A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: dee d

Back to Rio

for the end of the trip of a lifetime

sunny 31 °C

After a long overnight flight from Natal we landed in Rio just as the sun was rising over the city. We had a lovely sense of familairy as we drove along the ringroad towards Copacabana. It was also sad as we knew this would be the last place we stayed prior to heading home, it had been almost 6 months since we had last visited Rio, 6 months since we started our adventure.

The room wouldn't be ready for a few hours so we had a sneaky plan that if we hung out in reception making it look untidy they would give us a room early so we could get some much needed sleep. It didn't quite work, so we sprawled out on the sofas, slept and generally brought down the tone of the whole hotel – who cares? I think I was snoring as people were walking by to go to breakfast.

We were finally put up on the 14th floor and had an amazing view of Cocovado and Christ the Redeemer. I was so happy, guess what greeted me in the bathroom – complimentary toiliteries, now you know you're in a proper hotel when you get freebies!! We also had a minibar, couldn't afford to drink anything from it but we had one!!

After a good few hours sleep we headed out into Copacobana, passing a few shops on the way, looking at the amazing Havaianas. I had forgotten how much I loved Rio – the general buzz of the place is amazing and I can sit for hours at the beach side bars and people-watch. I love the nonchalant attitude in Rio to body shapes – who cares if you're 70 and a little overweight –wear that thong proudly!!! Ollie dosen't think its quite such a good thing, he tells me there are certain things in life you just don’t wanna see.

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We found a little kilo restaurant and had some great food and wine before heading back to the hotel to get ready for our night out. It was Saturday, I’d not had a chance to dress up in ages, I was going to Lapa!! It is the place to party in Rio at the weekend, lots of small street bars sell the most potent cocktails and after only 2 of the caprihinas we were ready to boogie. I wanted to go to Scenarium, a famous salsa club with 3 floors. It took us a while to find it as it's actually a 15min walk out of Lapa but worth the hike. It's staged with almost a 1940's theme, lots of deep red velvet and old posters, a live band played samba downstairs as people of all ages danced salsa. What I couldn't understand was their payment policy, you don’t pay to enter, you get a card with your name on it. Everytime you buy a drink its marked on the card- then at the end of the night you give them the card and pay to leave. So in theory, you can get in, dance and drink loads all without paying a penny. No wonder the queue was huge to leave at the end of the night – now, where did I put my wallet...?

The next morning we knew we'd been drinking caprihinas and both looked the worse for wear at breakfast gorging on the included greasy bacon and eggs. That afternoon we felt able to make a move out of bed and wandered to the market. I think we were both getting desparate about buying presents as the tacky plastic Christ the redeemer statue was looking more and more enticing. That, or we were still drunk. A local Rio team, Fluminense, were playing Botafogo, another local team that night and we sat in a greek café eating hummous and watching the game with the locals.

The next day we hit Copacabana beach. I did some shopping (I love beach sellers) and Ollie moaned that there wasn't any waves and left me after an hour to go and play on the computer. Feeling tanned up by teatime we went to go and meet friends that we'd left a few weeks ago in Venezuela. Mikkel and Katrina soon learnt our love for kilo restaurants we went to yet another of the glorious cheap food haunts. We sat outside a bar afterwards drinking wine and for hours. The barman couldn't quite work out how to open wine bottles and they kept trying to feed us 'specials of the house' shrimp pastrys. I practiced my 'mm, this is nice' face while trying to wash down the fishy puree with cheap wine. If that's the speciliaty of the house, I'd hate to see what the cheap food was like.

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Ollie had another date with his electronic mistress the next day so I went and lounged by the rooftop pool. Had the whole place practically to myself the whole day, may have been something to do with the fact the pool was cold enough to cause hypothermia but it was relaxing. I could see Cocovado from my sunlounger and if I leaned my head slightly right the rooftop of the posh hotel on the next block, did you know it looks like pink is THE colour to be wearing in Rio?!

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Our last day in Rio we wanted something to end the trip of a lifetime so after a quick shopping expedition to Ipanema we were picked up to go handgliding. A couple of beaches south of Copacobana we sarted the climb up the side of a moutain through a national park. Katrina and Mikkel also joined us, although Mikkel, the big wuss, 'just wanted to watch'. Up at the top the lead guy gave us instructions, just keep running, even when you get to the edge and make sure you smile for the camera. I was up first, strapped my flip flops onto my feet, got into an attractive nappy sack and pegged it like there was no tomorrow off the edge of the mountain. It feels great when you first jump off, so relaxing and free. Actually quite a lot different from paragliding which is more tranquil, you actually get the sense of speed with handgliding. I loved flying over the top of all the large villas and sneaking peeks into their back gardens, you could also see Sugar Loaf Mountain in the distance. As you come into land (we were landing on the beach) you feel like you're going so fast you're going to eat sand, but he just quickly whips the handglider more vertical and it loses speed and height and just gently sets you down on the ground. I don't think any of us found it scary, just exciting and relaxing and worthwhile doing.

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That night, the very last night of our South American adventure, we headed out into Ipanema. We had cocktails in a really great little restaurant with quaint chintzy décor then headed to an R&B club. Many cocktails later, many bad photos later and little memory of later we had partied hard and it was time to call it a night/day.

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We watched sunrise over Rio from the rooftop pool (Ollie got sentimental – bless him) then headed to bed for a couple of hours prior to grabbing a cab to the airport. We made it through check-in with our ridiculous amount of bags, luckily without being charged excess (I have no idea where it accumulated - I didn’t shop that much) and fell fast asleep on the plane. The big smiling faces of our parents greeted us at Heathrow and by the time we hit the M25 congestion it felt almost as if we’d never been away. Although the seatbelt kept rubbing my shoulder (not used to wearing them), the driver was sat on the wrong side of the car, the petrol was expensive, the road seemed remarkably smooth and pothole free, it was raining and cold, I read adverts and they were in English, we could understand every word in the conversation...

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Thanks Ollie for truly making it a trip of a lifetime and helping me to be more optimistic (I chose my words carefully). You know we said – ‘it’s a once in a lifetime experience’ – well,where are we going next?... (Trekking excursions and white water rafting excluded)

Monday mornings still suck, and its freezing here, and OK! Magazine isn’t what it used to be, but the difference now though is instead of dreaming about being away, I remember being away.

Me encanta América del Sur

Posted by dee d 06:46 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Manaus

sunny 34 °C

Manaus is a city in the centre of the Amazonian rainforest, made popular by the rubber boom in the early 20th century. It’s a huge city but its main transport system in the Rio Negro and Amazon River, so basically has one road in from Venezuela, and then the only transport out is by river. The city was really hot and humid and we sat outside the Teatro Amazionias and had pizza on the first night, debating what to do now that our overlanding had ended.

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It was the first time in 5 months that we had had to organise anything and so the next day was a full day spent on the computer researching. I wanted beach and relaxing, Ollie wanted waves and excitement, as usual we had completely different ideas and expectations. After a full two days we had decided the place where we both could be satisfied and booked the last two weeks of our adventure.

During the time in Manaus we said goodbye to both those who were leaving and those who were continuing with Dragoman. One night we were told of a café that turned into a dancing bar later in the evening. It was in the middle of the huge millennium shopping centre and so to save money we drank beer in the food court first. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a night out in a food court. Security guards were looking at us gone out but we were excused when they realised we were foreign. We then went off to nearby Ponta Negra, the beach resort of Manaus on the river side. We found a rock club that sold extremely potent and cheap Caprihinhas. Everyone was dancing to music they would never personally even listen to and loving it. One guy ended up being the worse for wear in the taxi on the way home, Ollie and I awoke feeling extremely delicate.

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We had decided on our last day in Manaus we would see the spectacle of the meeting of the waters, this is where black waters of the Rio Negro run alongside the Rio Solimoes without mixing for 8km to make up the Amazon river. Heading out in a small boat from the port we travelled for 20mins, passing a few river dolphins on the way until we came to the edge of the dark black Negro River water. Like the edge of a cloud it meets the lighter coloured slightly green Amazon. As you dip your hand into the rivers you can clearly feel the temperature difference of the warmer River Negro compared to the Solimoes.

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Catching a quick movie (Hancock) at the Millennium Shopping Complex we headed back to the hotel to try and pack up our 5 months of stuff we had collected from the truck. Ramming things into the backpacks, making it as small as possible we were quite aware we had two huge bags to check in each, way over our luggage allowance. I still have no idea where it all came from, especially as I seem to have worn the same outfit for the whole holiday and Ollie has lost almost everything he originally came out with.

That night at 22:30 it was really sweet as everyone came down to reception to see us off. Even I had a few tears as we said goodbye, you really don’t realise how close you get when you're practically living in each others personal space for weeks on end. I was really looking forward to a relaxing two weeks with just Ollie and myself but I knew that this ending just made the ultimate trip end tangibly close.

Posted by dee d 12:26 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Truck Party

Heading into Manaus

overcast 32 °C

We were now down to the last two days on the truck after 5 months of it being our home, so Ollie and I wanted to celebrate. We decided to hold Cindy (the truck) a party and stocked up on goodies in Santa Elena especially for the occasion. Ollie was in charge of the drinks and with contributions from the whole truck we bought enough vanilla rum to sink a small ship (3L plastic containers of rum for around 3 quid, headaches were expected). I was in charge of food and decorations, I bought bright orange balloons to cheer up the interior, silly string to annoy the cleaning group and cakes and all things bad for you to snack on until we felt sick. I also spent 3 hours wrapping up sweets and forfeits for a gigantic pass-the-parcel the night prior to get the party flowing.

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The day of leaving Santa Elena was sad as we knew our overlanding was coming to a close but by lunch time we were blowing up balloons and hanging streamers with everyone else getting into the party spirit. Ollie and I mixed up some caprioska (it was entertaining trying to cut up lime with a penknife on a moving truck) and by the time everyone had had a couple of the 50% vodka cocktails down their neck, the cheesy music was flowing, faces were smiling, foots were tapping and everybody was wearing their party hats. When the pass-the-parcel came out, the cocktails were working to great effect and so the forfeits went down a storm, these included eating a sweet out of someone's bellybutton, putting ice down your pants, moon walking the length of the truck and doing an Irish jig, all in-between eating the prize sweets scattered among the wrapping. Dancing in the aisle was called for next, this was made difficult by the unexpected pot holes and so we had ultimate forfeits for anyone who spilt their drink. The ultimate forfeits inlcuded someone being a butler to everyone for an hour, another guy was tied to someone else for an hour, including when he had to do a toilet stop. One guy ended up getting blind folded for half an hour, which is when we got the silly string out and just covered him in it. The toilet stops became quite amusing as the more tipsy people got, the stops were more often, and usually just at the roadside as service stations were few and far between here. Locals often slowed down and even took photos of the gringos nipping out to do a number one still wearing their party hats and streamers.

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Everyone on the truck got awarded a certificate of their not so outstanding achievements while being on the trip; all were taken in humour although some went down better than others!! By the time we stopped for dinner at a truck café in the middle of nowhere we had decided to set up camp in their car park and continue the party.

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Everyone had a great time and it was so much fun celebrating the end of our overland trip actually inside the truck, in home, with everyone else. The very last day was a quiet one on the truck, for some reason most people felt unwell – must be a virus going round!! To this day I cannot even smell vanilla rum due to the bilious vomit it produces in my stomach.

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Posted by dee d 12:24 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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 Comments (0)

El Dorado

rain 28 °C

We were all shattered after the angel falls excursions and so no one minded a full days truck drive. We stopped at Makro to try and buy that nights group cooking food but it was a challenge. Sugar for desert? 5kg smallest bag. Unless your feeding the 5 thousand everything came in too big packs.

All day it rained leaving the truck hot and sticky as it was too wet to open any windows - our only AC. Ollie cooled himself down by buying a 1L tub of ice-cream and eating the lot. Then hastily telling me he felt sick and it was my fault he ate it. Child.

(Ollie says: We parked up at the petrol station and filled the truck up with diesel. The 280 litres of fuel cost the same as my tub of ice cream - US$4!)

We stayed at El Dorado on the riverside, at a campsite with two toilets and no doors. That night you could hear boats moving up and down the river well into the early hours and we were told they were smugglers. This place is close to the border so the river makes it easy for people to smuggle petrol. Sometimes the national guard would have a watch post here to try and stop the smuggling but the campsite owner told us they went home after a few beers in the afternoon!

We had a BBQ at the riverside listening to the boats whizzing up and down the river and all desperately tried to avoid the toilets all night. I am so glad the camping bit will soon be coming to an end.

Posted by dee d 06:11 Archived in Venezuela Comments (0)

Orinoco Delta

Into the Jungle

storm 32 °C

After our few days relaxing at the ranch it was time to head back into the sweaty wet jungle. This time we were staying in a lodge a good 2hr from town so as we waited for our boat transport we watched the locals unloading their cargo of goats. They were packed into a dug out canoe and all looked rightly petrified. We looked on horrified as they were picked up by their ears and thrown onto the back of a truck for their next adventure.

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Our boats arrived, and I have to say I was relieved when it wasn't a dug out but a speedboat with comfy seat - sweet! The water was covered in floating lillies and we raced down the river through all the greenery. There were small huts on stilts by the riverside with families chilling in hammocks watching their children playing in the river, all complete with the essential, skinny and barking pet dog. We also saw some howler monkeys.

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We arrived at the lodge just as the heavens opened jungle style. Lunch was eaten listening to the hammering rain and crashing thunder. Half way through lunch I was interrupted by something patting me on the shoulder softly. I turned round to be greeted by Rosetta, a semi wild monkey, I thought maybe she wanted spaghetti but turned down all food, she just wanted to sit and hold my hand.

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When the rain had calmed a little we made a dash for the room. This lodge had a penchant for animals, apart from Rosetta the hand holding monkey, there was a macaw that was able to fly and insisted on being the centre of attention by copying human laughs and stealing food. There was a puma in a cage that at one time had strayed too close to the village and instead of killing it, the lodge persuaded locals to capture it. Ollie’s favorite was the semi-tame ocelot that they kept on a chain but moved around daily. It had an obsession with trying to claw feet – not good for those wearing flip-flops as it still had its razor-sharp claws intact. I knew exactly what Ollie had been doing the time he walked over to me with his big toe covered in blood – that’s what you get for tormenting an ocelot with a towel and thinking its chain is shorter than it really is.

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Back at the room as we were getting ready to head out into the rain I was doing a quick inspection (as always) to see if anything nasty was lurking. I never expected to find anything but as I looked, something right in front of my face caught my eye; grey and furry. Crap. Tarantula. I thought they moved quite slowly but as Ollie excitedly ran over and blew on the thing it moved so quickly it looked like it had jumped, exactly like a scene from arachnophobia. At the same speed I had ran in the opposite direction, closed my eyes and stood on the bed while screaming at Ollie for disturbing it. He then starts laughing and asks me why I'm stood on the bed "I'm looking at the ceiling checking for more" I lyingly replied, my eyes still shut tight. Terry we called him, he was happy to sit in the corner of the room away from the beds, I was happy for him to stay there. I did on occasion threaten him with the bug spray if he moved.

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We have by now spent a long time sat on boats going up and down water ways but only in the dugouts, so we were all happy to hop back onto the speedboats for the afternoon. 4 hours later we’d traveled through miles of river ways, ate the fruit of life, seen howler monkeys and drank rum and coke. Its no Los Llanos if you’re after wildlife but speeding down narrow Lilly filled waterways on the boat makes up for it.

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That evening we sat on the dock to the lodge watching a lightening storm located in a single cloud on the horizon and keeping a beady eye on all the tarantulas on the ceiling inside hiding from the rain.

The next day we got up early to go down river for 2 hours for a jungle walk. It was pouring it down and we sat on the boat holding a huge piece of tarp over our heads to try and keep slightly dry. With the rain and the wind from the speedboat I was freezing and relieved to finally arrive at our destination. We were heading out for a walk in the jungle and as always it was time for me to make that painful decision. 80% DEET so no insect bites but get wet, or raincoat and insects inside it (wear both and the DEET melts the plastic and it sticks to your skin – nice!)

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Gumboots on, gap in the rain, off we went following the guide with the machete (on TV if you see someone running through a jungle its sooo fake, greenery grows back overnight). Useful plants and trees were pointed out and the guide made us leaf umbrella when it started raining. Ollie was made a seed husk hat that made him look like a cheeky elf, but when it rained an orange liquid ran off it and stained his t-shirt. The jungle was really water logged and even with our gumboots it was too deep to walk across so we had to swing across streams and sinking mud by vines.

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After the walk the locals showed us how to make fire naturally by rubbing sticks together. The young guide was really trying but failing on the wet, damp day. The old, experienced head of the family was laughing at him and got a fire started with the damp kinder in no time. Ollie tried it and all he made was a blister on his hand.

On the way back we stopped at a local village for the necessary tourist handicraft market. The village consisted of wooden shelters open on all sides and hammocks in the centre. Most of the hammocks had young children fast asleep in them as the women displayed their handicrafts to us, often with a baby nuzzling their breast. They use the local seeds as beads and the vine to crochet into baskets and hammocks. I didn’t see one man. The women were often carrying huge loads while watching the kids, doing their washing in the river and cooking. The guide said most men would be out fishing – which from what I’ve seen is using live bait on a wooden stick and leaving it while you sleep – hard life for the male of the species in these parts!!

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The next morning we headed back out on the boats to do a little fishing ourselves; meat bait and free lines. We got a couple of small cat fish and some of the tiniest piranha we’ve seen but that was the highlight of our success.

I sat for an hour back at the lodge, holding rosettes hand as she rested her head on my hand and slept, wondering how I could get myself a pet monkey when I got home. Ollie is monkey boy yes, but it’s really not the same.

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On the jungle excursions you only get room to pack a really small backpack and it’s so humid that as soon as you put clothes on they are damp. As we headed back to Cindy our truck we all smelt like we’d been at Glastonbury for a month. It was not pleasant driving after that, more vomit inducing.

I like the jungle, but I now realize I like the TV idealism of it. In there, everything is hard work, you're never clean and classed as food for far too many insects, despite plastic melting DEET. I even appreciate the cold water showers after being in the jungle, and that says a lot.

Posted by dee d 13:25 Archived in Venezuela Comments (0)

The Oil Bird Cave

sunny 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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by dee d 09:15 Archived in Venezuela Comments (1)

Puerto Colombia

Beach!

sunny 32 °C

It was such a nice feeling setting off to drive to the beach after being in the sweaty mosquito infestation of Los Llanos. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Los Llanos, but I enjoy sand, sea, sun and hotel beds a whole lot more. We had a 5am start as Puerto Colombia only has one road in and one road out. After an obligatory stop at McDonalds for lunch decided by the truck majority (I had arepas from the servo, won't eat from the golden 'M') we headed into Henry Pittier national park. It’s this N.P. that makes Puerto Colombia so hard to reach. The one road snakes round lush tropical mountains and valleys. It’s hardly wider than a single carridgeway; it is a two way road that makes things interesting when another vehicle approaches. There are very few passing places and the bends are so tight climbing the sheer mountain faces that our truck had to make several attempts to get round them. Once we hit the town we realised the town wasn’t really built for vehicles, narrow roads with tight corners made our truck destroy more than one house roof corner or wall. 14 hours later and we'd made it. With the budget dwindling with the rising Venezuelan economy I enjoyed every drop of my glass of cold white wine I’d ordered instead of food, Ollie had the beer and we tucked into the free table bread with gusto.

After spending a luxury night with aircon we woke to bright sunshine and headed for la playa. 10min walk over a footbridge and down a small road which opened into a beautiful small cove. Sheltered on each side by green mountains that curved round to hug the beach, the sand was white and the sea crystal clear. Ollie got straight in the water, to do battle with the six foot waves. They were obviously a lot more entertaining then me as he emerged like a bright red prune 8hrs later. I went in up to my ankles but it was cold, involved water and I had a really good book to read. I played roast chicken, gently cooking myself in the long awaited sunshine until I was golden brown and hungry.

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That evening we wandered down to the harbor. I sat opposite Ollie at dinner and sweated in the radiating heat coming of his bright red burnt face. As we ate our tea, we watched the fisherman bring in the days catches. There were hundreds of fish; most of them were the size of dolphins and some with long pointy faces? marlin?.

We had the next morning to enjoy the town before heading out. I went down to the beach and actually went in the sea up to my knees. Ollie stayed at the hotel and watched wild monkeys playing in the trees outside our room. Puerto Colombia is hard to get to but well worth the visit if it’s the quiet idealistic tropical beach stop you're seeking.

One thing I must mention that I have noticed in northern Colombia and Venezuela. What is it with the bellies guys? It seems here it's cool to pull up your t-shirt to your chest and let it all hang out. And really, size does not matter, the bigger the beer belly, the higher the t shirt gets pulled up giving you a great view of what appears to be the male version of late pregnancy. I know it's hot, but really, must we all suffer? It's even coming to the point when Ollie thinks its a good idea, god help us.

Posted by dee d 11:54 Archived in Venezuela Comments (0)

Into Venezuela

rain 26 °C

This has got to be the most exciting entry this blog has had to date. Prepare yourselves.

It was sadly time to leave Colombia and head to the greenery of northern Venezuela and the luxury of our truck. We left Cartegena at 4.30am to get an internal flight back to Bogota, Columbia's capital. We then got an international flight and another stamp in our passport as we arrived in Venezuela s capital Caracas at noon the same day. Not a bad days traveling, except Caracas was a stopover, the truck was sat in Meridia waiting for us, another 12hr bus journey away. We were using local transport so it was decided to avoid the crushed daytime coach that arrives at 3 in the morning and get the comfy overnight coach. Great idea in theory just meant we had 9.5hours to kill in a bus station in the outskirts of Caracas. Traffic is too temperamental in the city to risk going into town in case you can't get back in time (petrol’s cheap, everyone drives, everywhere, always) so we sat in the bus station. This consisted of toilets, a few hard plastic seats and a shop that ran out of all food except empanadas that looked 3 days old. The same ones were there when we arrived and when we left, 3 days is an accurate guess.

We played poker for 5 hours, I won. I people watched and guarded the bags. Ollie walked around and found takeaway pizza for the price of a restaurant meal in England - rip off!! We all got sore arses from sitting on a hard floor for so long.

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I've never been more excited to get on a coach. We were upstairs at the back, it had a toilet, curtains, fully reclining seats that were wide enough to lie horizontal in and played a movie in English (Spanish subtitles)! Intermittently the crazy Venezuelan driving would wake me as he swerved on the road and I'd find myself head butting the window, but tucked up in my sleeping bag I slept like a baby - even in the minus 10 degrees air con.

So that's the tale of our 30hr journey from Cartegena to Meridia. Enthralled, weren't you?

Posted by dee d 11:39 Archived in Venezuela Comments (0)

Villa de Leyva

24 °C

So we headed out of Bogota on a local chartered coach to the town of Villa de Leyva. A small town, popular with tourists, it was built in the seventeenth century then abandoned after the revolution and not lived in again until the 1950s, so all the original architecture and cobblestones still exist.

Half way into our journey we stopped at the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. Here the miners had decided to honor the productivity of the salt mine by building a cathedral underground. Not all the group went - Ollie thought this wasn't worth paying £4 to see, but I was intrigued. We headed down into the opening of the mine to be greeted by carved salt steps, with blue lights illuminating the crystals in the angel and cross carvings. It was a labyrinth of high corridors and huge chapels with giant salt alters. I thought it was mystical and impressive, some Catholics thought it was offensive (being underground where hell is meant to be - freaks), either way, well worth my 4 quid.

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The next stop Ollie enjoyed and I hated, we stopped along one of the highways to buy fresh strawberries and homemade cream. I had some strawberries; Ollie had mainly cream with a strawberry topping.

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Dusk was fast approaching as we pulled into Villa de Leyva. It took us a long time to reach the small hacienda we were staying in, as the narrow streets challenged the skills of our coach driver, but we made it in the end. The hacienda owner took us on a quick town tour (it was dark by this point, by the end of it we still had no idea what Villa de Leyva looked like) but we did see the old mill, old brewery and church. And fell over the old cobblestones.

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Back at the hacienda a local band greeted us and played music around the campfire while we drank the local sugar cane alcohol 'aguardiente' (like weak sambuca) served warm with cinnamon.

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The next morning we were going rapelling so got into our mucky clothes ready for a 50m decline into the La Romera cave. 6 of us got into the back of a small jeep and endured the hour long drive to the cave location - remember roads are pot-holed dirt tracks here; the drive was painful. We all got into our harnesses and one by one abseiled down into the cave. After the cannoning the other week I felt like a bit of a pro, jumping down most of it and really enjoying it. Ollie went smoothly too, however one of the guys just couldn't get the hang of it and basically ended up upside down, lying sideways on the rock face, infact any position that you can't actually absail in. We walked for an hour or so in the cave that was actually more of a huge cavern once you were down, saw a family of bats sleeping and got really, really muddy. As I was walking through the cave the guide told us it had only one entrance and exit, (the way we entered) they used to chuck unfaithful females in the cave as punishment. Nice. Never the mans fault is it?!? This is when it occurred to me - how the hell do we get out. He said climb, I laughed "no really- how we get out?". Straight-faced "climb" he repeated. I learnt there was a small pulley system, but people had to climb out first to use it. Ollie volunteered to be one of the first to climb out unaided to help with the pulley. "Crap", I thought, we're doomed to live in cave, but fair play to him he lived up to his monkey man name and shot up the 50m cliff like Spiderman on a sugar rush. The last guy was the one who couldn't absail, he can't climb either. It was taking an average of 10mins to get up, 40min in he was hanging half way up saying he couldn’t feel his arms and the guys on the pulley couldn't lift him without his help. I couldn't do anything but laugh, I know, tempting fate, cos I'd not had my go yet, but it was seeing his dead weight dangling and the guys sweating and swearing on the pulley that had me in stitches. When it came to my go I think the pulley boys had a bit of a system going cos as soon as the guide said 'ready' I found myself launched halfway up the cliff in some kind of cartoon reverse bungee, telling them to slow down while I tried to avoid oncoming branches. I made the top in less than 2min.

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We stopped at Angel Step on the way back that afternoon. It was pouring with rain as we followed a small path on top of a ridge between two valleys. As we came to the highest point the path narrows to only 30cm with a 150m sheer drop into a river one side and a 250m sheer drop the other. The guide told us to walk over it on the right, as the left was overhanging and unstable. I looked at it, turned round, and refused to walk over it. If I’m not jumping off it, or abseilling off it, hell, if I've not got a rope attached to me I'm taking no chances.

The next day I realised I must have done some climbing when I had to get Ollie to help me get dressed cos I couldn't lift my arms above my head.

Posted by dee d 11:29 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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