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Published: September 11th 2009
At the bottom waterfall we took a dip in the pool
We reached Venezuela safely! It gave us a lot of worry due to so many horror stories. We opted for the Cucuta to San Cristobal crossing and we can see why it is easy to miss your Colombia exit stamp. Unlike most places where everything is organised to stamp you in and out at the point of exit and entry, Colombia and Venezuela like to move the office away a bit so that you have to find it and in some cases miss it all together. If you dont get your exit stamp, the Venezuelans will try and "fine" you even though you can just walk back and get it. We did get searched, but it was such a pathetic attempt that it seemed only that the soldier was bored and wanted to be nosy and have a chat. We didnt receive any entry stamp at the border (of course this would be too sensible), we had to walk 20 minutes to another office in the town so could have easily been in the country illegaly if it werent for some check points on the road later. We managed to get money changed on the black market rate of 6 BSF
This is a small one!
to 1 dollar. This is a very good rate and is 3 times the official dollar exchange rate set by Chavez. There is no way that Venezuela would be affordable at the official rate, you must bring lots of dollars with you and hide them everywhere!
By this point we had already been on two buses in Colombia for a total of 18 hours then a taxi ride, then a 1 minute bus ride then another 1 hour bus ride then another 5 hour bus ride then another 5 minute taxi ride so that eventually we reached the Venezuelan city of Merida. Knackered, we found the Posada Alemania and they informed us that due to all this ridiculous system with the money that they can give you cash through a Spanish bank transfer system. This seemed to be a good answer to afford all the tours on offer, but of course we would have to get our own bank to authorise the transfer. We had an excruciatingly stressful first day in Venezuela. Banks are a nightmare! it had been one of the most stressful days of the whole trip. We absolutely hate banks! enough said.
We headed off
for Los llanos, the pantanal like wetlands of Venezuela. We went white water rafting in the evening and Mark the aussie guy fell in the water almost immediately and had to be dragged back in the boat and he was not amused! Then our boat hit a big rock in the middle of the river tipping us all upside down. It was terrifying as we were trapped underneath the boat and couldnt get out and there was no air space either so we both thought that we were going to die. Vik popped out in a panic because Neil was still nowhere to be seen. Neil popped up seconds later and then we both started drifting down this wild river. We didnt know what was happening to the rest of the group and Vik was panicking and choking from the water. Neil came to the rescue and dug his heals in the river bed which luckily was sandy. We held on to each other until everyone else was back in the boat and they drifted down towards us and dragged us back in the boat. Vik was also not amused, and Mark even more so as this was the second
time he had almost drowned within 5 minutes. After another 5 or 10 minutes the whole team were paddling really hard, much harder than before, so the guide had to tell us to slow down a bit. We definately became a better more coordinated team, and managed to enjoy a little bit before getting out. After 4 goes at white water rafting this has finally convinced us that we dont need to do it again. We all had a fantastic meal at the possada and had a good laugh about our close brush with death. We were glad that the next couple of days was wildlife spotting and no more adventure sports.
We stopped off on route to Los Llanos to get some diesel for the jeep. We could not believe the price! 0.07 centavos, which equates to 1.3 US cents and therfore less than 1p per litre. We subsequently found out that in the cities it is actually even less at 0,048 centavos. So petrol is virtually free and after filling the jeep with 56 litres, our guide rummaged around for some pocket change to pay. The governent heavily subsidise the petrol as a gift to the people
Our view from the little plane!
and they have been doing it for a long time. Chavez wants to raise the price but the last time that happened people started going crazy and shooting each other (as you do!), so in reality its not going to happen. As a result of free petrol, there are massive cars on the roads like from the 1950,s. Chavez has also been giving subsidised petrol to his commie buddies in Cuba in exchange for ¨exprtise¨, but in fact the cubans will send anybody, so the people are not too happy with this situation. We found out some more interesting things about the Chavez government, but it would take an age to go on here. Basically opinion on him is very split.
On the final leg approaching our possada in Los Llanos the quantity of wildlife is astonishing. There are more birds here than you can imagine and the diversity is incredible too. On our second day, the guides found an anaconda and we all went to have a look. The guides waded into a big pool of water with sticks and started prodding about and then suddenly they started to wedge this monster up from the dark pool. They
dragged it out on to the grass for us to get a look. It was an incredible moment! Spine tingles all round. They informed us that this one is half the size of a fully grown one, so is probably young, but at 6 metres and roughly 100kg its pretty impressive.
After our encounter with the Anaconda, we saw caimens, about 50 or 60 cappybarras (huge rodents), flocks of scarlet ibis, green herons, bright red flycatcher birds, tonnes of eagles and others. The nice thing too is the close proximity to all the wildlife. After some pirranha fishing (unsuccessful for us but not for our guide), we took a boat ride. We were already blown away but the boat trip was the best yet. As soon as we were boarding our boat a pink river dolphin leapt out of the water beside us. We then headed off and saw lots and lots of large green iguanas in the trees followed by more unusual birds. The wildlife is so tame here. There was a bird sitting in a nest at our head height and we were 2 ft away and it didnt move at all, giving us great opportunities to
So many birds!
Eagle with flock of scarlet ibis (Chavistas ibis due to the red) and green herrons in the background
get a good photo (an hour later, it was still there!). Next were some boa constrictors sitting in low lying vegetation right next to our head, so we had to duck on the way past to make sure we didnt knock them out of the trees. So as if all this wasnt good enough, it ended with a group of pink dolphins swimming around and the sight of two babies as well. We never believed that you could ever see wildlife like this. Go to Los Llanos!!!! probably one of the best trips we have ever taken.
To top off our incredible experience, there had been a Venezuelan family staying at our possada and there was a party with a harp and guitar player. They were all dancing and we had to get up too. Everyone was keen to have a dance with the foreigners and so a night of dancing on a ridiculously slippy floor ensued. During our trip we also saw by chance at the neighbouring ranch, the cowboys lassooing a couple of cows to transport them off for ¨breeding¨. Incredible skill these guys have.
After Los llanos we planned to head off to Canaima national
Neil in Canaima
Happy just before being bitten by a huge ant
park for Angel falls. We had to take an 18 hour bus ride to Cidade Bolivar from Barinas. We arived about 2pm in the afternoon in Barinas but our next bus wasnt till 11pm at night. We thought about getting a hotel, but they wouldnt give us any discount for only using it for 6 hours. We spotted a bar/restaurant and thought that we would stay there for a bit. We ordered a beer and quickly realised that this place was dodgy. There seemed to be prostitutes in here, which never usually attracts a nice crowd, so we thought that we might have to head off after dark. The man at the table next to us was drunk but trying to speak to us in his incomprehensible garble, and wanted to buy us drinks. You are continuously warned not to accept drinks from strangers but he just ordered them anyway and they appeared on our table as if by magic. They were being opened and brought straight from the bar, so we accepted them. The man then went on to do this 3 more times and we kept asking him to stop it, but the beers just kept appearing, and
we couldnt even have a conversation with the guy. We bought him one back, but he was well gone. He kept trying to speak with us but then the locals started to insist that he be removed from the bar to stop hassling us. Through beer goggles and the locals sticking up for us the place started to seem great. Sure enough though there were prostitutes just outside, including a lady boy looking for work but nobody bothered us.
Finally in Cidade Bolivar after being dragged off the bus, hassled by military with machine guns looking to bribe us but Vik with mobile in hand (No SIM card though) threatened to phone the embassy and luckily they didnt call our bluff, or we would have had to ask them to make the call!. We spent a day in the city on the Orinoco river, and struggled to find somewhere to eat. At 7pm the whole city shuts down and there is not a soul on the street, supposedly due to it being unsafe, which would explain why when we went for food in the falafal shop that they locked us into the restaurant. We saw this in Merida at
Vik sitting at the top of a bloody big waterfall
be sure not to slip, we could do without any more accidents on this trip
an italian too, you had to buzz to be let through the gate, before it was re-locked behind you. Venezuela seems to have massive problems with crime, but luckily we were not getting caught up in any of it.
We headed off early for our flight to Canaima, the starting point for our trip to Angel falls. Neil started the day with major stomach problems and wasnt convinced he was going to be able to go on a plane without a toilet. We arrived (Neil with clean pants) and met up with the rest of our large tour group. We met some lovely people on this tour and ended up having a good laugh. The trip up river (4 hours on hard wooden seat) was wet due to constant rain and water coming into the boat. This made the Slovenian or German man at the start of the trip look like a bit of a pilac as he had refused to sit at the back of the boat as there was a puddle of water and he didnt have the ´correct shoes´ for it, five minutes later and we were all like drowned rats.
The surounding tepuis (table top mountains) were jutting up out of savanah on one side and jungle on the other and water falls were tumbling over the sides everwhere you looked. There was some fun going up the rapids and finally we arrived at our camp and got our first glimpse of Angel falls. From far away it didnt look any bigger than others we had seen on the way, plus it was cloudy but we would hike up the next day. When we got there in the blue skys the second day after an hours hike, it was of course, spectacular and much higher than expected. Neil recieved a painfull ant bite from a horrible red giant and is now still marked after almost a month! Luckily it wasnt a bullet ant, which apparantly is the most painfull insect bite in the world (and there are bullet ants round there) and the pain lasts for 24 hours. We headed for a dip in one of the cascade pools near the bottom of the falls. What a view, what a landscape. Dinosaurs would not look out of place here. We said our farewells and we headed back to Canaima, made considerably faster by going downstream, we had a good laugh going down the rapids, it was more thrilling than the white water rafting! A walk across the savannah and we were eaten alive by mosquitoes. We had a little party at the camp, but the food (as on the whole of the tour) had been really poor and we were all fantasising about what we would like.
Our final day in Canaima was a trip across the lake past several waterfalls to reach one which you walk behind. We didnt expect much from this but it was pretty incredible. There was way more water than we expected and at one point it seemed to be cutting out light as it was such a thick wall thundering down. It was a nice way to end the tour we thought, but actually the best was yet to come! We got in the tiny rickety 5 seater plane with the wooden floor whilst our english companion James, tried to console us. He had taken the flight to Canaima in a similar plane, which had to land in the middle of nowhere due to bad weather, but the good thing was that they were treated to cashew nuts whilst they waited! What service! Our pilot informed us that we would fly over the lake. We didnt expect this. He flew low over the lake past thundering waterfalls then suddenly swooped up and back down so that we felt weightless. It was such a weird feeling as all your body feels out of sorts. It was another spine tingling experience that felt like something out of an adventure movie.
We had hoped to take another tour in Venezuela, there are tonnes of great things to see. We had hoped to visit the beautiful beaches too, but with the money situation it was too dificult. The bank transfer system was a rip off in some of the possadas, where they wouldnt give a good rate. We ended up leaving way before we wanted to. There are much fewer tourists in Venezuela than the other South American countries, its a gem, but it needs extra care and attention in the planning. It lacks the culture and atmosphere of Colombia, but has so much more natural beauty that its unreal. We will definately be going back.
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