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Published: August 26th 2010
Greetings from Caracas again - I is made it back full circle to my point of landing on the South American continent, one month later, and with so many great experiences since the last time I was here. I fly back to London tomorrow evening, via Madrid, and am taking back with me some memories of some fantastic places and people that I have met along the way, and it really has been just amazing (I´m not just saying this!).
This last week has to have been the most amazing yet though, really. I hope the photos I´m gonna attach to this blog shortly will testify to the beautiful places I´ve been and seen - incredible! Last time I wrote I was in the Andean highlands of Western Venezuela, from where I took two flights, to include a rather long 7-hour stopover in Caracas airport, towards da East side and the humid jungles around there, Ciudad Bolivar. The second flight I took actually flew through a thunderstorm, and you could see lightning outside the window extremely bright and prolonged - quite scary actually! Twas a relief to land in one piece, particularly after hearing about the plane
that was struck by lightning the week before in Colombia…
Late arrival in Ciudad Bolivar, and early departure the next morning on a 5-seater, front propeller-ed plane due South towards the remote Indian village of Canaima, unaccessable by any other means. This flight really was something - I sat at the front right next to the pilot, with so many buttons in front of me - had to completely fight the temptation to touch any of them the whole journey…! You could open the window and look out on the rivers and jungle landscape below we were flying over, when we weren´t flying through the bumpy clouds. A rather rough touch down, and straight on to a motorised canoe which plied up the Carrao and Churun rivers, tributaries of the massive Orinoco, negotiating rapids and getting rather wet for 4 hours to our final destination at the foot of Auyantepui, the large plateau-topped mountain in the middle of which was our ultimate destination, the disembarkation point for our final hike up 1.5 hours towards the look out point which looks up the amazing kilometre-high Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world. Wow!! That´s all I can say. I
hope the pictures can express more clearly than this blog the amazing sight to behold there, cos I sure can´t give it justice with mere words. Spent ages just following the water on its long journey down the extremely precipitous and exceedingly high edge of the cliff. After this, a swim in the pool formed at the bottom of the falls, mighty refreshing after the hot canoe ride and hike, and finally overnight in hammocks in a rustic camp opposite the falls. A truly magical day, and definitely the best on my trip!! And I actually slept pretty darn well in the hammock - you have to sleep “diagonally” apparently, and this worked…
Next morning, canoe ride back down the rivers to Canaima, followed by an afternoon tour of the nearby waterfalls of this village, which were no less impressive. One called “Salto El Sapo” you could actually walk behind! And this being the rainy season, the amount of water falling over the falls was massive - the walk was no dry experience at all, and numerous times you got drenched, especially if the wind blew the water towards you. I spent most of the time actually trying hard
not to let my contact lenses fall out after getting soaked to the skin. 30 metres later you emerge on the other side, and swim in another waterfall pool.
Just incredible! Have had an amazing time there.
Flew back to Ciudad Bolivar the next day, after a beautiful night in air-conditioned luxury with white sheets in Canaima (I missed these even after only one night in a hammock…!), though disappointingly this time in a larger 19-seater plane… CB was impressive enough, with a beautifully restored historical centre, which actually hosted Venezuela´s independence movement and signing of its first constitution early in the 19th Century by Simón Bolívar, himself propelled to almost god-like status in this country since the beginning of Chavism, the two apparently sharing the common ideal of “liberation from imperialism”, though really not too sure what Simón would say of Hugo´s politics if he were around today to see them. But anyway, that´s another topic. Evening spent in CB watching the sunset over the River Orinoco, which itself was a magical end to an amazing few days. Just can´t say enough about this last week…!
Yesterday flew back to here, Caracas, staying in the same
hotel I started in, “Hotel Altamira”, and really quite interesting to reflect on my travels since I was last there. More time for reflection once landed safely back in the UK, hopefully.
But Caracas - ay - what a place! Almost every single Venezuelan I´ve met so far on this trip have told me to be extra careful here, even more than in the rest of Venezuela which is no walk in the park, and every other Venezuelan has told me a horror story of crime in this city. Indeed, a glance at the headlines of recent press publications over the last week has confirmed the following statistics, testifying to the huge state of insecurity, “La Inseguridad”, which is being experienced in this country: 150,000 deaths in the last 11 years attributed to this crime wave, 17,000 kidnappings over the last year, mostly of young men between 25 and 45 years old and mostly lasting no more than a day (dubbed “express kidnappings” in which you are held and taken to cash machines to extract all the money from your accounts), murder rate of 225 persons per 100,000 inhabitants, Caracas becoming the “crime capital of the world”, and almost
every single news article reports of a robbing, murder, kidnapping. It really is quite unnerving. In Canaima I met a French couple who were accosted three times in one evening in Caracas. And the funny thing is, most people outside of Venezuela think it´s Colombia which is the dangerous one. I think the tables have certainly turned here. Yesterday on the plane ride over here, the lady sat next to me, upon asking to borrow my newspaper and reading it (quoting some of the figures above) insisted that I take it back to Europe with me and tell everyone what is going on in this country. Well, not sure if I can do that, but here is the information in my blog. This is a dodgy country!
At the same time however, there is the view that these statistics are used to draw up opposition to the Chavez government, and maybe you shouldn´t believe everything you read (?). Indeed, the taxi driver who met me at the airport declared strongly “Estoy con Chavez”, and felt that all this recent insecurity is mere fiction and drummed up to garner support against his regime. He even took me through the centre
of Caracas, which the UK Foreign Office website warns against visiting, on the way to my hotel to attempt to show me it´s really safe. It sure didn´t look safe to me, and I´m rather glad I was within the relative safety of the confines of the taxi. Even that didn´t feel too safe.
Maybe when I get back to the UK I´ll have more time to reflect on this situation, whether Venezuela really is unsafe, or whether it´s more paranoia than anything….
Anyway, what a waffle. Will shortly sign off now and upload some photos. I would also like to assure everyone that I am staying again in the most upmarket part of Caracas, Altamira, where it is safe to walk around, and spending a tidy fortune on staying in a decent hotel in the area just to avoid all the above. I have also left all my money, camera etc. in the hotel room, just to be on the safe side.
Ok, signing off for now. Will blog once more when landed safely in the UK, and hopefully will also get to the bottom of the problem with my camera´s first memory card to try
to download those excellent pictures from Cartagena!
¡Hasta pronto mis amigos!
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