Ciudad Bolivar to Canaima Camp
22. May: Our plane is scheduled to leave Ciudad Bolivar at 8:00 so we're at the airport at 7:00. We check in and then go outside the airport to take a look at Jimmy Angel's plane. This was the actual plane which he had borrowed and in which he crash-landed on Auyan Tepui. Actually, his wheels bogged down in the soft mud and he was unable to take off again. He and his party had to climb down the near-vertical cliffs of the Tepui and it took them 10 days to reach civilization. The plane remained on the Tepui till the 1970's, when it was transported to Ciudad Bolivar and restored by the Venezuelan Air Force. It's actually possible to open the doors of the pilot, passenger and luggage cabins and peer in. The doors are made of amazingly light aluminium. The plane is in good shape, although it is outdoors, totally unprotected from the elements.
No breakfast was included with the hotel, so we have two muffins and coffee at one of the airport cafes. We then go to the plane, a Cessna 172 5-seater (Thanks for the correction, Thomas), I get to sit right next to the pilot! There are two other passengers along with us so we are 5 in total including the pilot. There are some clouds on the way and since the plane is flying at visibility, the pilot has to avoid them by either flying above or to the side of them. The landscape below is mostly flat, sometimes seeing a meandering river. Seeing Canaima for the first time is wonderful, we suddenly see the Tepuis and Canaima Falls and Canaima Lagoon!
The landing is smooth enough and when we enter 'Canaima Airport' (a shed or two), we are greeted by a representative of 'Tiuna Tours', our tour operator. We are free to check out the lagoon till 11:45 (it's about 9:30 now).
The lagoon itself has deep red water, apparently a vegetable colouring, although I could well imagine it to be reddish Tepui sand. The banks of the lagoon are surprisingly shallow for very far into the water. We see a local woman on a sandbank busy washing her clothes in the lagoon. We walk along the banks of the river till we reach the electrical generator station which is to the right of and near to the falls themselves. A massive current of water exits it and flows into the lagoon and you can hear the churning of the turbines. A bit further on the path stops but it is possible to walk on till Canaima Falls. It is fascinating to hear the roar of the water, whose volume is constantly increasing as I approach the falls. At the first waterfall, I discover that there is a space underneath it and I can't resist taking off my T-shirt and creeping into that space. I know that I must be very careful, because any misstep could cause me to slip and plunge into the mix of a thundering waterfall and lots of rocks below, probably being the end of me!
Small step by small step I slowly walk into the space behind the waterfall and the sensation of being there is absolutely overwhelming!! The thunderous sound of water completely envelops me, the optical rush of seeing this massive flow of water just within grasp in front of me is stunning! What an experience. Later, we learn that this part of Canaima Falls is called 'Hell' by the natives. Well, I actually was in Hell and lived to tell the tale!
We're back at the airport at 11:45, we meet our guide Alexander, and we take a pickup to the 'Tiuna Camp' to have lunch. We get the chance to meet the other people who would accompany us to Angel Falls. There are two young German couples and a stocky Swiss couple with us. Our guide is supposed to speak English, but he switches to German by popular demand. Lunch is chicken with rice and ice-tea, with some watermelon as dessert. It was quite good.
The guide then takes us to the roof of the building to get a better view of the surroundings. There we see Canaima Falls and the Tepuis. It turns out that there will be no electricity while we are on the way to Angel Falls, so I won't be able to charge the battery of my Video-Cam, so I must economize. I manage to get a last charge in the electrical outlet in the room of our guide, and after that I would have to make do till we were back in Ciudad Bolivar. The guide told me right then to "save my battery for Angel Falls". I was very frugal and indeed managed to make do with that single charge.
We have to pack our entire luggage in plastic bags for the trip, big black bags for backpacks and large luggage and small bright orange bags for hand-equipment is distributed along with some string to tie the tops together. Then we get into our 'Curiara', which is an extremely long and thin boat. I was wondering why the boats were constructed like this and it was only later that I realized it. They were perfect to maneuver upstream in an extremely shallow river, and could also be made to leap up small mini-waterfalls in the river (although without any passengers on board, they would have to walk along the river).
We set off, first to sail past the Canaima Falls, the one on the left is the largest, called 'Salto Hacha'. I was too scared about big water splashes on my camera to film it. I knew that small amounts of water were enough to completely destroy the fickle electronics of Video-Cams and I was in no mood to take any chances. Then we reach Anatoly's Island and we hike through some vegetation to reach the Sapo Falls. It is dry season and there is little water and it's possible to walk in the area which normally would be the top of a thundering waterfall! Wonderful rock structures and plants can be seen. From the top there is a good view of the surrounding landscape, especially some marvelous Tepuis! I can't get enough of them! We walk on to a small lagoon of water where we can have a swim in the reddish water.
We continue to the next attraction, the Sapito Falls. It is possible to walk along a path under them. Our guide packs all our hand equipment (the rest is still on the boat under a thick sheet of plastic) in plastic sacks and carries it through the wet part of the path. We all wear some swimming gear, since we are to get wet. It must be a great experience to walk the path in the rainy season with a lot of water, now it is less than spectacular. We continue on along a path till we reach a spot where we are picked up by our boat.
We race along the water for quite awhile, we sit two abreast in the narrow boat, close to each other to avoid falling out. The water splashes on the outside due to our speed. Our guide has the front seat and the boat's captain is at the back, steering the powerful outboard motor. As soon as the water gets shallow, speed is immediately reduced. The ride is awesome, being amidst the unique Tepui Landscape which keeps changing around us as we proceed. We stop at Mayupa Peninsula and walk across it. Our guide shows us the mango trees there. It is possible to eat these seemingly unripe mangoes right through their skin! I've never seen this before. Nearby there is an amazing bright green lizard which is so still and unnatural that it looks like a plastic toy. I'm able to near it to almost touching distance, and although I sense that it is very nervous about me being so close, chooses not to move at all! Walking along sometime later, I notice that my legs are covered with about 10 sand fleas (puri puri) sucking my blood! I remove them one by one, some of them leave a blood stain on my leg. Annewien has a similar problem. We need to remove them a couple of times more as we proceed on our walk on the peninsula.
Back on our boat, we ride past 'Orchid Island' to our camp for the night (on the Ahouda river). The camp consists of a large shed with a corrugated-iron roof, under which all the hammocks are already strung from thick wooden beams. There is a toilet area in the shed and kitchen and meals areas. There is a petrol lamp high up giving a bit of light, and of course, no electricity. The floor is dusty and there is a faint stable-smell in the air. There are two dogs sitting around, one cat with an infections would, some poultry, and there is a cardboard box near the kitchen containing two turtles with many fruit flies flying around them.
We have dinner, after which Alexander offers small sips of Anis liquor. It's lucky that we have our flashlights, they are mandatory to find the way in the dark to the toilets! We retire to our hammocks at about 20:00, and I sleep surprisingly well in mine. It is necessary to sleep diagonally in a hammock, in order to keep the spine straight! The night is a bit chilly and I need to distribute my blanket both over and under me, to avoid cold air reaching me from below.