It is not unusual for a cherished childhood dream to lose its magic in an adult world when adult experiences bleach out its wonder and, if the dream is realized, a small voice can echo its disappointment.
Living on the edge of the Bush in South America, my parents and I made regular weekend excursions by canoe up poetically named rivers – Lamaha, Demerara, Essequibo. Many times I had seen the red eyes in the night waters of cayman surrounding our canoe and spurring on my dad’s feverish attempts by flashlight to bring an outboard motor to life. I heard my mother’s whispered instructions to sit still and not fall in “We’d never get you back in time!”
The rippling curves of a water-snake were no stranger to me or the dark water sequined by the silver bellies of carnivorous fish. I loved how the tropical night drops in, with only a brief attempt at twilight, and the river becomes a silver path between the dark jungled banks, and the music of the Bush comes alive.
For all the magic of the rivers and the waters, there was always one place I longed to see. When I wished my child’s dream out loud, I was met with logical adult explanations that it was far too dangerous. The only way to get there was by bush-plane, an adventure in itself. In those days, bush planes were usually ancient work-horses piloted by Bush-pilots, whose reputations were devil-may-care at best, and who were a special breed. Some of them never returned from looking for tiny clearings in the dense trees. All of this meant that we were not going to travel by plane to see the place of my dreams. I packed them away for many many years.
Last month I joined a group of friends in traveling by bush-plane – clearly modern, well-maintained and reliable additions to what was now the tourist trade. We flew inland and left the flat farmed coast with villages and towns for a landscape tightly woven with treetops. Broad rivers intersected the forests and rare signs of human activity – occasional scars from gold mining or an odd tiny runway. Any other signs of human habitation were overlaid with the dense green tree-cover. I was finally, after a lifetime, going to see Kiateur. My stomach was tight with excitement and apprehension – was her beauty over-rated?
After an hour the pilot announced that we were approaching her attendant cloud-cover and mist and that, if we were lucky, she would shed her veils and make her appearance.
And there she was….
I stood on the overlook hundreds of feet above the river, listening to her roar, feeling her drops in my hair and knowing her power. My whole being was alive with sensations and an awareness of a strange gleam of hope.
And it was better than I could have known or imagined.