December 23-25, 2007
My flight back to La Paragua started out just like the one to Canaima. One Venezuelan guy was in the back seat, and I was the co-pilot. The plane was much older than the first one, but that didn't bother me at first. I knew the flight was going to take thirty minutes, but after fifteen, I noticed that one of the gages indicated that we were descending at a steep five degrees. The trees and river below us started getting bigger and bigger, and I started to panic that something was wrong. My heart was pounding, my palms were getting sweaty, and just as I was about to start screaming at the pilot, we turned a corner, and suddenly there was a strip of dirt in front of us. Before I knew it we were on the ground and the guy in the back left the plane and paid the pilot 100,000 bolivares ($20). The pilot shouted in the direction of the three houses that the village consisted of if anyone wanted to go with him, but there were no takers. We had a short one-minute layover, then took off again. It was fine that we landed in the middle of nowhere, but I sure wish the pilot would have told me about that beforehand.
I went to the same hostel as last time in Ciudad Bolivar. Not much was happening in town, but I figured I might as well stay there for Christmas because it was already late on the 23rd. Sure enough, everything in the city was closed for two days and it got very boring.
But a lot of other backpackers showed up and I spent a lot of time getting to know them. There were the two Irish friends who wanted to come to Venezuela from Guyana, but found out that there were no border crossings because Venezuela laid claim to about half of Guyana's territory (I think Chavez just wants Venezuela to look like an elephant). They ended up taking a rickety old boat through the ocean where they were sure they were going to sink and were praying the entire time. When they got into Venezuela, one of the military guards found out that they were hiding in the back of a truck and demanded a large bribe as soon as his boss went to sleep. They didn't have enough money for the bribe, so they ran for it, jumped into the first taxi they could find, and made a beeline for Ciudad Bolivar. When I last saw them they were about to try to head to Brazil, but they didn't have the necessary passport stamps from Guyana or Venezuela because of the illegal transfer. I have no idea how things worked out. The craziest part of that story was that they could've come to Venezuela legally via Brazil in less time than the illegal boat/taxi ordeal took. At least they had a lot of adventure in them.
I also got to meet an American Vietnam veteran who was too mentally screwed up when he came home from the war to hold down a job. He's been a loner most of his adult life, but started traveling a few years ago and found that it helped him socialize a lot better. It was a really sad story, but at least he found a makeshift support group with all the backpackers he'd been meeting.
There were also some Slovaks (the first ones I'd met) living in Germany, some Germans living in Canada, a well-traveled Italian woman who spoke perfect English, Spanish, and French, a Chilean who had smoked enough weed in his life to put a permanent smile on his face, and a old German woman who smoked, drank, and used drugs, but that was understandable considering she was a widow and had barely survived the Tsunami in southern India exactly three years ago. A few other random world travelers rounded out the rowdy bunch at the hostel. There wasn't much excitement around town, but it was still an interesting Christmas.