Monday, November 05, 2007

Trek to Roraima October 2007
Walter met us at the airport, and confirmed to us that the bus to Santa Elena was an all night bus. While on the Angel Falls trip, we met a couple of younger guys who were backpacking/touring South America on the cheap. They had stayed in Santa Elena, and filled us in on where to stay, eat, get money changed. Etc. Also, the tour group that we shared the Angel Falls camp with, had done Roraima and loved it Best part was they didn’t look anymore fit than us. We made our decision, we had decided to head south to Santa Elena and give Roraima a go!!
We had farewell drinks with Pat and Miriam in their hotel (Valentina again) and then took a cab to the bus station. Of all the companies and times, we chose Occidental, 7:45pm to Santa Elena, thinking that would get us in early in the morning and we could figure things out from there. This trip was quite different. We were still in a Buscama, 2 storey edition, with lazyboy styled chairs, but no assigned seats. We chose to sit right above the stairs, no one directly in front of us to give us more leg room for the night. As expected it was cold, but we had long sleeved shirts, sweat shirts, long pants….and we still froze. Wish we hadn’t booked our sleeping bags in the luggage compartment. We got underway by :00pm and the first couple of hours were uneventful. However just south of Port Ordez, the bus was stopped by the Gardia National and all the passengers were required to get off the bus, and make two lines, male and female. Our passports were checked, and we were allowed back on the bus. At least 3 or 4 more times during the night the bus was stopped, soldiers with guns boarded the bus, sometimes checking passports, other times just looking at the passengers. Finally, about dawn, just north of Santa Elena, again we were stopped, and ordered off the bus. This time we had to claim our luggage and all bags were searched. At least this time, the Gardia National did give Bev a cup of coffee.
We were told that the GN was searching for illegal drugs and aliens trying to get into Brazil, and apparently in the past week, there were arrests made from these bus searches. We obviously had nothing to hide, but all of this military presence can be uncomfortable…or perhaps it should make us feel safer…but it didn’t.
We arrived in Santa Elena bus station and took a cab to Hotel Michele, which our backpacker friends said was the headquarters for the backpackers as well as the cheapest hotel in town, 30,000B for a clean double room (about $7). When we started to find out if there was a Roraima trip happening, this is when things bogged down. Apparently we were the only 2 people in town, at this time, who wanted to make the trek, and to be affordable the guides want 4 or more.
We figured we would stay in Santa Elena a couple of days, see if a group could be put together, and if not…c’est la vie…and we would head back to Cumina. Our backpacker friends had told us about the KILO restaurant, where you can get a great meal, cheap and we were hungry. The KILO restaurant is a large buffet, not all you can eat, instead they weigh your plate and you pay by the Kilo. Our lunch/dinner cost less than 20,000B ($5) for both of us, and we ate well. After eating, we returned to the hotel for a nap. We hadn’t gotten much sleep on the bus. We were sitting out in front of the hotel having a beer, about 5pm when one of the guides came to us with a proposition. He would agree to guide just the two of us, for a minor increase in price (100,000B more per person -- $50 for both of us).. This price was still very much in line with what we expected to pay, (1.6million B) and the B exchange rate was getting better each time we changed money. We had very little time to make up our mind, as this deal meant leaving the next morning. We agreed and starting packing for the trip. We would leave our extra stuff at Hotel Michele, and carry the bare minimum for the six day trip.
Day 1 – Friday
We were up early to go to the Indian market to buy fruits and treats for the trip. About 0930 we jumped into the 4 wheel drive vehicle for the 70km trip to the Indian Village (San Franciso)– Jaime’s, (our guide, pronounced Himy) hometown. From there we were off on the dirt road that winds its way to the Trek’s starting point. We ate a cold lunch (sandwiches) before setting off about noon. The sand path led up and down through the grasslands over a couple small streams. At the first stream Jaime insisted that we stop, wash our faces and ask Nature’s permission to enter, and provide us with a safe trip. This portion of the trail was 12 kms, relatively easy except for one very large uphill. We arrived at Rio Tek camp in the expected 4 hours.
We washed in the stream, while our dinner was made and our tent was set up. Jaime, and Alex (our porter) did all the work. With no power at the camp, once dinner was over, it was off to sleep on the ground in a tent….exactly what we wanted to get away from when we started boating. However we were comfortable, tired, and not cold at all. There was a beautiful full moon to compliment the night.
Day 2 – Saturday
Of course, we were up at dawn, and Jaime had breakfast of eggs and Harina de Mais Tosedos (cornmeal porridge – which we liked) ready for us. We were off on the trail by 0730, but only had a short trek to the second river, Kukenan, where we went for a swim, before continuing on. We walked past a pretty Catholic Church on top of a hill. A fantastic view point, and it can be seen for miles, only problem is very few people live in the area, so it is only used about once a year…what a waste. We continued on the path through the Sabana, and as we progressed the trail became more rocky and rough. We were quite tired by the time we made it to the Base camp about 2 pm. While we soaked our feet in the cold mountain stream, Jaime made us soup and tea…exactly what we needed. We had made it to the base of Roraima, and were camping under the shear cliff face.
After supper, we stayed up long enough to see if the Guacharo birds would come out of the caves at dusk. Unfortunately, no such luck, so it was off cheerfully to bed, knowing tomorrow would be our day to ascend Roraima !!
Day 3 – Sunday
We started up the "golden walk", slowly ascending Roraima from the Base Camp at 1870 m to the top at 2700 m in 2.5 km. We had to work our way across the jungle, to a crack, climbing up rock rubble. Unfortunately it is not all up, there were quite a few down legs, necessary to get over to the crack trail that led up. Every time you gave up elevation, it hurt, because you knew you would have to reclaim the loss. When the trail became tough, Jaime started telling us Indian folk stories, designed to take our mind off our hurting muscles and pass the time. They did work, but we also knew what the purpose of the stories was. We rested at the first lookout point, and the second lookout point. At this time, we wondered how many more lookout points we had to endure….By 1130 we were on top, and Jaime welcomed us to Roraima !! We relaxed, enjoyed the view and our accomplishment.
Roraima is not flat. It has no trees, only lots of large and small black rocks….very desolate looking. Almost a disappointment at first, until you start looking at what Roraima does have. She has many varieties of miniature flowering plants, indigenous tiny black frogs, veins of fully formed quartz hexagonal crystals. And it is windy and cold!! After a short break, we were off to our campsite…..Jaime promised us we would be sleeping in a cave. It took about another 40 minutes to walk to our side, called the Principle. Apparently there are 12 camping sites, the largest one accommodating 40 people. Each site is nestled under a rock ledge, giving rain and wind protection.
We said goodbye to Alex who was walking back to the village that day. He had brought all the foodstuffs up to the top of Roraima, and it was up to us to eat it all, or Jaime would have to carry it. There was lots of work for porters this week on Roraima . There were three large groups coming in, a film documentary crew from Caracas, a group from the National Geographic, plus a Japanese group which were being helicoptered up and were going to spend eleven days ontop. The Japanese group even had a generator brought up, and rappelling/ledge climbing professional and equipment ready for them. The porters were going up and down as fast as they could, taking advantage of this opportunity to make money. It appeared that only the very old and very young were left in the village, everyone else was packing up the trail.
After we made camp, and relaxed, we were off exploring the summit. First stop, the Jacuzzis for a swim. Erratic pools of clear water whose bottoms were littered with huge quartz crystals. Although the water was warmer than the mountain stream at the base camp, it wasn’t warm enough to entice us to go in. Only Jaime went in. We were using our raincoats to break the wind, and weren’t about to get wet. We slept well that night, in our tent, sheltered by our rock ledge.
Day 4 – Monday
We told Jaime, "no long hikes today" our old bodies needed to recoup after the past 3 days hiking. Jaime had mentioned going to the triple point, an 18 km hike to the geographic border of Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela. We didn’t realize that all 3 countries share this tepuis mountain, but weren’t going to take on an all day hike to see the monument. Instead Jaime took us to the canyon where the Guacharo birds live. Here we saw the birds, and heard their screaming which reminded us of our earlier adventure to Caripe. Then he took us into one of the caves where the Indians had found gold dust, and diamonds. Of course, none can be found, and if they were, nothing can be taken from the mountain.
After lunch and a rest, Jaime insisted we climb to the highest point of Roraima, the roof of the maverick, which was very close to our campsite. Since we had come this far, we had to agree to go to the summit, and we were glad we did. After supper, we snuggled into our tent, and we were glad to be protected by our ledge, as nature put on a thunder/lightening and rain show all night.
Day 5 – Tuesday
We had been warned that Day 5 is the toughest day, even though most of it is down hill. We were expected to travel from the summit right back to Rio Tek (the distance that we had taken 2 days on the way up), and going down on the steep, rocky parts and the slippery muddy parts is difficult. Plus it had rained overnight, and the streams would be fuller. One advantage of the rain, the previous night, was the waterfalls off of the next tepuis, Kukenan were revitalized. One of Kukenan’s waterfalls is the second highest in Venezuela, but only exists after a rainfall.
Without Alexis, we had a slower start, not getting underway until 0800. The going down was tough. You had to be careful for every step, watching the rocks, roots, or slippery mud. Bev fell once, and fortunately only bruised her right knee. We were very tired when we got to the Base camp, fortunately before it really started to rain. After a short rest and lunch, we were on our way, across the Sabana. But the trail continually goes up and down, over hills and down to streams. At what had been our previous lunch spot, Bev laid on the warm rock, not wanting to go on, but Jaime once again insisted we must keep up the pace, as rain was once more approaching us. We joined a group of porters huddled in the shelter at the Rio Kukenan as the rain pelted.
The Rio Kukenan can be dangerous. During rain, it can flood quickly, and be impossible to cross. The previous year a porter was killed when a flash flood washed him down the river while trying to cross. Since our supper meal had been left at Rio Tek on the way up, we had to get across the Kukenan before it rose, or we would have no supper. Jaime helped us across the rising river, it wasn’t too high or strong yet. Rain continued to fall all the way to Rio Tek, and the waterfall off Kukenan Tepuis became more impressive. This waterfall feeds the Kukenan River we had just crossed.
Rather than sleep in the rain, on the wet mud, we decided to sleep in the shelter. Just before dinner we had seen 2 hikers leave Rio Tec for the Kukenan campsite, and after dinner 2 more porters had followed them. At dark we could see lights at the church, but we don’t know whether just the porters or all of the hikers couldn’t get across the river. We didn’t hear there were any problems, so guess all were safe.
Day 6 – Wednesday
Our final day on the trek. Jaime made "bakes" and they were excellent. Bev got the recipe, but will have to practise, as Jaime just makes them by feel. The morning was dry, so Ross and Bev took off ahead of Jaime. Jaime, is also the local medicine man, and one of the porters had fallen the day before and sprained his ankle, so Jaime wanted to tend to him before he left.
We knew Jaime was tired, this trip without porters was wearing him out. He had told us at the start that he was 51 years old and had made 386 trips up Roraima . His wife is expecting her 5th child (his 27th or 28th) in the next week. All week he ad continued to call on the walkie-talkie to make sure she was okay. But we were quite surprised that we beat Jaime to the Park office, the official end of the trek. But only by a very few minutes, we had seen him hurrying down the trail trying to catch us.
Jairo (Jaime’s partner in Aponwoa Tours) arrived soon after to take us to Jaime’s village for a great chicken bbq dinner. We can’t complain about the food on this trek…it was excellent, and more that we needed. After lunch we returned to Hotel Michele, and took long showers. We also took all our clothes to the laundry, and were happy to have them back clean later that afternoon (5 kg of very dirty laundry –25000B $6US)
Day 7 – Thursday
We were still very tired when we got up. After packing up our stuff, we headed off to the Panderia for breakfast and to get some snacks for the bus trip home, back to RAFT. Who did we meet there? Jaime!! But this time Bev brought him his drink. We changed some money, checked out of the hotel and went to the bus station to wait. The bus didn’t leave until 630pm, but the bus station was as good as place to wait as anywhere else. We wondered how many stops we would have on the northbound trip.
The Environmental/Park person searched our bags and tagged them. They said this would eliminate the need for the Garda National to do it. We were stopped, just south of Jaime’s village, but only passports were checked. The overnight bus was cold, but this time we kept our sleeping bag, and we both slept reasonably well. We arrived in Porta La Cruz by noon, caught a bus to Cumina and were home on RAFT by 4pm. It had been a great trip, but we were happy to be home.
In case you are interested, and we know some of you are…the trip from Cumina, to Angel Falls, to Santa Elena, to Roraima and back --- 5 million B’s (about $1200) --- Memories -- PRICELESS