3 Germans, me, a Venezolana, and her flirtatious Dutch "boyfriend"
Just hanging out after all having traveled very far to get here to Ciudad Bolivar...good times with new friends. Lucky for me their only common language was English! :)
So when I arrived in Venezuela I was a little disoriented (see previous blog entry). Not just because of the whirlwind of different modes of transport that I took to get here, nor the problems with getting money once I arrived (which incidently lasted into the next afternoon but was fixed once I was able to first get into the bank and not just use the ATM, then second call my bank in the states and get the fraud alert removed from my ATM card....yes, I was in Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela in the last 24 hours...duh, why is that so hard to believe???), but also because Venezuela is one of those countries that I know very little about in terms of its tourist attractions. Other than its current state of politics with good ole Chavez...I came into this country not knowing much about it. Sure I read up on it in the Lonely Planet...but still wasn´t completely sparked by any of what it said. I think I know why. I had no prior knowledge about Venezuela the backapackers paradise. I don´t personally know anyone who has been here...haven´t seen any movies or advertisements for it tourist destinations. It is just
My first Cessna flight!
I don´t know about this...
not on the backapackers/gringo trail....YET. Once I arrived, I immediately sensed that I was a solitary backpacker for many miles...cool and scary at the same time. I felt like the tourist attraction myself as I roamed the airport, bus terminals, and streets of old town Ciudad Bolivar with my huge backpack on my back and another day pack on my front.
Now that I have been here for a few days and experienced one of its most poplular tourist destinations (Salto Angel) I have concluded that Venezuela could become the next Costa Rica in terms of what it has to offer the average Western tourist. It has a little bit of everything (islands, beaches, cosmopolitian cities, the Andes, Amozonian like rivers, hot rainforest, dry grassland savannas, tepuis, canyons, etc) and the beginnings of a tourist industry infrascructure. In fact, there are many tourists here already...most of them adventurers and outdoorsy types from Europe...but because the cities we are all in are still actually structured for the Venezuelans and not primarily for the tourists (the Venezuelan economy depends on its rich natural resources of metals and oil and not tourism), we get drowned out and don´t actually find each other
until we are in the guest houses/hotels or at the specific tourist destinations that we all came for.
My first night in Ciudad Bolivar, I spent in the Posada with 5 other travelers...3 Germans that know zero Spanish and limited English, but none the less bought a map, and rented a jeep so that they could wander around the outback of Venezuela for a month, and a Dutchman and Venezolana who met on the international social networking/travel website "Couchsurfers" and are now hiking their way around Venezuela. The group of us all made our own little party with in the hostel...we had to... in spite of its larger size, the city we are currently in is surprisingly sleepy and uneventful at night...everything closes by 7pm!!!!
My second night I got to hang out with a family who owns a convenience store/restaurant around the corner from my hostel...and they are Syrian! Quite a thing to witness...the Syrian immigrant parents anxiosly trying to raise their 5 daughters and one son in the middle of Venezuela...could 2 cultures be any more different? The older and traditional mother and father literally wore permanent and simultaneuos looks of disgust and anxiousness while we all as
a group roamed around the jam-packed malecon during the annual feria. Their poor daughters have the tough task of trying to be both traditional Syrian women and Venezolanas...good luck with that one. The family was however very good to me...fed me the most delicious falafel and took me around the city as though I was part of their family. The negative was that I had a clear sense that they were trying to fix me up with their one son/brother...especially when he finally and directly asked me to stay and be with him as a permanent Venezuelan citizen. Thanks, but no thanks! :) The most interesting part of it was that he was actually visibly sad and dispappointed when I gave him my reasons why I couldn´t...besides the obvious...I just met you 5 minutes ago! :)
So the next day, I began my very fun and adventursome 3 day trip to the small river town of Canaima in search of the tallest waterfall in the world...Salto Angel. I left my huge backpack behind at my hostel, packed up what I needed into my daypack, and jumped into the only mode of transport that can take you to Canaima...a 5
person Cessna! The sky was clear and the fellow passengers were a hilarious Italian couple and a sweet German couple. After a few minutes of initial anxiety during take off and then getting used to the fact that since I was the smallest passenger I got stuck in the back and would be sitting practically with my knees to my chest for the whole 70 minute ride...I had the greatest time and just sat back and enjoyed the ride! There was some turbulance of course...that little shit plane makes every little "bump" feel like a rollercoaster...but it was exhilirating actually. Especially since we were flying over very beautiful natural landscapes of savana, jungle, tepuis, waterfalls, rivers, small villages...amazing experience! Before landing at its tiny airport (basically just a landing strip and a small bungalow that served as a sanck shop and mini office), we flew over the rural town of Canaima...small town of 2000 indigenous people plus the few hundred tourists that shuttle in and out during the current touristy season. It sits on a small lake created by a collection of 5 large and voluminously rushing waterfalls. Flying over this scene of rural town + lake + falls...with tepuis
and jungle in the background was just picture perfect.
The Italian couple, German couple, and I landed, met up with our local guide...a very cool indigenous guy named Carlos...forgot what his indienous name was. At the airport we got grouped with a Swiss couple and their teen daughter, a French/Czech couple, and another American couple. Then we all changed into our bathing suites and had a quick snack and were off to the Salto Angel for the rest of the day, night, and next day! From Canaima, Salto Angel is a 2 and a half hour, 80 km ride up the river in a long, and skinny canoe with a very strong motor and extremely skilled driver. Extremely skilled driver! This river had parts that were super smooth...like sliding over glass. But then had other parts that were rushing, rocky, and BUMPY! Especially since we were going UP river and against the super strong current...what a rush! This is where it is to my advantage that I am a single, attractive female...the guides made sure I always had the best seat in the boat...in the very front. I got little wet from the splashing...but NOTHING compared to what everyone
else got. After 10 minutes they all looked like drowned rats! Towards the end of the ride we were all wet anyway... a thunderstorm hit. We had all taken a rest and ben swimming anyway...just stayed in our bathing suits as we continued up the jungle river in the storm...quite a sight.
To be continued....I am back in Ciudad Bolivar (that large but sleepy city) and even though it is only 6 pm, the internet cafe is closing and so are all the local restaurants...gotta get some dinner while I can.
I loved Canaima and Salto Angel so much, I retured to Ciudad Bolivar for my large backpack and will fly back on that cessna to Canaima tomorrow for a week of relaxation on that lake, river, and waterfalls in the middle of the jungle.
Ok...so now I will continue with my description of Canaima.
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