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Published: June 21st 2007
On the way to Los Llanos
The original plan was to go rafting first at the Arassari Trek
campsite in Aguas Blancas near Barinas but with all the recent rain it was decided to go do the wildlife bit of the trip first. We had Alan as our guide. A Barbados-born naturalist, he knows everything about the wildlife in Los Llanos. And he is particularly keen on butterflies and brought his butterfly net along on the trip.
We were reunited with Cameron who had been driven over the border from Colombia by Dave. He was stopped 17 times by the National Guard who all figured he was carrying drugs. It was likely we would be stopped some more so we were given instructions to have copies of passports handy, hid valuables and play stupid and not speak spanish. That would hopefully ensure they would lose interest in us fairly quickly. But in the end, we were only stopped once on the way to Puerto Colombia and the bloke only checked a couple of passport copies and browsed the interior of the truck before buggering off. We weren't stopped at all with Alan on board who said he had never been stopped. And when it looked like
we might be stopped once Alan told them we were coming from one of the more exclusive ranches in the area, and they obviously didn't want to mess with the $200 US a day business. Needless to say, we didn't stay in that kind of luxury. More about that adventure later.
We had to travel over a mountain range to get to the Llanos. It was a lovely drive, starting out on a warm and sunny morning. We made a number of photo stops and a strawberry stop and a butterfly stop. Near the top of the range we stopped at a pretty church where it was cold and rainy. Still in flip flops, the temperature change was a shock. The man selling hot chocolate opposite the church was our best friend. We arrived at Laguna Mucubaji just in time to see the lake disappear in the clouds. And then the rain set in. It rained hard and was very cold. We didn't stick around. The alpine landscape turned to cloud forest and rain forest as we descended. And it got damned hot! We were staying on one of the large ranches. As we drove to our accomodation we
One of the many birds seen in the Llanos
saw lots of birds including ibis, storks and herons. We stopped to watch a big group of Scarlet Ibis come in to roost.
It was a long day, 8 am to 7 pm, and we were all sticky and hot and more than a little disappointed to find our accomodation had no running water today. Also we had expected to be isolated but found ourselves in a village. It was the village water supply that had been interrupted because the pumping system relies on electricity that had only come back after 2 days of being out. The lights were on now but it was not necessarily a good thing as they attracted swarms of black beetles. It was a plague and they got in your hair and your cleavage and everywhere!
Before we could eat we had to help extract Cameron from the mud. The truck had sunk into the soft ground outside the house when we pulled in. After digging and using the metal grips and branches didn't work, all of us and some local observers had to push as well. That worked.
Dinner was prepared by two lovely local ladies who made spag bol. Good
Alan and his Caymen friend
food. While most stayed in a dorm, there were not enough beds so some had to sleep upstairs in hammocks. Pieter took a bed while I went for a hammock. It wasn't as hot in the hammock room but you did have to hold your breath and run through the door that was close to a light surrounded by a million beetles. There were some happy bats flying around the courtyard that night.
We were up at 5 am for a truck safari. Heading back towards the main road Alan spotted a Giant Anteater, quite uncommon to see. Alan went off into the muddy field to get some close up photos before asking the anteater to kindly move towards the road so we could all get a closer look.
The tour was just along the main road, a very long good asphalt road. We were thinking that surely we should turn off to find more wildlife but we soon realised there was an abundance just on the side of the road. We saw lots of caymen and stopped for an educational chat and close up look at some fresh road kill. It got a little silly when the
Pieter and his catch ... Piranha
caymen was draped over the steering wheel of Cameron for photos.
Driving along again Alan pointed lots of different varieties of birds and we saw a number of Capybaras. We stopped at a bridge to go fishing for piranhas. A few of us got hooked on the experience and were concentrating hard. Helen was the first to succeed, to the disgust of Alan who considered himself an experienced fisherman. Tony and Pieter also caught piranhas soon after, and Sally was also pleased when she caught one. A local fisherman caught a good half dozen while we were there.
Once we were off the main road again we opened the roof seats on the truck and had some fun while scouting for anacondas. Didn't see any but there were lots of pretty butterflies.
After lunch we went out on the river in search of pink dolphins. We spotted plenty of them but they were not really giving us a good show. I jumped in with some others in order to see if they would show any curiosity but it might have just scared them off. And we just got very tired swimming against the current. We spotted lots
of iguanas and birds, including the clumsy Hoatzin whose chicks have Archaeopteryx-like claws that they use to climb back into the nest after falling out.
Along the banks of the river were catfish traps and a local fisherman known to Alan showed us his 15 kg tiger catfish that he had just caught. Big bugger! He also directed us to 2 tree boas that he had spotted. Alan did his croc hunter bit and pulled one out of the tree. Had to touch it! We carried on until after dark looking for anacondas but failed to spot any.
The next day, after a little nature walk, we headed off to Arassari Trek's rafting camp in the Andean foothills on the other side of Barinas. A lovely site. Very pretty with lovely gardens surrounded by forest. We had a restful day enjoying fantastic meals and playing cards.
While some went rafting and some rested some more, we went off with Alan on a nature walk. He was armed with binoculars and butterfly net. We saw lots of butterflies, the most interesting being the 89 butterfly which has a perfect 89 on his wing. An amazing natural wonder. We
also saw some lizards and fish in the river. We followed a trickling river for much of the walk.
Overall our experience of the wildlife in Venezuela very good. An enthusiastic guide made all the difference.
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