Ciudad Bolivar - Angel Falls

Published: August 11th 2009
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Back on the road as we left Manaus on an overnight bus to Boa Vista near the border with Venezuela. We were given the gringo seats (the only two that didn´t stay back), the buses are over two levels really big things and relatively new, but unfortunately they like to travel with the interior more suited to polar bears than humans and we spent most of the night trying to stay warm, dodging potholes and trying to stop our seats from returning to vertical. A long 12 hours or so and not much to say of Boa Vista, felt like an outback town in Australia. A good couple of rainstorms gave us relief from the heat and we were up again the next day for a long trip to Ciudad Bolivar in Venezuela, unsure how long it was going to take us. Surprisingly border formalities were pretty straight forward, only the queue for fuel by Brazilians looking to fill up in Venezuela slowed us down (fuel is ridicously cheap here). We drove through the Gran Sabana, flat savannah broken up by large tepuy mountains that are just like massive square blocks of stone. The first thing that hit us about Venezuela was the cars, there are cars everywhere that are like 1970´s 80´s Fords, Chevrolets and other pieces of metal on wheels. As petrol is cheap I guess it doesn´t matter what size your engine is, and the rule must be if it goes it is suitable to be registered on the road. It gives the place a good bit of character though (at the expense of global warming of course).
We had one other gringo on the bus but apart from that there doesn´t seem to be many tourists but there should be in Ciudad Bolivar where all come to see the Angel Falls (highest in the world 918m and our destination). We finally arrived at the bus station in Ciudad Bolivar at 1am, to a deserted town. Luckily enough Tomas the other gringo on the bus had a better grasp of Spanish than I and after being turned down by taxis because of our backpacks we settled for a dodgy old looking car, with a driver of much the same description. We drove through quiet streets, only a few stray dogs for company, but Tomas´s good humor with the driver meant we arrived at Don Carlos Posada and settled down. The Posada was a nice old colonial mansion and our room was very chic, over two levels with wooden shutters and a nice open courtyard.
I may try and explain the currency thing, but thanks to other peoples blogs like this I have managed to get it right. Officially 1USD = 2.1 Bs F (Venzuelan currency) and this is pegged so it can´t move. Our Posada was 150BsF a night so that would be almost USD70 a night. The black market rate on the street varies but tended to be around 1USD = 5.5Bs F so thankfully we had some USD for the trip, otherwise our stay would only be a very very short one, given our Angel Falls tour was 1500BsF.
The following day (Sunday) we booked our trip to Angel Falls for the following day and took a stroll around town. It was dead being a Sunday and couldn´t even find anywhere to eat, luckily enough Deb has discovered the highly rare Cri Cri a lovely wafer chocolate which keeps her satisfied, the town is pretty enough in the historical centre, with colonial buildings on narrow streets, set on a hill with the Orinoco river at the bottom.
I have a strange story anyway, there was an old bar in a historic looking building by the river, I suggested to Deb we have a drink. I saw plenty of kids around as well and seemed a relaxed enough atmosphere. Halfway in to my beer a guy leaning on a post outside knocks one of the tables over and has a broken bottle in his had ready to let fly at someone (although I cannot see who) He is calmed down by others and all seems well. Another guy outside seems rather animated and excited by what has just gone down. I wasn´t too concerned as the other people around seemed to have clamed everything down and didn´t want any trouble. This other guy them comes to me and asks in Spanish where I´m from, shakes my hand and then asks for a drink (all in Spanish mind you) I tell him no and he seems to wander off back out the front. The lady behind me looks at me and starts making the gesture of a shooting gun with her hands and points at the guy, and then the animation of someone snorting coke or crack. I soon get her point, she gestures to me to tell him where to go, I think it best not to. I am at this stage considering whether or not to tell Deb and just grab her and make a run for it. I decide maybe I better tell her my reason for us to make a quick exit, she doesn´t need much convincing and its back to the safety of Don Carlos!
Well the Angel Falls tour, what can I say. The falls themselves an awesome sight to behold. Being rainy season there was plenty of water coming over the falls, falling, falling before turning to white clouds of powder and again forming strong falls once reaching the bottom. The tour itself was a bit gruff, but taking in the awesome sight and a few of the other aspects still makes it a definite worthwhile trip. We started with a flight in a small 6 seater Cessna, Deb and I piled in at the back, thinking how on earth this thing is going to get off the ground. The flight was great, about an hour long, the scenery was vast plains with rivers and lakes interceding before reaching Canaima National Park itself where the huge Tepuy mountains come in to view and the waterfalls of Canaima Lagoon as we landed. Safely on the ground we were now going to head to the falls (change of plan from the sold itinerary, but we had heard this from others so it came as no surprise) we waited around for a while before heading of for four hours up the Caroni River, the sun is beaming down, and four hours sitting on a wooden boat isn´t great on the buttocks but there was enough small rapids to conquer and some amazing scenery to take our minds off it for most of the time. We made the falls just before sundown and were given the option go up now (but will be getting dark soon) or go in the morning. But the guide said he was going up now with someone else anyway. We asked why can´t we do both, he seemed a little hesitant to answer. But we went up that evening and pestered him enough that evening to take us again in the morning. The falls were great, so much water coming over and such a distance. It was getting dark on the return and the rains set in, but it all added to the fun. After a night in hammocks (not as comfortable as I had imagined them to be, or as smelly) but we awoke to lovely clear skies and seeing the falls in the morning was again different, with a lovel rainbow caught by the mist from the falls.
The boat trip back was downstream so it was much quicker and my buttocks were very thankful. The afternoon came as quite an unexpected shock and something that was a huge buzz. We headed on the lagoon to see the falls and then further to the Sapo falls where we could walk behind the falls themselves. All sounds good in theory.... The amount of water coming over these falls was amazing (nothing like Igazu I'm sure) but none the less it was powerful, the noise was immense, we shuffled along under the overhanging rock as the water gushed overhead, until we got to a particular section where as the water hit the bottom below, it was so powerful that the water shot back up underneath to where we were crossing. I will try and describe it as almost like one of those movies where the guy gets hosed down as he enters a prison. The water was coming from all directions, at different speeds and really did get the adrenaline pumping. For those of you who know Deb, know she can't swim and won't even put her head underwater. So this was a massive shock to her. After getting through the first lot and seeing the next lot of whitewash she was wanting to head back. Another girl was also looking a little nervous having lost a flip flop already. But I have to give her credit she was very brave and made her way across (some of it even with her eyes closed). I really enjoyed it, it was such a rush. We climbed up to see the falls from above and took it all in. A few nervous faces for the way back but all was good, and left us all in a good mood for a few rums in the evening (Deb was craving a drink after her experience. I will never forget that face on her!!) I shouldn't be mean. But to her credit she was very determined and showed she can do anything.
The final day of the 3 day tour was just waiting around for our plane journey back, Deb enjoyed the cute Spanish speaking (and laughing) parrot at the camp.
It was a strange journey back, unbeknown what was to happen to us, the plane wasn't getting much altitude and all of a sudden we dropped and landed on a little dirt track, the pilot didn't even bother to come down straight on. I wish he had told us this first and he safely delivered a package (nothing dodgy I hope) to a family home.
Our final day in Ciudad Bolivar before our nightbus was spent leisurley with our new friend Klaus as we went to Puerto Ordaz to a lovely little park with a few waterfalls and some wildlife (and the worst pizza I've ever eaten)! To Puerto Columbia next for our first glimpse of the Carribean! Photos will be added at a later stage

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