In the coils of the giant anaconda

by Richard Freeman

The Centre for Fortean Zoology’s expedition to Guyana had its genesis with an entry in Michael Newton’s excellent Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology’ on crypto-tourism. He mentioned a company called ‘Guided Cultural Tours’ that offered expeditions in search of giant anaconda in Guyana.

I contacted Damon Corrie who ran Guided Cultural Tours. The company specialized in showing people the true Guyana of the native peoples. Damon himself is a chief of the Eagle Clan Arawak Amerindians. As well as being a well- respected figure to the native peoples he also is a conservationist who breeds and studies Guyanese reptiles and invertebrates.

Damon Gerard Corrie

Damon told me that only the year before, at a remote pool known as Corona Falls, a gigantic anaconda had been seen. He had spoken with the hunters who had seen the beast. They told him that it was so large they had fled from it. When he asked how big the snake was one of the men pointed to a 30 -foot palm tree. He told Damon that a dead tree of the same size had been lying in the water. The anaconda was crawling over it and its head and tail extended beyond the ends of the tree. This would make the snake around 40- feet long.

The Corona waterfalls, is an important site for Native Americans, as evidenced by numerous petroglyphs.

Damon also mentioned the di-di, a large hairy creature seemingly akin to the yeti or sasquatch seen in Guyana and also more vague stories of dragons said to inhabit the mountains. The CFZ decided to mount an expedition in November of 2007 in search of these creatures.

For the first time ever, we were able to secure some funding. Sam Brace who worked for the computer games company Capcom tied in our expedition to the release of Capcom’s game ‘Monster Hunter Freedom’. Capcom kindly donated £8000 towards the project.

As well as myself the team included Dr Chris Clark and Jon Hare who had been on several past expeditions and Paul Rose aka Mr Biffo. It was Paul’s first such excursion. He is a TV writer, author and most importantly the man behind the sadly defunct ‘Digitizer’ on teletext. It was collection of bizarre non-sequiturs that had Jon Downes and myself in tears of mirth for several years.

We were met at Georgetown airport by Damon who took us to his native village of Pakuri. It was a long and bumpy ride on an open- backed truck to the village. Pakuri is also known as St Cuthbert’s Mission but Damon, who is a champion of Amerindian rights, encourages all to call the village by its original name. It takes it’s name from the Pakuri tree. Damon showed us the last such tree in the area, the others having long since been cut down. I made a point of always calling the village Pakuri as I hate missionaries destroying native culture with their pernicious twaddle.

Pakuri village

Pakuri seemed like a content and stable community, unlike the filthy and crime ridden Georgetown. We took a swim in a nearby creek. The water was stained red by the tannins from the leaves of the plants along its banks. Once in the wine- coloured waters it gave the illusion of turning your skin red. Damon told us that small caiman and anaconda were sometimes seen in the creek but thankfully the infamous genital invading candiru (Vandellia beccarii) was absent from the waters.

Whilst in Pakuri we were told of a di-di encounter that occurred only two years before. It happened in another Amerindian village some 30- miles north of Pakuri. Two children, a boy and a girl of about 12, were walking home from school across the savanna . What the boy described as a ‘huge hairy man’ stepped out of a stand of trees and grabbed the girl. She was never seen again. There was on police investigation. This isunsurprising as the government of Guyana seems to care very little for its native peoples.

A man from Pakuri had seen a di-di from the back as it walked away from him several years previously. Unfortunately he was not in the village at the time so we could not interview him.

Epicrates cenchria

Damon showed us a rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria) he had captured. It was a rusty colour phase that I had not seen before. We were also shown a new species of green- coloured scorpion discovered by Damon. It was so new that it had not been officially described or given a scientific name yet.

Damon’s brother-in-law Foster told us that several years ago, in a watercourse a few miles from the village he saw the trail of a big anaconda. Judging by its width, its maker would have been far larger than the 20- foot stuffed specimen in the National Museum in Georgetown.

We travelled back to the unpleasant environs of Georgetown to catch a bus inland to Lethem were the expedition proper would begin.

Rumors about anaconda measuring 10, 20 or 30 have never stopped, one of the first testimony comes from Colonel Percy Fawcett in 1907:

While travelling up the Rio Negro River in 1907, the Colonel reported seeing and killing a huge anaconda measuring 62 feet long. When it was first sighted on the bank of the river it sent the Indian crew into a total panic. « We were drifting easily along on the sluggish current not far below the confluence of the Tigor and the Rio Negro when almost under the bow there appeared a triangular head and several feet of undulating body. It was a giant anaconda. I sprang for my rifle as the creature began to make its way up the bank, and hardly waiting to aim, smashed a .44 soft-nosed bullet into its spine, ten feet below the wicked head. At once there was a flurry of foam, and several heavy thumps against the boat’s keel, shaking us as though we had run on a snag.

We stepped ashore and approached the creature with caution. As far as it was possible to measure, a length of 45 feet lay out of the water and 17 feet lay in the water, making it a total length of 62 feet. Its body was not thick, not more than 12 inches in diameter, but it had probably been long without food. – The Brazilian Boundary Commission told me of one killed in the Rio Paraguay exceeding eighty feet in length!

When the coach turned up at the shabby little station our hearts fell. It looked as if it were held together by rust. I seriously doubted that the malodorous vehicle could make the 12-hour journey. The seats were appallingly uncomfortable, and the only air conditioning was open windows. It turned out I was right about the bus and it broke down. We waited four an hour and a half for a replacement to arrive. Thankfully it was a little more comfortable, but it didn’t stop this bus breaking down for a while as well.

We drove through farmlands, deep jungle and finally onto the grasslands. We caught a ferry across the Essequeibo River, the largest in Guyana. Damon told us that there were islands in the wider parts that were larger than Barbados!

We met a pleasant American girl called Rhiannon on the ferry who was working for the VSO. She had been in the country for many months.

We arrived in Lethem and took an open backed truck out onto the savanna. On the way we saw many birds such as caracara, egrets and jabiru. The landscape was very sparse in trees but scattered with termite mounds that looked for all the world like Christmas trees constructed out of mud. We reached the tiny village of Toka were we picked up some more guides and porters as well as several teenaged girls who were to cook and wash for the expedition. We then started out towards the village of Taushida.

Around Taushida

Unfortunatly we were hiking at noon when the sun was at it’s most ferocious. The heat on the grasslands of Guyana was quite unlike anything I had ever encountered before. In comparision the heat of West Africa seemed like a chilly winter’s day. In Indonesia and Thailand there was shade, this is a commodity lacking in this part of the world. The relentless heat and lack of shade effected me badly and I suffered from sunstroke. Several times I collapsed on the way to Taushida. The six miles seemed more like sixty. I had to take many rests but during one of these I saw a hummingbird at close range.

One guide, Joseph, told me that a di-di had been seen in the area. It resembled a huge white man covered with hair. It had been seen peering through some vegitation in the mountains. When I finaly arrived I was able to wash in a stream close to the little village. The cool water was a blessed relife. We relaxed as tiny ciclid fish (probobly bucktoothed tetra Exodon paradoxus) nibbled on our toes. That night as we made camp in the village a bush fire sprang up on the far side of the creek. It resembles a serpent of fire as it grew like some medevil salamanda uncoiling in the night Thankfully the flames did not reach over the water to menace our camp. Damon told us that a couple of weeks before he had seen some strange lights in the sky above the mountains. A light that resembled a bright star had appeared and seemingly broken into several smaller lights. They had remained visable for some time. Could the place be a window area?

 As I pondered the question a meteor flashed across the sky buring up in the atmosphere and untroubled by light pollution. Unfortunatly we were told that Corona Falls was a full 70 miles away as the crow flies! There was no way we could walk overland in the heat. It would mean walking 20 miles per day there and back. Six miles had allmost killed us. We concidered renting a hellicopter when we got back to Lethem. But in the meantime there was much to see in the immediate area. In the moring we rose early to climb up Makuzi Mountain. Five years earlier a hunter named Moses Iza had stumbled across an amazing descovery in a tiny cave atop the mountain. In the cooler morning climate the climb up was relitivly easy. The remains sat in a shallow cave. The scattering of flat rocks suggested that the entrence might once have been covered. They were in a large earthenwere pot. There was a whole skull of a boy of between 9 and 12 as well as the jaws and ribs of an adult man. The ribs and jawbones were in a smaller container within the large pot. There were also small beads and the tooth of a peccery. The tooth had a hole in it suggesting that it may have once been a necklace. Damon did not know exactly how old the remains were. They could have been pre-Columbian, over 500 years old or as recent as the end of the Amarindian wars around 100 years ago.

A skull from the cave

We all took a drag on a ciggerette (despite the fact that everyone except Chris was a none smoker) as this was a custom to show respect to the dead. The older man was obviously someone important in order for his remains to have been buried in such a prominent place. Perhapse he was a shaman or a chief. The boy may have been a sacrifice. The long and short of it is that we don’t know. Moses related that a di-di had been seen walking across the mountan about ten years ago. Another guide, a local hunter named Kenard Davis told us a story that his father had related to him.

It happened in the 1950s. A man had been hunting and was coming home over the mountains. The mountain pass was quicker than walking all the way arround. He was holding two wild fowl he had killed, one in each had. As he neared the top of the mountain he looked up and saw a huge hairy man asleep in the trees. He seemed to be using the vines like a hammock. The man was so frightened that he ran all the way to the bottom of the mountains still clutching the birds. When he returned to his village he fell ill and belived that the di-di had put a spell on him. He consulted a shaman who when into a trance to contact the di-di. The shaman told him that the man had frightend himself into sickness. The di-di lived on the mountan and had a wife and daughter who lived on neighbouring mountains. They did not harm people. Kennard had never seen a di-di himself but he did tell us of one strange creature he encounted. Up untill the 1970s a tiny, red faced pigmy was well known in the area. He was hairless, naked, brown skinned and about 3 to 3.5 feet tall. He had a red painted face and allways wore a strange grin. He would leap out of the bushes grinnig at passers by and scare them, though he never did anyone any harm. Kenard’s uncle had a motorbike and the little red faced man would oftern hop onto the back and catch a ride. He allways lept off at the same spot that Kennard’s uncle assumed was his home. People left gifts of tobbaco out for him according to Damon.

The bald uakari (Cacajao calvus) or bald-headed uakari is a small New World monkey characterized by a very short tail; bright, crimson face; a bald head; and long coat. The bald uakari is restricted to várzea forests and other wooded habitats near water in the western Amazon of Brazil and Peru

The food on the expedition was generally good. We dined on chicken, rice, fish and cassava. The latter is a root also know as the yucka (Manihot esculenta) that is a major source of carbohydrates . The native peoples shred it then smoke it to remove the toxins. It is squeezed through  a wickerwork tube then dried and pounded into a granulated form. Cassava is remarkably filling. A small portion can keep you going for a whole day. It can be eaten in a soft form that is akin to kous-kous or a hard- granular form that is not unlike granola. In both of these forms it is quite palatable. However, when turned into cassava bread it has the taste and texture of chipboard

Later that evening as the sun became less fierce, we travled in the opposite direction to visit Tebang’s Rock. This was a 30 foot tall pillar of rock that stood on the savannha. Kenard told us of Tebang. He was a little man who walked around at night touching children in order to transmit disease. Once the child had succome Tebang would fastion a flute from their bones and play it atop his rock. He was still supposed to be seen on moonlit night, whistling and shreking. He seemed to be totally different from the red faced pigmy Kennard had mentioned previously. Tebang recalls he Africa goblin Tokoloshi, a horrid creature with an outsized head that wandered the night transmitting illness to children by touching them.

There was another mysterious mountain in the area. Damon was told by a man who was climbing it that he was allmost sucked into a cave near the summit by a dragon. He did not see the dragon but a great sucking force came from the cave’s mouth and allmost pulled him in. Damon thought that the force might have been wind blowing through the mountain if it was hollow or had a network of caves. The cave might have acted like a wind tunnel under the right conditions. Were the idea of a dragon came from is unknown, there are Chinese immigrents in Guyana but they are few in number.

Could their culture have reached these remote areas? As I have noted elsewhere the dragon is a universal monster and cannot by written off lightly as a mere myth. As the dragon mountain was ten times as high as the mountain were we had seen the burial we decided not to climb it in the current climate!

The next day we returned to Toka. The walk went well untill the sun reached it’s zenith then sunstroke began to kick in again. Once we reached Toka we all slept in the shade for several hours. On all of our other expeditions we tended to rise at about 7 AM and then trek through the day till about 7 PM. In Guyana we could not do this on account of the heat. We were forced to stay as still as we could for the middle portion of the day due to the heat. This meant that much valuable time was lost. We caught a small open backed truck and travlled a few miles down a dusty road then walked to our next destination, Crane Pond. Here there were anacondas.

Not monsters like the one at Corona Falls but average sized specemins. Still it would be interesting to see one. It was cooler now and as we walked across the savannha we came across a female giant anteater with a baby upon her back.

The spectaculatr beast began to lollop away from us untill Damon chased it and drove it back towards us allowing us to film it. It was a dangerous endevour as the anteater is armed with formidable claws that it uses not only to rip open termite mounds and anthills but in defence against predetors. Anteaters have been known to disembowl humans who attack them. In fact in In April 2007, an anteater at the Florencio Varela zoo in Argentina attacked Melisa Casco, a 19 year old keeper and fatally clawed her. We got some wonderful film of anteater before she galloped over the horizon. We set up our tents as the sun began to fall. Kenard told me that Crane Pond was once thought of as the lair of a dragon.

There was an old saying that ran ‘don’t sleep too deeply at Crane Pond or the dragon will take you’. He said that back in the 1950s when cattle ranching was still big buisness in Guyana, a group of cowboys had camped at Crane Pond for the night. During the night they heard a huge animal rising from the water and could hear it’s breathing. The cowboys panicked. Some gathered up their horses whilst others fruitlessly fire their rifles at the noise. They beat a hasty retreat. Could the dragon have been a giant anaconda? Anacondas do make a strange sound when breathing. It has been likened to snoring. That night I was badly bitten by insects. In the cool morning before sunrise we woke and at first light set out in search of anaconda. We found large furrows filled with water going to and from the swamp. They were the trails of anaconda.

By the look of them they would have been 15-17 feet long, average size. Kenard saw a baby anaconda of around 4 feet slip into the water but the larger ones elluded us. We followed a line of trees along a partialy dried up creek but found no anaconda. As the sun was getting higher we decided to return to camp. Kenard travled further down the creek hunting for game to supliment our rations. He returned dragging something through the long grass. I thought he may have shot a bird or even a young capybarra with his bow and arrow. He had in fact killed a small spectacled caiman (caiman crocodilus). I always said I would never eat crocodilian meat as I am so fond of them.

But it would have been boorish to refuse something Kenard had killed specifically for us. The spectacled caiman is in no danger and is sometimes hunted for food. Kenard had made a clean kill, shooting it through the skull with an iron tipped arrow. It made you appreciate just how tough crocodilians are. The two-inch iron arrowhead had been bent right round by the caiman’s hard hide and bone.

As the sun got hotter, we returned to camp. Jon and Chris decided to walk with Kenard to a ranch a few miles away to get some pop and water. We had all been drinking out of flasks that purified water from streams and ponds. The thought of pop was appealing but I also thought they were both insane for wanting to walk in the blazing noon sun.

After they left the heat began to rise. Even the guides said it was remarkably hot. The sun was truly unbearable. There was no respite in the tents as they merely magnified the already savage temperature. We poured water over our heads but that only elevated the heat for a short while. Finally, in desperation I waded into a swamp and stood under a tree for several hours. The mosquitoes were nothing, a minor irritation in comparison with the solar torture I was enduring. I have always preferred the warmth to the cold. I have always flavoured summer over winter and sun over rain but on that day I prayed for rain or indeed the slightest cooling breeze. Now I have felt the wrath of Guyana’s dry season I will never feel quite the same about cold weather.

Paul also began to suffer badly from the heat at this point. He later almost blacked out whilst packing up his tent.

Jon, Chris and Kennard finally returned with pop and water. It was a nice change to be able to gulp down liquid rather than having to suck it up from a water purifying flask.

That evening we moved on to Cashew Pond in an attempt to avoid the insects. The walk was supposed to have been 2 km, but it was probably closer to 4 miles. The terrain was very bad. The uneven ground was dotted with concrete hard lumps that were hidden by the dry grass. At Cashew Pond Damon pointed out some cashew fruit. They grow directly below the nut. The nut is poisonous until roasted. In the west we see only the nut and never the fruit. The bright yellow fruits looked a lot like pepper but tasted like cranberry, juicy but leaving a paradoxically dry aftertaste.

That night we roasted the caiman on an open fire. The best meat was in the legs and tail. The legs tasted like chicken whilst the meat of the tail tasted like very flavoursome, chewy cod. Once again, the insects made a meal out of me. In fact, we were all bitten worse here than at Crane Pond.

In the morning we packed up to move out to Point Ranch where we were to be picked up by mini bus and be taken back to Lethem. The walk was long, hot and uncomfortable.

Whilst we waited at Point Ranch I asked about the water tiger. An old man from the ranch named Elmo had seen them. He was adamant that they were not the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) with which he was familiar. Elmo said that the water tigers he saw were spotted like a jaguar (Panthera onca) but hunted in a pack. He said that there was a ‘master’ possibly a parent water tiger, that sent out the cubs ahead of it in order to flush out prey. He had seen a whole group of them several years ago. Elmo also said that a pack of water tigers lived on a local mountain. He pointed it out. It had no name, but it was said that a dragon guarded a spring on the same mountain. Elmo said that no one who had ever climbed it had returned.

The white tiger is a Bengal or Siberian tiger with a genetic anomaly called leucistism

Kenard confirmed that water tiger was supposed to come in different colours, spotted like a jaguar, brown, and white with dark spots.

Another of our guides, Joseph, stated that he had seen the hide of a water tiger killed by a hunter in the 1970s. It was 10 feet long including the long tail. It was white (he compared the shade with some cows on the ranch) and had black spots. The head was still attached. He said that it was striped like a tiger.

These descriptions, both physical and of behaviour match no known cat species. We thought that the water tiger might actually be a form of giant mustelid as certain species such as stoats can change the colour of their coats.

Joseph had another even stranger story to tell. In 1975 a plane crashed into a mountain in the same range as the one supposedly inhabited by a dragon and a family of water tigers. He was paid to climb up and retrieve the body of the pilot from the crash site. He found the wreckage and the corpse. It was missing its head and had been badly burnt. He retreved it and put it into a sling fashioned from a blanket and began to descend. But on the way down he became  hopelessly lost. He wandered for three days on the mountain before finding his way down. During this time, he was forced to consume the flesh of the crash victim. He ate the arm of the body in order to survive.

We took a truck back to Lethem. We had decided that none of us could stand another 18 hour plus journey in a rickety bus so we decided to fly back to Georgetown when we left. We booked our tickets in advance at the little airstrip in Lethem. Whilst there we enquired about chartering a helicopter but there was only one in the whole of Guyana and that was not available. Getting one from Brazil would have meant days of red tape. We considered a boat but Kenard said that the river was too low. This was amazingly  frustrating. The main thrust of the expedition was to search for a giant anaconda at Corona Falls but we had not even seen one, solitary, ordinary- sized anaconda. The fact that the pool was unreachable was like a dangling carrot before a donkey. It looked like we would not be reaching our target on this trip. We decided to try and return another time during the rainy season and charter a boat or plane to get to Corona Falls. There was an airstrip only half an hours walk from the pool but no aircraft available presently.

Both Kenard and Damon mentioned that during the airstrip’s construction a number of years ago 11 skeletons had been found inside of termite mounds. The skeletons were in crouched positions suggesting that people had broken open the termite mounds, placed the bodies inside them, leaving the termites to rebuild their mounds around the cadavers.

Neither Damon nor Kenard knew of any tradition in any Amerindian tribes that had funerary rites like this. Damon postulated that it could have been pre-historic. The bones had been thrown away and no further  research done.

We checked into a guest house again. That night a heard of horses stampeded through the hotel grounds. None of the locals batted an eyelid! The next day Damon had arranged for us to meed with a former tribal chief who knew a lot about the strange creatures of Guyana.

We drove untill the savanna changed to jungle, then we drove up a twisting jungle path to a clearing near a stream. Waiting for us was a middle -aged man in a Sideshow Bob t-shirt and holding a parang. He introduced himself as Earnest. He had been a tribal chief until about 8 years before when he retired to concentrate  on running a little fish farm at the base of the Kanaku Mountains.

Earnest was a wealth of information regarding all of Guyana’s monsters and then some. About 10 years ago and around thiry miles away he had seen a 30- foot anaconda in a pool. He said that an Englishman had shot it and transported the skin to England. This, if it was imported, would have been done illegally . He knew of the di-di but had not seen one himself. However a friend of his, who had died two years previously had seen a di-di. He had seen a female suckling an infant in a tree. He had watched them for a while before blacking out. Afterwards he fell ill. His illness became worse and worse and he blamed it on seeing the di-di. He only admitted to the sighting on his deathbed. Earnest said that the voice of the di-di, like a very loud human shout, was still heard from time to time in the Kanaku Mountains.

Kanaku Mountains

Earnest knew of the little red -faced pygmies When he was 19 (he is now 59) he had seen one. It was naked, brown skinned and had a red face. Unlike Kenard he felt that the red face was natural pigment and not painted on. The little man had taken tobacco from Earnest then vanished back into the forest. He told us that the pygmies are more often seen than heard. They liked tobacco and where not dangerous unless angered. They sometimes made homes under large trees. If one of these were cut down the pygmies, quite naturally would get angry. They also made little pots that humans sometimes came across in the forest. These too should be left alone. The pygmies did not speak to humans, even when spoken to. They seemed just to take tobbaco and leave.

Damon confessed that he had seen a pygmie as well. About ten years ago he had been camping with his sister-in –law and another girl. He awoke in his tent to see a tiny red- faced man grinning down at him. He was frozen with fear. Finally he found he could move enough to try to nudge the girls awake. When he looked again the pigmie had gone. He did not recall hearing the zip on his tent being pulled open.

At the age 20 Earnest had a run in with the water tiger. He and his uncle were on a small boat on the river when something sized the vessel from beneath and started to shake it. Earnest and his uncle had to hold onto some branches overhanging the river in order to stop the boat overturning. Earnest’s uncle said it was a water tiger, though neither man saw the attacker. It could just as easily have been a big caiman. He too said that the water tiger lived in rivers and ran in packs.

His final story was of something that none of us had previously heard of. A couple of years ago in a little cave at a place called Wa-sa-roo he had seen a tiny caiman. It was smaller even than the smallest known species Cuvier’s dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus). It was brown in colour and had a red strip running down it’s back. The description matches no known caiman species. But stranger than this he said that the tiny caiman had two tails!

Paleosuchus palpebrosus

Lizards and snakes have sometimes thrown up freak specimens with two tails due to genetic deformaty. However, as far as I am aware, this has never been recorded  in crocodilians. Could Ernest have seen a pair of caiman mating, one on top of the other? He did say that the tiny animal was making a very loud bellowing noise, out of proportion to it’s modest size. Male alligators are known to bellow loudly during the mating season so this seems like a resonable explanation. Ernest had also seen the little caiman in a creek near the cave.

We thanked Earnest and set out to explore Wa-sa-roo. It was a collection of boulders of up to house size through which a stream ran. I took off my shoes and scrambled into the small cave. It was cool, had water and ledges. Though there was no evidence in the form of tracks, the cave was the perfect place for a small caiman to make its lair. Dwarf caimans like fairly fast flowing, rocky streams. Guyana could be playing host to a new, unrecorded species.

We then climbed up onto the top of the boulders to look down into the caves. We used a night vision camera to take film of the inside of the caves.

Later, back at the guest house Kenard told us some more stories he had heard of the di-di. Once, many years ago, a hunter found a huge human like- foot print miles from any habitation. He followed the tracks till they came to a tree. Looking up he saw a huge hairy man sleeping in the vines. He ran away in fear.

In the 1940s a girl was kidnapped by a di-di and took deep into the jungle. It took her as its mate. And together they had a hybrid child, half- human, half di-di. The girl stayed with the di-di against her will until one day she saw a hunter in a canoe. She shouted him over to the bank and leapt aboard. As the hunter paddled off the di-di emerged from the jungle and stood on the bank gesticulating for the girl to return. When she did not the monster picked up their half- breed offspring and tore it to shreds like a doll.

Quite where this story had its genesis is an interesting  question. I have heard exactly the same story told about both the yeti and the sasquatch.

Another story told of a group of men boating down the Essequeibo River. At one point they had stopped and disembarked. The men saw one of their colleagues grabbed from behind by a massive hairy arm. A huge ape like figure carried him into the jungle. The other men pursued shooting at the shaggy giant till it let the man drop.

That night we were invited to dine with Earnest’s family at their home just outside of Lehem. During the meal Damon mentioned that several members of his family had once worked in the largest open cast gold mine in Guyana. It was once owned by a Canadian company but has since been sold. They employed many Amerindians. One time a whole village full of people witnessed the uncovering of a huge, human like skull. It was far larger than a man’s skull and Damon wondered if it could belong to Gigantopithecus blacki a giant Asian ape believed extinct for 50,000 years. Many think that the yeti and sasquatch may be a surviving form of this ape or something related to it. So far Gigantopithecus remains have only been found in China and India. Officials from the company owning the mine came and took the skull and it was never heard of again. Perhaps the company was scared of having the mine closed down if a major palaeontological discovery was made. Maybe this skull is locked in some bureaucrat’s basement till this day

Foster recalled an even odder story of some man like creature with webbed digits being swept into a village during a flood. It was described as resembling ‘the Creature from the Black Lagoon’. I too have a vague memory of hearing something like this many years ago. Just what the creature was, if it ever existed, and what had become of it, was unknown. Details were lacking but Damon was sure it had appeared in the local paper many years ago. There is a tradition that is widespread in South America of small aquatic beings known as ‘Negroes of the Water’. If such aquatic goblins, about whom there is little information, are based on some real creature remains to be seen.

The Negro D’Agua is still very present in thefolklore of the region, particularly in the Brazilian northeast, where this 40 ft high statue was created in 2003, by the artist Lêdo Ivo, and placed on the bed of São Francisco river.

The following day we caught the tiny plane back to Georgetown. Damon and Kenard had to stay in Lethem as they had to pick up some snakes and invertebrates from remote villages.

Whilst waiting for the plane we met Rhiannon, the American girl we had seen before on the ferry. She told us that she had been researching a kind of spirit / creature called a Kanima. It seemed to be a different thing to each tribe. One said it took the form of a short fat man.

Foster said he had spotted a man who knew all about the Kanima and went over to fetch him. He was a rubber tapper by trade and fashioned his rubber into nice model birds that he sold to shops. He told us that the Kanima was a sort of solitary witch doctor, a human with magickal powers. Kanima lived alone and would pass on their knowledge to suitable students who sort them out. Only men were Kanima. Kanima could lay curses or cast spells but they usually left you alone unless you provoked them. One power he mentioned was to use certain leaves to become invisible in the forest. This may sound unbelievable, but it might be a matter of what is meant by ‘invisible’. Tribesmen in Peru have long said that the secretions of the giant monkey tree frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor) made men invisible, gave them great stamina, and allowed them to go without food. Recently biochemists analysing the frog’s secretions have found powerful laxatives, diuretics and emetics that may well flush out smelly compounds from human skin making the hunter invisible to forest animals that mainly rely on their sense of smell. The secretions seem to have painkillers and hunger suppressants in them as well. Could the plants used by the Kanimas have similar properties?

Phyllomedusa bicolor

The rubber tapper also said he had seen a red -faced- pygmies as a boy. He had been hunting in the general area and saw a tiny man with a red face peering at him through the undergrowth. Unlike other witnesses he thought the man was hairy (thought this may have been an animal hide he was wearing). When he realized he had been seen he fell to all fours and ran off. This is the only mention of hair and moving on all fours. Could this witness have mistaken a monkey? The red faced black spider monkey (Ateles paniscus) fits the description. It is hairy and has a red face. It moves on all fours but can stand erect. However, it has a long tail and inhabits rainforest not the dry savanna around Lethem.

Finaly we had to leave to catch the plane back to cold, dark wet England.

So, what are my final thoughts? Not getting to Corona Falls and the giant anaconda lair was a blow. We intend to rectify this in a future expedition. On the upside we did turn up fascinating information on other cryptids.

The little red- faced men have never been recorded or written about anywhere else to my knowledge. They could be a type of tiny hominid related perhaps to Homo florisensis. They still seem to be about, but no one has ever studied them.

The di-di may be a bigger hominid, something related to the sasquatch perhaps. If a little foot can exist in Guyana, why not a bigfoot? Much of what is attached to them seems like universal folklore. They seem less common now than the pygmies. It seems when ever human habitation springs up they retreat further into the wilderness.

The water tiger, despite my initial suspicions, seems to be very different from the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis). It is social, aggressive and comes in several colour variations. It is a flesh- eating mammal of some kind, possibly a felid or mustelid.

Lastly the tiny caiman. This is intriguing and could constitute a whole new species. We need to gather more information and eyewitness accounts.

Guyana is a veritable menagerie of cryptids. Few expeditions have looked for these creatures befor so the country promises to be a fertile ground for research for many years to come.

Kanuku region

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