Before I discovered Guyana, flying over jungle countries used to depress the hell out of me. It’s always fine while you’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 it’s easy to convince yourself that everything is well with the world.
Get yourself up in a flying machine, though, and it’s a different story. Now, you can see the wider truth, 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 country’s 750,000 people, because they mostly live in and around the drowsy coastal capital of Georgetown.
I’ve spent nearly two years of my life in rainforests, including time on every continent that has them, but I’ve never experienced one so benign as this, 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.
For Guyana’s lucky few visitors, the excursion into rainforest paradise usually begins on the Upper Essequibo River, at the Iwokrama reservation, just a few hours south of Georgetown. There is an international conservation centre here, with a gaggle of tourist lodges, and its river journeys offer world-beating opportunities to see jaguars, primates and giant 20ft anacondas.