Monday 1st to Thursday 4th December – Canaima and Angel Falls

In the morning it transpired that Juliette would not be on our group but Mit, a fellow Londoner, would.  After breakfast we headed to the airport and I was slightly shocked to see just how small the plane was.  Although I had been told that the planes were small, holding six people, it still looked tiny to me, like a dinky toy.  I’ve had a number of first time experiences on this trip and a few of them in the air.  Okay, that sounds dodgy now I’m re-reading it.  I’m not talking about Mile High type experiences here.  Infact even Samantha from ‘Sex and the Cty’ would have struggled to manage that one in the plane we were getting.  What I’m talking about is fliying in helicopters, Cessners and the like.  Anyway, so we got into the plane and it seemed to take off when it really didn’t feel like it was going fast enough in order to do so.  It actually felt alright and I was getting used to the crazy loudness of it when the pilot decided to do a kind of sight-seeing tour.  This was fine until he started to tilt the plane to show us things.  The scenery was beautiful though and it was cool flying at a height where you were able to see the things on the ground properly.

After around an hour long flight we landed in Canaima and were taken to one of the camps.  The place was beautiful and, after a short time, we were joined by a mixed group of people on an organised group tour.  We headed down to the beachside lake where you could see beautiful waterfalls and palms dotted along the shoreline.  From there it was a short walk, passed and through a hydroelectric plant, to get to the motorized canoe we would take to Angel Falls (Salto Angel).  For those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t) Angel Falls is not so named as it tumbles like an Angel, it’s named after the guy who discovered it, Jimmie Angel.  I think that he crashed somewhere near there and then he got back to civilisation and told people who didn’t believe him.  It was only when he returned to show people that it was acknowledged that he had actually discovered something.

So, we got to the canoe and it was actually a lot more stable than the words, "motorized canoe" had evoked in my mind.  After a short ride up river we got out to walk a section as apparently it had rapids which were too dangerous for us to cross.  They were apparently fine for the driver and our luggage to cross though which led me to believe that it was the weight loss they were actually after.  The walk was actually really nice, through kind of savanna grasslands with tepuis in the distance.  A tepui is a kind of plateau like mountain – think table mountain here.  This is what Angel Falls sits on and there are numerous others dotting the landscape.  They’re odd formations to look at actually but with their own beauty.  So after about an hour’s walk we arrived back at the boat point and continued upriver.  The boat ride was really pleasant and a lovely way to see the surrounding countryside, if slightly wet at times.  After a little longer we stopped at a small waterfall where we got out and had a swim in the water.  The water was a really strange colour, with a bright orangey tinge.  Think tea here, apparently it’s that colour due to the tannin levels.  After the swim we got back into the boat and headed further upriver whilst munching on sandwiches for lunch.  After a few hours we got our first sight of Angel falls.  It emerged as we went round a corner and my first sight of it, albeit from some distance, didn’t disappoint one bit.  We carried on and I was so pleased when we stopped at camp and could see Angel Falls from the hammocks which we were to sleep in.  Some of us had a swim, I convinced Ernesto to let me float down the currents (very quickly) in my lifejacket and we generally chilled out prior to dinner and an early night.

The following morning we headed up to Angel Falls after breakfast.  This involved firstly crossing the river in the boat and then around an hour’s walk.  The walk was through rainforest and, rather oddly, there were no animals.  It actually started freaking me and Mit out a bit.  I mean there were a -lot- of people doing the walk to the falls but I’ve been to areas, like Los Llanos, where there are a lot of people visiting and the wildlife hasn’t been scared away.  Similarly Mit talked about places in Costa Rica she had visited which were popular but still abundant with wildlife.  Nevertheless, the walk was cool with added interests of vines to swing on and the like.  The rainforest also decided to live up to its name and belted rain at us for some time.  Fortunately I had purchased a particularly attractive bright yellow poncho so was able to look hot whilst remaining dry.  After a short climb up the final stretch we got to the viewpoint and it was spectacular.  The rain meant that there was a kind of misty cloud at the top of the falls which the guide (Ernesto) said would clear but I thought it added to the mysticism of the whole place.  After a short while it did clear and we saw the falls in all its glory.  I don’t feel I’m able to do it justice in words really.  It was something else.

Having headed back down to the camp, we gathered our things and got back in the boat to head back to Canaima village.  The boat ride back was fun but it rained hard at some points.  Once back at Canaima we headed to camp where we showered and got ready for dinner.  At dinner we met another one of the guides, Ruby, and he was possibly the most annoying man I’ve met in my life.  Ernesto had been awesome and we were so pleased to have had him and not ridiculous Ruby.  He was one of those guides who really wanted to be the comedian, without actually being funny and, added to that, he was insanely sleazy, even by Venezuelan standards and, believe me, that really is saying something.  Ruby had a "friend" or "contact", or whatever he called him to try and sound cool, who apparently had a bar over the other side of town so we headed there in jeeps after a few beers.  We sat round, drinking beer and rum and generally chatted about the trip, life and love…or something.  The group had bonded by this stage and there were a couple of other groups there also, including Juliette who was on a later trip.  I was so pleased that I had shared the experience with the group I had as they really added to it.  After a good session we headed back to our camp at Canaima and a couple of us sat round for a bit talking and smoking.  Then, in my infinite wisdom, I did something which I tend to tell other people they are stupid for doing, I went for a swim in the lake.  I don’t mean swimming is stupid per se here, I just mean that alcohol and water don’t mix.  Actually they do relatively well, to dilute some spirits.  You know what I mean though.  I’m also a bit over sensitive with the whole water safety thing which I put down to internal voices from my mother.  Anyway, in my defence I did an internal risk assessment, decided I hadn’t had too much to drink and I also took Ernesto who knew the area, currents etc.  In all fairness the swim was one of the nicest in my life.  The water temperature was beautiful and swimming at night is always very cool.

The following morning, with some having slightly sore heads, we got in the boat and headed over the lake to a waterfall tucked around the back on the opposite side to the camp.  We walked towards it and then, belongings tightly gripped in plastic bags, walked behind it.  It was crazy with such heavy water in places that you couldn’t actually see anything.  After getting truly soaked we climbed up to the top of the falls which afforded the most spectacular views down.  There was also a stunning rainbow bisecting the falls which felt very special.

Back at camp people packed their things and headed to the airport.  I had booked an extra night so went and, rather sadly it has to be said, waved Goodbye to everyone.  Ernesto took me to the bar where I managed to acquire a bargain hammock for the night, and then I walked back through town to the beach.  I sat and sketched the lake and the falls which seemed to draw the attention of every single person who walked passed from old American men to local children.  At one stage I had this whole group of local kids around me, asking me questions and chatting.  Slightly weirdly my conversational skills in Spanish seem to hold up when I’m speaking to small children!  One of the little girls was really sweet and I gave her my other pad and she sat next to me drawing trees.  She seemed to get attached to my little pad and, when I gave it to her, she thanked me before promptly rushing off, presumably to show people her new treasure.

After a chilled out day swimming, drawing and reading I headed back to my camp stroke bar place.  There were a local couple staying there but, when they left to go out, I was completely by myself.  I had a couple of beers, read and then slept in my hammock.  The following morning I tentatively gave my money to the girl who was hanging around, completely unsure as to whether it would find its correct destination.  Actually, in places like that where everyone knows everyone and people rely on each other, I was quite sure it would.

Having no-one to assist I headed to the airport where I was told my flight would be at 11 o clock, about an hour and a half away.  I waited and was then told it would most likely be an hour or so later.  At this point a guide said he could show me around and I went to one of the exclusive resort type places and lounged by the lake.  Having confirmed my flight would be even later, he took me for lunch, prior to dropping me back at the airport.  Eventually the last flight arrived which was ours.  I was relatively pleased that we didn’t have the pilot we had had on the way out who kept doing his tiltage.  I got to sit in the front which was cool and the pilot had the whole flying totty thing going on.  He also flew us around Canaima before heading back which was spectacular.  Two things about the flight didn’t excite me quite as much.  The first was when we headed out of the airport and I looked down to see plane remains underneath us.  This could have been a plane which had been intentionally dismantled for parts or the like, but it looked distinctly like a plane crash remnant.  The second thing was the clouds.  On the way over it was beautiful blue sky with no clouds but it was cloudy on the way back.  As we approached the first cloud I was trying to figure out why the thought of ploughing into it in a small plane filled me with terror.  Then I realised that it’s because you don’t get to see the clouds in the same way in a plane normally.  As I was sat in the front, the aspect was entirely different and it felt slightly like you were driving towards a brick wall or the like.  I managed to calm myself down a bit, partly assisted by my Ipod and, generally, enjoyed the flight.

Once back in Ciudad Bolivar we shared a cab back to the hostel.  I stayed in the dorm area but in a "bed" I had discovered outside my previous room, kind of tucked away around the corner.  In the communal bar area in the evening I met a bloke and girl from London who were really sweet and we chatted for a while.  Having finished reading, "My Revolution", the guy also gave me a book, "The boy in the blue pyjamas".

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