Trinidad Express / Day 3. Independence Day, Sunday 31st August 2014. We departed Ciudad Bolivar via Cessna Plane for a one-hour flight to Unesco World Heritage Site at Canaima National Park. Canaima is the gateway to Angel Falls and sits on the sandy bank of Rio Carrao. The river water in this lagoon is an impressive, red colour due to iron inclusion in the Jasper Rocks and from tannins. Our hand-picked, Tepuy Lodges where we were accommodated, were nestled on the edge of Canaima Lagoon. These lodges were made from a native Indian design with palm thatched roofs and normally with a hammock for you to laze in front of your room. Canaima is a paradise of its own! The lovely evergreen trees, palms and colourful plants that adorn the premises, produced a cool feeling of contentment. In such a magical place, it was only fitting for us to unfold T&T?s national flag for a group photo of this moment in time on our Independence Day. Here in the park, mighty waterfalls are to be experienced and our expedition team got our first ride on a motorised, dugout canoe in Venezuela. Some of us had been in these canoes when on tour on the Surinamese River in Suriname but none of us got that adrenaline rush until we got-up-close-and- personal to the power of massive waterfalls pounding into Canaima?s Lagoon. After a ten-minute sail, we arrived at Isla Anatoliy where we took a 30-minute hike to Sapo Falls and later Hacha Falls. These two waterfalls are not very tall” each approx 50 metres however, they are very wide and extremely powerful. The many views of plunge pools, lagoons, expansive La Gran Sabana and ancient Tepuis in the backdrop yet peering in front of us, were all liberating. It?s on occasions like these, we are allowed to forget about the unnecessary stresses of the materialist, outside world and simply revel in nature?s freedom. After many photos our guide said,”Okay, let go for a walk behind the falls, where we will exit on the other end of the falls!? As we entered, I heard the sounds of many excited screams from persons electrified by the sheer force of an overflowing skirt of water and strong winds produced behind the falls. It was a thrill which easily reminded us that, we are fortunate to be?”.?alive!? Day 4. Monday 1st Sept. 2014. Today, we left Canaima National Park chasing our dream as we pointed in the direction of Angel Falls. While the day before we were in dugout canoes for ten minutes, arriving at the trail-head to Angel Falls entailed an approx four-hour sail to cover a total 73km up Rio Carrao and Rio Churun. This journey is not for the faint-hearted since many rapids in the rivers must be precisely manoeuvred. One error here and chances are you go overboard being washed down in the rapids! It was amazing to see our boat captain and his assistant calmly navigating these rivers. It?s all local knowledge of the area for there is no GPS onboard. I decided to dub our captain,”Cool Hand Luke!!” As we meandered along rivers, it was a joy to see other boats skimming up and down with various international expedition parties to and from Angel Falls. All parties sporting broad smiles on faces with hands waving as we passed each other. The views along these serpentine rivers were incredible. From open savannah and densely forested vistas to absolute magnificence as we plotted our watery course between numerous Tepuis. Just as I had witnessed when climbing Mt Roriama, all these Tepuis housed natural waterfalls gushing out of vertical edges from their flat-topped summits. As we entered Devil?s Canyon, then rounded one of the bends on the river, there, on the periphery of our eyes, Salto Angel was sighted in its splendour! This waterfall stood majestically by itself as it towered over the thick canopy while standing guard over Devil?s Canyon. With our canoe moored on Isla Raton, it was now time for a one-hour, forested, uphill trek to the base of Angel Falls. Closing in on the falls, our coveted group?s photo was taken at the first vantage point and then it was downhill for a swim in the plunge pool of Salto Angel. Angel Falls did not disappoint. What a spectacle to see as water raged off the summit from almost one km in the sky. By the time the water reached its base, it had turned into mist! The falls looked something like a thick rope hanging over a heavenly rock-face! While by no means was it a challenging adventure to arrive at Salto Angel, there was a tremendous sense of accomplishment in knowing we had experienced another of life?s natural wonders. Our journey to arrive here was most interesting, enjoyable and educational to say the least. That night, we stayed at a campsite along the banks of Rio Churun where we slept in hammocks. For dinner, we indulged in a specially prepared, fireside, roasted chicken and chatted our way into the night as we mingled with adventures for other expedition parties. Close to midnight, a torrential shower began to fall which lasted for almost six hours. It was accompanied with sounds of thunder and lightning to light up the night sky. The likes I never experienced before but fostered a wonderful night?s sleep for this explorer inside a South American Jungle!! Day 5. Tuesday 2nd Sept. 2014. As the rain subsided, we were up a few minutes before dawn with cries from one of the guides,”Look at Salto Angel, it looks like gold with the sunlight raying off the falls and rock face.? When I sighted this incredible image, I said to myself, this must have been El Dorado (City of Gold) that the native Indians spoke about. This looked literally like liquid gold flowing off the falls! A sight I will forever live with! As we embarked on the canoe for our return trip, the rivers were noticeably three metres higher due to heavy, incessant rainfall into the night and early morning. Observantly, while rivers were swollen, rapidly flowing and flooding, they were not muddy brown in colour. Neither were they out of control. In our canoe, I distinctly remembered having a little discussion with John Lum Young from T&T?s Field Naturalists? Club. We were both in agreement that the natural forests were obviously doing their jobs. Unlike what is witnessed here in Trinidad after 30 minutes of rainfall particularly in valleys like Maraval, Diego Martin or Santa Cruz. The gross effects of clearing prized forests have given way to concrete developments and quarrying on mountain slopes thus disturbing the natural flow and absorption of water during heavy rainfall. On returning, what were shallow, rocky rapids on entering were now completely blanketed by heavy water which made,”Cool Hand Luke? skim over allowing us to cut our river journey by almost half the time. Returning to Caniama Park, a few of us decided to take a flight over La Gran Sabana and to face Angel Falls by air this time. The panoramic views of these places from air are difficult to describe in words. It was like the opening helicopter scene in Jurassic Park movie as we flew over rivers, savannahs, forests, tepuis, waterfalls and canyons to sight Angel Falls smack bang in our faces. The only real difference in what we witnessed, were true-to-life realities and not Hollywood?s fantasies!! Such joys to one?s soul! That evening we returned to Ciudad Bolivar for our final night at Casa Grande de Angostura. Day 6. Wednesday 3rd Sept. 2014. With bags packed and vehicles fully loaded, our expedition team said adieu to a hospitable staff and charming Posada Casa Grande de Angostura as we proceeded to the airport. Because we had to fly through Isla Margarita en-route to our homeland?T&T, some of us decided to make the most of our travels and spend a few extra days on this holiday island at an all-inclusive resort for some much needed rest and recovery. Delicious foods, drinks and massages were the orders on the days while the women went about their daily shopping sprees!!! A fitting ending to another special, South American expedition! Ivan Charles is an eco-adventure guide/tour operator who operates his small business, Ieri Nature Adventures in Trinidad and Tobago.Ivan?s next adventure travel in 2014 involves taking an expedition from Cedros, Trinidad via boat entering Delta de Orinoco, Venezuela to tour and live with the Waroa native Indians within the Delta for a few days and then to visit the longest cave in Venezuela at Caripe to view their oil birds” La Cueva del Guácharo. Part 1 of this article appeared on November 18.
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