From above, the Rupununi Savannah looks like a topography map in reverse. The green bumps are the hills, covered in dense vegetation, while the brown indentations and splodges indicate the paths of the overflowing rivers during the rainy season.
From the ground, arriving at the savannah is a shock to the system. We’d just spent two days at the riverside jungle camp in Surama, in humid semi-darkness, with little sunlight penetrating the thick canopy and the air pierced by the roar of the howler monkey and the singing of frogs. So when we emerge in the bright sunlight, with scrubland and tall grass stretching as far as the eye can see – punctuated with the tall ant fortresses, the lumbering forms of the giant anteaters and the occasional thatched roof of an Amerindian house in the distance – the contrast is spectacular.
Our first camp on our trip round the savannah is at Oasis, near the village of Annai – a pit stop for the overloaded minibuses that ply the red dirt ‘highway’ between Georgetown on the coast and Lethem on the Brazilian border as well as for the local Makushi Amerindians who cycle long distances on their sturdy Brazilian contraptions. We pass one such cyclist clutching a bow and arrow – still a favourite method of hunting around here.
The nearby village of Rupertee is known for its carvings, made of a red hardwood peculiar to these parts. However, when we arrive it becomes apparent we’re unlikely to find any, as the whole village is attending a football match between two teams of teenage girls from rival villages. They play with more gusto than finesse, running barefoot on gravel and splashing through the waterlogged parts of the pitch. It’s riveting viewing, made even more so by the potent fermented cassava drink that’s being passed around.