‘Prof’ collected at 5.30, and laid-back ticketing approach worked because behind the ‘check-in’ desk was all the correct paper work – both for the return flight and the additional baggage allowance I had pre-booked. However, it is slightly off putting when they weigh your luggage then they weigh you together with your carry-on, I declined to look!! Rashima arrived at 6.29 – 1 min before check-in closed but she was the wise one because when we went through departure – and yes, I had to unpack the tablet, take-off my shoes and throw away my water just like in Heathrow – we found ourselves waiting for a delayed flight. But, unlike some well known U.K. Low cost carriers, every 30 mins a friendly check-in clerk came out to apologise for the delay and said – it was the rain in Lethem and safety came first – a reassuring statement.
But by 10.30, we had lift off. The plane seated 20 and gave you an intimate relationship with the pilots but the flight was strangely without bumps so much so that I went to sleep, since the cloud cover meant no views of the countryside. Well, who ever told them that the rain had stopped in Lethem didn’t asked anyone in Lethem. The rain was torrential – but warm. The airline office was an indistinct building off the end of the runway and baggage claim was very much a snatch and grab from the hold trolley.
Interestingly, we arrived midday ~5 hours late, but there was no George and team to collect us……worrying. But I did have mobile signal – what did we do without mobile phones? It turns out that the Brazilian contingent had arrived 5 mins late for the consulate in Boa Vista that had to issue the permit to allow the expedition vehicle across the border. The consulate then decided to have a lie-in arriving at 10 am rather than the advertised opening time of 8 am. After getting the permit, the team raced up to the border only to find the border closed for lunch!! So we found a corner shop with a table and brought a couple of cokes, no breakfast or lunch was starting to take its toll, and we continued to waited. Just approaching 3 pm, the Expedition vehicle arrived and Luis, Mertle and George piled out – but the elation of seeing the crew was immediately replaced with manic activity. To drive in Guyana, we had to buy new insurance for the vehicle and that needed Guyana dollars – I had found a cash point that accepted my cards at the airport so we dashed to the bank to buy the insurance, the local copy shop to copy the insurance and even had time to visit a ‘anything you want’ store (this is the Guyana equivalent of French supermarkets – everything comes up the road from Manus and populated these stores at lower prices than on the Brazilian side, due to tax differentials) to get new windscreen wipers – given the rain and state of the roads, these were essential. Then to back to border so that we could official register the vehicle and at last about 4pm, we set out 7 hours late to drive the 6 hours on dirt roads to the ATTA Rainforest lodge.
Well, tarmac lasted <1 Km then it was graded road across some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. The savanna stretched away to mountains both to the south and to the west. And the majority was waterlogged. It seemed we often drove on a raised roadway with a lake each side of the road but the local engineering was up to the task and although there was some dicey patches and narrow bridges, George’s dirt road experience meant that things were not as hair raising as it could have been. We drove for 5 hours seeing 3 cars, 1 lorry, half a dozen bicycles, a mad Eastern European hitch hiker and two herds of cattle (major road obstacles). We were concerned when it got dark and we pulled in at the only ‘service station’ that we had seen – it had a toilet and a bar, and was showing football so was obvious the centre of night life for 10s if not 100s of Km.They told us that the gates to the reserve would be closed but we could try waking the local guard. In the end, the guy came out to meet us and, after George showed him our registration, let us through. After a relatively challenging 20 min drive down a side track, we arrived at a jungle paradise. The guys had been waiting anxiously for us and within 10 mins we were sitting down to a meal fit for a king. The lodge is an oasis surrounded by the forest, solar provides power and the rooms are adorned with all amenities you could want – quite strange after the roads and the basic level of housing in Lethem. But John and the team made us so welcome and it was great to have such a comfortable bed and great food after such a long day….another adventure had truly started.