If you want to see the highest waterfall in the world, don’t expect to board a cushy tour bus for a few hours, shoot some pics, and go home. Be ready to take several flights, a truck, a motorized dug-out canoe, spend the night in a hammock, and do some treacherous hiking (All of this after the “sketchy border crossing” into Venezuela). But the good things in life aren’t easily attained, right?
As with many trips, the journey was even more of an experience than the final destination. Once we made it safely across the Venezuela border to Maracaibo (refer to previous blog :-)) we flew to Caracas and then to Ciudad Bolivar and then on a puddle-jumper to the small Indian village of Canaima. And when I say “puddle-jumper,” I mean it. This thing was not much bigger than my car. Oh wait, I don’t have a car anymore, but you know what I mean. It barely sat six people comfortably. I’ve never flown in a plane that small. But it was awesome – you can see so much more than in a big commercial airplane. Of course, on the flight back Bryan had to point out the charred remnants of another puddle-jumper plane that was on the ground and tell everyone “that’s what happens when things don’t go well.” Thanks Bryan. The Germans on our flight did not look amused.
The majority of the trek to Angel Falls was on the motorized dug-out wooden canoe. It was fun in the beginning but over 3 hours on a hard wooden bench is a long time. We stopped for a picnic and a swim by some small waterfalls. The landscape in Canaima is indescribable. It reminds me of a real-life set from “The Land Before Time” or “The Lion King.” It looks like a completely different world – humongous tepuis (table-top mountains) with tall waterfalls, lush rain-forests, vast savannas, and wide, flowing rivers. The only signs of inhabitants were a few huts along the way. That night we all slept in hammocks in one of the huts about a mile or so from Angel Falls. They cooked chicken over a bon-fire for dinner; it was delicious. After breakfast in the morning, we crossed the river in our boat and hiked about an hour to a viewpoint of Angel Falls. The hike wasn’t just a walk in the park – the “path” was completely covered with large tree roots and slick river rocks. When we finally arrived the majority of the falls were covered in thick fog. Oh no! I knew if Bryan didn’t get the perfect picture of Angel Falls I would hear about it the rest of my life; especially after everything we’ve gone through to get to the falls. We had read about the fog and that was one of our fears. In a few minutes, the fog did clear. The falls were of course tall and beautiful. And they weren’t tainted with crowds of people or any cheesy touristy things. The only people there were the ones who really wanted to be there and who had invested a good deal of time and money to see it. I have to admit though, after that much anticipation, I was expecting water falling from the heavens and angels singing. Nonetheless, Bryan got his pictures so the trip was a success!
All that hiking really works up an appetite for spaghetti with ketchup and mayonnaise! So that’s what was served back at the camp for lunch when we returned. When I saw the ketchup and mayo on the table I assumed we were having burgers. But no, they brought plates of spaghetti and ground meat out and the Venezuelans covered theirs with ketchup and mayo. Bryan tried it out and said it was “different.” “Good?” I asked him. “Umm, just different.” That wasn’t the only custom the Venezuelans in our tour group introduced us to. One of the girls had a birthday that day so they got a big birthday cake and a bottle of rum. She opened the bottle and poured some out the window. We looked at her like she was crazy. She and her friend explained that in Caracas you are supposed to pour out the first shot of liquor to give to the dead. Bryan said he believed that the dead would want him to drink the liquor. The rest of the rum was used to make some type of drink with club soda and lemon juice. The first sip was pretty wicked but it was actually quite good and refreshing.
On our way through Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, the traffic roundabouts were filled with parked cars and people dancing and drinking. Our driver explained that they do that a lot in Venezuela to celebrate Christmas. Bryan made the mistake of asking the two girls from Caracas if they do this. They said they do that everyday, all the time and then turned up the music and dragged me on the floor to dance. They had everyone get in a circle and dance (this is what they thought Bryan was talking about when he mentioned the traffic circles). Those two girls from Caracas can shake their hips. They were determined to teach me how to salsa dance, along with some other white girls from Switzerland and Slovenia. Nothing will make you feel more uncoordinated than two South American girls teaching you to salsa. They were super patient and encouraging though. So much for everyone in Venezuela hating us, right?
Our final day in Canaima we spent exploring the town’s own breathtaking selection of waterfalls. They were much smaller than Angel Falls but the power behind them was amazing. You could barely get a picture because the force of the water created so much splash and mist. There was even a path where you could walk entirely behind a bigger waterfall. It was so cool to stand inside the waterfall – it felt like being in Hurricane Isabel times a million. That waterfall was called “Salto Sapo” (Frog Waterfall) so it was only fitting that we saw a teeny, tiny yellow and black frog as we were leaving. He was the size of the tip of my finger and I’m pretty sure that he’s a yellow-banded poison dart frog (thanks to Wikipedia).
We are almost out of Venezuela. Which is a mix of relief and sadness. It was one of the most gorgeous landscapes I’ve ever seen so it’s unfortunate that it isn’t safer for us and other travelers to stay longer and enjoy. Things change though, so maybe in 10 years it will be a hot travel spot and we can come back to enjoy the gorgeous caribbean islands and mountains of Venezuela.
P.S.- this blog was also a trial run for a short video clip. Not the best video, but you can sort of see what the water looked like for 3 hours on our dugout canoe.