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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Facing fears in Guyana - Rosy opens our new topic of courage

For as long as I can remember, I've been terrified of heights.  My chest gets tight, my legs start to shake, my head starts to spin and I just want to curl into a ball and cry.  Just thinking of heights brings on an attack of vertigo – that feeling that I'm falling and have to catch myself. 

In 2010 I was selected to be one of six UK participants on the first GOLD (Guiding Overseas Linked with Development) trip to Guyana.  GOLD had been my dream for over 10 years, since I first found out about it as a Guide, so to be selected was literally a dream come true.

One of the challenges of a GOLD project is that, as a representative of the UK, you have to be willing and able to “just get on with it”, no matter how you feel. I was totally prepared for this.  However, what I wasn't prepared for was finding out that Guyana is home to the largest single-drop waterfall in the world.  Kaieteur Falls is a waterfall in the middle of the rainforest with a drop from top to bottom of over 740ft.  Getting there involves flying over the rainforest in a very small plane and a short hike to the edge of the falls.  When you get there, there are no fences, just a small sign telling you how high the falls are.  That's right.  NOTHING TO STOP ME FALLING! 

With the rest of the team, we decided that Kaieteur was a must-see and we all agreed that we would go and explore it on one of our rest-days.  When we decided this, it was still a dream.  I didn't quite believe that I was going on a GOLD trip, let alone flying into the rainforest to face my biggest fear.  However, over the 9 months of planning, the realisation started to sink in, along with the panic.  How was I going to be able to get off that plane and walk into the rainforest knowing that, at the end of it, I would have to stand at the edge of a cliff and look over at this waterfall?  How could I “just get on with it”?  (Just thinking about it now, 2 years later, makes my head spin)

I knew no-one was forcing me – the rest of the team were really supportive – but I was terrified.  However, I was also determined to do this.  I just didn't know how. 

All too quickly, we were in Guyana, halfway through our project, in a tiny nine-seater plane flying into the rainforest and closer to Kaieteur.  As we approached the landing strip, the sea of trees started to clear and we flew straight over the top of the falls.  

The view from the plane

The view was absolutely incredible, but I could feel my heart start pounding, I started to shake and I couldn't breathe.  I still had no idea how I was going to manage to hold it together and not let the rest of the team down. 
I don't really remember the walk through the rainforest; I was so focussed on just putting one foot infront of the other and remembering to breathe.  All of a sudden though we came round a corner and face to face with a sign:

I couldn't do it.  I was so terrified, my mind went blank; I couldn't move.  I could see everyone else walking around taking photos, sitting with their feet over the edge of the overhang, admiring the views and enjoying themselves. 
I felt so disappointed with myself for being scared, and was ready to start crying when the rest of the team stopped what they were doing and came over to help me.  They all talked to me and encouraged me to crawl slowly towards the edge, while they held on to my ankles, so I could look over at the falls. 

When I eventually reached the edge, the view was absolutely breathtaking, it's impossible to describe:

It was at this point I realised – I had done it!  With the help and support of my friends I found the courage to face my fear.  They held my hands, gave me hugs, wiped away my tears (of joy!) and told my how proud they were of me.  This was one of the best days ever: 

For that I need to thank (L-R) Sara, Kirsty, Lizzy, Keeley and Sam
Rosy Burgess

PS There's another GOLD team out in Guyana right now! You can follow their blog here - and find out about the other projects for 2012 here.

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