16.06.2008 - 17.06.2008 28 °C
So we left the idilic Playa Colorada, our last beach, to head inland to Venezuela.
We had a long drive day that day with a lovely bush camp to look forward to so we stopped at Caripe to pick up lunch and chill for a while. The town is tiny and so cook group did their best to pick up things to cook. The vegetarians all looked forward to the freshly bought cheese for lunch but found out it was actually empanada pastry as we all bit into our sarnies - mmm tasty raw pasta.
At the oil bird cave we set our tents up in the car park and waited for the famous spectacle. At sundown, hundreds of birds that live in the huge cave fly out to go hunting together they have the appearance of a large bat as they are flying and communicate with each other by distinctive squawks- a way of upholding their hierarchy. The cave has huge stalagmites and stalactites and the birds use clicks and echo to navigate around them.
The birds fly out in groups of 7 following a lead bird to collect their food, an oily, avocado-like fruit, hence the name oilbird.
All night we could hear the thousands of birds in the cave and above our heads going about their nightly business.
The next morning we headed into the cave early before the other tourists to see their environment better. Led by 2 guides with faint gas lamps we started walking into the dead ended cavern. Instantly it hit me - the smell. Thousands of birds and their 'do-do' had my nostrils reeling. Then if you’re lucky/unlucky depending on how superstitious you are one of the birds hanging like a bat above you would crap on your head. You also have to constantly fight off the thousands of small flies that try and fly into your eyes or mouth and try not to slip on the hundreds of years of bird s**t. It's not a pleasant environment to say the least, but the cave is impressive and I ain't never seen a bird look more like a bat.
We walked 1.5km into the cave, at 800m climbing through a small hole into another cavern. At this point the birds can't fly through so at least it smells slightly better.
As we had just started our return into the bird cavern I'd had enough and was trying my best to get the hell out of there when I heard "Dee, you're needed", a guy from our group had fallen. My initial reaction was 'oh bloody hell, I have to go back into the s**t pit for a sprained ankle'.
When I arrived it was a different story. I saw the guy on the floor, conscious but obviously in pain having fallen off the main walkway awkwardly and landed 2ft below in the bird excrement. On quick assessment I was happy his spine was ok but he had obviously badly broken his right lower leg/ankle and dislocated his left arm. There was a lump just above his ankle, which was his bone sticking out and pressing against the skin. His foot hung like a wet , heavy sock from the end of his leg and his arm below his left elbow was facing the wrong direction. I sent the guides off to get the stretcher and an ambulance and tried my best to calm the rising panic in the poor chap, who had turned delerious with pain. The cave guides tried to help by pulling Malcolm by his broken arm onto the stretcher, so I curtiously told them to leave us alone and with the help of some of the drago guys I managed to stabilise his fractures using belts and fleeces and get him safely onto the stretcher.
I ended up in the back of the ambulance with him and our tour guide taking him to the nearest clinic. At the clinic he was re-assed by their doctors and told he would have to be transferred to the nearest hospital. They wanted to put him into the back of our truck for us to take him, despite his severe injuries and obvious pain. In the end one of the nurses at the clinic called in a favour from her ambulance friend and managed to get him a transfer. They managed to operate on his injuries that day and then he was transferred home for further non emergency surgery. I hear he's doing ok and plans to resume his travels some time in the future and to that I wish him all the best.
So just a warning to anyone who enters the oil bird cave, the guide told some group members that people fall off the path at that point often. Take really good no-slip shoes, take a light regardless of what the guides say and tread carefully.