Venezuela - this is my next destination. The country is famous of big resources of oil and Hugo Chavez. The charismatic president tries to introduce socialism in Venezuela. He is also one of the best known critic of US imperialism.
Although Venezuela is not popular tourist destination there are many interesting sites to visit.
We managed to buy quite cheap ticket and went to Venezuela in March – the end of dry season. The flight took us several hours from Frankfurt to Caracas. It was very tiring flight. We spent in plane four hours before departure. The departure was delayed because of technical failure. It was only the beginning of bad luck. When the plane was landing in Caracas a car appeared at runway. A pilot had to take off the plane rapidly. The plane was huge – Airbus 340. All passengers were pinned in their seats. After 20 minutes the pilot made second attempt to land. This time it was a successful. We were in Caracas.
The capitol of Venezuela is said to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Everyday there are huge number of robberies in Caracas. The criminals often use a gun. Anyway this is the worst thing to loose money at the beginning of the trip. To avoid this it is good idea not to walk on the streets after dark. Most of the tourists try to make their stay in Caracas as short as possible. We stayed there only one night.
Venezuela is challenging country. At the airport we had to exchange money. There was official exchange desk. The rate was not good. In March 2010 it was 4.3 VEB / 1 USD. Besides the clerk collected fingerprints. We decided to exchange money illegally. The rate was better 6 VEB per 1 USD. It was very risky to do it this way. First of all the scalper could cheat us. Besides there are many policemen and security services guys at airport. We risked to have a trouble with a law. We took a risk and exchange money illegally. Everything was ok.
We took a taxi to a hotel. We watched the city from the cab. It looked very nice. There is the sea from one side and the mountains from the other side.
In Caracas we spent only one night in hotel Monserat. The hotel was situated in a district Altamira. This was one of the most safe district in the capitol of Venezuela.
We were very busy at our first day of holidays. First of all we wanted to see the streets of the one of the most dangerous cities in the world. They looked as the streets of every big cities in Europe. We had breakfast - 15 USD and went to bus terminal. We bought tickets to Ciudad Bolivar. It took us two hours. The rest of the day we spent walking down the streets in Altamira and visiting parks.
In my opinion Caracas is very nice city. The level of crimes makes the tourists avoid visiting the capitol of Venezuela. It is a shame.
In the evening we went to bus terminal again. We had bad luck. Our seats were situate in the most cooler part of the coach. I had very warm clothes and it was still cold. Despite of the cold I managed to sleep almost all night.
We arrived at Ciudad Bolivar at dawn. There were many tourist agencies next to bus terminal. Some of them were opened 24 hours a day. Staff of agencies usually speak only Spanish. We were attacked by English-speaking salesman at bus terminal. He managed to convince us to buy the trip to Roraima (300 USD-2 people). The price included the trip and accommodation in the city.
We took a rest in the hotel and visited Ciudad Bolivar. Plaza Bolivar is interesting site of the city. There were church and buildings from colonial times. Ciudad Bolivar was typical South-American city with narrow streets and colorful buildings. It was nice to see sunset over Orinoco river.
In the evening we went to San Francisco de Yureni by bus. All night trip was full of military experiences. There were many checkpoints in Venezuela. Military men had automatic weapon. They controlled all vehicles. Sometimes they only looked trough the window but sometimes the checked the documents and luggage very carefully. When we approached to the Brazil border there were more checkpoints and the controls were very detailed. Once all passengers had to leave the bus. Women and men queued up in separate lines. The military men asked everybody about the destination and other stupid things ( it reminds me US border procedures).
Usually we didn't have to leave the bus. Military men controlled the passports and left the bus. It was night and bus was very comfortable. It was very easy to fell asleep. I slept in peace. Suddenly I felt a nudge at my arm. I opened the eyes and saw the barrel of automatic weapon touching my arm. I looked up and the soldier said 'pasaporte por favor'. I think I will remember the situation for a long time.
We went from San Francisco de Yureni to Canaima national park by jeep. There were 5 people in our group: Uli, Monika, I, guide and porter. Porter and guide carried food and tents. We carried our staff in backpacks. It was crucial to optimize weight of backpacker. In my opinion it should not be heavier then 10-11 kg. You should take:
First day we hiked almost flat through savanna 6 hours . It was very difficult because of sun and very high temperature, 40 Celsius degrees. There was beautiful view on Roraima and Kukenan-tepui from the trail. At 7 p.m. we reached the camp. It was Indian village. We put up tents and had dinner. After meal I watched beautiful sky full of stars. We were very tired and went to bed at 9 p.m.
We had breakfast and started our second day of Roraima trail. This time it was uphill almost all the time. After four hours we reached our second camp next to Roraima tepui. The camp was situated next to the river. There was only one primitive shelter on the camp. We hardly managed to put up our tents and it started raining. All people hid under the shelter. 15 people could hardly find a place to stand. After 3 hours the rain stopped and we had dinner. We were at the end of dry season in Venezuela. The savanna, we crossed the first, was very dry but there is unique climate on the tepui and around all the year. It is often rain there.
It was a great challenge on third day. We got up at six and started climbed on the top. The trail crossed jungle. It was very humid. From time to time we reached to view points. Unlucky there were many clouds around and we could not admire the view. We also passed a few small waterfalls. The trail started to climbed steeply. We were very sweaty, tired and it started to rain. We had to be very careful not to slip. At the end of our trip there was no jungle around. There was only rocks to climb up. It was so steep the trail was up and a little down and again up. We were almost at the top of Roraima and there was a surprise or maybe it is better to say it could be surprise. We had to cross the waterfall. We didn't care about it because we had already been wet. Finally we reached the top. All our clothes were completely wet.
Our guide chose very nice and dangerous place for camping. It was situated on a rock shelf. It was enough to make two reckless steps and there was 20 meters precipice.
It was not very cold on the top of Roraima. It is enough to have sleeping bag for 0 degrees and night is very comfortable. The next day we spent visiting the top of tepui. Roraima is one of the oldest geological formations on Earth. The landscape of top is very harsh. It looks like moon surface. Mostly there were only rocks on the top. From time to time we could see the plants, small animals and birds. Many species are very unique and can be find only on the tepui. We visited crystal value, natural jacuzzi and went to a few view points. Unlucky the weather was so bad that we could only see the thick clouds around. From time to time it rained. Generally the day was not so bad but definitely the weather could be much better...
Next day we left Roraima. We went down steeply. We had to be very careful because the rocks were wet. It took many hours to reach Indian village. We were so tired and dirty that we jumped to the river at once. Puri Puri flies were waiting for us. I was bitten a hundred times. There was red spot on skin after bitting and it itched merciless a few day.
The last day we crossed savanna. It was very hot and we were more tired then at the beginning of hour trip. After 6 hours of trekking we left Canaima park. A guide took us to beautiful waterfall. It was very nice to swim there. The only obstacle was puri-puri and a few dozen bites more on my body.
We took a night bus to Ciudad Bolivar and it was the end of Roraima trip.
W spent in Ciudad Bolivar only one day. First of all we took a very long shower. It was the first shower from a week. The rest of the day we spent relaxing.
Next day we went to Tucupita and started boat trip on Orinoco.
At the beginning the river was wide and there was plenty of houses at the riverside. The further from Tucupita the house were simpler. We visited a few of Indian houses. All family lived in one room. They slept in hammocks. Clothes lied directly on the floor in the corner of the room. Orinoco was the most important in Indians' live. It was a source of food. Indian women washed clothes in the river. Children played in the river.
When we passed several kilometers the riverside was changed completely. Instead of houses and agriculture fields it was a jungle. The jungle was very dense. From time to time we could see exotic animals and bird like toucan, monkey. We also stopped for piranha fishing. Unluckily I did not catch any fish.
We spent night in Indian village. It was unforgettable night. We slept in very comfortable moriches hammocks next to the riverside. I was woke up by sounds of the jungle: cry of monkeys or other animals. Sometimes it was like a cry of dying animals.
In the morning Monika decided to buy one of the moriche hammock. She paid 250 VEB. It was quite a lot money for Indian family. We said goodbye to Indians and continued our trip. A few hours later we met the Indians again in the shop. I was shocked to get know that they spent all 250 VEB for sweets and coca-cola. The guide explained me that this was Indians' style of life. If they have money they will spend it all at once. Next day they go fishing. In fact they don't need money for daily life.
The second day of the trip was not as interesting as the first one. We made a short jungle walking and came back to Tucupita. We spent a night in Pequeno Hotel. It was a hovel. By the way the hotel was recommended by Lonely Planet at first position.
In the morning we left Tucupita. We went to bus terminal to get a bus to Puerto la Cruz. We were informed that the next bus to Puerto la Cruz was at 8 p.m. but we could take a taxi to Maturin (200 km) and then take a bus to Puerto la Cruz. We expected to buy a lot of money for a taxi. We were surprised to be informed that the price was the same as for the bus. We got a taxi with two other Venezuelans and paid 50 VEB per person. In Maturin we took another taxi and went to Puerto la Cruz. The driver was a lady who drove 150 km/h. We were in Puerto la Cruz at 2 p.m.
It was a long line to buy a ferry tickets. When we bought the ticket we had to go to the second line to confirm the tickets. According to the timetable the departure was at 4 p.m. At 3.30 p.m we were informed that the route was canceled. The next one and the last one was supposed to be at 6 p.m. A lot of people were waiting for the ferry. A half an hour before a departure our luggage was collect and at 6 p.m. there was another information: 'There will be no ferry today. The next one is tomorrow.' All passengers were very angry but it did not change anything. We went to the city to find accommodation for a night. I noticed that many Venezuelans decided to spend night in waiting room. In Puerto la Cruz we found very nice hotel - 150 VEB per night. Puerto la Cruz was very nice city. There was beautiful marina with many people even in the evening. We regretted not to stay there for a few days. In the morning we took a ferry to Margarita. It was very comfortable journey. We decided to spend the rest of our holiday in Juan Griego. This was fishing town. The town was famous of beautiful sunsets. There were also nice beached close to the town. Our accommodation was very simple but nice. There was only one big disadvantage. Every other evening between 7.30 p.m. and 9 p.m. the Venezuelan government switched off the power. The power facilities were not maintained correctly and rolling blackouts were imposed all over the country.
We spent a few days on Margarita. It was very relaxing. We swam in Caribbean sea, took sun bath, had dinners at the beach and admired sunsets. Our diet was very healthy. We ate fruits and fresh juice for breakfast and fish/seafood for dinner.
It was enough for us relaxing on the beach three days. We went to Polamar to buy an excursion to Los Roques. It was touristic pick during Holy Week. The prices were extremely high. One day excursion to Los Roques cost 300 USD. It was to much for us and we had to forget about Los Roques.
Instead of the excursion we went to El Valle on Margarita. There is famous statue of Mother of God. The statue is famous of many miracles and many Venezuelan people make a pilgrimage to the church. We went there on Palm Sunday and took part in church service. The church was full of people. Many of them had palm to commemorate triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. When the service was over many people moved toward the altar to pray next to the statue of Mother of God. Around the church there were many souvenir shops. Most of them sold devotional items.
Our holidays was coming up the end. We had a domestic flight from Margarita to Caracas. The plane was on time. In Caracas we had to pay extra tax to leave Venezuela. We passed all checking and were waiting for a plane at the gate. Suddenly airport serviceman came with a list of several passenger names. The list was on the small board. Everybody could read it. The airport speaker also read the names and asked the person to go to our gate. I was interested what is going on. I asked and they informed me that computer had picked up several names for extra and very thorough security control. The people went to unknown direction and came back very pale after one hour...
The flight was nice. I slept a couple of hours in the plane. We landed at Frankfurt airport. I looked though a window. The plane was surrounded by the police cars. Some policemen were with dogs. A few policemen entered the plane and made passport control on the board. We left the plane. We had to go through police cordon. It remained me the photos or movies from Second World War-German Nazi leaded people to gas chambers ...
In Poland the custom duty officer approached to us and asked 'Did you come from Venezuela?'. We confirmed and our luggage were checked. The officer was very nice, asked about the trip and didn''t find anything we should had declared.