or trousers were not much better off, my husband and I reluctantly
decided that it would be impossible for us to spend another night on
the mountain-top. It would have been inhuman to expose all our company
in this shelterless place. Any party that may come hereafter, really to
examine Roraima’s summit, would have to organize matters so as to let
their Indians spend the night in the forest below, and occupy the days
in bringing up firewood for them.

We had, however, a few hours to spare, and we spent them in exploring
the vicinity of our camp. From the edge of the cliff the panoramic view
to the south-west is vast and superb, the landscape resembling a map in
green plasticine with the rivers shown in blue. All the hills we had
toiled over looked the merest little crinkles; but the effect of that
glorious stretch of open country is wonderfully impressive; and as the
sun, gaining power, dispelled all mist, we revelled in the great sweep of
air and space in front of us. Our old friend Chakbang was the only hill
that looked more than an earth-wrinkle, save for some huge cliff-faced
mountains miles away in Venezuela, which must be as high, if not higher,
than Roraima. Roraima itself concealed Mount Weitipu from our sight, and
we could see hardly anything of the line by which we had approached. The
call of the mountain was clearly to go on, on to the Orinoco, but we
could not obey. We had reached the end of our tether, and from this point
the return journey began.

To explore the summit of Roraima itself would be a difficult task, and
not without danger. It would be unsafe to go any distance without white
paint, or some other means of marking one’s way; for one would very soon
be lost in the labyrinth of extraordinary rock-forms, and, when mist or
cloud was on the mountain, it would be impossible to see more than a
very short distance ahead. We clambered up to a point from which there
was a good view of the summit of Kukenaam. It appeared to be the same
fantastic jumble of black weather-worn rock that surrounded us where we
stood, arranged in the same curious amphitheatres. Then we set off in an
endeavour to reach the edge of the cliff between Roraima and Kukenaam;
but it is slow going where every step is a climb either up or down. I
soon gave up and made my way leisurely back to camp, while my husband
pressed on. But he found a great chasm across his path and had to turn
back also. We next visited the mark erected by Mr. C. W. Anderson on his
boundary survey, and walked to the source of the Kamaiwa creek, which lay
in the trough of the rock-wave wherein our camp was situated. There is a
sort of fascination I cannot describe in these silent waterholes, where
the eternal moisture of the “Father of Streams” gathers on beds of white
sand and shining crystals. The stillness and the deadness of everything
was extraordinary, and yet somehow wonderfully refreshing. There was
not a trace of animal life. In an eastern land Roraima would have its
“patient, sleepless eremite,” seeking revelation in meditation amid its
great silent peace, “in height and cold, the splendour of the hills.”

At 10.30 a.m. we “breakfasted”; at 11.7 a.m. we commenced the descent;
and we reached Kamaiwâwong without misadventure by 5.30 p.m. The
steepness of the descent made it almost as slow a business as scrambling
up had been. I did a good deal of it by sitting down and then lowering
myself with the help of my hands. Mercifully the forest trail was much
improved by the fact that all the droghers had climbed it after us, so
that the slippery moss had to a great extent been trodden away, and we
could see where to put our feet. How the Arekunas managed to negotiate
that climb with loads on their backs without breaking their legs is
beyond our comprehension. They were a good deal cut and scratched, it
is true; but their prehensile toes saved them from more serious injury.
Indians catch hold by their toes in truly monkey fashion; and, if a man
drops anything on the line of march, he picks it up with his toes and
puts it into his hand to avoid stooping. Our feet seemed stupid, clumsy
things by comparison. By the time I reached the savannah slopes I was so
very stiff that I could only move slowly. These lovely savannahs had all
been set on fire by our men, and were charred and grievous to see.

At Kamaiwâwong we were received with great acclamation. The village had,
during our absence, been repeopled. Evidently everyone from far and near
had come to see us, and there was much excitement and, unfortunately,
a great desire to shake hands. The Arekunas would seem to have thought
that our arrival broke the evil spell which the death of Jeremiah had
cast upon the place. They pulled away the earth-sods that blocked the
doorway of their late chief’s banaboo, reoccupied both it and all the
other banaboos, and held evensong in the village church, singing the same
hymn and intoning the same prayers which we had heard at Mataruka. There
was much cassiri-drinking and general rejoicing; and as soon as it was
dark the men trooped out and set fire to the grass in a circle round the
village, to drive away all evil spirits, we supposed. They danced round
the fires they had lit like madmen, in order to “send kenaima far.” Next
day a feast was held in honour of the reopening of the village. Tekwonno,
we gathered, had never been really abandoned. Indeed, it is more than
likely that its inhabitants, having news of our approach, with a large
following of Makusis, considered it prudent to evacuate Tekwonno until,
by observing us from the neighbouring hills, they were satisfied of our
peaceful intentions.

Roraima wore a cloud-cap during the evening, so we congratulated
ourselves on having decided to come down; and during the night we saw
the wonderful effect of a brilliant moon lighting up the gleaming clouds
that rested on the black precipices of the twin giants—our last view of
them from Kamaiwâwong, for next morning they were quite invisible. We had
an excellent night’s rest, which I think we well deserved; and, having
blocked in with a tarpaulin a good deal more of the sides of our banaboo,
we were quite warm by comparison with our experience of the previous
night.



THE RETURN JOURNEY



CHAPTER XI

THE RETURN JOURNEY

    Alas, that the longest hill
    Must end in a vale; but still,
    Who climbs with toil, wheresoe’er,
    Shall find wings waiting there.

                       H. C. BEECHING.


Many farewells and the bringing up of piles of cassava for the support
of our caravan delayed our start from Kamaiwâwong on the return journey
to Mataruka. We had asked Schoolmaster to send two men with us to bring
back from Puwa the salt and the cloth which was to be the recompense
of those Arekunas who had assisted us; but instead of sending two men,
Schoolmaster himself and the entire party who had climbed Roraima with
us gaily accompanied our march back. It was a delightful morning, with
alternate showers and sunshine and gloriously cool winds. We retraced our
steps until we were close to the spot where we breakfasted on the 13th
January, and here we halted again for our midday meal at a delicious spot
under a big tree, sitting amidst fragrant bracken and pretending to be
in England. The walk had unstiffened our muscles, cramped by the long
descent of the day before, and we felt quite fit and fresh.

Schoolmaster, who now acted as guide, applied for permission to lead us
back by a line different from that which we had traversed on the outward
journey. We agreed; and in the end Schoolmaster brought us to Mataruka by
a trail which interlaced with Joseph’s so as roughly to form the figure
8. Our first divergence was to the left in the direction of Weitipu;
and plainly any trail which avoided the long sweep to the west round by
the head-waters of the Chitu was likely to be a short-cut. Then, after
wheeling to the left, we descended somewhat abruptly to a little plateau
on which stands Maurekmutta banaboo, the home of a solitary Arekuna
family. Here Schoolmaster showed us another line running almost straight
towards Kamaiwâwong. It would probably have been preferable to the one we
had walked, and might have saved some climbing. Why they had not led us
that way we could not make out; but, of course, to an Indian time is of
no importance, unless he is hungry, and the tramp of half a dozen extra
miles is a mere trifle. No one was at home in this banaboo.

We next descended yet farther, until, after one and a quarter hours’
march beyond the point of divergence from Joseph’s trail, we reached
and forded the Arabupu (3,780 feet above sea-level). Here we were met
by quite a heavy shower of cold rain. Twenty minutes later we crossed
the Gunguila, a confluent of the Arabupu; and another ten minutes’ march
brought us to the brow of a hill, 4,060 feet above sea-level, where it
became evident that we were making straight for the southern spur of
Mount Weitipu across the folds and rifts of a plateau. We could, in
fact, see our trail running ahead past the very toe of Weitipu; but as,
on descending, the path followed a valley in the diametrically opposite
direction, we were reminded—and not for the first time either—that Indian
trails are like the paths in the garden of the talking flowers in _Alice
through the Looking-Glass_, and that to get anywhere you must turn and
walk in the opposite direction. We crossed two more small streams, and
then, after a further fifty-six minutes’ march, we halted for the night
on the right bank of the Erkoy River, in a little copse, evidently the
recognized Indian camping-ground, and much preferable to the bleak camp
at Weiwötö on Joseph’s trail. The Erkoy is another confluent of the
Arabupu, and from a little clump of trees on a level terrace where we
camped the ground dropped away abruptly to the river. A steep grass hill
on the left bank protected us nicely on the windward side, whilst the
lee-side was open to the savannah. In the watery rays of the evening sun
Roraima and Kukenaam stood clear for the first time that day. We could no
longer see the south-western wall up which we had climbed, but we had a
splendid view of the south-eastern escarpment. The clear, swift-running
Erkoy almost tempted us to bathe, but it was too cold to venture. We had
a fine night, though once or twice, as the rush of the wind shook the
tree-tops, we woke up sufficiently to rejoice that we were not on the
exposed tableland. The Makusis camped all round us, while the Arekunas
slung their hammocks in a clump of trees a little way downstream.

Next morning (18th January) was gloriously fine, and we saw Roraima and
Kukenaam for the last time at close quarters, shining red in the dawn.
We forded the Erkoy, which flows swiftly and came icy cold well over
our knees; and then, ascending the steep bank on the other side, we
found ourselves once more on a rolling plateau with the trail we had
seen passing over the toe of Weitipu, now just ahead. I loved the walk
over the fresh grass of this shining tableland, amidst the indescribable
peace of its mighty silence. The trail was almost level, save for little
descents into the channels of the many streams that come racing down
Weitipu’s steep flanks; and in the keen, fresh morning air mere movement
was a joy—different indeed to one’s feelings on the low, hot coast-lands!
In succession we crossed the Kamaoura-wong, two small swamps, the
Tongkoy, and the Sappi, all streams which tumble in picturesque cascades
from Weitipu; and after an hour’s march we crossed the southern spur of
Weitipu himself. He is a very attractive mountain, majestic, but without
the bleak austerity of Roraima and Kukenaam. His southern summit would
afford a splendid camping-ground, and several of his terraces would
make beautiful house-sites. In China such a mountain would have been
studded with temples and monasteries, but I have never heard of anyone
climbing to the top of Weitipu. It would not be difficult to do this,
though rather strenuous, and I should love to go back one day and make
the ascent. On the spur of Weitipu, where we stood (4,100 feet above
sea-level), Schoolmaster showed us yet another trail—the most direct of
all—branching off to Kamaiwâwong!

We then crossed two more streams—a small one called the Apa, and a
larger one called the Perumak. The latter is fringed by forest, and is
probably identical with the river Maipa, crossed by Joseph’s trail. A
glorious grassy savannah spreads out on both sides of this narrow strip
of woodland; and in it, just beyond the Perumak ford, an hour’s march
from the spur of Weitipu, stands a solitary banaboo, near which the trail
to Tumong, by which Dr. Crampton travelled in 1911, branches off to the
left. We kept to the right, and eighteen minutes later reached the crest
of a ridge, which appears to form the divide between the watershed of
the Orinoco and of the Amazon. At this point, therefore, we presumably
returned from Venezuela to Brazil. The divide here is 3,860 feet above
sea-level.

We now descended into a charming valley, and, after forty minutes’ march,
halted for our midday meal beside the Muruïna, a pretty little tributary
of the Kotinga. Once more we recognized the jasper formation, and we
established ourselves on a tree-shaded ledge above a deep, clear pool.
This place is a recognized Arekuna camping-ground. The creek is forded
just above a waterfall, where its two branches meet. Within the fork is
a copse, and at the season of our visit there ran along the side of the
stream a dry rock-ledge which would form a roomy and level tent-floor. I
remember that, whilst we waited for Haywood’s preparations, we regaled
ourselves on the last of the delicious pineapples, carried with us from
Kamaiwâwong. It tasted most especially nice after our three hours’ walk.

Another ascent and descent brought us, twenty minutes after restarting,
to the Tunâpun creek. We crossed it, and thirty-eight minutes later we
had climbed to the top of the hill-ridge (3,670 feet above sea-level),
overlooking the full width of the Kotinga valley right across to
“Landmark Peak.” This was the same hill-ridge that we had climbed, much
farther to the west, on the 12th January; but the fierce midday sun had
sucked up all colour from the landscape, and it no longer looked the
fairyland which it had seemed on that early morning. Now came an abrupt
descent, very warm work and lasting just an hour, to the point where
the Töpa creek is forded close by a solitary banaboo. Suddenly our
procession halted. The magic word _waikin_ was passed along, and we all
squatted down on the ground, while Schoolmaster and Joseph stalked two
big deer not far away. Schoolmaster crept to within point-blank range of
one animal and fired. Alas! his stock of powder and shot was practically
exhausted, so he had given his old fowling-piece a most insufficient
charge; and the deer, though hit, bounded away uphill with its companion.
Behold Joseph and Schoolmaster racing after them up the steep slope like
a pair of dogs! They rejoined us later very crestfallen; and Schoolmaster
gesticulated to me as graphic an account of the whole business as ever
disappointed sportsman poured into the ear of sympathizing lady.

For the rest of the day’s march the trail lay over spacious undulating
pasture-lands, crossing three small streams, fringed by eta-palms; and,
after two and a quarter hours’ march from the Töpa crossing, we reached
and forded the Kotinga at the same point as on our outward journey, thus
completing one loop of the figure 8. We then made our way over rocks up
a little ravine on the left bank and camped in bush upon a small level
terrace at the edge of a brook. It was a nasty, stuffy place, full of
ants; but we cared little for that, as we were practically free from
the kabouru. My husband unfortunately caught his foot in some bush rope
lying on the rocks and fell heavily, breaking the little finger of his
left hand, which caused him great pain. The Kotinga valley, it seems, was
destined to be disagreeable to us.

[Illustration: MOUNT WEITIPU FROM THE LEFT BANK OF THE KOTINGA RIVER.

To face page 225.]

When, next morning, we emerged from our ravine on to the brow of a bluff
above the Kotinga, we were delighted to see a most interesting and novel
aspect of Roraima, which was really rather astonishing, for there had
been no hint of such a view either the evening before or on our outward
journey. The morning was gloriously clear, and on the left, behind
Weitipu, the south-eastern face of Roraima projected clear and red, and
beyond that again Kukenaam’s southern end; whilst on the right of Weitipu
we saw plainly, not only the other end of Roraima’s south-eastern wall,
but also a small and foreshortened portion of the eastern escarpment.
This view enabled us in a small degree to grasp the enormous area of
Roraima. It is impossible to do so when opposite one great wall only;
for Roraima is an immense, irregular quadrilateral, of which the
south-eastern side, ten miles in length, is the longest, and the area of
the summit, flanked all round by precipices, cannot be less than fifty
square miles.

From the Kotinga ford to the pass at “Landmark Peak” Schoolmaster’s trail
coincided with Joseph’s, but from “Landmark Peak” to the Rera valley we
traversed a new line of country. This time we swung off to the right,
and we hoped to be led along the ridge of the mountain amphitheatre
which encircles the Warukma and Karakanang plateau. But an Indian trail
is nothing if not surprising. For the first half-hour we did indeed
continue on the high tableland at the same altitude as the pass (3,150
feet above sea-level), crossing two streams; but then we wheeled sharply
to the right, and, passing between two low knolls, left the tableland
by a narrow path skirting round the contours of a hill and affording a
view over a sea of jagged peaks tumbled together without apparent rhyme
or reason. It was a most astonishingly tangled-looking country, with
valleys running at angles to each other and hills flung about pell-mell
in the midst of them, as though the powers engaged in making this place
had got tired of their work and flung it all down anyhow and left it.
The colouring, too, was curious, vivid red, black, and green; for many
fires had evidently seared the countryside, the most recent leaving
black patches, which contrasted oddly with the bright green of new grass
springing up where the land had peace, and with the red soil on the
hillsides, whence heavy rain had washed away the black ash, but where as
yet forgiving Nature had not reasserted herself. For half an hour our
path clung to the hill-side, but it then gave that up as a bad job and
dropped abruptly into one of the narrow valleys beneath. The prospect was
certainly not an inviting one. We consoled ourselves, however, with the
reflection that the divergence to the right must have put us in a direct
line for Mount Mataruka. A short but heavy shower of rain now drenched
us to the skin; but it was welcome, as relieving an unwonted sultriness
of the atmosphere. Round the base of the hill we curved, climbed over a
knoll in the valley, and so, after three-quarters of an hour’s march,
we came to the left bank of a creek called the Walamwötö, presumably a
tributary of the Kotinga. Here we pitched camp in a small winding valley
(2,450 feet above sea-level) by the side of a charming pool. As we were
establishing ourselves under our tarpaulin, a storm of wind and rain
almost blew it away from its moorings, and six Makusis had to hold it up
on the weather side until the fierceness of the gusts abated. We caused
the ridge-pole to be lowered considerably so as to afford less target for
the wind, and I was somewhat anxious about the night. But after dark the
weather became beautifully still and clear, a full moon making diamonds
everywhere of the lingering rain-drops. This was the only rain-storm of
any moment which we encountered from the day we left the Kowatipu forest
until the day of our return to it. During the whole of the rest of our
savannah journey we enjoyed superb weather, sunny, breezy, cool, and
rainless, save for occasional Scotch mist upon the hill-tops.

We rose very early next day (20th January), and broke our fast by
lamplight. But the sun soon rose clear and very hot, and I realized that
the strenuous exertions of the five preceding days without a rest were
beginning to tell on me. So the start did not find me very fresh. An
hour’s march in narrow winding ravines, followed by a short climb over
a long black-bouldered slope, brought us to James’s banaboo (2,720 feet
above sea-level), perched upon a hill-top. The inhabitants came out in
a string to greet us, and the second man in the line, as he shook my
hand (the ceremony none of them will forego), ejaculated questioningly
“Mamma?” and all his companions echoed the cry. It must be seldom, if
ever, that a white woman is seen by these people. The view from this
lonely banaboo was certainly enchanting; but, alas! no tableland such as
we had hoped to see lay unrolled before us, only a fresh tangle of hills
and valleys; and, though the country looked most interesting, it also
looked very arduous. Moreover, there ensued an argument between Joseph
and Schoolmaster as to the right road onwards, and we wondered whether
they really knew the way, or were merely proceeding by trial and error.
The long ridge of tableland, over the crest of which we had hoped to
travel when we turned aside from Joseph’s line at “Landmark Peak,” looked
most provoking away to the left. At length our guides reconciled their
difference, whatever it may have been, and led us three hundred feet
downwards over a broad hill-shoulder across a small stream. Then, after
a long, gradual ascent over another broad hill-shoulder, we came to the
top of a commanding hill, 2,960 feet above sea-level. Here indeed we were
comforted, for we saw again Mount Mataruka, and realized that we were
making for it by a much more direct line than if we had returned through
Enamung. Besides, a nice undulating ridge lay before us, and the view was
grand. We could see a magnificent expanse of country on all sides. Far,
far behind lay Weitipu, with Roraima and Kukenaam at his back, bidding
us a last good-bye. We saw them no more after this. I wonder if we ever
shall again! On the right we had an excellent view of our former line of
journey, the plateau of the Karakanang and the grassy peaks of Enamung,
as well as of a big waterfall shining white in the distance, whither our
outward journey had unfortunately not led us. Our guides said that it was
a fall on the Wairann; and at close quarters it must be a fine sight, for
even at a distance of about seven miles it was a striking feature in the
landscape. At this point we were one hour and six minutes’ march from
James’s banaboo.

We continued for another forty minutes along the crest of the hill-ridge,
enjoying intensely the glorious scenery, and finally reaching a point
(2,810 feet above sea-level) whence, beyond a cleft in the hills, cut
athwart our line of march by the Karakanang River, we could see the long,
straight line of the Paiwa valley, down which lay our forward path.
Fifty minutes’ sharp descent, largely through forest, then brought us to
a ford of jasper slabs over the Karakanang (1,960 feet above sea-level).
Here we made our midday meal, and thereafter we ascended the valley of
a brook, which falls into the Karakanang at the ford; and, climbing
over some hillocks shut in between high hill-ranges on both sides, we
came, after an hour and a half, to the Paiwa River (2,210 feet above
sea-level), down which our trail then ran for three and a half hours’
actual march. It was most fascinating scenery. The turquoise-blue Paiwa
in its rose-pink bed (for the blood-red jasper weathers on the surface to
pink) flowed clear as crystal through opal-green pools and in rippling
white cascades, whilst shade trees, dotted here and there, relieved the
glare of the brilliant light. Beneath one such tree, seated on pink sand
close to the edge of the stream, we enjoyed our usual tea halt. The sides
of the valley are seamed with confluent brooks, many of which had water
even at this height of the dry season. In wet weather the smiling stream
must be a very torrent.

At first the Paiwa had all the appearance of making for the Ireng; but
at a point a little more than halfway in that part of its course which
we followed it turned abruptly off to the south and swept past Mount
Pakara to join the Kotinga. Towards sunset we crossed to its left bank,
where was a broad level stretch of sand, evidently a favourite Indian
camping-ground, but rather a disappointing one to me, as there was a rift
in the jasper formation just here, and the stream merely gurgled over
quite ordinary stones, while the sand was a commonplace white. Moreover,
the steep hill-side across the stream had been hideously burnt, and there
were evidences of recent Indian encampment and of fish-poisoning in the
river. Indians are an admirable people in many ways, but they scarcely
deserve their goodly heritage, since all that they do for their beautiful
country is to poison the fish in its exquisite streams and to disfigure
the fair hills by continual grass-burning.

Next day we ate our porridge and drank our coffee before dawn, as the
moon sank behind the trees. Then, after following the river for a short
distance, we climbed up through a copse to where a banaboo was perched
on a bluff, the Paiwa below making a right-angled turn, so that those
who live here have an excellent vantage-ground whence they can watch
all wayfarers whether up or down stream. At the banaboo we found
Schoolmaster and his Arekunas, who had evidently spent the night there,
leaving the Makusis with us; and after a short colloquy Joseph led us
down into the Paiwa valley once more. The Arekunas remained behind, and
made for Mataruka by that line of their own which Joseph had graphically
described as “Mountain-top, mountain-top, mountain-top,” on the day of
our trek to Enamung.

The Paiwa, which had grown to a considerable size, now reverted again to
a jasper bed, fringed this time with eta-palms, and looking prettier than
ever. We walked along its bank most of the way; but at times the valley
would close in to a gorge and the river run in cataracts, while we would
have to climb over rocky bluffs. At last we crossed the blue waters of
this pleasant river for the last time, and finally quitted the Paiwa
watershed. Our trail now wound away to the left, choosing most cleverly
a low divide, and then equally cleverly winding in and out on the level
round the spur of our old friend Kumâraying, until we found ourselves in
the Rera plain once more. It would have been a pretty path but for the
desolation and destruction wrought by fire. Some men ahead of us actually
started two fresh fires, which were fiercely burning as we passed.

At the special request of our people we went to Joseph’s banaboo for our
midday meal. His wife provided us with abundance of delicious fresh eggs,
and I confess, without any desire to teach my grandmother, that at times
the best way of eating eggs is to suck them. A few minutes’ walk brought
us back to the trail by which we had travelled on our outward journey, so
completing the second loop in the figure 8. We now followed our former
line of march the rest of the way back to Mataruka village, where we were
warmly received by Albert and the inhabitants. The Arekunas we passed at
a brook a few minutes from the village, busily engaged in washing and
painting their faces afresh. They then made a state entry behind us,
beating a tom-tom.

The rest of our travels needs no description, for the line of our
homeward march was identical with that of our outward journey. The
distance between Mataruka and Kamaiwâwong by Joseph’s trail was a march
of thirty-two hours forty-seven minutes; and the return journey between
the same villages by Schoolmaster’s trail was a march of thirty-two hours
fifty-one minutes, of which eleven hours twenty-eight minutes were
occupied in retraversing those parts of the route where the two trails
were identical—namely, the Kukenaam valley, the ascent from the Kotinga
ford to “Landmark Peak,” and the line from Rera to Mataruka. There is,
therefore, little to choose between the two routes. Both mean five stages
of rather more than six hours’ march a day. Schoolmaster’s line was
slightly more direct, but Joseph’s was appreciably less arduous.

We reached Georgetown, after forty-six days’ absence, on the 3rd
February, 1916, resting on the way back for one day at Mataruka, one
day on the Karto tableland, and one day at Kaietuk. There was a new
and lovely note of colour on the Potaro; for the river was lit up by
a beautiful pink blossom (_Syphonia globifera_) all along the banks,
very much like peach-blossom in appearance and in its manner of growing
on a leafless tree. Also there was much more water going over Kaietuk
than when we passed upstream; and magnificent was the amber swirl that
descended, to change into gleaming spray flashing like diamonds, as it
fell into the black depths. Grey-green cascades dashed down the crags on
all sides, flashing out of the mists that lay heavy on the summits, to
mingle with the blossom-strewn river—a country for Undine indeed!

So our brief journey in the mountains ended, alas! below sea-level; nor
did we “find wings waiting there,” for the aeronautical service of the
British Guiana Government is as yet only an aspiration.

[Illustration: Route from HOLMIA IN BRITISH GUIANA TO MT. RORAIMA]

[Illustration: SECTION OF COUNTRY TRAVERSED BETWEEN KAIETTUK FALL, ON THE
POTARO RIVER, AND MT RORAIMA

Horizontal Scale 1/2,000,000. Vertical Scale exaggerated 50 times.]



FOOTNOTES


[1] _Kaieteur_ is a mistake for _Kaietuk_. See p. 75.

[2] _Vide_ his article in _Timehri_, vol. ii., 3rd series (1912), p. 18.

[3] Cf. _Timehri_, vol. iv. (1885), “The First Ascent of Roraima,” p. 23,
where Sir E. im Thurn, writing of Roraima and Kukenaam, says: “Rarely did
we see the scene quite clear, a fact which, as the Indians were never
tired of explaining to us, was owing to the habit of the mountain—_they
regard both mountains as one_—of veiling itself whenever approached by
white men.”


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY BILLING AND SONS, LIMITED, GUILDFORD AND ESHER





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