Written by onesundaymorning on 27 Apr, 2007
Before arriving in Venezuela, I heard enough bad things to make me reconsider what I was going there for. Only a month before Chavez won a very controversial election (think Bush-Gore election of 2000), Venezuela was one of the countries on the State Departments list…Read More
Before arriving in Venezuela, I heard enough bad things to make me reconsider what I was going there for. Only a month before Chavez won a very controversial election (think Bush-Gore election of 2000), Venezuela was one of the countries on the State Departments list of places not to travel to, and the airports were an area to avoid due to recent terrorist related activates. My ship was scheduled to arrive in La Guaira only four days after leaving Brazil. Warnings were broadcasted along the PA systems and during pre-port meetings. “Don’t talk politics to anyone”, “after 9pm cars don’t stop for anyone; it’s to dangerous,” and “under no circumstances never venture near the favelas.” On top of that came the ‘what not to do list’ which included; Caracas, the highway, the airport, any taxi, near the ocean where pirates lurk, to any tourist area, or anywhere in the shipyard where we were docked…this greatly limited my options for even leaving the ship.When I arrived, I was determined to avoid Caracas like the plague. My first day, I was given the opportunity to teach English at a school in the middle of Caracas. I battle the idea for hours and almost turned back when I saw an Interpol car only a few hundred yards from my ship. I was about to break at least 30 of the 752 things on the list of ‘what not to do’; I got a taxi and set off to find the school. My group negotiated the taxi fare for a mini-van that looked like it came out of the war and took off on a 2 ½ hour ride from La Guaira to Caracas; this is where my reeducation began. Along every road, bridge, wall, or any surface for that matter I saw graffiti; not the average “T-dwag wuz here”, but passionate statements made for and against the current political direction of the country. After 45 minutes of avoiding the topic of politics we couldn’t help ourselves; we asked about the graffiti. This set the driver off onto a 2 hour speech about Chavez, his intentions, his victories for the people, the American backed rebels who were causing the resistance against the current presidency, the election, but most passionately how Chavez was a the pillar that kept Venezuela strong; that he was the breath, the pulse, the heartbeat of the country. His statements weren’t attacking us, but more of a plea for us to hear what Chavez had done for Venezuela. As we pulled up to the curve in Caracas our driver reassured us that he wasn’t a political man; his friends were much more passionate then he, and he rarely followed the news. When the taxi stopped, I was apprehensive about getting out, but my group wasn’t turning back. I took a deep breath, held my bag tight, and stepped out of the car.We found the school after a few wrong turns. Once inside, we were greeted by an employee of the school and were assigned to a classroom. Three of us quietly entered the room and sat in the back. We were in an advanced class, where we got to observe the students. At the end of the class the teacher asked them if they could go anywhere in the world where would they go and why? They all had different answers, but one group talked about how they wouldn’t go to New York because it is twice the size of Caracas and much more dangerous. I was surprised that they thought this. I was constantly warned about Caracas, “the murder capital of the world”, and my mind started to turn. After the class was over we asked the teacher about this. She was born in Venezuela and spent many years in Texas. She said the difference was that in the US people kill because they are crazy, but in Caracas people kill because they are hungry. This stuck with me all day. Several people in the group decided to stay for another class. The second room that I was in was with children who were around 10 years old. They were excited to interact with us and even wanted to play a game of win, lose, or draw. These kids were bright and vibrant, and so happy.After leaving, I was overwhelmed by the experience. I realized that my fears were preventing me from experiencing the beauty of this country. Venezuela’s is truly a diamond in the rough for traveler who seeks adventure not through how many beaches they visit, but through the eyes of the people who occupy the land. The story of the country is found everywhere. The streets of the city are filled with the words of the people both supporting and bashing their political stance, Simon Bolivar, aka El Liberator, a well educated leader who was born in Caracas who worked to free South America from Spain, is celebrated through out the country, and the kindness and openness of the people can be found in the outside the city as locals open their doors for tourists to use a bathroom, eat, or just to sit and share stories. Venezuela is also and ecotraveler’s Mecca. Rain forests, famed waterfalls, and 1,800 miles of coastline form the country. 1,300 species of birds, 30,000 recorded species of flowering plants, as well as monkeys, caimans, jaguars, and anteaters call Venezuela home. Fifteen percent of the country is set aside to make 43 national parks some of which are so preserved that they can only be reached by plane.Looking back I realize that my fear, my misconceptions, my ignorance almost made me miss out on seeing what Venezuela had to offer. Close
Written by onesundaymorning on 26 Apr, 2007
Nestled in the hills in the Central Mountains, Colonia Tovar takes you out of the beauty of South America and makes you feel like you have entered the Black Forest of Germany. The nearest city, Caracas, is 60km away. Although Tovar seems much like Germany,…Read More
Nestled in the hills in the Central Mountains, Colonia Tovar takes you out of the beauty of South America and makes you feel like you have entered the Black Forest of Germany. The nearest city, Caracas, is 60km away. Although Tovar seems much like Germany, this is no accident. Germans founded it in 1843. German immigrants arriving in Venezuela were quarantined to the coast after diseases broke out on their ship. Once the quarantine was lifted, the Germans moved into the mountains to avoid the locals who were hostile to them. Until recently, the town has remained isolated in the hills.Arriving at the entrance of the city, we saw horse-drawn carriages on the sides of the road. The houses had beautiful red roofs that reminded me of Heidelberg. Even some of the residents were dressed in German clothing.Along the main street are stores packed with over-priced souvenirs for tourists. These stores are worth a look, but it’s the stores off of the main street where the amazing deals are. I happened into one store full of the most beautiful pottery that I’ve ever seen. The clay for the pottery came from a nearby town. They had everything from pots to incense burners. I picked up a beautiful vase with a handle. Around the neck was three clay flowers attached by hemp. Almost afraid of the price, I turned it over and found out that this vase was only $3.50. Most of the other clay items in the store were priced even less.One of the things not to miss here is the hot chocolate. I didn’t catch the name of the place, but if you find the church—it’s off of the main street and everyone knows where it is—there is a little café across the street with a patio and chairs facing the church. The chocolate they serve is unlike anything that you’ll find in the US. They make it with much more cocoa, so if you’re addicted to US chocolate, the stuff you’ll find in Venezuela is enough to make a chocolate addict go through withdrawal.It’s hard to take a bad photo in Colonia Tovar. Everywhere you look are lush mountains with farms cut out of the sides. The buildings are beautiful and well kept. Close
Written by onesundaymorning on 20 Apr, 2007
Squeezing 10 people into the back of a truck, we set off into the Venezuelan jungle for what our tour guide called "costal explorer." We drove though La Jolla and were given told a little about the history. In 1999 there was a horrible flood…Read More
Squeezing 10 people into the back of a truck, we set off into the Venezuelan jungle for what our tour guide called "costal explorer." We drove though La Jolla and were given told a little about the history. In 1999 there was a horrible flood where 30,000 people went missing. Still to this day the damage that was done to the city can be seen. Five years later areas that were hit are still waiting to be declared by the government safe to rebuild. Many of the stops that we made were in areas that couldn’t be found on maps and the name was never divulged to us. The first stop was in the village in the middle of nowhere. We were taken to see Peppy, the town monkey. He was chained to a tree and looked sickly, but the locals took great pleasure in feeding him chips.
The next stop on the trip was a beach with houses on the sand. The one advantage about traveling with a guide was that he knew where the safest beaches were. The people who live on the beach open their houses up for the tourists to change and use the bathroom. I felt strange when I was told to use their house, but when I found out that they had an arrangement made with the tour guide I felt better, but I still didn’t go in. The beach was still dangerous, because the further you go out into the water the rockier it gets. The locals showed us what was safe. Regardless of how safe the beach was or wasn’t it was glorious and we were the only tourists there.
The rest of the tour we were shown out of the way destinations. The first being a waterfall that was only a 2 minute walk from the road, but not visible to passing cars. Lunch was in another town where our tour guide had a deal with one of the restaurants owners. The small, unnamed restaurant was in the home of a family of three. While our food was being prepared the couple’s toddler entertained us by hiding and running laughing from us. On a side note the food was amazing. We were served fresh fish and fried plantains. Dessert was in another town where our tour guide grew up. The guide got us all homemade ice cream that tasted much like Italian shaved ice.
Although most of the tour guides offer the same tour but visit different places I would highly suggest getting one to show you out of the way places. They know all of the great information that you just wouldn’t know if you tried to go at it alone. At one point of the tour the guide even had us get out of the truck so that he could point out all of the flora and fauna that we saw along the road.
Written by Josh S on 06 Jan, 2005
A country of contrasts.
That phrase aptly describes the hidden gem of Venezuela. While most American travelers look forward to following the well-trodden Costa Rica-Peru-Belize-Mexico circuit, Venezuela sits almost hidden from view among "norteamericanos," despite being the most accessible South American country, and despite offering an…Read More
A country of contrasts.
That phrase aptly describes the hidden gem of Venezuela. While most American travelers look forward to following the well-trodden Costa Rica-Peru-Belize-Mexico circuit, Venezuela sits almost hidden from view among "norteamericanos," despite being the most accessible South American country, and despite offering an incredible natural environment that rivals any in the world. The notion of accessible remoteness appealed to my friend Sylvia and I, and we took advantage of a holiday weekend to launch an 11-day adventure.
We began our trip in Canaima National Park in the Gran Sabana, a huge region of freely flowing rivers, giant rainforest mesas (tepuis), and dense rainforest. Landing at the Canaima airstrip, we immediately knew we had left the crowds behind, since the "airport" was little more than a single thatched-roof shack (which we were to encounter again in Venezuela—more about that later).
We were whisked off to the brand-spanking-new Canaima Camp, strategically located on the banks of the spectacular Canaima lagoon. Across the lagoon thundered spectacular waterfalls, and in the distance, the stunning flat-topped tepuis loomed. Cotton-ball cumulus clouds rolled across the sky, and it almost appeared surreal—the entire scene seemed cut from a storybook. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's inspiration for The Lost World was not so far off after all.
As one of the few guests at the lodge, we were free to make our own schedule and were always attended to promptly by the helpful and forthcoming staff (perhaps TOO forthcoming—upon arrival, the manager apologized for the commotion around camp, informing us that a Japanese tourist had recently drowned and his body had just been recovered!)
However, the real draw in Canaima is the spectacular natural landscape and its most famous feature: Angel Falls, which at over 3,000 feet is the highest in the world. The first day brought a boat trip along the Rio Carrao to Yuri Falls, where we plunged into the falls, tiptoed along the rocks, and swam in the tannin-dark (and therefore piranha-free) water. That was just a taste of what was to come, however, for the next morning saw us waking before dawn and setting off in glass-still waters for the long trip to Angel Falls. A meteor show lit up the sky as we began the four-hour boat trip up the river and into the heart of the park. As we approached Auyantepui, the giant table mesa which gives rise to the falls, huge blankets of clouds spilled down off the top into the forest below.
Although it was near the end of a wet season that had been drier than anyone could remember, our Pemon Indian guides expertly navigated the motorized dugout through rapids, around obstacles, and over the shallows. Each bend in the river brought a tantalizing glimpse of the giant mesa and its pink rock walls peeking through the mists.
Eventually (and after some serious sore butt issues), we reached the pullout for the 45-minute hike to the lookout point for the falls. The walk through the dense foliage and maze of roots was fascinating, and we played Tarzan and Jane as we swung from jungle vines. Then, up a few switchbacks, and there it was.
Angel Falls thundered down from an incomprehensibly high spot on the mesa—so high, in fact, that it was difficult to gain perspective, especially since the top was enshrouded in clouds. A second, smaller but beautiful waterfall poured over a ledge below into a small pool perfect for swimming. In every direction there was nothing but green—it truly felt as if we were the first people to ever gaze on the landscape. Then, as if on cue, the clouds parted and the top of the falls came into view—a cliche like "breathtaking" just wouldn't do it justice, so I will not try. All I can say is: see it for yourself.
The long ride back to camp was fairly uneventful, save for the occasional rain shower (complete with rainbow) and the enjoyable stop at Sapo Falls, where it is possible to walk behind the falls and take a natural show. Even in a dry period, the falls were gorgeous, and one could easily imagine the dunking you would get following lots of rain.
The next stage of our trip brought us to the Andean city of Merida, Venezuela's adventure sports capital. From Merida, it is possible to arrange trekking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, mountain biking and canyoneering trips, paragliding, and river rafting. On our first day, we explored the city, which is large enough to be cosmopolitan but small enough to get a handle on. Like most cities in Venezuela, the center of town is Plaza Bolivar, a pleasant and green respite from the hustle of the city. One outstanding feature of the town is that almost all taxis seem to be of the 1970s-era beater variety, and the fact that they still run belies their completely run-down appearance.
We spent an afternoon relaxing poolside at the pleasant Hotel Belansate (the grounds are MUCH nicer than the rooms) and then went paragliding about 40 minutes south of the city. With consistent thermals rising from the valley floor up the steep-sided peaks, Merida is one of the best places in the world to paraglide. Rather than being an adrenaline sport like skydiving, paragliding is really just a relaxing and beautiful way to see the region from the air.
Our final Andean adventure began with a ride up the teleferico (cable car) to Pico Espejo, which at 15,500 feet is the highest cable car in the world. From there, we rode back down to Loma Redonda station and began the seven-mile walk to Los Nevados. Crossing Alto de la Cruz Pass, we began a long descent through the famous Andean paramos. The paramos were in peak bloom, and pink and yellow wildflowers carpeted the hillsides in every direction, while sheer peaks rose into the clouds above. The hike was fairly straightforward, and after about 3 or 4 hours of walking downhill, we reached the charming village of Los Nevados, a mountain town perched over a pretty valley. With whitewashed homes, red tile roofs, and a small church, the place was the definition of picturesque.
We spent the night in the simple, but clean Posada Bella Vista, with a great view of the valley below, and set off the next morning for the four-hour bumpy jeep ride back to Merida. Until we approached the village of El Morro, the "road" was little more than a rutted dirt track through the mountains, but our Land Cruiser proved up to the task.
The final leg of our trip was spent relaxing on the beautiful islands of Los Roques, about 100 miles north of the coast in the Caribbean. Arriving in the Caracas airport for our flight, we found it was canceled but were booked onto another flight with a 1940s-era DC-3. Our initial trepidation at flying such an old plane (we had to walk UPHILL to get to our seats, which were covered in camouflage!) was soon muted, as the flight was smooth and uneventful.
As we approached the islands, mangrove cays, coral atolls, and turquoise water came into view below. Soon were disembarking on a runway at an "airport" with another thatched-roof shack for a waiting lounge, right on the beach, no less.
The Posada Acuarela is one of the finest places to lodge on the island of Gran Roque (the only island with any real permanent population)—the Italian expat Angelo Belvedere has made full use of his considerable artistic and architectural skills to craft a place that is stunning in its attention to detail. Flowers of every color abound, set against whitewashed walls and cool background music.
We spent the days lounging on the fantastic white sand beaches found on some of the nearby islands (like Francisquises or Crasqui), snorkeling, and scuba diving. The further away from Gran Roque you go, the clearer the water becomes, and I found unparalleled visibility when diving some of the outer islands. We also charted a sailboat for an overnight trip around the islands. We highly recommend the services of Fernando and his boat, the 42-foot Sula Sula, for a combination of great food, access to private islands, beautiful sunsets, and good company.
Of course, while we managed an incredible variety of experiences in a short window of time, Venezuela has myriad other attractions, and I am sure I will return someday to climb Roraima or Auyantepui, go on safari in Los Llanos, and windsurf Isla Margarita while dancing to merengue.
Written by baligirl on 04 Nov, 2000
If you ever take a trip to Porlamar, you will likely be forced to spend the night (6 hours) at the Caracas Simon Bolivar airport (or pay for a hotel room for 4 hours, and get yourself to and from the airport ($40) with the…Read More
If you ever take a trip to Porlamar, you will likely be forced to spend the night (6 hours) at the Caracas Simon Bolivar airport (or pay for a hotel room for 4 hours, and get yourself to and from the airport ($40) with the remaining 2). We took the cheaper option and spent the night at the airport. Things were pretty fun until about 11 pm, when everything closed. We looked at the shops, and sat at the bar where there was plenty of cheap, tasty Polar beer on tap. Now, after about midnight when most of the flights have gone, the Simon Bolivar airport can be a really scary place. The homeless start coming in and going through all of the trash. They are harmless, but it makes it impossible to sit in peace because you have to keep a constant eye on your belongings. Much worse were the roaches. These things were just enormous, and I was afraid that some would get into my suitcase and I'd bring them home, so I got to get in a big fight with my partner and wake him up to push two little cafeteria tables together and put our suitcases up off the floor. The other problem with these roaches is that they are really fast, and zip around. One scuttled across my arm, and I had imaginary crawlies all night. We also had about 20 mosquito bites each by the time we left.
So my advice is this: if you get stuck in Caracas for the night, spend the money on cabfare and a hotel. If you decide not to, bring bug spray and wear long pants and long sleeves.