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Field Notes From
Catfish Hunters



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From Author

Fen Montaigne



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From Photographer
Randy Olson



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Maria Stenzel (top) and Randy Olson

 

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Catfish Hunters

Field Notes From Author
Fen Montaigne
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We spent two days atop Guyana’s spectacular Kaieteur Falls, where we recovered from the rigors of the journey. We holed up in a trading post and drank ice-cold Brazilian beer, listened to reggae, and played pool. The locals regaled us with tales of murder and intrigue associated with the region’s gold and diamond mining. Upstream past Kaieteur, we spent another night in a tin-roofed house just above the roaring falls. That night there was a downpour unlike any I’d ever seen. The sound of the deluge pounding on the tin roof was mesmerizing.

To get to the top of Kaieteur Falls, we hiked up through steep jungle and intense heat and humidity. Our outpouring of perspiration cannot accurately be described as sweating. It was more like a complete expulsion from our bodies of every ounce of fluid. The sweat came out in torrents. We were wringing cupfuls of water from our shirts. All the time the Amerindian porters streamed by us on the dusky trails, each loaded down with 50 to 75 pounds (23 to 34 kilograms) of our gear. Hauling those loads to the top of the falls in that heat was an astounding act of strength and stamina.

The strangest thing about the trip was our one-day, overland journey through a gold “shout,” or gold rush. Hundreds of men, many suffering from malaria, were hosing away the hillsides with water cannons, sifting the muddy sludge for gold and diamonds. The money was good, but the conditions the miners lived in—sleeping under plastic tents, being constantly bitten by mosquitoes and the myriad other creatures of the jungle—were hellish.



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