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October 2008

We had spent August and September in the U.S. visiting family and were happy to return to Livin the Dream in Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela.  We quickly readied the boat for haul out and a fresh coat of antifouling.  Because of the extensive work we did a year ago in Trinidad at our last haul out, we were able to do this one quickly.  We came out on Tuesday afternoon and were back in the water on Friday morning with two fresh coats of antifouling, new zinc anodes and new grease in our feathering propeller. 

dinghy cover

Last Spring we purchased a new dinghy.  The hot Caribbean sun really shortens the life of the dinghy fabric so we wanted to get a protective cover made.  The canvas workmanship in Puerta la Cruz is good and relatively inexpensive.  While our boat was in the boatyard, our dinghy was fit with a bright red dinghy cover which matches the other canvas on Livin the Dream.

 

Our color-coordinated dinghy cover

As soon as the boat was back in the water, we scheduled a trip to inland Venezuela to visit Angel Falls , the world’s tallest waterfall.  On Sunday morning we took a taxi to the bus terminal to purchase bus tickets to Ciudad Bolivar, about a four hour bus ride from Puerta la Cruz.  The bus was a luxury double-decker, with seats more comfortable than most first class airline sections.  We had been warned that the air conditioners would be frigid, and we weren’t disappointed.  There were TV monitors that showed music videos and the movies Jaws I and Jaws II in Spanish.  We were hoping to improve our Spanish by watching the movies and trying to understand Spanish conversations.

There were several police checkpoints along our bus route.  As we entered into the state of Bolivar, an armed soldier boarded the bus.  He walked down the aisle of the bus asking each passenger to show an ID.  As he turned from one side of the aisle to the other, the AK 47 he had slung over his shoulder stuck right in the face of the passenger.  We presented our passports and the guard searched for the stamps noting our entry.  We first entered Venezuela in early July by boat and our second entry into Venezuela was in early October when we returned by airplane.  U.S. citizens can only be in the country for 90 days without a visa.  The guard located the July and October stamps in Ann’s passport, but he could not find the October entry stamp in John’s passport.  At this point we were both wondering if the airport official had failed to stamp the passport.  The soldier indicated that John needed to leave the bus with him.  John asked several times to show the guard his October stamp.  The guard finally gave the passport back to John and John found the stamp which was located on a page crowded with many other country stamps.  The soldier didn’t look very happy about being “wrong or mistaken” but he pulled the gun out of John’s face and moved along to the next row with his scowl!

We arrived in Ciudad Bolivar and stayed overnight in the historic Posada Don Carlos, a restored colonial mansion built in 1879.  We enjoyed sharing dinner and breakfast family-style with other guests from Italy , Israel , France , and Germany.  During our entire trip, we did not see any other U.S. citizens.

After breakfast in the Posada, we were taken to the Ciudad Bolivar airport.  We took a five-passenger, one-pilot airplane to Canaima, the gateway to Angel Falls.  John had a good view from the co-pilot seat.  After our pilot set the proper course, the pilot comfortably read the daily newspaper on the one hour flight.  Guess we don’t know what the pilots on our commercial airlines do while we are comfortably sequestered in the back. Our flight took us over sparsely populated areas of Venezuela, only passing over one small town.  Canaima is at the edge of wilderness and populated with native Indians supporting the Angel Falls tourist industry.  We have been told there is one road leading into Canaima, but our one and one half hour plane ride saved us a four day drive over unpaved roads.

Falls at Canaima

At the end of the flight to Canaima there is a great view of the Sapo falls and the Canaima lagoon.  Canaima is built around a large freshwater lagoon at the base of six waterfalls.  There is a beautiful white-sand beach and the lagoon water is dark brown stained by the tannin in the water.  We walked around the small village populated with local native Indians.  There is a lot of construction underway and the village school was bustling with activity. This village was more vibrant than many other areas we have seen in Venezuela.

 

Canaima lagoon and water falls from the airplane


Dugout canoe

After lunch, we loaded into one of the many dugout canoes used for transportation.  The canoes are 40 – 45 feet long and built from a single large log.  There are usually 8 – 10 bench seats in the canoe with a cargo area in back.  The canoes are powered by 45 – 75 HP large outboard motors.  The canoe took us across the lagoon and near the base of the 120- foot waterfalls.

 

Dugout canoe

Behind Sapo Falls

 

The canoe landed and we took a short walk to the base of Sapo Falls.  There is a wide rock ledge behind Sapo Falls and we stripped down to our bathing suits to hike to the other side of the falls.  The water was so powerful that wind currents were created by the water which occasionally sent a big gust of wind and water onto the rock ledge walkway.  There are a couple of areas where the wind and water are so powerful that we couldn't see in front of us.  In these places, we looked down at the path and held onto a rope to continue our progress.  The hike and cold water were exhilarating.  On the other side of the falls we hiked above the falls and had a beautiful view of the lagoon, the village of Canaima, and the surrounding country-side.

 

 

Behind Sapo Falls



The next morning we were transported above the falls with the personal baggage we will need for the next couple of days.  A dugout canoe was waiting for us and was already loaded with the food and supplies for two days on the river, an extra outboard engine, and several tanks of gasoline.  Our baggage was loaded into the canoe and a tarp was strapped over all the cargo to try to keep it dry.

There were ten tourists in the canoe. The others were from Canada, Germany, Spain and Britain. The young couple from Canada was excited when they heard from the guide there was going to be a couple from the U.S. on the trip because they had been backpacking throughout South America for the last ten months and had not met one person from the U.S.  It seems people from the U.S. don’t travel as much in South America as others do.


River views

 

With our driver at the 75 HP Yamaha in the back, our tour guide in the front, and a river pilot with a paddle in the bow of the canoe, we started traveling upstream on the wide Carrao River.  There was a spray of water as the powerful outboard pushed us upstream with only 8 inches of freeboard.  The scenery along our route is beautiful.  We saw large table-topped mountains called tepuis in the distance.  These mountains reminded us of the topography of northern Arizona ’s monument valley, except these mountains are covered with vegetation.  Hawks often monitored our progress as we traveled four hours upriver.

 

 

River scenes

leaf cutter antsAt one point we left the canoe and hiked overland for about 30 minutes while our canoe maneuvered through some shallow and strong rapids.  On our walk we encountered a trail of tiny green sails moving across our path.  On closer inspection, we saw the ever-industrious leaf cutter ants busily transporting leaves. We stayed in the canoe for all the remaining rapids on the trip.  The rapids were numerous since our river journey ended about 650 feet higher than the beginning of our journey downriver.  We were grateful for and amazed at the skill and river knowledge of the canoe driver and the river pilot.  Several of the rapids had a rise of at least 6 feet and it was difficult to image how our 45 foot canoe with large outboard, loaded with 13 people and gear would ever climb up the rapids.  The driver and pilot expertly found the correct entry point as we anxiously watched rocks emerging from the water only inches from the canoe.  Since the water was often shallow near these rapids, the driver had to constantly lift the large 75 HP outboard out of the water at just the right distance to clear the shallows while still giving the canoe the power needed to move through the swift current.


Angel falls

 

 

We finally got our first glimpse of Angel Falls as we neared our camp for the night.  We left the canoe and hiked about an hour through dense rain forest to get a closer view of the falls.  The world’s highest waterfall drops a total of 3200 feet (16 times the height of Niagara Falls ) from one of the large, high flat-topped tepuis. The first uninterrupted drop is an impressive 2650 feet, while the lower falls cascade the remaining 600 feet.  We swam in the waters at the base of the lower cascades and continued to gawk at the height and power of the falls.

Our camp for the night was a tin covered shelter with open walls and cement floor.  We slept in hammocks encased in protective mosquito netting strung from the rafters of the shelter.  Dinner was chicken skewered on sticks and barbequed over a wood fire.  There is a small gasoline generator in the woods that provides enough power for us to enjoy lights with our meal.  There is an enclosed area for toilets, but after one visit to the toilet, everyone appears to opt for the woods in lieu of the toilet.

 

 

Angel Falls


Angel Falls in the morning

As bedtime neared, John tried to sleep in the hammock, but could not find a comfortable position.  He climbed out of the hammock and decided to bed down on the table where we ate our dinner.

The camp began to stir as daylight approached.  We could faintly see Angel Falls through the thick mist and clouds as the sun came up.  After a hot breakfast, we got a beautiful view of Angel Falls in the morning sun as the clouds disappeared.  We quickly packed up our gear, unstrung the hammocks and loaded the gear into the canoe for the three-hour downriver trip.  The downriver trip was similar to the log flume rides at amusement parks.  Passengers riding in the front of the canoe got sprayed as the canoe once again expertly rode down through the rapids.


Angel Falls in the morning mist

We began our return trip in a dugout canoe at 7:00 am, boarded an airplane about noon, caught a taxi to the bus terminal, boarded a bus about 3:00 and arrived safely back at the marina about 8:00 pm on the same day.  We’re thinking we could make a new movie: Planes, Canoes and Autobuses.

We spend the next few days provisioning the boat and getting her ready for our next season of cruising.  We left the marina at Puerta La Cruz and sailed about 60 miles north to the island of Tortuga.  Tortuga greeted us with clear aquamarine water and beautiful white sand beaches.   We couldn't wait to jump in the water for a swim as soon as we anchored.  It is wonderful to be back at anchor and enjoy the cool trade-wind breezes.

As the end of October neared, we make an overnight trip further West to the beautiful Islas Los Roques.  We arrived mid-morning and dropped our anchor just behind the protection of a reef and near our friends Susan and Hale on Cayagua.  We had not seen our friends since April in St. Martin and it was a wonderful surprise to spend an evening with them before they sailed north to Puerto Rico the following day.

There are many beautiful anchorages in Los Roques.  From our boat we could see large red starfish and conch in the clear waters.  We enjoyed some great snorkeling, refreshing afternoon swims, and beautiful beach walks.  We also enjoyed several zero dollar days because there is only one place to spend money.

In November, we will be heading to Las Aves, Venezuela and then to the Dutch island of Bonaire where we hope to get our anchor windlass repaired.


Roques anchorage

Beautiful Los Roques anchorage