Trekking the rain forest of Guyana by Steve Backshall
Before I discovered Guyana, flying over jungle countries used to depress the hell out of me. Itâ€™s always fine while youâ€™re actually on the ground, tunnelling among the lush green caverns of the forest floor.
Down there, you can never experience more than the explosion of life, the sensory overload, which is evident within a few metres of you.
Watching a giant morpho butterfly flitting in the dappled sunlight like an electric-blue handkerchief; being hosed down with wee by a churlish howler monkey; happening across a tiny frog carrying its tadpoles to a bijou pond in a treetop flower… these countless small miracles wrap you up in the wonder of the jungle, and itâ€™s easy to convince yourself that everything is well with the world.
Get yourself up in a flying machine, though, and itâ€™s a different story. Now, you can see the wider truth â€“ that some of the most famous and important jungle reserves in the world are actually smaller than an average-sized city.
Their dwindling islands of forest are surrounded by fields, plantations or burnt and barren land, and logging roads penetrate deep into their recesses. Guyana is very different from that, however. A nation the size of Great Britain, its rainforest remains 85% untouched, and you can fly for several hours and see no roads at all, only rivers, glaring up like serpentine mirrors as the sun flashes across them.
Forest, forest, forest, in every direction, and not a sign of the countryâ€™s 750,000 people â€“ because they mostly live in and around the drowsy coastal capital of Georgetown.
Iâ€™ve spent nearly two years of my life in rainforests, including time on every continent that has them, but Iâ€™ve never experienced one so benign as this â€“ so free from plants that want to rip your clothes off, bugs that want to eat you and tropical diseases that make you spend your entire stay hovering over a long-drop toilet.
That said, I did get bitten by a vampire bat, stung by a bullet ant and shocked by a 200-volt electric eel. But it was still heaven.
Steve Backshallâ€™s programme Expedition Guyana will air on BBC1 and Discovery this spring
Travel brief: Guyana is best tackled using a tour operator. Responsible Travel (01273 600030, www.responsibletravel.com) has a 14-day tour from Â£3,345pp, including flights from Gatwick to Georgetown with BA and Caribbean Airlines, via Barbados or Trinidad and Tobago, and internal transfers. Or try Audley Travel (www.audleytravel.com), Andean Trails (0131 467 7086, www.andeantrails.co.uk), or Veloso Tours (020 8762 0616, www.veloso.com). For more information, contact the Latin American Travel Association (www.lata.org).