A few days ago I answered the call by the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) and the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) to visit Guyana’s remaining nature’s paradise which was waiting to be discovered – the majestic Kaieteur Falls on the Potaro River. It was indeed an unforgettable experience for my family of five and myself and we were indeed enthralled by the beauty of the falls and in the distance the pristine rain forested gorge below, as well as the many other surrounding natural wonders.
On the return journey home, however, I reflected on what I saw and felt disappointed by the seeming neglect by MoT/THAG of these awe-inspiring natural wonders that form part of Guyana’s rich landscape, since much of the immediate environment and facilities comprising the crown jewel of Guyana’s interior are in a run-down mode and a lot remains to be done to develop this unique tourism attraction to make it world class. After all, first impressions count.
To start with, there was the rickety landing of the aircraft on a strip comprising concrete slabs whose joints have become overgrown with weeds, causing an uneven runway surface. In the not too distant future this airstrip with no proper care will be rendered unsafe for aircraft to land. However, with timely maintenance its useful life could be extended. What is needed at this time is to dig out/trim the weeds as best as possible, and spray the joints with a herbicide then fill them with a bitumen mix which will not only assist to kill the weeds but prevent the ingress of water which will eventually undermine the slabs’ foundation.
As we exited the aircraft on the plateau we were greeted by a pack of dogs looking for tidbits on a weed-covered apron which apparently had not been attended to for months.
Next came the Warden for the tour, who briefed us on our itinerary to the falls and apologized for the dilapidated state of the terminal building which appeared to be going through a facelift and could not be accessed.
He explained that there were two trails leading to the falls – a short and a long one. Because I was handicapped I chose the shorter trail and the Warden graciously assigned one of his assistants as my guide. I was also fortunate to have the resident meteorologist for the area in my company, who shared some of his rich experiences and kindly lent me his local walking stick which was of immense help in navigating safely the terrain to the falls.
The winding, short, narrow trail involves about a 15 minutes descent from the terminal building to the top of the falls. The trail is covered with imported pebbles/crushed stone with corduroys at steep sections to stabilize the surface. There was also some ponding. Eventually I reached the falls with great effort and wondered why MoT/THAG could not provide a vehicle (RV/golfcart) for seniors and handicapped persons who would be most willing to pay for this extra transportation service to the falls if it was available. I did see an RV parked by the terminal building, but could not ascertain its ownership or purpose.
These vehicles with low maintenance and operating costs could be battery operated and recharged on site with solar panels, and with a little upgrade to the trail, Kaieteur could be easily accessible to all those seniors and handicapped persons who hitherto could not make the journey.
There was very little of interest to see on the trail, although the Guide did say that the area abounded with jaguars, frogs, lizards, cocks-of-the-rock and labarias. Unfortunately, none was seen. The trail just seemed like a track hacked through the jungle to accommodate the late Barrington Brown for his European discovery – no new or endangered species of flora or fauna, or for that matter anything beautiful or unusual to show the folks back home. MoT/THAG need to appoint a landscape gardener/architect to make the plateau/immediate Kaieteur National Park with its falls and facilities environmentally friendly and truly reflective of the beauty of Guyana’s natural eco-systems, and in the process seize the many financial opportunities the tourism industry has to offer, particularly from day visitors to the falls. Many people were seen at the site and if they were indeed being employed by MoT/THAG, appear to have a lot of spare time between flights. These people could be more gainfully occupied by training them to make artifacts with an indigenous flavour, provide films, refreshments, etc, for sale to the tourists, manicure the trails and apron, maintain the airstrip and do a host of other things to make their employment worthwhile and meaningful, to truly develop Kaieteur as a world class natural wonder. Funding for all this should not pose a problem as the REDD+ obligations for the LCDS kitty would seem to have ample funding to develop and maintain this tourism resource, as one has to only take a cue from the money being allocated to construct that nearby road to Amaila Falls.