On the approach into Cuidad Bolivar, the highway crosses over the Orinoco River on what is currently the only bridge spanning the river in the entire country. The Orinoco is one of the mighty rivers of the world and the second largest, after the Amazon, in South America. As we crossed over the bridge we could see that the river was flowing at nearly full capacity thanks to the rainy season. It also meant that our trip to Parque Nacional Canaima and Angel Falls should be rewarded with views of tons of water running off the top of Auyantepui.
We have found that there are no actual campgrounds in Venezuela that are set up for travelers like us with a vehicle with living quarters, so we have started looking for posadas, hotels and even gas stations that have large parking areas that are open to us. Here we were looking for a posada that our Lonely Planet guide indicated had large grounds for camping and also ran a tour company to the falls. This way we could also have a secure place to park the Fuso while we were in the park. After driving through town from one end to the other without finding the posada, we stopped at a restaurant to ask if they would call to get directions for us. To our surprise, the owner said that we were only a few minutes away and that he would come to the restaurant to lead us to his grounds.
The owner, Pieter, arrived and we followed behind him as he lead us off the highway and down so many side streets that we realized that there was really no way that we could have found Posada La Casita without him. His grounds were very attractive and there was plenty of room for us to set up camp. Even better, there was a swimming pool where we could cool off from the heat and high humidity! That evening we made our arrangements to travel to the park for three days to visit the falls.
July 27 - 29
Angel Falls is the tallest waterfall in the world at 979 meters (3,230 feet) and has an uninterrupted drop of 807 meters (2,663 feet), 16 times the height of Niagara Falls. It spills off of one of the largest tepuis, Auyantepui, (which means "Mountain of the God of Evil" in the Pemon language. (Tepuis are mountains coming pretty much straight out of the ground and having flat tops). The waterfall is not named, as one might expect, after a divine creature, but after an American bush pilot, Jimmy Angel, who landed on top of Auyantepui in 1937 in his 4-seater airplane in search of gold. His plane stuck fast in the marshy ground and he was unable to take off. Angel, his wife and two companions hiked for 11 days to get off the tepui. The plane was recovered many years later, restored and is now on display at the airport in Ciudad Bolivar.
The waterfall is located in Parque Nacional Canaima and the only way to get to Canaima is to fly. We arrived on a small 6-seater plane and our first view of the park was a fly-by of the SIX waterfalls that flow into the lagoon at the foot of the village of Canaima. Our pilot then made a sharp turn and, rather than land on the paved runway, landed on the dirt strip that ran along its length. Very exciting.
After we checked into our lodging and had lunch, we followed our guide down to the water for a boat trip across the lagoon in front of the falls. The boat was actually a long dugout canoe carved from a single tree that could easily carry 15 people. As we passed the base of the falls, we could feel the spray from the tremendous amount of water being pushed over the top.
Landing across the lagoon, we began a hike to another waterfall called Salto El Sapo (salto means waterfall). At the base of the waterfall we were able to take a swim which was quite refreshing after our hike. After the swim, we set off to hike around the backside of the waterfall. We had been warned that we would be drenched by the time we were done and that was no lie. As we approached the waterfall from the side, the trail wound back behind the curtain of water coming down. At first there were only trickles but soon we were under the full assault from the waterfall. The amount of water was tremendous and the amount of wind that it generated behind felt like a hurricane. Don was warned by the guide to wear a hat to cover his face so his contacts wouldn't get accidentally washed out. It was that strong. The other thing that it made me think of was a firestorm. The water was swirling so much that it really looked alive. We walked all the way through the falls and then back again, 100 meters each way.
The next morning we boarded another dugout for the trip up the Rio Carrao toward Angel Falls. The trip is a long one, and is broken up by the need to hike a 30 minute section where there are rapids that can't be run with tourists in the boat and a short stop at another waterfall for a swim. Other than that, it is a 5 hour trip in the boat, but the scenery is magnificent, passing tepuis with waterfalls running off of them. The other exciting thing about the trip are the rapids that the tourists do get to run. They aren't big, but the waves that they generate do sometimes come over the sides of the dugout and inundate the passengers. It was a long, fun, wet ride.
Immediately after arriving, lunch was served and afterward we set off to hike to a different viewpoint, higher up the tepui. Of course as luck would also have it, it started to rain immediately after we began. Oh well, it is the rainy season. After we took the boat across the river, we started hiking to the viewpoint. We had to cross another smaller river by foot and we did so by linking hands (there were 12 of us) and crossing together. The water was fast and we had to step across and around lots of rocks, but we all made it across without falling. Then it was across, in this case, literal rain forest, stepping over rocks and tree branches and trying to avoid the increasingly larger puddles. Very quickly our feet were soaked and sloshing around in our Keens. The Keens were great for the uneven terrain and I don't know that any other footwear would have worked out as well. But the wetness took its toll and we very quickly developed blisters. But we slogged on because we were there and we wanted to see the waterfall. It was a tough hike but eventually we reached the mirador (viewpoint). The waterfall is even more magnificent the closer you get. It was, again, partially shrouded in clouds, but we decided to wait to see if it would clear up. We sat in the spray and the wind that the waterfall generated and just experienced it. Finally we decided we needed to head back down before it got dark. Just as we reached an earlier, smaller viewpoint, the clouds opened up and we could see the top of the falls, yeah!
In the morning we woke to a clear view of the falls, but we could see that the water level had dropped during the night as there were only three ribbons of water plunging off the falls whereas yesterday we could see four. Then the clouds descended and obscured our view.
The boat ride back to Canaima was a blast. We started our running through several sets of rapids at high speed, sending spray back into the boat and splashing all of us. One of our fellow travelers compared the ride to an "E Ticket ride", referring to the old Disney ticket rating system where an "E" ticket was the best. Although the clouds covered most of the tepuis this morning, the views were stunning.