November 16, 2006
Roraima Trek Day 1
The Frenchman picked us up early today, and we loaded all of our gear into his '72 Land Rover. He had to tinker with the engine, but eventually got it started. It was extremely beaten up, but that seems to be the norm in Venezuela. Gas costs nothing here, so everyone has an old 4X4 or a 1960's muscle car.
We passed some spectacular scenery along the way to Roraima. The rolling hills of the Guyanan highlands, with the flat-topped mountains known as "teupis" in the background, combined with lush tropical scenery, mud huts, and loin cloth-clad Yanonami Indians were like nothing I had ever seen. I could see how this region gave Sir Arthur Conan Doyle his influence to write the classic novel The Lost World.
Before turning off the main road, we stopped at a military checkpoint. Similar checkpoints are common throughout South America, but this one was especially intimidating because we were approached by six young soldiers brandishing long assault rifles, fingers on triggers. One of them made Craig put his shirt on, but when they saw our backpacks in the back of the truck, they waved us on.
After two hours of driving over remote gravel roads, we stopped at an Indian village called Parapetui, and the Frenchman negotiated a guide for us. We wanted to bargain ourselves, but we were never given the opportunity. We paid our guide, and he went back to the Frenchman to "talk" some more. I think he was just giving him a kickback for getting him hired. I thought we paid way too much, but it was still only one-third the going rate for a package tour.
We trekked over the rolling hills to the first camp for about six hours, steadily gaining altitude the entire way. Roraima loomed in the background all day, a mere silhouette at that point. I began to wonder how we were going to get to the top of it tomorrow. During the long hike, I got to know Colby and Rebeka, our American trekking partners. Colby came to South America four years ago and biked throughout Peru and Bolivia, including long journeys from La Paz to Rurrenabaque and across the Salar de Uyuni. I felt humbled, having only gotten to know those places through the windows of buses and Land Cruisers. Rebeka studied Chinese in China before being sent home during the SARS epidemic. They were both very fit, and it was a pleasure to have their company with us.
Soon after leaving, it became apparent that Braulio, our guide, wasn't going to be much of help. We wanted to learn more about the area, but he didn't have much to offer other than yes/no responses. A quiet guide itself wouldn't be that bad, but we were expected to cook for him, and he wasn't even carrying anything other than his sleeping bag. He had no silverware, plates, cups, or a flashlight, so we had to lend our stuff to him. I began to think that he should be paying us for taking him on this trip! Later in the day, we split up our food and gave Braulio a bunch of it to carry. He may not be much of a guide, so we'll make him a porter instead.
We passed the official first camp, waded through two rivers, and stopped for the day at Rio Kukenan, which shares its name with the tepui next to Roraima. It was a beautiful campsite with plenty of shade to give us cover from the punishing equatorial heat. There were some sandflies before sunset, but they left after awhile, and the mosquitoes never made it out. We'll be camping here on our last night, so we left a cache of food and fuel for our return. Tomorrow will be a long day of trekking to the top of Roraima, so we went to bed early in anticipation.
The photo entry for the entire trek is here.