Canaima Stories and Tips

Riding rapids in search of an Angel.

Our short transfer from Canaima Lodge to our boarding point at Ucaima (slightly up stream from, but still seeming far too close for comfort to the mighty Ucaima Falls) had already felt like an adventure in itself. In the pitch black dark we were lurching up hill, over pot holes, in a truck right by the side of these waterfalls. The strangest thing was the sensory overload as we heard & felt the booming & spray of the waterfalls but were unable to see them because of the dark. How close were we to the waterfalls? Were we about to drive right over the edge? Was the unnerving sound of water under the tires because the driver was edging into the river or was it just puddles from last night's rainfall? What if a freak current came along & changed the course of the water flow & swept us all away....What if, what if.

As these thoughts flooded my brain the truck came to an abrupt halt & we were asked to board our preferred mode of transport for the next 8 hours - this was a curiara (not a luxury vessel but a dug out wooden canoe with wooden benches for around 12 'small' passengers). At 5.00am & with the ominous sounding waterfall meters away we were in no mood for arguing so we meekly took our place on our narrow wooden slat at the back of the boat. Once the boat was full our driver untied it, shouted 'Adios' & left us to the mercy of the mighty river & our willowy boatman. Still in darkness I have to admit to saying a small prayer; begging nature to let us head upstream as intended & not get caught in the fast moving waters that danced at the precipice of the waterfall down stream. As we made our first wobbling pitches into the depths of the River Carroa I began to doubt that anyone had heard my prayer - but then the boatman, a lot stronger than his small frame made think possible - skillfully turned us around & pointed us away from danger - the trip had begun.

Sliding along in inky darkness, the sound of silence cut only by the occasional bird call & rhythmic splash of the boatman's paddles was a feeling of total tranquility, the type never experienced in a city. Slowly the day started to come alive, throwing tentative fingers of light over the surrounding countryside, the river remained dark but beyond its banks could be seen the outlines of the mighty tepuis - towering like huge misplaced building blocks on the otherwise flat land.

Just as the sun rose we turned into a small landing platform on Mayupa island. Here we were conveyed across the island on a huge tractor & cart, the reason for this transfer was, we were told that the Mayupa rapids around the island are notoriously dangerous & have claimed many lives - so they safely transport guests overland while the boatmen single-handedly wrestle their empty boats through the rapids.

We waited with some trepidation on the far side of the island, hoping that our boatmen had made the journey safely - when they finally arrived with their trademark wide grins we realised all was well & the only difference from before was that now the inside of the boat was soaking wet. Back in the boat we could see that the river had changed texture & the former black treacle like smoothness had been broken in places with churning, uneven patches - these we soon discovered were rapids & this was just the beginning!

After a few introductory rapids & an initial spraying of water we stopped for a welcome breakfast on Orchid Island - we also picked up some additional members who had stayed on this island over night.

We were told to keep our hands in the boat & to keep very still as the rapids were about to become more frequent & more dangerous. The mood was a little tense as we set off again into the murky distance - weather changes quickly in this area & one minute there can be clear skies & the next ominous looking gray clouds - this is what we were heading into. On either side of the narrow Churun tributary, the cliff like tepuis seemed to be closing in on us - their summits, obscured by swirling cloud, together with the tumbling water of the river gave the impression of nature's wash cycle. Everything was swirling, spinning & grey & it was difficult to get any sense of perspective.

Fortunately after about 30 minutes, as we were entering the Devil's Canyon the weather began to clear up & as the mist subsided we became aware of the huge, jagged boulders strewn randomly in the river. It looked like the kind of challenge Indiana Jones would come up against but this challenge was set by nature - she seemed to be instilling the idea that no one should have the right to see Angel Falls without passing through this dangerous passage first. Even though the passage is potentially very dangerous our guides were very adept at steering us away from the rocky hazards & the canyon ride was exhilarating rather than frightening. It was also very, very wet!

No one & nothing was dry by the time we got our first distant glimpse of 'Angel Falls' - shimmering like a silver thread in the distance.

Still dripping wet, we got out of the boat on Isla Ratoncito (Little Mouse Island) - glad to be able to stretch our numb limbs & ready to start a hike through the forest to the Laime lookout point.

The walk to the lookout point was quite an adventure in itself - the hike up hill was through a forest with towering trees & twisted roots just like the enchanted ones you find in fairy tales. Because of the canopy cover, the forest was quite dark & very humid - all of a sudden we were glad of our wet, cool clothes! The humidity allows a myriad of interesting vegetation to grow on the forest floor - among the ferns, lichens & mosses are also vibrant bromeliads & orchids.

Once at the top of the hike we carefully scaled a rocky overhang & there was 'Angel Falls' in all her splendour. The Falls were taller than I'd ever imagined possible, yet the stream of water falling in a thin line was narrower than I'd expected - maybe this was due to the fact that rainy season had been light that year - but there was just one constant silver ribbon, occasionally drifting slightly from side to side but more often than not streaming in a straight line. We sat & watched the Falls quietly for a while & were amazed how quickly the clouds came & obscured the top of Auyan Tepui & blanked the Falls from our view, then without warning shifted away & allowed us to see the Falls & the concave hollow in the tepuis that had been carved into the rock through millions of years of water erosion.

After we'd finished contemplating the wonders of nature we went & got wet again - this time we swam in a small collecting pool further up stream. After this we hiked back down through the forest & were glad to be welcomed with the smell of food being prepared on a makeshift barbeque.

A few pounds heavier we got back into the boats & headed back towards home - the return journey was a lot easier than the journey coming as we were going with the current so the boats were easier to steer & the water not as rough. We returned to our original boarding point at Ucaima just as the sun was setting - we'd come full circle from sunrise to sunset & from dry to wet to dry!

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