Trail Blazing Right Up to a Waterfall’s Edge

Andrew Short is a National Geographic Grantee and assistant professor of
 Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. An entomologist by training, Short is currently in Suriname, South America searching for aquatic insects to study patterns of freshwater biodiversity that will inform both science and conservation. 


It is difficult to get around jungles without paths, so we are very fortunate to have two experienced trailcutters with us. Mani and Uwawa, both Amerindians from southwestern Suriname, have been busy blazing and marking several kilometers of trails with machetes that they repeatedly file to a razor’s edge throughout the day.

Each night after dinner, we meet as a group and map out where we need to open or extend our nascent trail system and the best way to do it. Without Mani and Uwawa, we would simply not be able get our science done.

Our trusted trailcutter Mani takes a break to sharpen his machete. Photo by Andrew Short.

Today’s agenda was to finish opening a trail to a river a few kilometers from our camp, Geijskes Creek. The entire morning was rather misty as clouds hovered over the plateau, which provided a rather dramatic backdrop when we finally broke into the Geijskes gorge.

Stained by plant tannins, the water is a dark tea color. The creek is strewn with giant sandstone boulders (many the size of cars) that have eroded from the sides of the gorge. Just a few steps downstream, the creek leaps off the plateau’s rim in a waterfall more than 500 feet high.

Geijskes Creek
The sun penetrates the morning clouds enveloping the summit of Tafelberg to illumiate Geijskes Creek. Photo by Andrew Short.
Catching a glimpse of Geijskes Falls on our way back to camp from the rim of Tafelberg. Photo by Andrew Short.

As the sun starts to break through the lifting clouds, we get to work sampling the creek for aquatic beetles. We get some exciting things on the wet sandstone walls that are likely to be new species, but they are too small to know for sure. We’ll have to get them back to the lab.

Looking for beetles on a wet rock face along Geijskes Creek. Photo by Andrew Short.


NEXTHitching a Ride on a Helicopter to Tafelberg