We woke at 5:30am. There was no way we were gonna miss this flight back to Caracas, after our enforced but beautiful stay for the night at Los Roques. We checked in our bags, where they were put into a cart and taken the 100m distance to the airstrip. We queued up at the little immigration hut, got through that, and finally onto our little plane to take us back to Caracas. At this stage, we still had no idea how we would get to Canaima from Caracas.
We arrived at the airport, and were relieved to find Vero’s jeep still in the short stay car park. She’d phoned a cousin who had managed to keep an eye on it for her. As we drove out, we were asked for a ticket. Vero said she’d lost it, and we had to pay a small fine – much less than the real price of staying in a short stay car park for 24 hours would be. We drove to a small breakfast cafe for some delicious arepas, and discussed our possibilities. Vero had a cousin who owns a small plane, so she phoned him to see if he could fly us to Canaima, but unfortunately his plane was being serviced, otherwise he said he’d be happy to help. He did, however, suggest a contact we could use from the airport in Puerto Orgaz, the stopoff point before Canaima.
We managed to book a flight with AeroPostal over our arepas with cheese and ham. Went briefly back to Vero’s seaside apartment for a shower and a coating of aftersun for me on my lobster-like body. We then went outside and asked the security guard for a taxi, which he ordered between running out and manually leaning on the security bar to lift in and let cars in. He must do that a few hundred times a day. The taxi arrived, and I was delighted to see it was one of those Dukes of Hazard types, complete with grizzled smoking driver in a white vest and crucifixes dangling from the rear-view mirror. We got to the airport (again) and got the postal plane to Puerto Orgaz.
Vero had somehow found a solution. A private Cessnar 5 seater had been scrambled, and was waiting for us as we arrived. We were quickly whisked through security and to our private plane. This was living the dream. I couldn’t believe it. I’m not rich, yet here I was chartering a private plane to the jungles of Venezuela. I felt a bit like James Bond as I climbed into the tiny plane with Vero the Bond girl, and we sat down and got ready for take off. The pilot was a veteran of 30 years. As the plane buzzed down the airstrip, I wasn’t sure if it would really take off or not. It seemed like a flimsy toy, but with a buzz that sounded like a lawnmower. It did lift off eventually, and we were off, bumping towards Canaima. I kept thinking the plane would lose power – the weak lawnmower sound certainly didn’t inspire confidence. The pilot steadied the flight, and then just opened up a newspaper, whilst occasionally fiddling with the joystick of this tiny plane as though he were in an arcade on a flight simulator. He turned around regularly to talk to Vero. As we flew over the wild jungle, I really hoped we wouldn’t crash….the jungle is so dense we’d never be found. The pilot told stories of a lawless city in the jungle with a population of 30,000 – an illegal city created in the middle of the jungle where drugs and prostitution are rife, and the police can’t seem to do anything about it. He told us of gold mining by the native Indians. It was enthralling. Soon, we began to see the famous tepuis – flat-topped mountains – looming ever closer. We were entering prehistoric territory now. The place feels wild and endless – a great green expanse of steamy rainforest, rolling highland savannah, and soaring tepuis. This is the home of Angel Falls – the highest waterfall in the world – and indigenous peoples.
We banked sharply to the left in the manner of these tiny planes, and we landed in view of the spectacular Salto el Sapa waterfall on a dirt runway. We were in Canaima now, a remote indigenous village. We were staying at the most luxurious lodge in the area, frequented by Miss Worlds, filmstars and Hugo Chavez. It’s called Waku Lodge, and has a reputation for excellence. We were met by a guide from the lodge, and we hopped into the back of an open-top jeep and were taken to the lodge, a 5 minute drive from the airport. We were shown to the restaurant, which was a beautiful wooden place with amazing views of the Salto el Sapo waterfall. Food was still going, and we filled up on delicious hot soup, pasta, arepas, and loads more. The guide asked us what we’d brought along. We didn’t have anything fit for hiking. He told us we needed to buy some hiking boots. We bought some special aquashoes, that fitted well, and were cheap and comfortable. The day was losing light, but we still managed to get a tour to Salto el Sapo. We went by small boat around the lagoon along with a few other Venezuelan tourists. The waterfalls were powerful, crashing down into the lagoon with a violent roar. We climbed up some rocks and were able to get behind the relentless cascade. I was reminded of that waterfall scene in Last of the Mohicans. Maybe they filmed it here. The colour of the waterfall from behind was copper, and it felt magical somehow. Powerful and incredible. I put my head and shoulders under the water for an invigorating massage.
After this, we went for a walk through the quiet, dry land to another waterfall, a very picturesque one overlooking tepuis and a lake. We had to walk thorough some jungle and got very wet. When we came to the lake, we all bathed in it, and then walked back to the boat and across to Waku Lodge. Coffee, tea and cakes were waiting for us under a traditional thatched roof in an open, windowless structure. The coffee tasted great, as it was a bit chilly. After this, Vero and I walked to the one shop in the area in complete darkness. All we could see were the stars, of which there were thousands, like silver glitter sprinkled liberally onto black paper. We could see fireflies sending out mating signals, hundreds of them. No cars around. No noise….just insects and the sound of a breeze in the trees. We bought a bottle of wine and went back to the lodge, where we went to the restaurant and had a lovely dinner, with a can of beer that completely knocked me out. We had to wake up at 4:30am the next day for the trip to Angel Falls, so it was time for bed. What a day. Talk about living the dream!