Tag Archives: Job

Guyana Day 12

It’s raining again.  

Filming in jungle conditions means a constant battle to keep equipment dry.  The worst problem by far for cameras is humidity, as moisture gets trapped behind the lens and fogs it up.  We had a plan.  We would build wooden boxes and rig up a light bulb in each box.  The bulb would emit just enough heat to dry out the parts and prevent moisture from forming.  Each one of the $35,000 cameras would have its own little box to rest and recuperate in every night, and would emerge the following morning dry, functioning, and ready to make reality television magic.

Making the boxes proved an epic endeavor.  There are no hardware stores in the interior and plywood is worth almost as much as the cameras.  Wood is plentiful — just cut down the nearest tree — but when you are trying to make a dry box building it out of sodden wood is far from ideal.  However, our choices were scarce and trees were not.  The Amerindians headed out into the forest to cut us some boards.  It is an amazing process.  The tree is cut down by chainsaw and a guy makes the first cut longways.  Another guy takes a board with a few nails in it spaced a certain distance apart and he drags it along the fresh side, scoring it the whole way down to mark the lines to cut on.  Then the chainsaw maestro freehand cuts the planks along the lines, and you end up with boards that would rival any you’d find at Ace Hardware.  They have the process down to a science and it goes from tree to 1×12 boards in about 3 minutes.

And so we finished our boxes, sewed up some cheesecloth bags filled with rice to also help absorb moisture, and brought them into the mess hall where we’ve been staging our gear every night.  The camera tech has the toughest job on this production.  He has to be up before the camera guys every morning, and then he’s handed their muddy, dirty, wet, malfunctioning cameras every night and expected to make them whole again.  In between, he races around the jungle with a 40lb backpack filled with batteries, tapes, tools, gaffer tape and Gatorade.

The attrition rate on this show has been worse than any cold weather project I’ve done, with the exception of Deadliest Catch when we lost ALL of our cameras during the Opilio crab season one year.  Luckily, we didn’t lose the final camera until the very last week of filming.  Here in Guyana, after less than two weeks, we have one 800 down, two EX-3s, and 2 5D’s.  Flights in and out of Eteringbang have stopped indefinitely because of the rain and we have no hope for a resupply any time soon.

And so it was with dismay that I heard a frantic voice on the walkie this morning yelling, “We need to get those boxes out of the building right now!!!!”  I walked into the tech room and there they were.  Millions and millions of leaf cutter ants, all working together to dismantle and carry out every single grain of rice from the bags.  The line of ants stretched 50 yards from the camera box into the jungle, each one carrying a single grain of rice as a guard ant moved up and down the line patrolling and keeping the peace.  They must have thought they hit the lottery.

Guyana Filming, Day 9

It’s a sunny day and the camp is abuzz with possibility.  Laundry is baking in the sun.  It’s never quite clean but at least when it’s dry you can shake the dirt out.  The roads are drying up and the ATV’s zip in and out to the mining camp.  The river is retreating and no longer threatens to flood the camp.  And the chicken that’s tied by one leg to the anaconda cage is squawking up a storm.

Although the Super Bowl is the day after tomorrow, the majority of bets in camp are being placed on the outcome of the real battle: Snake vs. Chicken.  Sides have been chosen and the over/under is set.  Tomorrow at high noon is the real Rumble in the Jungle.  The snake seems to be where the smart money is.  Although he’s just a tween, he’s easily 10 feet long.  The chicken is smaller than average.  But the snake is stressed from being poked, prodded and generally harassed by the locals here.  He used to live in a bag on our porch, until he managed to escape.  He was caught again and put in a laundry basket with a board on top.  Finally, someone made a cage for him.  And although temporary bloodlust has set in, most of the film crew would like to set him free.  After the chicken meets his fate, a jailbreak has been planned.  In the middle of the night the snake will be quietly released into the river behind camp.  Perhaps the evil monkey will be “encouraged” to travel with him.  

The jungle is starting to take its toll.  About 10 people in camp have contracted some sort of parasite.  I got mine out of the way on the first day and it was not pleasant.  Most of the cast are sick now.  One poor guy got stung by a swarm of bees and as he was trying to get away from them he cut his arm on the spikes of the “Bastard Tree.”  The Bastard Tree must be the world’s most diabolical tree.  Its trunk is covered in needle-like spires ready to spear you should you happen to brush by it or, even worse, grab it to stop yourself from falling in the slick mud.  You are guaranteed a world of pain and an infection to boot.

The middle of the jungle is filled with trails that never see the light of day because of the thick canopy overhead.  These trails are slick with mud that can reach your knees.  Every step is treacherous and it’s a constant battle not to fall on your butt or leave a boot behind in the mud.  When the natural reaction is to reach out and grab what you can so you don’t fall, it’s impossible to retrain yourself to keep your arms at your sides.  The bastard tree exploits your knee-jerk reactions.

So, it was kind of a rough day for everyone except for the evil pet monkey, who I caught eating a marshmallow.

Life on the road

My first glimpse of Guyana from the plane window was blurry.  The flight was short — just five hours from JFK — which means the 1.5 sleeping pills in my system were still very much engaged in their primary objective.  And I was wearing my glasses.  I hate wearing my glasses especially when traveling.  I dread the moment that the flight attendant looms over me to hand out the customs form and I can’t see where his hand begins and mine ends and I rear up from my seat in a panic, lunging in the general direction of his white blobbiness.  The problem is, I have an eye infection and I’m terrified that it won’t clear up before I get into the jungle.  I’m armed with drops, sterile eye wipes and optimism.  It needs to clear up before we head into the interior in three days.

Anyway.  Guyana.  Even viewed through a fuzzy-around-the-edges haze it is still stunning from the air.  Miles and miles of densely packed green with no break in sight.  Even the rivers look like they are being choked by the jungle as the trees strive to reach each other across the sluggish water.  Every mile or so one palm tree sticks out above the rest of the canopy (being a tall poppy, as Mark Burnett used to say) but save that glimpse of a grayish-brown trunk there is nothing to break up the ocean of green.  It feels very different from other tropical locations because there is nothing — not a house, shoreline, town, or road — to look at besides trees.

Guyana doesn’t seem to have much to sell itself on upon arrival.  It has no beaches to speak of, the waters are muddy, the city is infested with crime, and the mosquitoes are armed with malaria.  The drug smuggling business is thriving due to its prime location next to Chavez’s Venezuela.  The entire country is a malarial zone and the interior is filled with hundreds of plants and animals whose sole purpose in life is to infect, bite, sting or kill you.  Is it any wonder I loved it from the moment I arrived.

We touched down at 7:08am with 96 cases and 16 crew and began the process of explaining to customs why we travel with our own Beefeater gin and whiteboards.  Guyana only receives about 2000 visitors a year, the majority of whom probably mixed it up with Ghana and boarded the flight to South America by accident.  2000 a year works out to roughly 38.5 people a week.  Which means that when our crew arrived we comprised over half of the country’s entire tourist population for that week.  That’s how we roll.  Upon arrival, it became clear why the country only hosts 38 tourists a week.  The two customs officials played bad cop / bad cop while the other airport officials took turns asking us to take the bags off and on the baggage carts seemingly at random.  While Peterman, our tall, bald, loud, Texan tall poppy dealt with the mayhem, our host took care of greasing the palms and the wheels.  

We left the airport and boarded a bus named, awesomely, Knight Rider, in order to get to headquarters.  Prior to Guyana, I didn’t know it was possible for a small bus to reach speeds more commonly witnessed during NASCAR events.  As we careened around blind corners and enjoyed the use of the oncoming traffic lane as well as our own, I was able to observe that most of the people live on or near the side of the road.  It was easy enough to calculate how Guyana’s population stays so low.

Greeting us at the compound was a monkey in a cage.  While others ooohed and aahed over it, I stood back and stared him down.  I studied his creepy fingers.  His beady eyes.  He was definitely plotting something.  My sister, who knows and understands my fear and distrust of all monkeys, helpfully suggested that next time we meet I should throw my own feces at him first to confuse him.

Today passed in stupor, with people napping and emailing and jumping in the pool (damn you again, eye infection).  Now it’s midnight, and as the club across the street pumps out Rihanna in the middle of a downpour, I’m going to turn in for the night as well.  The forecast is a flat line: 10 days of 86-degree days and thunderstorms every afternoon.

Standing on the balcony of the hotel today watching the rain come down in sheets, I tried to picture what it would be like a week from now to be in the middle of the jungle up to my knees in mud and soaking wet, with another 40 days of exactly the same thing coming down the pipeline. Some things are better left unimagined; just experienced.