Lost in Venezuela

One G&T and two Tamazapam later and I arrived in Venezuela feeling shaken and poured over ice. I met the usual Gryphon crew at the airport in Caracas and it was all bro-hugs and excited banter, exchanging stores and catching up before we piled into a tiny egg-beater of a plane bound for the small Pemon Indian village of Kavac.

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I stared out through my small plane window as the tangled concrete city peeled off the landscape, a hot sticker from the windscreen of a car. Less and less urban residue clung to the surface until there was nothing left, but rainforest.

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Clouds hugged the torso of Auyan tepui, its temporary clothing – more a ceremonious gown than for practicality. It was stunning.

That there, is ‘House of the Devil’, Said Juan Carlos, our guide. His voice belted powerfully over the roar of the Cessna props.

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     It wasn’t the only time over the ten-day trip that I just sat and stared at Auyan tepui. The way it constantly changed was charismatic. It loomed in morning light, and danced with the clouds in the afternoon. I watched it disappear entirely in a storm. Water erupted from its crevasses afterwards, fierce and stunning in its housekeeping.Rain

Home for the next ten days was nothing more than a handful of round mud brick huts and a dirt runway that separated the village from the Venezuelan Savannah like a seam. It stitched the village to the foothills of the tepui. I looked at the five guys standing there on the dirt runway of a small Indian village in the jungle of Venezuela. ‘For the next 10 days, these guys are my life.’ I thought to myself.

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Our first few days in the forest were spectacular. We set the premise for the show; shot the opening sequences, abseiled the face of a waterfall with the host, and swam a flooding gorge to another hidden mountain waterfall.

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Crevass

The rainforest was our playground, and I found myself embellishing in it. I felt the tranquility that comes with the exclusivity of somewhere so remote. I lost myself in the adventure of it all.

Flip Drenched

But on day five, it started to rain.

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Poor light ended the day, and home was an hour away in the back of a rusted out Range Rover with a shattered windscreen and no brakes. We bumped along in a muddy semicircle around the edge of the tray, cameras dormant in our laps. Immature banter and white knuckles kept me from nodding off and falling out of the tray.

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We could all see the storm building efficiently over the Savannah beside us. Alex, our Pemon Indian guide started to chatter to himself as he began to unfold a large black sheet of plastic that I knew was only for us because of our gear.

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The tepui, though still a few miles away, loomed above us in what only seemed like amusement, its skirt of clouds bubbled with excitement at the thrill of the chase unfolding below.

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The temperature dropped and the wind flexed. The storm marched into the side of us with authority, careless of our insignificance. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear sat wrapped in a black sheet of plastic in the tray at our feet. My teeth chattered as water found its way into places that hadn’t seen water for a few days. Todd (our director) looked over and a smile cracked in the corner of his mouth. With the water and his scruffy drenched hair whipping against his Amazonian sun-kissed face, he looked wild and alive.

http://youtu.be/4PsrADht2W8 (See Video)

     ‘I might take a photo of this and send it to anyone that wants to get into wildlife documentaries.’ He boomed, the crack in his mouth shattering into a hearty laugh.

His eyes sparked, the discomfort and power of the wilderness – a flint striking his eyes, and I knew he intrinsically loved every second of it. They all did; I scanned their faces, Niall our host, Andy our key grip, Pete the sound recordist, and Juan-Carlos our guide all had the same structure of light in their eyes.

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They wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world, and being a part of such a talented and disheveled party in the middle of a tropical storm is not disorientation or friendship I take for granted.crew

Photo Credits and many thanks: Andy Dittrich + Juan Carlos

Biggest and Baddest show teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t50JXg7w96o

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Chasing Light: Lost in West Papua

CHASING LIGHT – LOST IN WEST PAPUA

It was 5:30 in the afternoon and we were running as fast as physically possible up the side of a mountain, deep in the forest of West Papua.
‘Come on, come on!’ I yelled, almost to myself as I lost my footing in the mud. The local boys chattered to each other in Bahasa; I was sure they were saying something like, ‘What the fuck is this crazy white guy doing running us through the forest like this?’

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I could see it about to happen, the golden dappled dance of sun squeezing between green leaves was a giveaway. Soon white clouds would be bleeding red and the blue sky would bruise with it.
Mr Sugiono lowered his machete and stared at my sweat-drenched face.
‘Ok?’ He pointed over Wijaya Sentosa and I followed his gaze.
‘A little further?’ I asked. It was starting without me. The highest streaks of white had already begun to paint themselves for a ceremonious end to the day.
Sugi didn’t understand and he pointed out again, ‘O.K?’
‘No, NO!’ I snapped and pointed uphill. ‘A little further!’ He didn’t understand, but he understood, and conceded, faithfully. With a final ‘Ok.’

SUGI

And off he charged, sensing the rush in my voice. I followed, and so too did Mr Hanozono with my tripod, and Mr Ramat, (barely a Mr, and more an 18-year-old kid from Jakarta) our translator – hauling more of my kit.
But the forest didn’t break apart like I had hoped. It was wearing us like a glove. I pushed my muddy chest against a fallen tree, spun over it and charged on.

‘This is stupid!’ I thought to myself. ‘Someone (me) is going to hurt themselves, or break this gear.’
Even still, Sugi pushed uphill for me. I stopped and watched him move through the thick forest without the slightest of effort. Every brush of his knife artistically crafted for the next to follow.

I looked up at the orange burning blanket and knew we’d missed it. ‘Fuck.’ I muttered, out of breath and defeated.
‘Come on.’ Said Ramat.

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I smiled at him. Just a kid like me, a kid from Jakarta without a clue as to what was so damn important about getting a shot of the sun going down that we needed to hock ourselves through the rainforest like .
He looked at me and asked, ‘Why do you stop?’ He pointed west through the trunks of the forest and said, ‘Come on, look – It’s beautiful.’
And it was beautiful. Broken and obscure the sky peeked through at us as it tried to decide which shade of magenta it would like to be and I sat down on the forest floor.
‘SUGI.’ I called. ‘SUGIONO…’
‘EH?’ He called back.
‘SUGI COME BACK.’ I yelled.
Ramat translated, yelling into the forest towards Sugi.
Sugi yelled back, Ramat translated. ‘He says, “Why – It’s beautiful?”’
I laughed, ‘Tell him we missed it.’

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Sugi ambled back down to us, the game now over. He slid his machete back into its holder and sat down beside me, saying something in Bahasa which I knew meant, ‘We missed it.’ His empathy was so profound; but I guess I didn’t miss anything at all. The beauty was there in front of me as we all sat on the forest floor and watched it burn.

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