A Trip to Margarita Island, Venezuela

 

 

 (12-20 March 2006)

 

                  Version: Version 1.0

                  Date issued: 24 May 2008         

                  Author: Thomas  @  travelogues.x10hosting.com

                  File Name: Margarita Island, Venezuela – 12-20 March 2006.doc

 



Table of Contents

 

1 Trip Background. 1

1.1  Introduction  1

1.2  Overview of Venezuela  2

1.3  Hotel Pueblo Caribe and Beach Resort 3

1.3.1  The Beach (Playa El Tirano) 7

2 Jeep Safari 9

3 Trip to Orinoco Delta and Angel Falls on Venezuela Mainland. 18

3.1  Costs  19

3.2  Trip to the Orinoco Delta (18 March 2006) 19

3.2.1  The Delta and its Wildlife. 20

3.2.2  Our Flight from Porlamar to Orinoco Delta. 21

3.2.3  Trip up the Orinoco River to the Orinoco Delta Lodge. 24

3.2.4  Warao Indians. 32

3.2.5  Visit to Warao Hamlet of 3 Houses. 33

3.2.6  Trip into Delta Jungle. 37

3.3  Trip to Canaima and Angel Falls (19 March 2006) 43

3.3.1  Tepui (Tabletop Mountain) 45

3.3.2  Visit to Town of Canaima. 46

3.3.3  Flight from Canaima to Salto Angel 55

4 Returning to Canada. 60

 

List of Figures

 

Figure 1. Location of Margarita Island, Venezuela. 1

Figure 2. NASA satellite view of Isla Margarita. 2

Figure 3. Location of Venezuela. 2

Figure 4. View of the main pool from an upper hotel room.. 3

Figure 5. Hotel Pueblo Caribe and Beach Resort (older main section) 4

Figure 6. Sol y Mar Restaurant on the main pool 4

Figure 7. Main hotel, main pool at night, La Casada section, El Ancra bar/restaurant on beach. 5

Figure 8. Tourist in new pool surrounded by new buildings under construction. 5

Figure 9. Playa El Tirano, Hotel Pueblo Caribe and Guayamuri Hill 6

Figure 10. Day of arrival (overcast and dogs on beach – not promising) 6

Figure 11. Loungers and cabanas on Playa El Tirano. 7

Figure 12. Harbour at the end of Playa El Tirano (note pelicans) 8

Figure 13. Small boy with fish receiving “Inferno” gum.. 8

Figure 14. Route of jeep safari around Margarita Island. 9

Figure 15. Artisan’s store and workplace. 9

Figure 16. La Asuncion, Margarita’s Capital 10

Figure 17. Castillo de Santa Rosa (fort) above La Asuncion. 10

Figure 18. Cathedral in El Valle del Espiritu Santo (note tree growing on spires) 11

Figure 19. Stained glass of the Virgin Mary in cathedral 12

Figure 20. Alter of the cathedral (where Pope John Paul II presided) 13

Figure 21. Armed police patrolling the cathedral’s museum.. 14

Figure 22. Our two jeeps. 14

Figure 23. Inside our jeep. 15

Figure 24. White sand beach at Punta Arenas (mountain on Macanao Peninsula) 15

Figure 25. Offroading when returning from Punta Arenas (note the cacti) 16

Figure 26. Tourist boats at La Restinga. 16

Figure 27. Mangrove swamps at La Restinga. 17

Figure 28. Starfish and hawk-like bird in Mangrove swamps at La Restinga. 17

Figure 29. Sunset at northern tip of Margarita near Playa El Agua. 18

Figure 30. Map of Venezuela. 19

Figure 31. Orinoco Delta. 20

Figure 32. Cessna 208B Caravan at Tucupita Airstrip. 21

Figure 33. Takeoff at 0630 hours from Porlamar International Airport 21

Figure 34. Landing at Tucupita airstrip at 0800 hours. 22

Figure 35. Another LTV Cessna Caravan landing at Tucupita airstrip. 22

Figure 36. Tucupita is the capital city of the Venezuelan state of Delta Amacuro. 23

Figure 37. Sunken barge at the Tucupita airstrip. 23

Figure 38. Loading blocks of ice on our boat at the Tucupita airstrip. 24

Figure 39. Refreshment stop on trip down river to Orinoco Delta Lodge. 24

Figure 40. Red Howler Monkey. 25

Figure 41. Red Howler Monkeys on trip down river 25

Figure 42. Barge with equipment for oil exploration on trip down river 26

Figure 43. Tug pushing barge on trip down river 26

Figure 44. Passing a Warao Indian paddling a canoe on trip down river 27

Figure 45. Approaching Orinoco Delta Lodge. 27

Figure 46. Arrival at Orinoco Delta Lodge. 28

Figure 47. Waterfront cottages at Orinoco Delta Lodge. 28

Figure 48. Our cottage at Orinoco Delta Lodge (mosquito screened) 29

Figure 49. Inside cottage at Orinoco Delta Lodge. 29

Figure 50. Sunrise in front of our cottage at Orinoco Delta Lodge (19 March 2006) 30

Figure 51. Boat from New Zealand in front of Orinoco Delta Lodge (in morning) 30

Figure 52. Boat from New Zealand in front of Orinoco Delta Lodge (in evening) 31

Figure 53. Palafitos (wooden house raised on stilts) and canoes. 31

Figure 54. Moriche worm.. 32

Figure 55. Moriche palm.. 32

Figure 56. Baskets and necklaces for sale at Warao hamlet 33

Figure 57. Basket #1 purchased (10,000 Bolivares = $5 US) 34

Figure 58. Basket #2 purchased for 10,000 Bolivares (baby has skin condition on head) 34

Figure 59. Warao house #1 (axe, cooking fire, banana) 35

Figure 60. Warao house #2 (hammocks) 35

Figure 61. Warao house #3 (hammocks, new canoe under construction) 36

Figure 62. Dugout canoe (bongo) under construction. 37

Figure 63. Warao children at houses. 37

Figure 64. Warao children running along river (girl seen in Figure 63) 37

Figure 65. Traveling along caños clogged by water hyacinth. 38

Figure 66. Water hyacinth. 38

Figure 67. Blue & Yellow Macaws at our hotel Pueblo Caribe. 39

Figure 68. Blue & Yellow Macaws (aka Blue & Gold Macaw) in flight 39

Figure 69. Riot of vegetation along the river 40

Figure 70. Our guide looking for suitable bamboo during jungle walk. 40

Figure 71. Our guide peeling the layer off bamboo to get at edible center 41

Figure 72. Termite nest on tree. 41

Figure 73. Loading back on boat after jungle walk. 42

Figure 74. Amazon river dolphin. 42

Figure 75. Another group from our camp piranha fishing. 43

Figure 76. Piranha fishing. 43

Figure 77. Location of Canaima south of Tucupita. 44

Figure 78. Cloud cover prevented us from seeing Salto Angel when flying to Canaima. 44

Figure 79. Coming into land at the Canaima airstrip. 45

Figure 80. Tepuis seen when landing at the Canaima airport 46

Figure 81. Map of Canaima. 47

Figure 82. Falls at Laguna de Canaima. 48

Figure 83. Church in Canaima (note termite nest on church) 48

Figure 84. Inside church in Canaima. 49

Figure 85. View of Kasari-Tepui (right) across Laguna de Canaima on the Rio Carrao. 50

Figure 86. Woman scrubbing clothes at Laguna de Canaima (bucket of Diana soap) 51

Figure 87. Salto Hacha (Axe) at Laguna de Canaima. 51

Figure 88. Behind Salto Hacha. 52

Figure 89. Other end of Salto Hacha. 52

Figure 90. Swimming across from Salto Hacha. 53

Figure 91. Children at Canaima. 53

Figure 92. Primary school at Canaima. 54

Figure 93. Capucine monkey at Canaima. 54

Figure 94. Tepuis along the way from Canaima to Angel Falls. 55

Figure 95. Angel Falls SE of Canaima. 55

Figure 96. Location of Salto Angel on Auyan-Tepui 56

Figure 97. Erosion on top of tepui 57

Figure 98. Top of tepui 57

Figure 99. Salto Angel (983 metres) on Auyan-Tepui 58

Figure 100. Salto Angel 59

Figure 101. Salto Angel in wet season (June - December) 60

 

 

 

 

 


1            Trip Background

1.1     Introduction

We booked last minute for $680 Cdn/pp including tax from Nolitour.  We tookoff from Montreal at 2230 hours on 12 March 2006 and flew via Air Transat for 5 hours to Porlamar, Margarita Island (Margarita means Pearl in Latin).

 

Figure 1. Location of Margarita Island, Venezuela

Figure 1 shows the location of Margarita Island just 38 km off the coast of Venezuela about the same area as Trinidad and Aruba.  Figure 2 is a satellite photograph of Margarita.

 

Margarita Island (La Isla Margarita), known as the "Pearl of the Caribbean", is far from the track of Atlantic tropical storms.  Its location as an island in the Caribbean Sea offers lots of beaches to explore, most of them virgin.  Margarita Island is divided into two sections tenuously linked by a 24 km sand spit which separates the sea from the fascinating Restinga Lagoon National Park.  At its largest, Margarita Island measures 67 km from east to west (Punta Ballena to Punta Arenas) and 32.4 kms from north to south - 167 km of shoreline liberally endowed with inviting beaches.  The average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius and the annual rainfall averages 27 inches resulting in mostly arid landscapes with some wooded areas and fertile valleys.  Over 300,000 people live on Margarita Island most of whom live in the eastern part where the capital of Asuncion and the shoppers paradise of Porlamar are located.  The western part of Margarita Island is called the Macanao Peninsula. It is sparsely populated by 20.000 inhabitants located in small fishing villages scattered along its coast.  It has seen little tourist development due to the limited availability of water.  Wild deer, goats and hares roam the mountainous interior and many of the sandy beaches are only visited by the local fishermen.

 

Figure 2. NASA satellite view of Isla Margarita

1.2     Overview of Venezuela

Archeological findings and carbon-dating evidence indicate that human settlements in Venezuela can be traced back to 13,000 BC.

 

This land was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1498, and named Venezuela (Little Venice), by Amerigo Vespucci in 1499.  It remained a colony of Spain until declaring its independence in 1811. After the defeat of the Spanish by Simon Bolivar and his armies in 1819, it, along with Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama, formed the independent Republic of Gran. Venezuela emerged from that coalition in 1830 to become an independent nation.  Since then, and for most of the first half of the 20th century, the country was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms.

 

Figure 3. Location of Venezuela

Democratically elected governments first took place in 1959 and Venezuela established its own constitution in 1961.  In that regard, the then popular election of President Hugo Chavez in 1999 has now caused considerable controversy, especially within the United States, as Venezuela has some of the largest proven oil reserves outside of the Middle East and President Chavez is using same as a regional threat and bargaining chip.

 

Current concerns in Venezuela include a weakening democracy, a very politicized military, and increased drug-related violence along the Colombian border.  In addition, international environmentalists are increasingly concerned about irresponsible mining operations that are endangering the Amazon rain forest and indigenous peoples.

 

And finally, the country is still feeling the devastating impact of (Hurricane Mitch, October 1998), when at least 5,000 people died in Venezuela's worst natural disaster in a half-century.

1.3     Hotel Pueblo Caribe and Beach Resort

Our hotel was Hotel Pueblo Caribe and Beach Resort (Figure 5), located on Playa el Tirano.  The Pueblo Caribe is actually located across the road from the beach, Playa El Tirano, in a small town about 20 minutes from the Porlamar Airport.  This was unlike our experience in the Dominican Republic and Cuba where the resorts are located away from the local houses.

 

Figure 4. View of the main pool from an upper hotel room

The food was fine but a bit repetitious.  The spaghetti house serves very good spaghetti.  The a la carte restaurant, El Ancla, is located on the beach and serves a good supper (one free supper per person).

 

Figure 5. Hotel Pueblo Caribe and Beach Resort (older main section)

The entertainment at night was uneven ranging from a very good African-Caribbean show to one that defied understanding and lacked appeal.  The hotel staff is good and the waiters are efficient. The bar service was good although the selection of drinks was perhaps not as great as in the DR.

 

Figure 6. Sol y Mar Restaurant on the main pool

 

Figure 7. Main hotel, main pool at night, La Casada section, El Ancra bar/restaurant on beach

Figure 8. Tourist in new pool surrounded by new buildings under construction

 

Figure 9. Playa El Tirano, Hotel Pueblo Caribe and Guayamuri Hill

Figure 10. Day of arrival (overcast and dogs on beach – not promising)

Pueblo Caribe has three sections of rooms: the main hotel building (oldest); the La Casada section; and a group of four new buildings (2 completed and 2 being finished).  These latter rooms are probably the most preferred ones.  All sections share the same dining facilities for breakfast and supper.

 

Our room was changed to the La Casada section of the resort after the air conditioning in our room in the main hotel building needed repair.  The room itself was big and it was fine.  The La Casada section has its own pool, bar and grill.

1.3.1       The Beach (Playa El Tirano)

The beach known as Playa El Tirano, is a very narrow brown sand beach - 1,050m long and 30m wide.  It has constant surf which may intimidate some but provides for a fun body surfing experience.  There is a group of six outside dogs that is on this beach, but once you get use to their presence, they are no bother.  In short, after we became use to the beach, we spent our days down on the beach.  The hotel beach boys would set up our loungers and cabana.

 

The hotel provides beach loungers and cabanas which make for an enjoyable day at the beach (Figure 11).  We had to get down to the beach by about 0900 hours to ensure that we got loungers and a cabana.

 

Figure 11. Loungers and cabanas on Playa El Tirano

 

At one end of the beach is a small harbour (Figure 12) of the village of "El Tirano", a.k.a.  Paraguachí, while at the other end is the Guayamuri Hill (Figure 11).  When we walked along the beach towards Guayamuri Hill, we saw a small boy who had caught a fish and we gave him and his friends some gum (Figure 13).

 

Paraguachí signifies "abundance of lobster" in the Guaquerí Indian language.  The village Paraguachí lies in one of the freshest and most fertile valleys of the island.  The 2lst of July 1561 saw the arrival at the Port of Paraguachí a Spanish conquistador who would be remembered for his cruelty and bloodthirstiness: Lope de Aguirre.  In his 40 days stay in the island he wiped out as many people as he could. Included in the massacre was the then governor Juan Sarmiento de Villandrando and many of his followers.  Leaving the island he left behind a trail of death and destruction.  Months later he was caught by García de Pacides and his final act before surrendering was to stab his own daughter Elvira to death.  Since then the port of Paraguachí (also called Fermín Port) has been called "El Tirano" (The Tyrant).  El Tirano is a fishing village where it is possible to take boat rides to the islands of Los Frailes (the Friars lslands) about 45 minutes away.

 

Figure 12. Harbour at the end of Playa El Tirano (note pelicans)

Figure 13. Small boy with fish receiving “Inferno” gum

2            Jeep Safari

We took a day long jeep safari arranged through Marcos Tours (http://margaritaisland.com.ve) via e-mail before our departure for $45 US/pp.  We also tried unsuccessfully to arrange an overnight trip to the Orinoco Delta and Canaima through him.

 

This jeep safari took us around a large part of Margarita Island (Figure 12) and was very enjoyable.  Margarita is formed by two islands, joined together through La Restinga, a beautiful national park.  The western island is called the Macanao Peninsula.

 

Figure 14. Route of jeep safari around Margarita Island

Figure 15. Artisan’s store and workplace

We first stopped at some artisans stores and bought a crucifix (Figure 15).  It’s required by law that all tours must stop at an artisan store.

 

We drove through La Asuncion, Margarita’s Capital which was founded in 1565 by Captain Pedro Cervantes de Albornoz and has a population of about 12,000 inhabitants. It is situated in a fertile valley surrounded by green hills (Figure 16).  Dominating La Asuncion is Castillo de Santa Rosa which was built in the 1680s to control the passage from south to north. It was the site of many battles.

 

Figure 16. La Asuncion, Margarita’s Capital

Figure 17. Castillo de Santa Rosa (fort) above La Asuncion

We stopped at the Valley of the Holly Spirit (El Valle del Espiritu Santo) which is a pretty, tree shaded colonial village.  Surrounded by green hills, this small village was Margaritas first Capital, founded by Isabel Manrique de Villalobos in 1529.  In front of the shady Santiago Marino Plaza, is a flamboyant, Neo-gothic Church (Figure 18) which houses the image of a 16h century Virgin venerated by fishermen and sailors.  History tells that it was destined for Peru and mistakenly unloaded in Cubagua Island.  When the island of Cubagua suffered earth tremors and tidal waves, people evacuated and brought the Virgin to Margarita.  Since then, thousands of pilgrims have come to pray and ask favors on Her feast day (Sept. 8) even Pope John Paul II came to consecrate Her as the patron saint of the Venezuelan Navy.  Adjacent is the Diocesan Museum where hundreds of religious silver and gold offerings and the Virgin’s jeweled robes are displayed.

 

Figure 18. Cathedral in El Valle del Espiritu Santo (note tree growing on spires)

Figure 19. Stained glass of the Virgin Mary in cathedral

Figure 20. Alter of the cathedral (where Pope John Paul II presided)

Figure 21. Armed police patrolling the cathedral’s museum

Figure 22. Our two jeeps

Figure 23. Inside our jeep

We visited Punta Arenas on the western point of the Macanao Peninsula (70 km from Porlamar) where we had a fish lunch and an hour on the beach (Figure 24). 

 

Punta Arenas is a beautiful, remote little town inhabited solely by artisan fishermen who live on the produce of the Caribbean. The fishermen’s huts extend along a beach which leads to a sandy point which gives its name to both the village and the beach.  The beach extends along 1.5 Km of white soft sand.  There is gentle surf and few trees. Limited services are available.

 

Figure 24. White sand beach at Punta Arenas (mountain on Macanao Peninsula)

Figure 25. Offroading when returning from Punta Arenas (note the cacti)

Figure 26. Tourist boats at La Restinga

At La Restinga, we took a tourist boat (Figure 26) through the mangrove swamps (Figure 27).  Follwing the channels through the swamp was interesting but there was little wildlife to see save for the starfish and the odd bird (Figure 28).

 

Figure 27. Mangrove swamps at La Restinga

Figure 28. Starfish and hawk-like bird in Mangrove swamps at La Restinga

Our last stop was at northern tip of Margarita Island near Playa El Agua to watch a lovely sunset (Figure 29).

Figure 29. Sunset at northern tip of Margarita near Playa El Agua

3            Trip to Orinoco Delta and Angel Falls on Venezuela Mainland

The highlight of our vacation was an overnight trip to the Orinoco Delta and Canaima (Angel Falls) on the Venezuelan mainland.  I would visit Margarita Island again if I could be sure that I could make this side trip again.  The map of Venezuela (Figure 30) shows the location of Tucupita (Orinoco Delta) and Canaima in the eastern part of the country.

Figure 30. Map of Venezuela

3.1     Costs

Our overnight trip to the Orinoco Delta and Canaima (Angel Falls) was arranged through a tour representative named Abel who served Swedish tourists at the Pueblo Caribe.  This trip was actually with Línea Turística Aereotuy (LTA) and it was the highlight of our trip.  As this was the dry season the tour costs were at the lowest of the year:

 

  • Tour itself: $315 US/per person (paid in cash).
  • Porlamar Airport departure tax: 12,000 Bolivares (Bs)/per person.
  • All visitors to Canaima must pay the 8,000Bs ($5) park entrance fee. The fee is collected at the airport upon arrival and is good for the duration of the stay.

 

This was money well spent for the adventure delivered.  Being able to see the Warao Indians in the Orinoco Delta and Angel Falls was very interesting.

3.2     Trip to the Orinoco Delta (18 March 2006)

The Orinoco delta is a vast, intricate labyrinth of waterways weaving through a simmering jungle to carry the waters of the Orinoco to the Atlantic Ocean. The Orinoco Delta – the landmass now known as Delta Amacuro State – has formed over the course of thousands of years as the mighty river has deposited millions of tons of sediment into the ocean. Over the last century alone, some 1,000km² has been added to the delta, which continues to extend into the Atlantic at a rate of 40m per year over its entire 360km coastline. The Orinoco branches off into over 60 caños (waterways) and 40 rivers which diffuse through 41,000km² of forested islands, swamps and lagoons.

 

 

Figure 31. Orinoco Delta

3.2.1       The Delta and its Wildlife

The delta is divided into upper and lower regions, west and east of the Caño Macerao respectively. This division is a consequence of the flood control program initiated in the 1960s; Caño Mánamo was dammed, reducing seasonal flooding in the north and making the land more suitable for cattle farming. There was, however, a cascade of knock-on effects in the region. The reduced water levels in the upper delta caused the region to become tidal, and water levels now rise and fall by 1-2m daily. In the dry season, salt water now moves further up the waterways, which has had a significant effect on the flora and fauna of the area and has forced resident Warao to relocate, seeking fresh water upriver. The lower delta, still under the influence of the Orinoco, is subject to flooding during the dry season, when water levels may vary by up to 15m. Since 1991, 331,000 ha of the lower delta has been protected under Mariusa National Park.

 

A massive variety of habitats has arisen within the delta, both terrestrial and aquatic. Mixed tropical rainforest, dominated by towering palm trees, prevails over much of the terra firma, fostering a variety of flora including fruiting trees, orchids, bromeliads and arboreal ferns; the latter of which flourish in the moist air of the canopy. Grassland swamps and marshes brim with aquatic plants, and estuarine waterways towards the ocean are thick with mangroves. Throughout the delta, the caños are themselves hugely diverse in form. Wide channels break off into narrow rivulets, isolated pools and lagoons. Some, heavy with sediments are brown in color, others are black with tannic acids. Many are carpeted with vast floating meadows of bora and grasses, slowly drifting along with the current.

 

Needless to say, the wildlife of the delta is also extremely rich and varied. Jaguar, puma, ocelot, red howler and capuchin monkeys, capybara, agouti, giant otter, manatee and dolphins are just a handful of the countless species of mammal that can be observed in their natural habitats. Among the extensive bird population are hoatzin, macaws, parrots, toucans, caciques, kingfishers, cormorants, egrets, falcons, hawks, harpy-eagles, weaverbirds and hummingbirds. There is also an untold number of amphibians, reptiles and fish species, including anaconda, boas, vipers, fer-de-lance, coral snakes, iguana, cayman, turtles, piranha, stingrays and catfish.

3.2.2       Our Flight from Porlamar to Orinoco Delta

We flew from Margarita Island (Porlamar Airport) to the Tucupita Airstrip in the Orinoco Delta in a Cessna 208 Caravan (Figure 32), a 12 seater, unpressurized single turboprop.

 

Figure 32. Cessna 208B Caravan at Tucupita Airstrip

Figure 33. Takeoff at 0630 hours from Porlamar International Airport

 

Figure 34. Landing at Tucupita airstrip at 0800 hours

Figure 35. Another LTV Cessna Caravan landing at Tucupita airstrip

 

Tucupita, population of 80,000 inhabitants, lies well into the delta on the Caño Manamo river (one of the two major branches of the Orinoco river delta). 

 

Figure 36. Tucupita is the capital city of the Venezuelan state of Delta Amacuro

Figure 37. Sunken barge at the Tucupita airstrip

From Tucupita, fast motorized canoes (Figure 38) take tourists into the remotest parts of the delta where a range of lodges have been constructed, ranging from simple rustic huts to more luxurious accommodations.  In the delta itself only travel by boat is possible.

3.2.3       Trip up the Orinoco River to the Orinoco Delta Lodge

We walked from the Tucupita airstrip terminal down to the Orinoco river bank to load onto our boat, powered by twin 75 HP outboard motors for a 2 hour trip down river into the delta to the Orinoco Delta Lodge.

 

We saw several tall trees with red howler monkeys (Figure 40).  These monkeys are relatively easy to observe during the dry season, when most of the trees lose their leaves to survive the drought (Figure 41).  This monkey is renowned for its loud call, which the males make to tell other groups where the troop is currently feeding. This helps them save energy by avoiding having to patrol a territory and conflicting with neighbours. 

Figure 38. Loading blocks of ice on our boat at the Tucupita airstrip

Figure 39. Refreshment stop on trip down river to Orinoco Delta Lodge

Figure 40. Red Howler Monkey

Figure 41. Red Howler Monkeys on trip down river

 

Figure 42. Barge with equipment for oil exploration on trip down river

Figure 43. Tug pushing barge on trip down river

Figure 44. Passing a Warao Indian paddling a canoe on trip down river

Figure 45. Approaching Orinoco Delta Lodge

 

Figure 46. Arrival at Orinoco Delta Lodge

Our accommodations at the Orinoco Delta Lodge were in a small thatched hut with three twin beds and a shower/sink/toilet in a room.  It was completely screened against mosquitoes.  The hut was built over the river on stilts and connected to each other and to the food service area by wooden walkways.  We experienced only a few mosquitoes in our cabin, perhaps because it was the dry season.

 

Figure 47. Waterfront cottages at Orinoco Delta Lodge

 

Figure 48. Our cottage at Orinoco Delta Lodge (mosquito screened)

Figure 49. Inside cottage at Orinoco Delta Lodge

 

Figure 50. Sunrise in front of our cottage at Orinoco Delta Lodge (19 March 2006)

Figure 51. Boat from New Zealand in front of Orinoco Delta Lodge (in morning)

Figure 52. Boat from New Zealand in front of Orinoco Delta Lodge (in evening)

Figure 53. Palafitos (wooden house raised on stilts) and canoes

 

3.2.4       Warao Indians

The Warao Indians – literally the ‘Canoe People’- are the native inhabitants of the delta. With a population of 24,000, the Warao constitute the second largest indigenous tribe in the country.

 

Family groups reside in palafitos, wooden houses raised on stilts (Figure 53), along the banks of the river, and spend most of their daily lives in canoes fishing the nearby caños and hunting and gathering in the surrounding forests. Skilled craftspeople, the Warao build their palafitos and canoes from forest wood using traditional techniques.

 

The moriche palm (Figure 55) known as the ‘tree of life’, provides the Indians with fruit, juices and a sweet pulp that can be made into a type of bread. Moreover, the trunk of the palm is used to cultivate a thumb-sized beetle grub, the moriche worm (Figure 54), a nutritious dietary supplement.

 

Figure 54. Moriche worm

Figure 55. Moriche palm

3.2.5       Visit to Warao Hamlet of 3 Houses

The Warao are considered very fine basket makers.  Their baskets are often lidded with a carrying strap.  They also make basket trays.  They wrap the fibers around a coil of a palm branch.  The baskets are woven using centuries-old skills handed down from mother to daughter.  The entire family contributes to the work on the baskets. The men gather the reeds from the marshy areas near the coast.  Some reeds are dyed with natural vegetable dyes to add color and pattern.  The younger children assist by sorting the reeds, while the older ones assist in gathering, weaving, or dyeing.

 

These baskets are hand woven so tightly that they are very stiff and hard, woven with natural palm fibers. Some are dyed pale turquoise, coral, and pale green using natural dyes.

 

Owing to increased contact with tourists, the Warao have also begun to carve figurines from balsa wood and to make necklaces, baskets and hammocks from the leaves and seeds of the ubiquitous moriche palm.

 

We stopped at a Warao hamlet of 3 houses to buy some handicrafts. 

 

Figure 56. Baskets and necklaces for sale at Warao hamlet

Figure 57. Basket #1 purchased (10,000 Bolivares = $5 US)

Figure 58. Basket #2 purchased for 10,000 Bolivares (baby has skin condition on head)

Figure 59. Warao house #1 (axe, cooking fire, banana)

Figure 60. Warao house #2 (hammocks)

Figure 61. Warao house #3 (hammocks, new canoe under construction)

Figure 62. Dugout canoe (bongo) under construction

Figure 63. Warao children at houses

Figure 64. Warao children running along river (girl seen in Figure 63)

3.2.6       Trip into Delta Jungle

Our English-speaking guide, Clemence and his Warao helper issued us rubber boots and took us by boat deeper into the jungle along tidal channels (caños).  These caños are clogged (Figure 65) by floating water hyacinth (Figure 66).  Prior to dam construction, these caños were flushed by annual floods, which maintained open channels but now water hyacinth can be so dense that navigation is impeded.   Furthermore upon dying, the floating vegetation settles to the bottom of caños, greatly accelerating infilling and loss of sandy channel-bottom habitat for fish and invertebrates.

 

Figure 65. Traveling along caños clogged by water hyacinth

We both had anti-malaria pills, Malarone ($10 a pill) and it was recommended by the travel doctor to have a Yellow fever shot but I declined.  The course of pills was 1 the day before our flight, one for each day in-country, and 7 after leave the malarial affected area for a total of 10 pills.  Donna got sick during our stay at the lodge, probably because of a reaction to the Malarone, and was unable to go on the trip into the jungle.

 

Figure 66. Water hyacinth

We saw several Blue & Yellow Macaws (Figure 67) high up in the tall trees.  At one place a group of them were calling to each other when suddenly a flight of macaws flew off (Figure 68).

 

Figure 67. Blue & Yellow Macaws at our hotel Pueblo Caribe

Figure 68. Blue & Yellow Macaws (aka Blue & Gold Macaw) in flight

Figure 69. Riot of vegetation along the river

At one point we stopped and went on a jungle walk for about an hour.  We followed a path cut through the jungle by machete.  The guide showed us how to get water from the center of a thick vine; he peeled bamboo down to its core to get at the center which tasted like celery (Figure 71); and he showed us how palm leaves were used to thatch at roof or make at fan.  The jungle was swarming with mosquitoes.

 

Figure 70. Our guide looking for suitable bamboo during jungle walk

Figure 71. Our guide peeling the layer off bamboo to get at edible center

It’s fairly common to see termite nests on trees (Figure 72).  These nest look like paper wasp nests.  The Warao eat termites which are high in protein, when they are on the trail and are running short of supplies.  The Warao helper showed me how to eat termites.  He removed the outer covering of the nest and allowed the termites to crawl onto his finger.  He then popped the finger into his mouth and pulled it out clean.  I tried it but didn’t notice much taste.

 

Figure 72. Termite nest on tree

Figure 73. Loading back on boat after jungle walk

At the end of our jungle trip we stopped at the Warao hamlet to buy some handicraft and then stopped for some piranha fishing.  The piranha fishing was done using a pole with a hook on a 6 foot line, baited with raw meat.  The technique was to put the line in the water and slap the surface of the water with the pole tip to attract the piranhas’ attention.

 

We saw a couple of fresh water dolphins (Figure 74).  These are Amazon river dolphins that inhabit the Amazon and Orinoco river systems.  They are most often found in brown, slow-moving waters, but during the flood season they enter flooded grasslands and forests.  They were a pale blue colour. 

 

Figure 74. Amazon river dolphin

These dolphins live singly or in pairs, but groups of up to 30 gather to feed. They use their triangular pectoral fins to swim slowly over the river bed searching for crabs, fish and turtles with their echolocation. There are reports that Amazon river dolphins can stun prey with bursts of sound from the "melon" organ in their bulging forehead.

 

Figure 75. Another group from our camp piranha fishing

Figure 76. Piranha fishing

3.3     Trip to Canaima and Angel Falls (19 March 2006)

Canaima, pronounced in English as in Can-I-ma, is a National Park located in Venezuela's Guayana region, south of the Orinoco River, in the area known as the Gran Sabana.  With an area of three million hectares (3,000,000 Ha), it is one of the largest national parks in the world.

 

Figure 77. Location of Canaima south of Tucupita

 

On Sunday, 19 March 2006, we returned up river from the Orinoco Delta Lodge to the Tucupita airstrip and flew about an hour to Canaima.  We flew at 10,500 feet but the cloud cover (Figure 78) prevented us from seeing Salto Angel.

 

Figure 78. Cloud cover prevented us from seeing Salto Angel when flying to Canaima

 

After the unsuccessful fly past of Salto Angel (Anel Falls), we landed at Canaima (Figure 79).

 

Figure 79. Coming into land at the Canaima airstrip

3.3.1       Tepui (Tabletop Mountain)

The most conspicuous geological features in Canaima are the tepuis (tepuys), tabletop mountains with vertical walls carved by the erosion of millions of years.  Roughly 65% of the park is covered by tepuis.  The tepuis constitute a unique biogeological entity and are of great geological interest.  The sheer cliffs and waterfalls, including the world's highest (983 m), form a spectacular landscape.  The tepuis emerge abruptly out of the grasslands and thick jungles making for dramatic views (Figure 80).  Reports of the tepuis inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.

 

Formed over millions and millions of years, the sandstone tepuis of the Gran Sabana are geological and biological wonders.  With vertical edges that plunge for thousands of feet, most are unclimbed and unexplored.  The highest, Roraima, at 2,810m (9,217 ft.), towers over the savanna below.  Auyántepui, or "Devil's Mountain," is some 700 sq. km (275 sq. miles) in area -- roughly the size of Singapore -- and is the home of Salto Angel. Given their age and isolation, the tepuis host an astounding number of endemic species, both flora and fauna. In some cases, as much as half of all species of flora and fauna on a given tepui is endemic.

 

A large chunk of this region, more than 3 million hectares (7 million acres), is protected within Canaima National Park, the largest national park in Venezuela and the sixth largest in the world.

 

Because Canaima is such a popular destination, it can get quite busy during the high season, particularly from July to August and from November to January. During peak periods, prices can get inflated, and the river, lagoon, and waterfall tours seem downright crowded.

 

Figure 80. Tepuis seen when landing at the Canaima airport

Although fly pasts are conducted year-round, trips to Angel Falls itself are only possible during the rainy season, when the water level is high enough in the rivers to reach its base.  The unofficial season for tours to the foot of Angel Falls runs from June through November. October and November are regarded as the best months to visit, since the rains are winding down but the water level remains high.  Depending on the river level, trips can sometimes be made as late as December and even January. August and September are definitely the rainiest months to visit, and although the falls are thick and impressive, visibility may be limited.  Although there are no organized trips to Angel Falls in the dry season (Jan-May), this is also a good time to take advantage of low-season bargains and the relative desolation of Canaima. The dry season is actually a good time to visit the region as a beach destination, as the many pink- and white-sand beaches that line the rivers' edges throughout the dry season all but disappear during the rainy season.

3.3.2       Visit to Town of Canaima

From the airstrip we drove into the town of Canaima.  The town of Canaima is situated on the banks of the Laguna de Canaima.  As shown in Figure 81 and Figure 82, the Rio Carrao forms many impressive falls into the Laguna de Canaima.

The small Pemón Indian village and tourist enclave of Canaima is the gateway to Angel Falls and much of this region. Set on the edge of a black-water lagoon ringed with soft, pink-sand beaches; fed by a series of powerful waterfalls; and surrounded by miles of untouched jungle, the word "idyllic" doesn't do this spot justice.

This region is also known as the Gran Sabana, or "Great Plains," as it features large stretches of flat savanna broken up only by these imposing tepuis. However, the area around Canaima itself is mostly hilly and thickly forested. The true Gran Sabana is located in the southeastern (and much less visited) section of Canaima National Park.

Figure 81. Map of Canaima

Figure 82. Falls at Laguna de Canaima

We walked through Canaima to the Laguna de Canaima, passing by the small church shown in Figure 83 and Figure 84.

 

Figure 83. Church in Canaima (note termite nest on church)

Besides the few dirt tracks that ring the eastern edge of the lagoon and define the tiny village of Canaima, there are virtually no roads in this region.  Transportation is conducted primarily by boat in traditional dugout canoes called curiaras.  From Canaima, numerous tours are arranged to a half-dozen waterfalls, including Angel Falls, and neighboring indigenous communities. 

 

Aside from strolling around the small village of Canaima and walking along the edge of the lagoon or to the lookout over Ucaima Falls, most tourists are dependent upon lodge or tour operators for getting around.  In our case, we were driven from the airport into Canaima on a brand new Ford truck with but 1251 kms on the odometer.

 

Figure 84. Inside church in Canaima

After a brief walk we arrived at the Laguna de Canaima which has a lovely view of the falls with tepuis in the background (Figure 85).

 

Figure 85. View of Kasari-Tepui (right) across Laguna de Canaima on the Rio Carrao

 

A woman was washing clothes on the beach of the Laguna de Canaima (Figure 86) from where we went by an outboard-powdered canoe past the falls shown in Figure 81 to Salto Hacha. 

 

We walked on a trail on a ledge behind Salto Hacha (Figure 88 and Figure 89), after which we went for a swim at the beach across from the falls (Figure 87).

Figure 86. Woman scrubbing clothes at Laguna de Canaima (bucket of Diana soap)

Figure 87. Salto Hacha (Axe) at Laguna de Canaima

 

Figure 88. Behind Salto Hacha

Figure 89. Other end of Salto Hacha

Figure 90. Swimming across from Salto Hacha

Figure 91. Children at Canaima

 

Figure 92. Primary school at Canaima

Figure 93. Capucine monkey at Canaima

 

3.3.3       Flight from Canaima to Salto Angel

At about 1600 hours we took off from Canaima airport for the return flight to Porlamar, Margarita Island.  Because we could not see Angel Falls (salto) on the flight from Tucupita to Canaima due to cloud cover, the pilots tried another fly past of Angel Falls.  The cloud cover was about the 6000-7000 foot level (Figure 94).

 

Figure 94. Tepuis along the way from Canaima to Angel Falls

Figure 95. Angel Falls SE of Canaima

 

 

Figure 96. Location of Salto Angel on Auyan-Tepui

Erosion by wind and water have carved the top of tepuis into bizarre forms and gorges (Figure 97) making walking across them very difficult.  The natives consider the top of the tepuis sacred places, inhabited by Gods and the spirits of their ancestors.

 

With an uninterrupted drop of 807m (2,648 ft.) and a total drop of 979m (3,212 ft.), Angel Falls is an impressive sight -- and as you are already aware, the tallest waterfall on earth.  The vast majority of tourists who visit Angel Falls get to see it only from the window of their airplane.  Almost all flights to Canaima, both commercial and charter, attempt a fly past of the falls.  However, given the fact that Angel Falls is located up a steep canyon that is often socked in with clouds (especially in the rainy season), the flyovers are sometimes either aborted or offer limited views.  Moreover, even on a good day, when the plane makes a couple of passes on each side, the view is somewhat distant and fleeting.

 

Figure 97. Erosion on top of tepui

Figure 98. Top of tepui

We were lucky on this fly past of Salto Angel and were able to see the falls (Figure 99 and Figure 100).

 

Figure 99. Salto Angel (983 metres) on Auyan-Tepui

Angel Falls are named after American bush pilot and gold-seeker Jimmy Angel, who first spotted the falls in 1935.  Although earlier anecdotal reports exist about them, and certainly the local Pemón people knew of them, Jimmy Angel gets most of the credit.  In 1937, Angel crash-landed his plane on the top of Auyántepui.  No one was injured, but the pilot, his wife, and two companions had to hike for 11 days to descend the tepui and reach safety.  For decades, the silver fuselage of "El Río Coroní" could be seen on the top of Auyántepui. In 1970, it was salvaged by the Venezuelan Air Force. The plane was restored and is currently on display at the airport in Ciudad Bolívar.

 

Figure 100. Salto Angel

On every flight, we were seated immediately behind the pilots.  In level flight the forward visibility by poor because the top of the instrument panel was so high.  The pilots flew on instruments, except for landings and takeoffs, and simply flew on course using their moving map display.  There was a captain and co-pilot.  The captain took catnaps as we flew along at 10,500 feet on our trip into the Orinoco Delta and at 12,500 feet on our return trip to Porlamar.

 

 

Figure 101. Salto Angel in wet season (June - December)

4            Returning to Canada

There was a 115,000 Bolivar departure tax per person ($54 US) that must be paid at the airport.  They state that it must be paid in Bolivars, but we paid in both Bolivars and US funds.  Currency can be converted at the hotel reception.  You should bring US dollars as there is a heavy discount on Canadian dollars.

 

The flight down was via Air Transat and our section of the plane had no sound signal for the movies and no reading lights.  This made us wonder about the maintenance on the parts of the plane that we didn’t see.  The cabin crew on the flight down was poor but good on the flight back.

 

We returned from our trip to Angel Falls at about 1800 hours on 19 March and caught the bus for the airport at 0300 hours on 20 March, arriving at Montreal at 1030 hours.

 


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