21.06.2008 - 25.06.2008 26 °C
Ciudad Bolívar is a bit of a nothing town and the only reason we visit here is that it is the starting point for our optional Angel Falls trip. The price had risen from US$280 to US$400, but so far on this leg we hadn't spent much money, so we decided to go for it. I used the last of my funds to pay for the trip so i was hopeful that it would be worth it.
The campsite we stayed at in Ciudad Bolívar was owned by a crazy German guy and it had a pool table, a swimming pool and some cages containing a peccary, a deer and a couple of capuchin monkeys. I amused myself by feeding the monkeys honey, which they licked off my fingers.
The next day the truck took us to the airport, which was pretty basic. Most of the group were taking the trip so in total they squeezed us into 4 small planes. Our plane contained 4 passengers, which the pilot seperated out according to weight so it doesnt tip the plane. I was sat in the middle on the back seat on my own (presumably because I'm so light). The journey to the Cainama National Park passed over the beautiful jungle with striking tepuis, rising high above the jungle. The reason for getting a plane to our location became clear - there are no roads anywhere to be seen. This area is completely isolated. There are no buildings, no farmland, no boats anywhere. Our destination was a small village with an airstrip who's only function is to be a starting point for the Angel Falls trek. The village was built here because it was next to a waterfall, so boats could not transport building materials any further. We landed on the gravel runway and were transported to our hostel. Because of the expensive importing cost and tourist requirements, everything here is expensive. Me and Dee went out looking for chocolate and the local shop had mostly-empty shelves except for some ketchup, salt and oil. I wondered what was for dinner. Beers here were also really expensive unfortunately.
That afternoon we went to the local waterfalls where it was possible to walk behind them. Everyone was dressed in their swimming costumes as we were expecting to get wet. We did. Being behind the waterfall was amazing. The noise and pressure of the water was intense and the sense of power was overwhelming. We went through 2 waterfalls in total, the second was much more powerful. It was like being in a typhoon (I imagine). Water drops smashed into our faces like pins and we had to shout over the noise of the water. We saw some swallows which live behind the waterfall, somehow managing to fly through the wall of water to the outside. This was certainly a unique way to experience a waterfall.
Dinner that night was an expectedly bland pasta with generic sauce and the veggie option - pasta with a sprinkling of cheese on. I'm glad I eat meat. The next day we headed out late morning for the trip to Angel Falls. The starting point for the trip is at the waterfalls we visited the day before. We set on an uncomfortable dug out canoe and set off up the river. Half an hour later we had to get out and walk while the boats navigated a fierce bit of rapids and we had an opportunity to swim in the river while we waited for the canoes. When we set off again the river started to become scarier, as the motorised canoe shot off up the white water, a few times the the level of the water came dangerously close to the top of boat. Dee looked worried so she just looked down towards the bottom of the boat. If she can't see it, it can't scare her. After an hour or so, we stopped for lunch at a place the guides called Happy Pool. It was a pretty waterfall with a pool for swimming in. It was happy, even though there were large water spiders on the rocks around the water.
After a bad sandwich we set off again up the rapids and the scenery became even more dramatic. Tepuis are table top mountains indicitave of this part of South America. This land was once part of the African super-continent and are so old they have been eroded in strange ways. Mount Roraima is the tallest and most famous of these tepuis and Angel Falls falls from the largest tepui, Auyantepui. These massive, cloud-topped mountains rise from the jungle like huge buildings and impose over the river we were travelling up, like giants peering over at us tiny people. It was the most dramatic scenery we had seen this holiday. We passed many tall waterfalls that we excitedly point at thinking it may be Angel Falls, but an hour and a half later we turn a corner and we are confronted with a HUGE waterfall, like a God taking a leak. This waterfall stands out a mile compared to the rest and made us all go "wow".
We stopped by some huts (the only sign of human life we had seen in 3 hours), and disembarked onto the pink rocks that give the Churun River it's tea brown tint. We changed into our walking boots under the shadow of Angel Falls for the jungle trek to the viewpoint. The path was well trodden, but there was no man-made walkway. We had to splash through puddles of mud and climb over large tree roots before the route took a steep turn upwards. The jungle here was humid, but shady, and not too different to the other jungle we had trekked in many times in the last few months. After a sweaty hour's trek, we scrambled up a final large rock and we were at the mirador. Angel Falls was about 400m away from us, the other side of the small valley carved by the falls, and we could still feel the spray. The base of the falls was just a fine mist where the water has so far to fall and loses weight and velocity. Angel Falls is the world's highest free-falling waterfall at 979m, with a clear drop of 807m. We were there during the rainy season so the water was beating down relentlessly. Apparently, during the summer months, it is possible to hike right to the base of Angel Falls and to touch the walls of the tepui. At the time we were there, the base of the waterfall was like a being in hurricane, and it was not safe to continue. Huge waves of water vapour exploded out in rolling clouds from the bottom 50m of the plunging water. We stood around for an hour, taking in the scenery, before slogging back down to the river and the hut we were staying in that night.
Well, I say hut, but it was just a large sheet of corrigated iron with hammocks and a long table. There weren't many home comforts here, except an unclean blanket which we were issued. The hut was open to the jungle, so at night we had many visitors in the form of ants, mosquitos, frogs, moths and other large, probably blood-thirsty, insecty things. Where I lay, I could see Angel Falls and the noise of the beating water constantly whooshed in the distance. I have always had difficultly sleeping in a hammock because I like to sleep on my front, and that night was no exception. I was still awake at 5am and I almost got up with the other 4 guys to trek through the dark jungle to see the sunset shine on Angel Falls, but I could hear rain and I could see it was cloudy, so I just lay there in my hammock. That was a good decision because the guys came back saying they couldn't even see the waterfall through the clouds.
The journey back the next morning was tough. Our bums still hurt from sitting on the hard seats the day before and sitting down again was like sitting on large bruises. Softening the seats by using the life jackets helped a bit, but after 3 hours going downriver in the pouring rain, everyone was moaning with pain.
Back at Cuidad Bolivar I got the terrible news that my Grandfather had passed away. He had been very ill in hospital for the past 3 weeks. The family had discussed it and decided that I shouldn't return for the funeral. There was only 3 weeks left of my holiday and I was really hoping he would hold out and I would get to see him when I returned. He was a great man and a very strong character. I will certainly miss him.