From Cuidad Bolivar we took an early morning flight to Canaima, a remote town near the Angel Falls, only reachable by a 25 minute flight or a 5 day hike through the jungle. Flight it is then.
At the airport I was given everyone’s tickets, and strode off through security. Unexpectedly no-one followed and I was left waiting by the x-ray machine calling across the small airport at everyone to come through. All this distracted nicely from the Leatherman knife I’d forgotten to remove from my daypack and the bored looking lady on the x-ray machine missed it, or quite possibly just didn’t care.
The flight was uneventful apart from getting our first glimpse of a tepuy, the Spanish word for the table top mountains made famous by films such as The Lost World.
Canaima is a sleepy hamlet with a very little to do but enjoy the sweeping arc of a beach bordered by a large waterfall. The lagoon is warm and confusingly beer-coloured which gave everyone a nice looking tan through the clear waters.
The next morning, following some particularly awful meals provided by the hotel we took an unsteady boat trip out to the island of Anatoly to see some more waterfalls, but the recent lack of rain led to them being a little underwhelming. The highlight was really the swim in a lake, where the hot and cold patches were only a few feet in diameter, meaning you could have a lukewarm head, quite hot body and freezing legs, which would then all change on the next stroke. Hot and cold all over we then walked behind a waterfall and limited ourselves to cold all over, but it was worth it for the photos we managed to get.
Another terrible meal and a few drinks later I sat outside chatting to a couple of people until 1am, until we wandered back into the hotel to walk in on the latter stages of a game of strip poker and people heading skinny dipping. Remembering the cold water we left them to it and got a few hours sleep, which turned out to be unnecessary.
Returning to Canaima airport extremely early in the morning to board a plane to fly past Angel Falls, the pilot advised us to wait until the afternoon as the weather was too overcast. We walked back to the beach and sat/lay about until midday passed. On our next attempt the weather looked equally overcast and the pilot again suggested waiting until the next day. This wasn’t really an option so we stood about wondering what to do until a chap with a crazy glint in his eye offered to take us over the falls, but couldn’t guarantee we’d see much. I accepted and 4 others jumped in the plane. As we took off down the runway it was obvious that peer pressure had convinced the other pilots to give it a go as well and everyone was boarding the 5-seater planes.
Our crazy pilot gave us the best ride, flying most of the way there skimming just above the water, below the tops of the trees. Once we got to the falls the weather opened up and he continued the crazy streak flying closer to the water dropping 800m down the side of Auyantepui, or the Devil’s Mountain, than any of the other planes.
Whilst our pilot was exceptional around the falls, he wasn’t much cop when it got to flying us back to Ciudad Bolivar and as the clouds descended he got thoroughly lost, circling round and round looking for landmarks and worriedly tapping the fuel gauges. After half an hour of scaring us he sat back, ate an orange and finally put his glasses on, which strangely suddenly meant he knew the way home.
Arriving back at the airport we had a quick look at Jimmy Angel’s plane, the bush explorer after whom the falls are named, then returned to the campsite.
Whilst the others relaxed, 8 of us had to quickly repack as we were to leave the main tour and board an overnight bus to a small town called Santa Ana before beginning our assault on Mount Roraima.
The bus had very comfortable seats but the air conditioning was turned down to an uncomfortably low 19C, meaning the toilet stops were a welcome chance to warm up in the night air.
Helen didn’t bring any warm clothes so spent the entire 10 hour trip wrapped up in my coat on my lap whilst I shivered at the extremities. More annoying was the repeated security stops where armed soldiers would board the train and demand to see everyone’s identification.