Venezuelan observations


Obviously the most important topic to start with!  Basically think of the Latino lover type here a.k.a. sleazeball.  Okay, maybe that’s a tad harsh, actually it’s not really.  The men are quite full on, not necessarily in a problematic way but they are persistent.  They are also very forward in terms of comments and wolf whistles in the street.  Their respective ages appear to make no difference to them with eighty year old wrinklies being quite happy to try to chat you up, presumably working on the law of averages.  The Venezuelan men go to great lengths to woo you, even setting their cars to remote wolf whistle so that they can press a little button as you walk passed their vehicle so that you get an electronic wolf whistle and they get to chuckle without even having to purse their lips.  The girl I went rafting with in Barinas commented that Venezuela is a great place for women with low egos to go as the men seem interested not necessarily in the finer specimens of womankind but -any- specimens of womenkind.  This becomes increasingly attractive to them if the woman in question is from foreign climes.



In Chile I was intrigued by the fashion sense displayed by a lot of the indigenous females.  This sometimes involved wearing obscenely tight clothes without the appropriate figure.  This was even worse in Venezuela where the trend seemed to be buying trousers, normally jeans, about three sizes too small so that you had not one but several muffin tops.  Strangely this was not reserved for the overweight with even the slightest girls getting in on the trend by squeezing every ounce of fat over their waistbands.  It was a common sight to see women getting out of cars and fighting with their flies as they desperately tried to get their trousers together which would not do up in the seated position. 

Breasts are also important and should be on display at all times.  There are a lot of very large specimens in Venezuela which led me to wonder why so much money was being spent on boob jobs when it could, and should, have been spent on proper causes like, well, liposuction!  Large boobs were even displayed by mannequins in shop windows, presumably so you could see what your plastic pals would look like in that revealing top with the muffin top falling out of the bottom.



Apart from the sleaze and lack of fashion sense, the people in Venezuela were generally a friendly bunch.  People in Caracas were arguably less so but this is somewhat normal in capital cities.  There was also an apparent confusion in Caracas towards Westerners with locals seemingly wondering what you were doing there, which actually isn’t too absurd a question to be fair.  It was not uncommon to spend a day in Caracas without seeing any other gringos which would explain why locals found your presence a little confusing.


Food and Drink

Akin to Chile, alcoholic drink portions seemed to be rather large and alcohol from shops, especially spirits, was worryingly cheap.  Fruit juice was surprisingly good in Venezuela.

The food in Venezuela was good but it was very evident why there were so many stomachs on parade.  The Venezuelans seem to think that in order to eat something, and by something I mean anything, it must first be deep fried.  This seems to extend beyone the empanadas and the like to practically every dietary ingredient.  I’m not the healthiest eater but, after a short time, I was craving salads and the like.


The country and climate

Venezuela was an outstanding country in terms of its flora, fauna and natural beauty.  I adored my time in Los Llanos and Angel Falls was, without doubt, one of the most amazing experiences on my entire trip.  From the Andes mountains to waterfalls, to great savannahs, to rainforest and Carribean coastlines, Venezuela really has got it all.  Couple this with vast mineral and oil reserves and you really should have one of the richest, most sorted countries around.  There are several jokes around about the country and its assets and the fact that its downfall is the Venezuelans.  Wow, that was hilarious, I really should be a comedian.  Anyway, jokes aside, Venezuela is absolutely stunning.

When I was in Venezuela the weather was perfect.  There was some rain in places but the temperature was lovely overall.



The money situation, as I think I have mentioned on more than one occasion is slightly odd.  Firstly they have a new currency and are still operating the new and old currency in tandem.  Although one is divisible by one thousand of the other, this is still confusing at times with prices and the like.  The black market is an entity unto itself and exchange rates vary more between the black market rate and official rate than any other country I know of in the World.  My advice if visiting is to take plenty of U.S. dollars.  Although I am obviously not condoning any kind of illegal behaviour here, it may conceivably be safer to use shop or hotel changers rather than those on the street, despite a small difference in the exchange rates.



Although I haven’t got a lot to say about it I think that this deserves a mention in its own right.  Basically, petrol prices in Venezuela are the cheapest in the World with you being able to fill your tank for around a dollar.  Apprarently there was a big uproar when Chavez put the price up by a quarter of a cent or something.  Weirdly, engine oil did not seem to be so cheap.


Politics and policing

You may have gathered that Venezuela is not the most stable place in the World.  The president, Chavez, has an almost diehard, fundamentalist following and the rest of the country seem to despise him.  I was in the country for elections and great trouble was expected.  Although the riots and problems in the towns and city were not as bad as expected they were apparent and there were incidents such as armed, masked men on motorbikes stealing ballot boxes and the like.

The Police in Venezuela are not the most objective bunch.  In Caracas a lot of foreigners from my hostel had serious problems with the Police with extortion and Police station ordeals.  It was concerning that, in the murder and kidnap capital of the World, the Police did not seem to be the first port of call for you to run to for protection if in danger.  People would say that if you were robbed you had two problems, the first being being robbed and the second being reporting it to the Police afterwards.  It is perhaps worth noting here that I did not meet any women who had problems with the Police which may point to some weird gender issue, or alternatively luck.  The army also seemed to have their fair share of staff who liked to increase their income in interesting ways.  I did not have problems with either but it’s probably worth bearing in mind if you plan to visit.


Venezuela and tourism

As a whole Venezuela is not set up for tourism and, at times, you feel that the country is not only not trying to attract it but almost actively disuade it.  In other countries, for example, transport is set up for tourists but in Venezuela this does not exist.  Having said that, the bus network is brilliant so there is no problem if you can speak basic Spanish.  There are some companies offering tours in places like Los Llanos and Ciudad Bolivar, but you have to be self sufficient in most cases.  Although this may seem daunting it was one of the things I really liked about Venezuela and to me made it feel like more of an adventure and a “real travelling experience”.  I have met a lot of people since who have told me that they wouldn’t even consider going to Venezuela because of the difficulty of travelling there, the crime and corruption – to me this is a real shame.  Yes, you need to be aware of these things and I would maybe not advise travelling across Venezuela for a month of R and R or a family break with young children but it was such an amazing experience, interesting as hell and one of the most beautiful countries I have encountered. 


Thursday 11th December – Porlamar to Caracas to Miami

… wasn’t!!

The first problem was my lack of alarm clock, or any clock for that matter, and the fact that I knew that the guy I was meant to be sharing a taxi with was flying an hour earlier than me.  The second problem, which I found out about later, was that the other guy was also being equally unresponsive to his wake up calls.  So, after being told I would get a later taxi and the other guy moaning at him, the reception guy evidently gave up.  I woke up properly with about thirty minutes to spare before my flight.  Having been told at reception by Eric that there was no chance of me getting to the airport in that time, which I knew but was hoping for some miracle, I rushed to the office where I had booked my flight.  They changed it for a small fee and I had to rush back to the hostel and pack.  I also sent an email to my travel correspondant in London and, prior to getting back to the hostel was informed that the next available seat for my connecting flight from Caracas to Miami was 31st December!  He suggested that I speak to them at the desk in Caracas so I rushed, packed and got a cab to the airport.  Once at the airport I comically failed to understand the commands to pay extortionate airport taxes for some time, prior to getting onto a plane which looked like it had been made on ‘Blue Peter’.  Seriously it was sooo makeshift, the Laos airlines flight I took seemed luxurious. 


After a slightly wobbly flight I landed in Caracas.  Some of the luggage came out but the rest appeared to take hours.  After a while it transpired that the delay was due to my backpack splittling open on the plane and spilling its contents everywhere.  This led to the airport staff having kind of stuffed it together in a makeshift polystyrene and tape combo which was rather difficult to carry across to the international terminal.  By this point I had decided it wasn’t my day.  Fortunately I still had the bag I left England with inside so did a change over which probably looked dodgy as hell, particularly when I discarded the rubbish backpack rather red faced by a bin. 


After talking to various people and joining too many queues I was put on the standby list for the later flight to Miami.  When I asked how hopeful this looked I was greeted with a less than cheery face and, when I turned up for the standby queue and saw a family of five infront of me, I was less than elated.  Fortunately, the whole ‘divinely protected’ aspect of my name took hold, or something, and there were six free seats on the flight.  Less favourable was the fact that these were allocated about fifteen minutes prior to the departure time.  I was pleased also that I had to remove my cuddly kangaroo from the side of my bag as the guy who checked my luggage in said, ‘the staff will steal him’.  So, ticket in hand I rushed towards passport control only for my bar code not to work.  I then went back to the desk and the guy ran around before apologising having issued the ticket incorrectly.  Finally I got through and joined a long queue.  After about ten minutes I asked the person infront of me if I should be concerned about missing my flight, evidently I should have been as he spoke to a member of staff and I was rushed to the front of the queue before going to boarding.


Slightly tired to say the least, I landed in Miami and decided to opt for a hotel near the airport which turned out to have a very comfortable bed!


Sunday 7th December to Wednesday 10th December – Isla de Margarita

After my first night in hotel Tamaca I woke up to a very wet room after heavy rain during the night.  Fortunately this had not managed to get anywhere near anything of consequence such as the cupboard and Eric explained that the whole of downtown was flooded and staff could not get to work.  Apparently this was very unusual.  I headed out and tried to find a shopping mall listed in my guidebook.  I managed to walk straight passed it but this little diversion did lead me to a rather nice bakery so it was all okay.  After exploring a bit I headed to an out of town shopping mall.  The place was pristine and over priced.  I went into one shop to inquire about converter plugs.  When I looked at the tag and did the conversion I thought I must have got my conversion rates or the old and new currency rates mixed up so asked a member of staff.  When they explained and it transpired that my conversion was accurate my mouth dropped and I had what my mother would call a sock moment.  The thing was one hundred pounds.  Being English and unable to say it was too much I asked questions about the plug, pretending it wasn’t what I was looking for before leaving the store in disgust.  I didn’t buy anything in the whole mall but I did take some pictures of rather entertaining signs.


After the shopping mall experience I headed back into the old town where I saw the devastation that Eric was talking about.  There were locals trying to start cars and, in many cases, using buckets to get the water out of them which had accumulated overnight.  The river was rampant and there were trees draped across roads.  After watching the attempts to normalise the town I headed back to the hostel.  I had a few beers at the bar and played a guy from Trinidad at pool.  I was on form for once actually and impressed a lot of the crew who hung around the bar that night.


The following day I pottered around the town some more, ate more unhealthy food and explored the, slightly uninspiring, beach.  When I got back to the hostel the usual friendly faces were there and I joined them for a couple of drinks.  As we were sat looking at the restaurant opposite a couple of guys turned up, broke into a car, and started unloading the contents.  The guy from Trinidad commented that Eric should call the Police to which Eric replied that he didn’t want a bullet in his head.  I was then treated to all kinds of stories about crime, people being threatened and shot, in town and at the hostel itself!  After a little while when I had convinced people to stop telling me horror stories there was the sound of gunshot very clearly just down the road.  One of the bar staff rushed to the gate, shut it and put the chain over the top.  Although it was nice that someone actually reacted it was also rather comical as the chain was just one which you could lift up and, regardless, the fence was of a height that you could actually possibly just step right over it.  Later in the evening I headed out to a different bar with the guy from Trinidad (please never read my blog as I will be very embarassed to have forgotten your name) where locals were drinking and doing karaoke.  It was a bit dead so we didn’t stay long and I headed back to the hostel.


The next day was much of a muchness with wanders around the town and greasy, fried Venezuelan food.  The one thing of note is that I went to the dentist.  I had been speaking to Eric the night before in the bar and told him my concerns about having a strange lump in my mouth since the incident when I was assaulted in Wanaka, New Zealand.  He said that he would inquire about dentists and, sure to form, he had a name and number, and even someone to take me there when I arrived at reception the following day.  When we got there they said that I needed to come back later, which I did.  After looking at the people amassing in the waiting room I thought I would be there forever.  I also noted that nearly all of them had braces.  When I was in Vietnam an English guy from Barnet was telling me that braces are almost a status symbol in South America and that people keep them on for longer than they need to.  At the time I thought he might have been exaggerating but it turned out that he was not.  You see the most beautiful people with very obvious braces from in the streets to advertising signs.  Anyway, when I went into the dentist’s room she looked at my mouth.  She spoke some English and, when she saw the, do I have mouth cancer look on my face said, “not a problem for your mother, father, brother or sister, problem for you”.  Regardless of the fact that she went on to tell me that I needed braces, had six cavities and that the lump was bone which probably means I have a broken or deformed jaw, those words made me so happy.  So happy infact that I paid her to clean my teeth!

In the evening I had a couple of drinks at the hostel bar before heading to a different bar with the guy from Trinidad.  Wow, I really should remember his name, particularly as it wasn’t even that difficult.  He shall now be known as Dave!  Anyway, on the way to the other bar the heavens truly opened and Dave and I got drenched.  It turned out not to matter too much though as the other clientelle were hardly dressed to impress!


On the Wednesday I decided I really needed to explore a bit more of the island prior to leaving and headed out to a different beach which many locals had told me was the best on the island.  When I got there I could see why, the place was glorious with crisp white sand fringed by palm trees.  An Italian guy came to talk to me who turned out to be an annoying sleaze but the place was awesome nonetheless.  The sea was amazingly warm although the waves were quite strong and hand action was needed in order not to lose the bikini!  There was also possibly the strongest long shore drift (wow my Geography teachers would be impressed) I have ever experienced with you ending up a few hundred metres down the beach if not paying paramount attention.  After speaking to a few ex-pat bar owners and enjoying the sun, sea and sand I got a shared car/bus thing back to town.  This was a relatively amusing experience as every time we passed anyone by the side of the road the driver, and all the passengers for that matter, would lean out the windows and shout, “Porlamar?”.  At no stage did we acquire any more passengers!  I was dropped at the plaza in the old town which I must have missed by about thirty metres on all of my previous wanderings.  The place was lovely with lights in the trees around the central square and street traders lining the side streets.  I went to a renowned local restaurant for dinner where I ate the most extraordinary fish.  Once back at the hostel I intended to say my goodbyes to all the awesome people I had met there and have an early night.  Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as they were all insistent that I had farewell drinks.  Admittedly my prostetation could have been slightly stronger.  I ended up with a couple of the guys at another bar before returning to my hostel in the wee hours.  When I walked in the guy on reception asked if I realised that the time I had asked him to wake me up to share a taxi was only one and a half hours away.  I replied that I was completely aware of this, which I was, and that all would be fine which……..

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Saturday 6th December – Puerto La Cruz to Isla de Margarita

In the morning I briefly wandered around the town prior to heading up to the port to find out aboat boats.  Unfortunately the first available boat was in the evening so, after ditching my bag, I headed back into town.  I decided it would be a good waste of time type activity to get my hair cut and went into a reasonable looking salon.  I always have vague pangs of fear when locks fall on the floor in England but this becomes something of a terrifying experience in countries where your language skills suck.  It wasn’t the best cut in the World to be honest but I did get a free glass of wine whilst my barnet was being hacked at so I guess I can’t really complain too much. 


After the haircut I had a beer on the front before heading back along the dark road and through some attractive looking wasteland to the port.  The boat took ages to leave, partly as it arrived late and partly as they had some trouble docking it due to the crazy waves.  These had arrived due to a nasty storm which had decided to pick up just before my sailing time.  As I went and handed my rucksack over the staff suggested that I take the things out of the side pockets lest they fall out on the journey.  I assured them that they were tightly packed and handed the bag back to them.  The boat journey itself wasn’t as traumatic as I thought it might be.  It was very rough but fortunately the bouncing and rocking was from front to back and not a nauseating side to side movement. 


I got off the boat when we arrived and headed to the place to collect my luggage.  This was basically a big holding room with a large metal gate which a man occasionally opened before ramming it shut, often on people, to control the flow.  It was a bit like the sheep herding which I was rubbish at in New Zealand.  When it was my turn to be herded in I found that the staff were right and I was wrong as all the things in the outside pockets of my bag had indeed fallen out.  One member of staff seemed to find this distinctly amusing and the other clearly didn’t as she handed my belongings back firmly stating that next time I should remove them.


As I had arrived at night there weren’t any buses so I was forced to get a cab.  I rifled through my faithful, “Lonely Planet” and found an okay looking place.  The taxi driver turned out to be relatively sweet and not too leery.  He did, however, share the traditional Venezuelan taxi driver characteristic of driving at crazy speeds regardless of the road’s surface, other vehicles and the weather.  At one point he slowed down and I was reassured to see the remains of a taxi and another car wedged against the central reservation with a couple of confused looking Policemen staring at them.  Shortly after this, like maybe one hundred metres down the road, my driver asked if I liked beer before “parking” the taxi halfway across the carriageway and getting out.  I watched him as he walked into a kind of outside bar place where there were teams of girls playing something resemblimg petanque.  He then reappeared with two plastic cups of beer.  Slightly bemused I thanked him and he continued to drive to town beer in hand.


When we arrived at “Hotel Tamaca” there were a lot of people around the bar and courtyard area and a live band playing.  I was greeted by Eric, the owner, who I instantly warmed to.  Organised as ever I didn’t have enough cash on me and he was fine with me paying the following day.  After sorting myself out I headed downstairs where I chatted to some friendly sorts at the bar, watched the live bands and had a few beers.  It transpired that it was also okay for me to pay for these the following day which was very kind I thought.  When the music finished I said my Goodbyes to the few people still propping the bar up and headed to bed.

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Friday 5th December – Ciudad Bolivar to Puerto La Cruz

I checked out of the hostel and headed to the bus station.  At the bus station I found a shared car heading to Barcelone from where I hoped to be able to get a bus to Puerto La Cruz in order to get a boat over to Isla de Margarita.  I had previously intended to visit Trinidad but this proved to be costly by air and the boats apparently only left once a week and less helpful than the infrequency was the fact that they left on Wednesdays.  I had toyed with the idea of getting a lift with a fishing boat or smugglers’ boat but didn’t really have time to hang around to find one and was also warned off the latter by my mother.  There was also a possibility of trying to hitch a lift on a private yacht but when I was looking into ways to get to Trinidad there were a lot of reports online about pirates attacking private boats in this stretch of water so I decided that may not be the best plan either.


So, after some time and after a family of four got into the back of the car I was also in, we headed off towards Barcelona at breakneck speed.  One of the small children snored annoyingly while the other swayed a drink can around worryingly close to me.  As we went round one corner he, rather kindly, trickled luminous purple Fanta down my leg.  After some time we stopped and, to my relief, the family got out.  Unfortunately so did the driver who apparently needed to have a chat with a mate who was driving on the other side of the motorway.  Once I had smoked a cigarette and the driver had decided that he should probably take us somewhere, we headed off again.  He spent the next part of the journey making lewd faces and, I presume, remarks at the girl in the front seat who was rather younger and more attractive than he was.  Before, and after, the girl was dropped off the driver asked me a number of questions I didn’t understand before shrugging at my, probably nonsensical, responses.


Eventually we got to a city which I presumed must be Barcelona.  The driver took the opportunity to ask what kind of music I liked before cranking, “Mr Lover, lover”, up and opening all the windows.  As we pulled up to the bus station he began beeping the horn in time which it transpired was even above the Venezuelan’s noise and tolerance levels as many of them shouted at him.  He didn’t seem too bothered though, smiled at me and punched the horn a few more times for good affect. 


I got out of the car, paid and thaked the comical driver and walked into the bus station.  I asked a helpful looking man which bus I needed to take to Puerto La Cruz.  He looked slightly confused and pointed up.  As I angled my neck I felt like a complete plum as I read the sign saying Puerto La Cruz Bus station!  So I wandered towards the square in the town and found that the place I had planned to stay in was full.  Having found an alternative close by I explored the town which was actually rather nicer than I had expected, particularly the lively waterfront with bars, restaurants and street stalls.  After getting some falafels, being chatted up by the waiters and wandering about some more, I headed back to my hotel for a relatively early night.

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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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Sunday 30th November – Ciudad Bolivar

Ciudad Bolivar is the place where most people head to Angel Falls from, which was the purpose of my visit.  Angel Falls is nigh on impossible to visit independently so I booked a tour from the hostel where I was staying.  I headed into town and was pleasantly surprised with the hilly streets of colourfully painted houses leaning on steep roads to the river.  The town was a place of contradictions though as, along with the quaint houses, lovely plazas and architecture, is a feeling of an unemployed and unsettled population.  The area used to have a large number of mines but these were apparently closed by the government as they were bad environmentally.  The Chavez government offered all the miners a decent payout for the closures and their redundancies but no money ever transpired.  As a result there are a large number of seriously disgruntled men around who have now apparently resorted to crime, robbery and the like, in order to try to support themselves.


Despite the apparent unrest, the town was welcoming enough and the street market was a buzzing and lively place.  I wandered around, bought a long pair of trousers to fend off the mozzies and replace my ones which I ripped whilst dismounting and got some food.


In the evening at the Posada I met a German couple, Christina and Oliver, along with a French girl, Juliette, who were all apparently on my group for the Falls trip the following day.  We had a few beers and chatted and I was pleased that they seemed to be a really good bunch of people.

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Saturday 29th November – Arriving in Ciudad Bolivar

The bus was delayed but this alone didn´t account for how long the journey was.  I was under the, evidently false, impression that the bus would take around eight hours but it actually took around fifteen!  Although buses, and particularly night buses, aren´t my favourite thing it was actually an okay one.  I managed to sleep for once and it was quite comfortable.  I was on the back seat which proved to be a great thing as there was no chance of some little gromit kicking my back every few seconds.  As we got closer to Ciudad Bolivar we went through an Army checkpoint and were pulled over.  An Army official got on and spoke to various people and looked at identification.  A couple of women at the back appeared to have the ´íncorrect´ documents with them and when I gave the guy my passport he kept hold of it.  Several people had been asked to get off the bus and go to the office but I hadn´t so I just sat back and relaxed.  I then realised that, although I hadn´t been specifically asked to do so, there was not really any chance of me getting my passport back unless I followed the guy who took it.  So I went and joined a line of people at which point a guard came out and beckoned me to go in first.  I was in a room by myself with an Army guy with a worryingly large gun.  He asked me questions in Spanish about where I was from, what I was doing in the country, how long I had been there, when I was going to leave etc and then started looking at my passport.  He must have stared at the picture then me for about two minutes.  I was slightly confused by this as my passport is actually quite new and I look very like the picture.  I was also seriously resisting bursting into a fit of giggles.  After a while I got bored with the whole him looking up at me, then down at my passport saga and asked if everything was okay and I could go.  To my surprise he said I could and I walked passed my fellow passengers and went back to the bus.  Once everyone was back on the bus the women at the back started asking me how much I had to pay the officials.  When I said that I didn´t pay anything they got frustrated, with some of them punching the chairs infront of them and the like.  It would appear that the ´fines´ courtesy of the Army and Police in Venezuela aren´t just reserved for the Gringos!


Shortly after the fine fiasco we arrived in Ciudad Bolivar.  I got a cab and asked the driver if the town was safe.  He informed me that it was beautiful but not safe at night.  I arrived at ´Posada Don Carlos´ and was blown away by the place.  It´s a beautiful place with massive communal areas.  The place is a kind of converted old mansion with a bar area, television and internet room, massive communal courtyard area and lovely sleeping areas.  I liked the place instantly and would strongly recommend it.  Aswell as the private bedrooms the dorm is a lovely balcony area with bunks and hammocks.  After a few nights in a hammock and one on a bus I opted for the luxury of my own room.  


In the evening I ran into Olaf and Ute from the Los Llanos trip and also one of the German guys who was at my hostel in Caracas.


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Friday 28th November – Los Llanos to Barinas

I woke up tired after a not great night in my hammock.  After breakfast we headed out on the jeeps for our boat safari.  When we stopped at the point where we were to leave from a small girl emerged with her “pet” ocelot cub.  It was one of the coolest and sweetest things I have ever seen and when you held it it made crazy noises and dug its rather sharp claws into you on occasion.  I´m not sure how long she´ll be able to keep him actually as he felt like he was at the end of his manageable, cute puddy cat stage!


Once in the motorized canoe we headed off and were treated to lots of birds, caimans and huge iguanas in the trees.  At one point they kept driving round and round in circles and it then emerged that this was to see river dolphins.  The dolphins were quite unlike dolphins I have seen previously and were, how do I put this, erm kind of ugly critters.  When you picture dolphins they are slender, sleek and sculpted but these guys looked a bit more like dolphin trolls.  They were very cool though and lovely to see.


After heading back to camp for lunch Rainer and I were driven out in the jeep.  I was dropped off in Barinas whilst Rainer evidently headed back to Merida.  The tour to Los Llanos was out of this World.  We saw the most amazing range of wildlife and the guides were immensely knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.  It´s one of the best things I have done in Venezuela and I would heartily recommenrd both it and ´Gravity tours´ the company through which I booked it.


Back in Barinas I was reminded of how unexciting the place had proved previously.  I was meant to be there for around eight hours but then the bus was stupidly late so I waited even longer.  Towards the end of my time at the bus station I got talking to a young, local lad who asked if I could buy him some cigarettes.  He did have loads of luggage with him which he told me he didn´t want to leave unattended, although part of me suspected that the real reason he didn´t want to go to the kiosk himself was as he was underage.  Unable to question this particularly adequately in Spanish I wandered slowly to the kiosk, at which point our bus arrived and saved me.  He was then struggling with all his bags so I carried one.  Then I had strange thoughts that all the army and Police people at the bus station were about to rush over and arrest me for carrying some illicit package.  I think I must have been tired!


Thursday 27th November – Los Llanos

We woke up early and had breakfast.  It transpired that what the Slovakian guy had told me about beer actually being water was true as that´s what all the Slovaks were having for breakfast.  Actually not all of them were, some of them were having rum!

After breakfast we were shown our horses.  The ride started off slowly but my horse was lovely.  After some pleading and managing to convince them that I wasn´t about to wobble off they let me canter, gallop and do my own thing.  On one part of the ride we were in open savannah and I galloped around chasing cows and herding cattle with one of the guides.  It was absolutely great fun and made me feel like a real cowgirl.  The only downside to the ride was that I got eaten alive despite having several gallons of insect repellent on.  I also managed to rip my jeans when I got off and got comedy bruises on my calves from the stirrup leathers pinching me.  It was fantastic though and I was sad when I had to get off and leave my lovely, if slightly sweaty horse.  After I got off I looked at its mane which I thought just had dead skin in.  On closer inspection what I thought was a lack of ´Head and Shoulders´ was actually hundreds of dead ticks, accompanied by a lot of their live friends.  As he´d been such a star I went and got me insect repellent, some strong, horrible Anis we hadn´t drunk the previous night and set to work de-ticking my trusty steed.  It was pretty minging actually and some of the ticks were way bigger than I had ever seen.  All the time I was telling myself that he would probably go and scratch on exactly the same tree, or whatever, as soon as he was put back in the paddock, but I felt like I was making some small difference.  I´ve just realised that I´ve focused on tick removal rather than what was one of the best rides of my life….hmmm!


Back at camp we had lunch and waited for it to cool down a bit prior to our jeep safari in the afternoon.  As we were chilling out at camp, Junior (one of the guides) called for us to come to see an annaconda.  We were running through grass half wondering if the small local child who had reported it had a vivid imagination, when we got to a path and saw the hugest snake.  A couple of the guides caught it, we touched it, photographed it and then watched it slowly slither away.  It was amazing to see such a large snake in its natural environment.  I was also noble and sprinted to fetch Rainer who was at the camp having a shave or something, so that he could see the beast.  I told myself that counted as my exercise for the day.


In the afternoon we set out on our jeep safari.  We sat on the roof of the van which was a really cool way to travel, literally!  There were birds everywhere from finches the colour of the morning sun to huge cranes and herons.  Almost as soon as we left camp the jeep stopped and a couple of the guides sprinted across a field towards a giant anteater.  They put themselves the opposite side of it to the van and we all followed.  We were really close to it, it was sensational.  Somewhat bizarrely one of the guides was coaxing it to stay with a bottle of beer and it loved it.  Apparently the anteaters sometimes break into camps in search of beer!  After a while the anteater pottered off and so did we.  We carried on and, at the sides of the road, saw loads of caimans both in and out of the water.  There were rattlesnakes mating and, further on, herds of capybaras.  Being the largest, and possibly most stupid looking, rodent, I was keen to see the capybaras in their natural habitat.  What was really great to see was them crossing the rivers and waterways.  You saw them at one side, then they held their breath and swam under water as you watched the bubbles and ripples on the surface, before appearing the other side.


We carried on until we got to a quickly flowing river, where we got out to try to catch pirahnas.  I was slightly lame but as soon as Manuel (another guide) got involved I reeled one in.  I didn´t really appreciate the bashing it over the head with a rock bit though.  I don´t think I´d be a very good fisherman!  Some people proved better than others at the pirahna fishing with a lot of the gringos joking that they were just feeding the pirahnas who seemed particularly adept at removing bait from hooks.  It was cool to see the pirahnas close up and their teeth were really worrying.  Manuel used one of them to cut leaves and showed us its bite.  One of the guides caught a bass which was the most beautiful greeny colour and I took one of my favourite photos inside its mouth.


After feeding the pirahnas we walked down the road which proved to be not so full of wildlife apart from sandflies and mosquitos which welcomed our visit.  As it got dark we were told that this was the time to catch a caiman and, shortly afterwards, Junior did.  It wasn´t a huge caiman but, as we all stood around looking at it, it wrestled its way free and was suddenly worryingly close to our feet.  I was inside one of the vans in a split second and a lot of people commented on how fast I moved.  I wasn´t fussed as I´d prefer to look like a bit of a wuss than lose a leg!  After they had regained control of the caiman I had my photo taken next to it, albeit somewhat tentatively having seen how fast the thing could move.


Back at camp we ate the pirahna we had caught which was surprisingly good, although very boney.  I asked Junior about buying cigarettes and we went on a long drive in the dark with another guide and Rainer.  After a few stops at houses we got to a “supermarket” which was basically a house with a hole and a hand that appeared and gave you things.  It all felt a bit cloak and dagger but in a very non-threatening way.  Back at camp I had a couple of beers with Rainer, watched the Slovaks and had an early night.