Reality can be so much stranger than fiction.
Take this unidentified jungle fruit that Kris picked up on one of his exploratory walks around the island next to which we are moored. The thing is unbelievable.
The size of a grapefruit, it smells faintly of crushed flowers. The bright orange pulp in the center is wet and sticky, and carries numerous little oval seeds. The fruit, a smooth white ball when unripe, splits open into 15 clean segments, each one tipped with a black unguis. It’s like a glowing jewel protected by fierce talons. Something out of a sci-fi movie.
These watercolour postcards of the fruit are very different from my collection of safe little floral sprigs and predictable foliage, no? Simultaneously more authentic, and yet improbably fantastic. Surreal.
The variety of trees, all growing together on one small island, was wonderful to behold…so many different kinds of leaves, seed pods, flowers, all growing willy-nilly. We didn’t see any animals (we were probably making too much noise, or it was the wrong time of day) but have been told by the people on Baganara Island that there are howler monkeys, sloths, toucans, yellow-headed vultures, and labba on the island. We’ll definitely go exploring the island on foot over the coming weeks, hoping to catch sight of some of these creatures!
I was calling it ‘jungle’, but we have since realised that all this dense wilderness—the towering trees, these massive buttress tree roots—around us is already secondary-growth forest.
When Kris went hitchhiking for three days into the interior of the country (he was trying to reach Kaieteur, and got to within 10 miles of the famous waterfall, but had to turn back because the boatmen at the last outpost wanted US$200 to take him that small distance. One way. Well, it’s $250 to take a small plane out there and back, so he’s decided to book a flight, instead.) the roads took him past jungle where the trees were three times the height of the ones we see growing around Bartica. Aerial roots as thick as a man’s leg hung down in dense curtains from the tops of these giants, and dozens of other trees had taken root in these aerial tangles, so that swaying groves of trees were thriving in mid-air. If you stepped a few metres to either side of the potholed logging and mining roads, the light among the trees faded, and the snarl of jungle stretched away in perpetual gloom. That there are still places like this in the world!
Along one stretch of road, their Bedford truck passed a couple of Amerindian men, walking along. Wearing jeans and wristwatches, but bare-chested, each one carried a hunting bow and small bundle of arrows.
The mind does somersaults in excitement.