Venezuela Travel Guide

Venezuela Travel Guide

We arrived into the international Caracas Airport at 2:00 PM. Customs was very easy and our bags came up as we walked up to the baggage claim area. We exchanged $200 US and used the Tourist Information counter to make a hotel reservation in Maturo at the Hotel Posada del Hildago. The people working the Tourist counter did not speak English so communicating was by trial and error. We asked how much the Taxi cab ride to the hotel would be and they guessed at 14.00 U.S. dollars, it actually cost 10 U.S.. As we approached the Taxi stand we were approached by a man who took us to the front of the Taxi cab line. One bag was already in the trunk before we could ask the price. We both froze forgetting what town we were going to and the name of the hotel. After fumbling through we were quoted $25US and then $20US. Karen was only going to pay $14US so we took our bags and worked with the Taxi captain. The published price on the wall for this hotel area was $8US. We however, had to wait for a not so nice cab to pull up from the street. The cabs in the taxi line were nice but a step below New York taxi’s. They are all dark with dark tinted windows. You ask any cab driver who waits a hour, in the taxi line at the airport what kind of fare they want-THE HIGHEST. They want you to be going the farthest possible distance from the airport.

 

Venezuela Travel Guide 1 Days

The ride from the airport to Maturo is not pretty. Lots of kids playing baseball on any kind of lot they can find. The lots have trees in the middle and do not resemble anything like a baseball diamond or even a playground. They were playing with a ball that looked like a soft sack. Easy to throw but hard to hit any kind of distance.

The Hotel Posada del Hildago is very nice for the area. It cost us $36US for our room. The room is average size with a shower and toilet. According to Karen you are not supposed to flush any toilet paper. You are supposed to throw it away in the waste basket… I would like to ask the front desk but nobody speaks any English. The first thing I tried in the room was testing the analog phone line. I have a little tester which indicates if the line is Ok and if the polarity is reversed. The phone line tested ok, so I set up my Internet dialer program for Caracas. I wrote down the number and tried to dial it by hand. The phone uses pulse dialing and makes all kinds of beeps and boops when you dial. I could not get the phone to ring so I wrote down the number and went to the front desk for assistance. Did I mention that nobody speaks English, and I speak even less Spanish?

We ventured out for dinner based on the recommendations of a local fellow from the Hotel Marcuto. The nice section of the coast has a Sheraton and a very big McDonalds. We flagged down a Taxi and went on a five minute ride which cost us $10US! The taxi cab driver dropped us off at the Sheraton which was on par with most Sheratons in the US. We followed the popcorn smell to a small movie theater which was showing the Spice Girls. We then headed out for dinner by foot. We could not find a restaurant that interested us except maybe McDonalds. The best restaurant in town turned out to be at our hotel. So after another $10US taxi ride we were back home and famished. The food on the other tables looked very good. The table next to us had lobster and very big shrimp. The table too our left had a meal prepared at their table. Somehow, Karen ended up with very small shrimp complete with the heads and tails. I tried to ask the waiter for their best steak and got what was once a very frozen piece of beef and fries. Can you say we looked like gringos? The lesson we learned is do not order anything off the menu in English. These are items for tourists and probably not very good.

We had a room with a view of the street which provide lots of road noise. I got out my ear plugs and stuck them in. About 4:00 AM a car crashed into the side entrance of the hotel. We were both able to stick our head out the window and take a peak. No one was hurt and the parking lot attendant was quick on the spot. Why is there a parking lot attendant working at 4:00am ? The bad thing about the ear plugs, is you can not hear the alarm clock. Karen woke me up at 6:00 am, we went to bed ad 9:00 PM. We jumped in a cab at 7:00 am for a ride to the airport for our flight to Ciudad Bolivar at 9:30am. We arrived at the airport, this time the taxi cab cost 5000 B’s instead of 4000 B’s. We checked in with Avensa airlines they took our bags but gave us back our tickets. We were told to go to gate 5 and pay our airport tax. As we waited in a long line at gate 5, I was able through my new found skills of understanding Spanish that there was a whole lot of pissed off people. They were crowded around the counter yelling and screaming and pointing their phones at the airline personnel. We of course had no idea what was going on. The two nuns in front of us decided to go to the end of the line. Then someone who was very important was able to call someone on his cellular phone and kept trying to hand the phone to the airline personnel. At this time we asked a airline pilot what was going on. He told us That the flight had been canceled. Our flight was still scheduled, so now it became fun to sit back and watch. We watched the crowd gang up on the airline personnel, which in their minds was somehow going to un-cancel the flight. Did I mention that everyone was trying to hand their phones to the airline personnel. I had also determined a importance measure for each person in line. The louder the person was yelling the smaller the phone. Those poor folks in line with those big phones just stood in the back of the line and waited to see what was going to happen. Everyone at the airport had a cellular phone.

We were now getting nervous about where are flight was leaving from. I asked a couple of airline folks and did not get any good answers. We were handed boarding cards that were purple and had our flight number on the top. So after seeing a whole room full of people with the same cards I knew we were Ok. About the time for us to board the bus that took us to our plane, a couple of police in military uniforms showed up to deal with the people with small phones. The people with big phones quickly got to the back of the angry crowd. We got on the bus, so I do not know if the small phone people prevailed in un-canceling their flight.

Venezuela Travel Guide 2 Days

 

We arrived in Ciudad Bolivar at noon and jumped in a taxi to the Hotel Caracas. This was a place recommended in the South American travel guide. After seeing the hotel we quickly ask the taxi cab driver to take us to the Hotel Colonial. The taxi driver who also did not speak any English was able to provided approval for our new choice. We checked in at the front desk and got a double for $26US. The prices so far have been published at the counter. A tour guide or bell clerk made the mistake of grabbing Karen’s bag. The bag weighed more than he did and we had to go up two flights of stairs. I have also noticed the taxi drivers seem to struggle getting our bags in and out of the trunks. I have been stepping in to prevent the bags from being torn on sharp objects.

We are going to Canaima National Park, the six largest in the world, tomorrow so we set out to sign up for our tour package. We had a choice of two different tour agency and had to find their offices. They were on the same street so we set off for our walk. On a side note I live in Florida and wear shorts everyday even in the winter. Karen had picked up in one of her travel books that we should not wear shorts. Something about the folks in Ciudad Bolivar being conservative. She was right no one was wearing shorts and it was only 90 degrees and 100 percent humidity. Back to our tour quest. All the books recommend for the Angel falls tour to sign up with Tomas Bernal of Bernal Tours. We had used the Internet to find out about the various tours available for Angel falls. The folks at Viajes Auyantepuy had a very good web site that provide lots of information. I sent off an E-mail requesting more information and got a response back the next day. So I was set on using Viajes Auyantepuy based on their web site and quick response. We went to their office on Saturday and they were closed but they had posted on the window a cellular phone number on the window to call 24 hours a day. However, we had not purchased a phone card and could not find a public phone so we went with the Soana tour company. The lady was able to explain the 3 day/2 night tour to us in English, which helps alot. We are here during the dry season which means that no water is flowing over Angel falls so that is is a detractor from the trip. The river is still flowing and the base camp for the tour is at a location that I think is similar to Niagara falls. So it can’t be that bad. I will let you know. The lady at Soana tours also explained that on one of our canoe trips we would be able to pick up the canoe and carry it to the downstream river basin. I was waiting for her to tell us that this of course would be at an extra charge. However, she decided to throw that part of the trip in for free. Soana tour company has put together a 5 day trip that she tried to sell us on, but we did not have that much time.

After signing up for our tour we walked down to the river and found a beer or two or three at Mirador Angostura. Ciudad Bolivar does not have alot to offer in fun cozy bars. So we enjoyed the atmosphere ordered a Pollo something or other and watch the world go by for a half hour. It was now time to get in shape by walking along the river. This lasted about five blocks before I heard the sounds of a pool table break, which meant we had to have another beer. We followed the noise ordered a beer, drank it and left. Karen was the prettiest girl in the bar and I think it was causing some problems because all the other women left before we got there. They play a different kind of pool which I think is called Caribbean pool. The only balls they put on the table are 6-15 and I could not figure out the object of the game.

I am now sitting at our hotel bar over looking the river and drinking rum and cokes with no ice. We are trying to avoid Montezuma’s revenge. We have been telling our host no ice in Spanish but have not gotten the correct response. We know what the word for ice is Hielo but I guess our accent is too strong because they have no idea what we are saying. We have also been asked by a couple of English speaking natives where we are from and we have responded Florida. You can tell by the blank faces that they do not know where Florida is. So we discovered today that we are actually from Flooorreeddaaa.

 

Venezuela Travel Guide 3 Days

 

We left for the airport at 6:45 AM to catch our plane to Canaima National Park. The flight was arranged through the travel company. We got to the airport, found the pilot and paid some more departure fees. As we walked to our plane both Karen and I were a bit confused because, the direction we were heading only had really really small planes. We loaded up our bags into the back of the four seater Cessna and strapped ourselves in. We had also taken our malaria medicine for the first time. This in not a good thing to do before you get on a small plane. The medicine made us both a little queasy but we think that is because we did not have any breakfast. The plane was also filled with a bag of onions and tomatoes so the smell only added to the nausea. Avensa has jet service from Caracas to Canaima but it can be difficult to book a flight if you are not staying at their resort. The resort is $330 US per person a night and it looks very nice but not $330 US nice. So if you plan on traveling to Canaima via jet service plan on spending one night at the hotel and set your return date for later that week. We highly recommend using Tomas Bernal at Bernal Tours. However, Avensa does make it difficult for you to get to Canaima if you do not use their tour packages. So figure out how to get here and use Bernal Tours, you can’t go wrong. As always, Mother Nature does not cooperate. During the dry season December-May the river is to low which makes it impossible to go by boat to Angel falls. The airport has flights that fly by Angel falls but there is only a trickle of water. Even during the rainy season, Angel falls is usually covered in clouds. During the rainy season the river is high enough which allows the local tour companies to take you to Angel falls by boat. This is a four hour boat ride followed by a one hour hike to the falls. You will then usually spend the night at a camp on the river within view of the falls. Trying to get up and back via boat in one day makes for a very long day. After breakfast the next morning, the group is taken back to the airport via boat. Most of the flights from Canaima airport leave at noon which makes it very difficult to get back from the falls in time for your plane. Since the main resort is owned and operated by Avensa airlines, I imagine that flight schedules are arranged so that you are encouraged to spend an extra night.

We arrived at the Canaima Airport around 11:00 AM. The airport was very busy with day charters from various resorts around Venezuela. We checked in and of course paid our airport tax and Canaima National Park tax. We asked for Tomas with Bernal Tours and were told to go to the bar at the beach. We walked into paradise. The waterfalls and beach area are simply stunning. So we sat at a table and waited for Tomas. A long canoe boat pulled up onto the beach and out jumped Tomas. He greeted us with a few words of English and took us to his island. The Island is across from the main resort area and you must travel by two waterfalls to get to his camp. It is a beautiful way to go to work everyday.

Tomas’s camp was previously owned by a gentleman that everybody calls the crazy Russian. The crazy Russian had built an open air camp with a sheet metal roof and jade walls. The natural rock formation on the west side of the island is jade. Jade as far as you can see! When you walk on the fields of jade it looks like someone cut them into bricks and built the steps and walkways. This is the natural way jade exists, so it made it very easy for the crazy Russian to build his camp. This is a national park so it is illegal to take things with you. Tomas came to this area as an airline mechanic for Avensa. After one year Tomas quit his job and found a new home in the park between Sapo and Sapito falls. His new home was under a rock overhang that overlooked the runoff of two waterfalls. Tomas lived in this open air cave for ten years sleeping in his hammock, exploring the national park and living off the land. During the rainy season and because his camp was located between two very large waterfalls it was very difficult for Tomas to get home. So for two years he built a pathway behind Sapo falls which today is a feature attraction for all visitors at the national park. The pathway takes you behind the waterfall and allows you to look out into the river. In 1993, Tomas bought his new camp from the crazy Russian for $1000US. Tomas got a very very good deal but I think the crazy Russian knew he would take good care of it. The crazy Russian is buried not to far from the kitchen in a very nice memorial.

Karen and I were the only two guests in the camp and because we had paid for the 3 day/2 night trip to Angel falls, I don’t think Tomas knew what to do with us. The river was very low which made the trip to Angel falls, next to impossible and the trip usually requires six people to make the trip worth it for the tour company. So after lunch, Tomas and his girlfriend took us on a very nice canoe trip. We paddled for a short distance and walked to Ara-meru falls which is located next to the field of jade. We swam in the waterfalls and then canoed to Sapo and Sapito falls. The normal way that tourist see Sapo and Sapito falls is after a two hour hike. It was a special treat for us to see the waterfalls from the canoe. Sapito falls was very low so we were able to climb to the base of next higher waterfalls. We of course went for another swim in our second waterfall of the day. Karen feels very confident that she could live in a waterfall. Tomas then took us on a short climb to his first home at Canaima National park. We were now in an open air camp with a rock cliff overhang as the roof. Tomas built a rock floor, had a cooking area and a place for his hammock. It is impossible for me to imagine living here for ten years but it comes with a spectacular view. We left through the rear entrance and ended up by Sapo falls. Karen and I at this point felt we had both gotten our money’s worth but the adventure continued the next day.

For numerous reasons, luck being one of them Tomas was able to arrange for Karen and I, two guides and Marlon to go to Angel falls. Marlon is originally from Guyana and moved to Ciudad Bolivar as a kid, has worked for Tomas since October of 1997. Guyana was an English colony so Marlon speaks very good English and Spanish, so we were happy to have him along. He also turned out to be alot of fun with a great deal of laughter and loves to tell stories. We loaded up supplies and set out for Angel falls via the Rio Carrao river, not sure if we would make it.

The river was very low but our guides Jose and Jeime are masters at their work. During the rainy season it is very easy to drive the boat to Angel falls, the water is high so rocks do not create any problems. But during the dry season the rocks are everywhere and only the most experienced guides can steer the boat. The boat is carved out of a single tree and is over thirty feet long and powered by a Yamaha 48hp outboard motor. One guide sits on the front of the boat with a very large paddle for steering and signals to the other guide the location of oncoming rocks. Marlon told us that the local indians train at a very young age learning every curve in the river and every rock in the path. It was amazing to watch them work. The guide on the front tries to position the boat for the obstacles ahead. However, the guide holding the motor is the master of the boat’s direction. Depending on the location of rocks or type of path the boat would take, he is constantly pulling the engine out of the water to avoid the rocks. Most of the time the motor is only out of the water for a brief second before it is steering the boat in the next direction. The entire trip to Angel falls is up river and in many locations it was too shallow or the water was flowing too fast, so we would have to get out and push the boat through a swift current or up a small waterfall. At first they did not want either I nor Marlon to get out of the boat and help push. As the trip got more difficult Marlon began to help push the boat. Our guides were not happy about this but I think they knew it was too difficult without more help. I of course could not wait to help but they would not hear of it. So Karen and I sat in the boat and watched these guys work very hard so we could see Angel falls. Then my chance came to prove I could help, the boat was stuck and it was not going anywhere until I got my 200 lb. butt out of the boat. They would not even think of letting Karen get out of the boat. During the rest of the trip I was able to figure out when to help and when to stay in the boat. On many occasions as we looked at the river ahead we knew that there was no way we would get through and would have to turn back. Then Jose and Jeime would amaze us by driving through some special path or using some boat trick and we would be on our way. These two guys have done this before.

The Tepuis on the way to Angel falls are without compare to anything we have seen. Because the river twists and turns back on itself many times, you get to view each Tepuy from many different angles. Without even seeing Angel falls, the Tepuis are worth the trip. Angel falls is located at the top of a Tepuy and the water falls 980 meters or 3280 feet which makes it the tallest waterfall in the world. After a four hour boat adventure and alot of hard work we arrived at Bernal tours camp at the base of Angel falls. Marlon was very excited because there was lots of water coming down the falls. It was too late to hike to the falls so we would set out in the morning. Jose and Jeime prepared a chicken dinner that was very tasty and put together a vegetarian meal for Karen that was also very good. Even though the camp provide hammocks we pitched our tent and settled in for the night.

It rained throughout the night and when we got up the next morning it was very cloudy and we could not see Angel falls because of all the clouds. Marlon, Karen and I set out on our 30 minute hike to the falls, hoping it would clear. When we reached our first vantage point the sun came out and the clouds opened and before us stood Angel falls. Marlon could not believe our luck and asked us if we are usually this lucky and I told him that we have been very lucky in the past. After shooting some video we hiked up to the next level for a swim. Then it really got pretty with bright blue skies and lots of sunshine. We could not of asked for a better day and it was only 9:00 AM. After swimming and more pictures we headed down for a ham and egg breakfast with pancakes, the day just kept getting better. During the night the river got much lower but this time we were going with the current so we only had to get out of the boat a couple of times. We made it back to camp around 4:00 PM and after showing Tomas the video he was very unhappy he did not go. I have had to show the tape a couple of times so far and each time they walk away unable to believe how lucky Karen and I were. For those of you reading this closely I proposed to Karen in front of Hacha falls on Sunday the February 15th in what I thought at the time was the prettiest and most romantic spot on earth. Karen was surprised to hear those words come out of my mouth and she was quick to respond with a very happy YES. Little did I know that the next two days would bring us sights and sounds that took us to another level of beauty and appreciation for the things around us. Our future looks very bright together filled with happiness, love and little bit of luck thrown in when you least expect it.

We are flying to Trinidad and Tobago on the 19th so stay tuned for lots of rum

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