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Santa Elena & Chiricayen Tepui

overcast 28 °C

The next day was a drive through the La Gran Sabana on our way to the border town of Santa Elena de Uairén.

We passed 2 waterfalls on our drive, the first was beautiful but we had just returned from Angel Falls and so failed to be impressed. The second waterfall however was stunning. Jasper falls is a waterfall that is extremely shallow with 2-3ft drops between levels of natural semiprecious jasper beds. The bright orange/red of the jasper almost glows as the sun and water hits it. The lady living close to the falls also had 2 pet baby toucans that wobbled over to you as you approached which was in itself worth a short stop visit.

Santa Elena lies on the border of Venezuela and Brazil and is the starting point of treks into the lost world. This was our first laundry and hotel stay for almost 2 weeks and after the Orinoco Delta and Angel Falls everyone was relieved to finally get clean! Opening my laundry bag even made me gag and it was my muck!

I had mixed feelings about trekking into the lost world. We have done lots of jungle stays recently and the thought of packing up another small bag to hike for many kilometres, get dirty and sleep in a tent did not appeal. However, Santa Elena is a small town with not exactly lots to do and the thought of staying there for 4 days intrigued me even less.

It was possible to hike up to the most famous tepui, Mount Roraima from here, the area that the famous book 'The Lost World' is based on. However, short of time, money and lack of energy for the 8 day difficult trek we opted for the 3 day table top mountain walk through La Gran Sabana.

The night prior to heading out for the trek the guide gave us some info on the area. It's very rich in crystals and Indians believe it to have great powers. It is also supposed to be a UFO hot spot with many documented sightings dating as far back as ancient times. The guide told us that to approach the mountain safely we had to make prayers to it: "We come in peace, we mean you no harm, I ask the permission of the guardian spirits please let us pass".
I thought he was a nutter and I had no faith in him leading us safely throughout the trek. We would have tents and basic food provided, could drink water from the rivers but everything else we had to provide and carry on the trek.

I woke that morning with dread and general lack of energy for a sweaty 3 days walk. Ollie was all smiles, firstly, has seen the original movie and is a fan and, second, the fact that it is an alien hot spot (geek).

We had decided to make this walk as easy as possible so took only the clothes we were wearing, rain jacket and sleeping bag. Roll mats were left behind as generally we can both sleep just about anywhere after overlanding for so long.

A 2hr jeep ride took us through part of the La Gran Sabana to a small village and the start of the trek. After a small lunch we headed out. The first days walk was flat through grassland, marsh and forest until we reached our base camp 2.5hr later. This was located at the side of a waterfall and river. The guys immediately jumped in to cool off. Ollie nearly killed himself trying to slide down the waterfall and I tried not to be eaten alive by the sand flies watching him.

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We climbed one of the nearby grassy hilltops to watch the sunset. It lit up the whole of Mt Chirikayen, our challenge for the next day.

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The following morning Ollie woke early to try and catch the sunrise from behind Chirikayen. I was smug that I'd chosen to stay in bed as it was cloudy! Neither of us had gotten much sleep, not because of the predicted alien activity, but because it had thundered, lightened and thrown it down all night and I DIDN'T BRING A ROLL MAT. I thought the tent would be on grass, not huge razor sharp rocks. Through pure exhaustion I'd fallen asleep around 4am, but could only sleep on my back to stop the rocks slicing my hips, apparently at 4am he woke up cos my snoring was worse. I don't snore; the aliens were sending him auditory hallucinations.

We headed out of the tent for much needed coffee to be greeted with thousands and thousands of sandflies. 80% DEET wasn't working and I even had bites on my lips, eyes and even my bum when I'd snuck to the loo! The bites bring up a drop of blood straight away and the scab lasts for weeks. Sandflies are my most hated creatures of all time, what is their purpose, WHY WOULD EVOLUTION INVENT THEM??

We set off for a full day's hike, not in the best of moods and energy lacking, but ready to get up the mountain. A couple of kilometres out of the base camp the guide pointed out recent puma tracks, but that’s as close as we got. Going at quite a good pace we walked grasslands, woods and then started the steep assent over boulders up the tepui. It was hot and the rain had luckily stayed away which made the walk pleasant if not sweaty and nowhere near as difficult as expected. In 2.5hr we were standing at the top of Mt Chirikayen looking out onto the La Gran Sabana. The old stories tell of dinosaurs living on top of these mountains. There are no dinosaurs. Carnivorous plants and orchids make up the greater population of the flat boggy landscape. However after an hours walk along the top of the mountain we hit a vantage point where the view was amazing. We could see the path we had done that day, the base camp and on the horizon the starting village we had left yesterday.

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The whole top of the mountain is covered in quartz crystals that sparkle as the sun hits them and when you rub them together they glow. Maybe this is the reason for the Indians believing that the mountain had lots of energy.

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We ate lunch on top of the mountain edge with our feet dangling into the valley below. I still failed to see any UFOs.

The group split into 2 on the walk back. Those who wanted to walk further along the top and those wanting to head back to base camp. Guess which group I was in??? The other group did see a giant anteater though that I was gutted about missing. The walk back was almost a run, as the main guide had left us with one of his helpers who didn't understand that gringos were not mountain goats and needed time to climb down boulders. We slipped our way through the forest in the mud. As our boots sank up to the ankle in the sticky stuff we were reminded of Glastonbury and the fact it would be the very same weekend if we were at home. I was surprised when I found myself thinking, I would rather be here, doing a walk, yes, I would rather be hiking! Whats happened to me??

As we reached the base camp after only 2hr running back, everyone headed to the waterfall for well deserved wash. I had to get into the water for a wash but it was sooo cold. It was the quickest clean I've ever had, and the quickest I've ever got dressed again what with all the sand flies.

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Campfire, curry, lightning storm (no aliens), rounded off a really great days hiking.

The next day was only the base camp to village flat 2hr walk and the rain held off. Reaching the village the trek organisers had ordered us a take away Chinese meal that was devoured by all. Everyone had a positive buzz about them after the 3 day trek, including myself. I suppose the guide would say it was the mountain's energy or the natural crystals. I believe it was probably caused by the exercise and the artificial colorants in the Chinese - but who am I to argue?!

Posted by dee d 06:13 Archived in Venezuela

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