Friday, February 27, 2009

Ciudad Bolivar, and the hike up Roraima

The early morning ferry ride from Isla de Margarita to Puerto la Cruz

For years Josh has dreamed of visiting the Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall. When the big day finally arrived unfortunately it was financially out of reach. Venezuela has experienced 35% inflation since November 2008 and as a result everything is much more expensive than our guide book quotes. This is amplifide by the complicated exchange rate in Venezuela i.e. foreign currency is worth over twice as much on the black market than it is when using ATMs, credit cards, or official exchange houses. When official exchange rates are used, Venezuela can be more expensive than Europe.

We spent a day in Ciudad Bolivar getting laughed at by tour operators when we told them what we wanted to pay for a tour to visit the falls. Even if we agreed to sleep outside and not to eat the provided meals the prices were still out of reach.

Photos of Ciudad Bolivar

The plane of Jimmy Angel, the American explorer who "discovered" Angel Falls, on display outside the airport, was the closest we were able to get to Angel Falls.

We then boarded a night bus to Santa Elena, a border town in Southern Venezuela, to try our luck at finding a cheap trek up to the Roraima Tepui, a spectacular tabletop mountain located in the largest national park in the world and the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World. We were successful in finding a tour that we could afford, however, there were not enough people to make up the company's minimum group size. We then spent 3 days in the sleepy town of Santa Elena waiting for more travellers to arrive. We were just about to give up and head to Brazil when a group emerged, and after a chaotic battle between competing tour operators we were finally on our way.

It is mandatory to hire a guide to be allowed into the park but most tour companies only offer a full package deal where porters carry all of your gear, set up your tent, cook your meals and even carry along a portable toilet. Luckily we found a poorman's tour package for 4 times less where you pay for transportation to the site (4x4 neccesary) and the required guide, but carry your own gear, cook your own meals and wipe your own bum.

The hike up Roraima (day 1-3)

Our friends Ola and Tomek who were walking a few mintutes ahead of us took this photo of a coral snake near the entrance of our base camp. There are 4 species of deadly poisonous snakes that inhabit Roraima´s surrounding lowlands, but this one is the most deadly. Though not typically aggressive, if it chooses to defend itself you will be dead in 20 minutes. All a good reason to keep a watchful eye on the ground as well as the spectacular scenery. As one of the guides said, ´´Morde Muerde´´

Base Camp

view up the cliff-face of Roraima

our Salto Angel

Photos of the top of Roraima to follow...

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