Monday, October 22, 2007

Angel Falls, Venezuela October 2007
Back to RAFT after a 3+ week family visit to Canada. With so many people we wanted to see, and others who wanted to see us, we were very busy. It was very enjoyable but we were happy to return to our quieter life on board. Our taxi driver, Miguel, was waiting for us at the Caracas airport at 0600 am and drove us to the Rodovias Terminal, to catch the next bus to Cumina. Being a weekday, there was much more traffic on both the run from the airport to the bus station, and along the road to Cumina. As a result we did not get back to the marina until 9 pm.
However, Mary and George from Avalon V were in the marina. They had opened RAFT’s hatches to air for us, and left cold beer in a cooler bag for our return. Boater friends are so fantastic!! RAFT had faired well in the marina while we were away. One dead cockroach, but no other obvious problems or creatures. Not sure if it was the ant bait, the boric acid or the Baygon spray, but one of these worked. Since we were planning to take off on land travels now, we "camped" out on board, not starting the fridge, or taking on food.
We visited the dentist, and both had our teeth cleaned and checked. This time the dentist had water. We had made appointments to see her before our trip home, but she was unable to do the cleaning due to "no agua", a common problem in Cumina. Ross has one cavity and will get it attended to when we come back from our land travel. Cost of check up and cleaning 95,000 B each (about $25).
Also in the marina were Pat and Miriam on Rhiannon 3. We were pleased to find out that they were in the process of booking a trip to Angel Falls, and we could go along with them. They had made the arrangements with Walter (speaks great English) from Sapito Tours (representatives of Bernal Tours). This company had been recommended to us from other boaters. Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world and we wouldn’t want to be this close and miss it.
We left Cumina on the 0700 Caribe Express bus for Cuidad Bolivar. (35,000B each) The trip went via PLC and then south through the oil fields around Le Tigre, and across the large suspension bridge over the Oronoco River. Being Sunday, the trip was fast, no traffic or construction, and we arrived in Cuidad Bolivar by 1 pm. Walter picked us up, helped us with a couple of errands and then took us to the airport where his office is. We had hoped to stay in Posada Don Carlos, but apparently it was full, so we stayed in Hotel Valentina, a nice clean hotel, quite close to the airport but a little expensive for cheap travelers like us. (115,000B)
After settling in at the hotel, we went for a tour of the town, walking down to the waterfront, seeing the bridge from the land side, and walked up to the church. Not much was open, no restaurants or stores. In fact things were very quiet. This was no surprise, we had been warned that if we arrived on a Sunday, nothing would be open. We took a taxi back to the hotel, getting the driver to stop at a local bar to get some cold beer, to go with our snacks we had brought with us.

Pictures: Suspension Bridge over Rio Oronoco, Inside the church in Cuidad Bolivar, Our Cessna at the airport, Bev, Miriam and Ross in Cessna, Views from plane, Five waterfalls across from Bernal Base Camp

Next morning, bright and early the taxi picked us up to take us to the airport (0700) to catch our flight to Canaima. Angel Falls is only accessible by air, there are no roads to the area. Our pilot ushered us onto the 5 passenger Cessna plane. Miriam and Bev were seated in the back, Ross in the middle, and Pat took the copilot seat. This was a first for all but Ross, who had flown in a small plane before. The views were magnificent, flying just under the clouds at 5000 ft, looking down on the rivers, trails, and one mining operation.
Once we arrived in Canaima, we were met by Jose, for the trip across the lagoon to the Brenel camp. Passing by five waterfalls on the way to the base camp in the motorized dugout canoe type boat, was our first taste of what was to come. At the Base Camp, we chose our hammock for the night and had lunch, before going on our afternoon hike to Saputo Falls. The most thrilling part of the trip was the passage under the falls. At times it was like a hurricane, incredible water shower, and noisy!! No trip like this would ever be allowed in Canada or the US.
Pictures: All of us in the motorized dugout canoe, Bev choosing her hammock, Bev on hike to waterfalls, Behind/under the falls, Bev getting shower on top of falls -- Pat watching, Rainbow over Saputo Falls

We hiked to the top of the falls, had a swim and then got to do the under the falls passage a second time…just as thrilling.
We ate well, and as darkness fell, we moved into our hammocks for the night. The hammocks were large and comfortable, each equipped with mosquito netting. It was cool that evening, and we were happy to have our sleeping bags with us. The camp does have blankets, but you have to ask for them.
Tuesday morning, and we are waiting for another group to arrive by plane, before we could start our river trip. The fortunate part of this, was that we got a truck ride to Ucaima, instead having to walk. Before we left the base camp, we had pared down our luggage, only bringing what we needed for the night, and packing it all in "dry bags". Although the boat operators, do cover the luggage with tarps, we had been forewarned that this keeps the bags dry from above only. The boat's bilge gets full of water, and things still get wet.
The boat ride up the river was fantastic. For 4.5 hours our driver, Joel, who is only sixteen, had to weave his way up the river, dodging rocks, racing up rapids, lifting the 48 hp motor to clear rocks. The bowsman had a paddle to help steer, and at times had to shove the boat off the shore or large rocks. The trip takes its toll on propellers, and if they damage 3, the tour loses money. When you looked back at Joel, you could see the concentration and determination on his face. He knew his job and he did it very well. Lunch was delivered on the boat ride, airplane style, ham and cheese sandwiches and cookies on a Styrofoam tray, Pepsi poured from a large bottle and passed forward.
When we reached the Angel Falls tributary, the boat discharged us on the shore at the edge of the jungle. Looking up we could see Angel Falls. We walked uphill through the jungle for about an hour, stopping first at the viewpoint, and then on to the base of the falls and the swimming pool. The rocks here were very slippery and the water quite cool, but Bev still went in for a dip into the pool. After all we are at Angel Falls!! We didn’t stay too long, as we were concerned about getting out of the jungle before dark. The sun was setting as we got to our pickup point, and it was getting dark by the time the canoe came to get us to take us to the camp across the river on Raton Island. Just a note about the jungle hike: trail is not really groomed, worn paths with lots of roots and rocks to watch out for and not to steep. We understand in the rainy season, the pool is overflowing so swimming is not allowed, also in the dry season, the falls are just a trickle and there is virtually no pool to swim in and the boats have difficulty maneuvering the river. We seemed to have timed our trip perfectly.
A great roast chicken dinner was prepared for us, and then it was off to bed in our hammocks, as the generator was running out of gas….lights out by 8pm or when the generator runs out of gas whichever comes first. We were sharing the camp with a group that was on a 16-day tour of Venezuela, about 16 in total. Add our 10 and it was a full camp, the hammocks were slung quite close so occasionally you did swing into your neighbour. This had a knock on effect similar to the little chrome ball desk ornaments that swing back and forth – thank you Sir Issac Newton. Blankets were provided, but we still used our sleeping bags, the night was cool.
As we awoke, the view of the falls was obscured by clouds/mist, but these burned off so we could have another beautiful view of Angel Falls before we left. We had an early departure, and once again Joel did a magnificent job of jostling the canoe down the rapids this time, weaving side to side across the river, much faster this time as the current was pushing us as well as the motor. It was as thrilling as a water park ride, water splashing all around and over us. "You will get wet on this ride!!" We stopped at Happy Pool, for a great shower, better water pressure than most homes have. Great back massage and it is FRESH WATER.
Back in the boat, shove off, and the motor won’t start. Fortunately we are in a quiet section of the river, so we drifted gently for about 40 minutes, as Joel, Jose and the bowsman, all took turns pulling on the recoil rope, adjusting idle/fuel mixture, changing spark plugs to no avail. Another canoe came to our rescue, and his driver tried his muscle and mechanical skill. Still would not start. Fortunately for us, the second canoe had a backup engine, which as all good boaters would do, he was willing to lend to us, minus its propeller. Joel quickly changed props and got our boat going with the back up motor and we were off and running.
Now we were running late for our flight. To save time, we were let off above the Sapo Hacha (hatchet falls) directly opposite the camp, and hurried down. As soon as we arrived, we were informed that the pilot was waiting. We quickly changed, and the camp prepared us a "to go" hot meal and we were rushed to the airport via dugout canoe. Well not really rushed, the guide did stop at the general store to buy cold drinks for us. We did miss the flight. But arrangements were made for the four of us (Pat and Miriam) to go back on two planes, one couple on each.
This time Ross and Bev sat in the second row, Bev directly behind the copilot’s seat and could watch the pilot at work, and land the plane….pretty exciting.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cruising the Golfo & Flight Home -- September 2007

Picture: can you see the Red Ibis?
The next weekend, we went with the group, to the east end of the Golfo, where the Rio Cariacou enters. We dingied, and kayaked up the river, where the scarlet ibis live. These birds are a bright, almost fluorescent scarlet, definitely not camouflaged in the mangrove trees where they roust. Also up the river is a derelict shrimp farm. the ponds where the shrimps used to breed were huge, probably covering a couple hundred of acres.

Pictures: Shrimp farm -- water pumping system, old ponds, Ross gunholing in the river

With Aubrey and Judy (Velada IV) we toured the small town, Muelle de Cariacou, another fishing village, but not so isolated, as it is on the main road between Cumina and Cariacou.
More info about our time in Muelle de Cariaco, and Laguna Grande: see Velada IV's blog http://www.searoom.com/veleda/logsec14/veleda4-log44J.htm

We returned to Medregal on Sunday for a possible final domino game, swim and dinner. Monday we paid our tab, and headed off to Laguna Grande. There Bev received a lesson on how to find scallops, clams and other edible shellfish while snorkeling. Not exactly Bev's favourite food group, but Ross should enjoy the adventure and the dinner afterward. She had a second chance the next day, when Rhiannon joined the group, another set of Canadian boaters we hadn’t seen since Antigua. And it was on that snorkel, Bev got to see her first whale in the wild, swimming and blowing in the Laguna. She was so excited…just wish Ross had been there, and that we had been able to take a photo. The whale had entered the Laguna, and was blowing as it swam back and forth in the main channel. At one time, it surfaced and its back and tail were above the surface. Don’t know what kind of whale it was, but from her vantage point in the dinghy, it looked quite large.
Picture: Beautiful Laguna Grande

It is now time to head to Cumina, to get RAFT settled in the marina, and ready to leave for the trip home to Canada. We were given our "old" slip next to Don Carlos, and reacquainted ourselves with the skipper of the charter fishing boat. Explaining in our broken Spanish, that RAFT would be his neighbour for a month, we tied the attached RAFT’s stern line to Don Carlos.
Picture: Cumina Marina

After completing our tasks and farewell drinks, we off to Caracas. We had purchased our tickets a couple days before our departure date, and walked over to the bus station, early to catch the Rodovias Bus. The lazyboy styled seats are assigned when you buy the ticket, we were on the upper level, and it wasn’t as cold as everyone was prepared for. Most of the countryside is flat, skirting in and away from the coast, on good highways. The bus stopped for lunch at a busy roadside restaurant area. After that we entered the more mountainous area, with deep green valleys, becoming more picturesque as we approached Caracas. We were slightly concerned about dealing with a busy city bus terminal and were pleasantly surprised to find out that Rodovias has its own very clean, modern terminal.
Outside we easily found a taxi to take us to Catia La Mar (100,000B), about a 30 minute very pretty drive, on a freshly paved expressway, with a couple of modern tunnels through the mountains. The driver had to ask directions to find La Parada, the hotel which Louis, the travel agent had booked for us. They had our reservation, and the young man on the front desk spoke excellent English, having gone to school in Chicago. Our room was small, but spotless, air-conditioned, and had a large private bath, with modern glass and ceramic shower stall. The cable TV even had about 5 English channels including CNN. Since it was Sunday, the hotel restaurant was closed, but they were willing to drive us to another one, no additional charge. We weren’t hungry, but we did want to see if we could get the Polar Beer cans with the attractive ladies on for our son. Could they direct us to an open liquor store? No problem, their driver would take us there and bring us back. We asked about walking….but they preferred their guest to take the ride, to ensure their safety. The town didn’t look that rough, in fact looked quite nice, but we took the complementary ride anyhow. The hotel staff was quite attentive to all our needs, wake up call and transportation to the airport early the next day, less than 10 min. away. Price, a little higher than expected, 180,000B but we all know that airport hotels get a premium.
Flight home to Toronto, via Houston, no problems. Watch for our return in October.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Playing in the Golfo -- September 2007

After Dean came Tropical Storm Felix. Although only expected to be a tropical storm, we decided to move RAFT into the lee of Guacarapo, not taking any chances. During Dean, the boaters who had remained at Medregal had experienced some heavy west winds and lots of bouncing. And the night before we anticipated Dean’s influence, had been very rocky, the worst it had ever been, claimed the Medregal "regulars".
Guacarapo is a small fishing village about seven miles down the Golfo, and protected from the west by a long sand spit. The village doesn’t offer very much, a few small shops and bars, but it does have "por puesto" access to Cariaco, if you need to get to the larger town. We anchored off the town with about 4 other boats. Being the weekend the locals were enjoying themselves, the children were jumping and swimming off the "town dock", cars were driving the "strip" and the music was thumping. There even was school road race running and all the town’s folk were cheering on the kids.
The next morning birds squawking were disturbing our morning coffee. Through the binoculars we ascertained that a large flock of green parrots were arguing in the trees on the east side of the bay. We explored further by dinghy. These were large green parrots, more than we had seen on our parrot expeditions in Dominica and Grenada.
Pictures: Boat Parade -- Festival of the Virgin Valle

The first weekend in September is the festival of the Virgin del Valle. The small town just to the east of us, Los Cachicatos, was written up in the cruising guide as having a big celebration. We went down by dinghy, early in the weekend to check out the venue, and to find a place to land the dinghy, in anticipation of returning later. The town people had strung streamers, set up a couple of band stages, and decorated their homes with paper and plastic flowers. Unfortunately for 3 of the 4 festival days, there was just too much wind and rain in the afternoon to dinghy down and check it out. The final day, Sunday, was beautiful, warm and calm, but we wasted the opportunity enjoying the Medregal’s pool. We did see the fishing boats, decorated with balloons and streamers, loaded with partygoers, many carrying their own Virgin statue, heading down to the village. Even a large Garda Coasta boat was decorated and participating in the boat parade.
By mid September a new group of boaters had shown up in the Golfo. We had sailed with many of this group in the Bahamas and Dominican Republic and hadn’t seen them since spring of 2006. As veterans of the Golfo anchorages and Medregal Village we became tour guides.

Pictures: Ross sitting on cooler on bus, entrance to caves, Bev and stalagtite/mite, Our guide, guide holding fledging too fat to fly, group at end of cave

We arranged to have a bus trip to the caves in Caripe, recognized as some of the largest caves in the world. In the caves live the local guarcharo birds, actually about 18,000 of these nocturnal birds, which squawk as the guide's lantern slightly lit up the caves. The stalactites and stalagmites were fantastic. Plus the 3 hour trip each way through the mountainous countryside was very enjoyable. Another highlight of the trip was the fresh strawberries and cream in Caripe.
Pictures: our group, Linda (Sandcastle) & Paul (Vixon) behind guide, Bev and Ross, Jeanie & Bob (Island Dreamin') Denise (Vixon) Hutch (Sandcastle) Judy& Aubrey (Velada IV), Sephanie (Stephanielyn)
For a more descriptive detail of our day’s adventure check out Valeda IV’s site http://searoom.com/veleda/logsec14/veleda4-log44J.htm