December 20, 2007
Angel Falls Trip Day 1
Today started off on a slow note as I had to wait for two hours just to leave the travel agency, and another hour at the airport in Ciudad Bolivar. I was then driven all alone for two hours in a cargo van to La Paragua, the closest town with road access to Angel Falls. On the way there, we passed several illegal mining camps, which were a harsh reminder of my visit to the gold mine at White Man's Camp last year, not too far from here on the Essequibo River in the jungles of Guyana.
Once in La Paragua, we loaded a small airplane with lots of supplies, and I was flown solo to Canaima. It was a short flight, but a beautiful one over lots of jungle and rivers, including the sight of black-water and brown-water rivers coming together, the same natural phenomenon that famously happens at the confluence of the massive Amazon and Negro rivers near Manaus. I got a view of Canaima when we were about to land with its big lagoon filled with waterfalls and surrounding tepuis. Seeing how amazing the area was got me excited about the rest of the trip.
The main problem I have with tours in general showed up right away as I was made to wait for some other people inside a house, despite the fact that there was so much exploration to be done outside. A group of four Germans on their year-end holiday showed up, so I finally had some people to talk to, but clearly the whole operation was lacking organization. I could say a lot of things in that regard, but the best way to sum it up would be to point out that we literally watched a kid paint the house while we were waiting.
Eventually, we were joined by Marcos, a Chilean who had been living in Venezuela for the last twenty-five years. We were supposed to see a waterfall called El Sapo (The Toad) this afternoon, but after waiting for so long, there was no longer time and the waterfall would have to wait until the last day of our trip. So the only thing on our itinerary today was getting to the camp up the river.
First we rode through the lagoon and walked past a hydroelectric plant to the top of the seven waterfalls that emptied into the Canaima Lagoon, where the sun was bright and the view was great. Next we were led further up the river where several large dugout boats were waiting. The motor had to be driven to us, however, so we waited outside a house that really could've used some painting. Once the motor arrived, we had a short ride upstream until we got to a set of rapids. We were told that they were so big that according to safety regulations, we would have to walk around them and the driver would thrust the boat to the other side. But while us tourists had to walk for safety, the three five-year-old girls without life jackets had no problem staying in the boat. I felt like such a pansy.
Once we got around the rapids, we had a two-hour ride up the river to our campsite. This part of the trip was incredible as there were dozens of tepuis poking through the clouds in the distance. They were all surrounded by thick vegetation at their bases, but nothing grew on their sides because the sheer cliffs jutted out of the ground so steeply. Seeing the tepuis brought back many memories of climbing Roraima in Venezuela's Gran Sabana last year.
We got to the camp near dusk and just before the rain began falling. It was a huge shelter big enough to hold 150 people with a corrugated tin roof, full kitchen facilities, and flush toilets. Our group of six were the only ones there, so there was plenty of room for my tent, while everyone else slept in hammocks. So even though I spent six hours waiting for the tour company to get their act together, the flight and boat rides made today quite exciting.
The photo album for this entry is here.