Cruising with a Difference
Dugout Canoe Cruise
on Venezuelan Riversby Roger MarshallFew adventures can be so awe inspiring as those that have a natural backdrop to set the stage, and our trip by river to Angel Falls was no exception.
Early one morning we left Bahia Redonda Marina by taxi for the Puerto la Cruz bus terminal, where we caught a luxury bus to the town of Ciudad Bolivar. The bus trip was a four-hour drive over interesting terrain. The approach to Ciudad Bolivar was impressive, as we crossed the Orinoco River via the Angostura bridge - at 1.7 kilometers, the longest single-span bridge we have ever been on. The Orinoco is the largest river in Venezuela, and the second largest in South America after the Amazon, and at the time of our visit was flowing strongly.
Although Ciudad Bolivar is an old town with an historical centre that is currently being renovated, we did not find it of much interest and could have happily given it a miss. We spent the night there and the following morning caught a flight in a five-seater aircraft for the camp near the banks of the Laguna de Canaima, where we spent the balance of the day. The camp, located in Canaima National Park, is managed by the local Kamaracotas Indian community whom we found to be very friendly and helpful.
Canaima is a lovely spot, situated on a natural lagoon at the base of several waterfalls, or saltos as they are called in Spanish. It is a truly peaceful and tranquil location where we could have gladly spent much more time. In the afternoon we took a dugout canoe trip along the base of the falls to the other side of the lagoon, and hiked half an hour to the Salto el Sapo. A walk under the falling water was exhilarating. That night we had a good meal at the Wey Tepuy Posada in the Canaima camp in the company of the other visitors who would be accompanying us up river. Many of our fellow travellers were Polish, in fact we were the only native English speakers on this particular tour, though most of the others spoke English.
The following morning we boarded a motorized dugout canoe at Puerto Ucaima for our journey up river to Angel Falls. This five-hour voyage was the highlight of the entire adventure. The river Carrao was in full spate, and the rapids were turbulent and exciting to traverse. A switchback ride at an amusement park had nothing on this! The skill of the crew was masterly and whilst we were on an adrenaline high for a good part of the journey at no time did we feel in mortal danger.
Our journey was marked by the vastness of the rainforests on either side of the river. The variety of spectacular trees and vegetation was awe-inspiring. The water became more turbulent when we left the Carrao and proceeded up a tributary, the Rio Churun, to Angel Falls, or Churun Meru as it is known by the local Indian community. We passed below huge cliffs with sheer drops of thousands of feet. The landscape on the top of these sheer precipices, called tepuys, is flat. Angel Falls starts on top of the largest of these table mountains, Auyan Tepuy.
We encountered the odd fisherman en route, but no other sign of human habitation until we got to our next camp. The vastness of Canaima National Park, which covers seven and a half million acres of the rainforests known as the "lungs of the world", was mind-boggling.
By dugout, we gained a noteworthy 38 metres of altitude and traversed about 20 different rapids from our point of departure. How the outboard motor didn't get damaged is a mystery, but there was never a hint of the motor hitting the bottom. We arrived at the Angel Falls camp of Raton in mid-afternoon and no sooner had we arrived than it started to rain. We did however manage to get a good view of the falls before the rain started and then again the following morning, with the sunlight emphasizing the starkness of the rocks and foliage. Some of the group hiked to the base of the falls, but due to sore backs and knees we decided to remain in camp. That night we dined on chicken barbecued Indian-style on sticks, and spent the night in hammocks. There were 20 tourists and about ten tour staff in the one enclosure. Despite the odd fart and snore during the night, we slept surprisingly well. Getting up to "visit the little room" needed quite a lot of skill in the pitch darkness, but we managed. A flashlight would have helped.
The following morning after breakfast we commenced the return trip on a river that had risen from the rains of the previous day. The voyage back was even more exhilarating than the trip up, and a lot faster. We were treated to the sight of a pair of macaws flying along the river with us, and a fish eagle similar to those found in Africa.
We arrived back at the Canaima camp around lunchtime and after a meal left for the return flight to Ciudad Bolivar (for an additional fee it is possible to arrange with the pilot to fly back via the falls) and ultimately Puerto la Cruz.
Four very memorable days were well worth the cost of about US$275 per person, plus some extra for meals the first day in Ciudad Bolivar and a few taxes in the park. The only unpleasant part as far as we were concerned was the no-see-ums, which are ever-present in the tropics and leave their itching sting for days to come. If you're considering going on this adventure, a good insect repellent, plus a cushion and a flashlight, will enhance your enjoyment. We booked our trip through Jaime Escribens who operates from Bahia Redonda Marina and were very happy with our choice. Most yachties use Jaime's service, but it is possible to arrange other more personal and expensive tours.
Roger Marshall is cruising the Caribbean aboard S/Y Infinity.
Copyright© 2004 Compass Publishing