Luke's South American Diary
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October 1995

6 October 1995

Pico Codazzi, Venezuela
With a little persistence, and by completely ignoring advice given to me by various locals en route, I finally found the path to the top of Pico Codazzi, at 2,430m one of the highest points in the Coastal Range of Venezuela, and, theoretically at least, now a protected National Monument. Easily accessible from the main Colonia Tovar - La Victoria road, the path, as I eventually discovered by trial and error, was cleverly hidden by a thicket of bamboo, through which I had to more or less hack my way. There were, of course, no signs, and no evidence that the area was in any way protected, (which basically means that it was not protected).

Like all Venezuelan paths, it was seriously steep, with absolutely no pretensions to user-friendliness, although having said that just half-an-hour of tough walking is needed to reach the summit. It led me through thick stands of bamboo, and moss-covered bromeliad-laden cloud-forest, upto the shrubs and brush above, unexpectedly interspersed with tall palm-trees, through clouds of electric-blue midges and the rustlings of many hidden birds, before emerging at the TV masts on the crest, where on a clear day a 360° view would greet the intrepid hiker, stretching form the Caribbean to Lago Valencia to Caracas. However, the whole area around Colonia Tovar, as I had found on many previous visits, is infamous for its fog and cloud, and clear days are few and far between, although I was granted a few tantalizing glimpses of the thickly-forested mountains towards the sea, and the agricultural land around Colonia Tovar itself, laced with dirt tracks and dotted with red-roofed farms. More than anything I saw it as a victory over the obfuscation which surrounds Venezuela's potential tourist sites, and another item to tick off my list of places to visit.

I have also continued exploring some of the other potentially interesting parts of Caracas itself, and have discovered whole areas I never knew existed, and that some areas against which Victor strenuously warned me in fact turned out to be quite salubrious (even if they were surrounded by much poorer barrios). A working class district called Cementario appeared to be just a two kilometre-long street market, where just about everything conceivable could be bought, presumably at prices much lower than those I was used to. Although I did not go into the cemetery after which the area is named, I did have a good look around another area called Cementario del Este, a huge expanse where terraces have been cut into the steep hillside, serviced by a maze of roads, and beautifully-maintained burial plots established on each of the terraces, many of which have splendid views over Caracas and the Avila range (I recommend sections 2-16, 3-3 and 4-4, for what is it worth!). This, however, unlike the other Cementario, is where the relatively well-to-do are buried - the one interment I did happen to witness while there was marked by about half of the participants speaking on their cellular phones: a bizarre sight, I thought.

I also found, by trial and error as usual, a church which we had seen many times from the autopista, with brightly-painted cupolas and spires, although from close up it was less than impressive, and located in an uninspiring area. I made a brief visit to El Piñar Zoo while I was down that way, just on the off-chance that it might have surprised me, but it was just another zoo: smelly and vaguely depressing. One thing I did enjoy was a return visit to Parque Cueva del Indio, which was becoming my favourite city park, especially as on this visit I discovered a whole other side I had known nothing about, including a little café with a great selection of natural fruit juices. I made a start on a project to map the park, with all its inter-connected trails, caves, cliffs and viewpoints, a project which could keep me busy for several more visits.

Julie has been away on a business trip to Ecuador and Peru this week, and we are both smarting a little from not being able to profit from it by more travels in those countries as we used to in the good old days, but c'est la vie as they say. I was therefore back on full night duty (and some of the day shift too, as Maritza had recently been spending a few mornings attending court cases and other bureaucratic nightmares over her daughter's elopement and subsequent intention to set up home in Maracaibo), so I was feeling suitably wrecked. On one particularly forgettable night, Elena managed to wake every hour on the hour until midnight, and every two or three hours thereafter - I still maintain that I was doing nothing wrong!

During the day (and probably at night as well for all I know), she has discovered crouching on her knees and elbows, where she rocks back and forth like a grass-hopper about to spring, although luckily she has not yet learned to jump. She proudly gummed her way through a small banana the other day, and is taking small amounts of water direct from her very own mug. We have been desperately reading the literature on how to make babies sleep through the night, although Julie is a little loathe to go through with he treatment, as it involves leaving Elena to cry for extended periods. I, on the other hand, am all for it.

Theoretically, during the week Julie was away, I was also supposed to be obtaining our final identity cédulas too, but so far that has been effectively thwarted by the authorities, immensely efficient in evasion and prevarication, but immensely inefficient to the point of laughter in anything else. After two fruitless visits, and two hours of queuing on the third, I found that our two little pieces of plastic had still not arrived after seven months of working on it.

21 October 1995 Back to top

Julie took Friday off last week, and as we had Maritza to look after Elena, we were able to do a few of those things which we used to take so much for granted until recently. We wallowed in bed, took a leisurely breakfast out in the garden, mooched around the shops, and went for a good long walk in Parque Cueva del Indio (which, as we remarked, was the first such walk we have had in something like a year). It was wonderful! On the Sunday, we had several friends round for lunch, including a lovely well-behaved two-year-old girl, who caused Elena to howl with jealousy whenever she came near her, to our acute embarrassment.

As can probably be inferred from the quotidian nature of the recent entries, I was starting to champ at the bit a little, and was really looking forward to the arrival of Richard and Sue from England, and the excuse to go out and do something. As all our guests do these days, they arrived loaded down with supplies of Cadbury's chocolate, Boots make-up, gravy powder, and various other foreign delicacies, and this time even an Argos wooden high-chair (a third of the price of an equivalent model here in Venezuela), to which Elena immediately took, and from which she now eats (or throws) most of her meals. They also brought warm clothes for Elena's upcoming trips to Mérida and England, and a few presents for us from family.

27 October 1995 Back to top

Our guests started with the now standard introductory day-trips: around the old-town of Caracas, Colonia Tovar, beaches, etc, and a day-trip to Guatopo National Park, where we were bitten to oblivion by some unknown assailants within seconds of leaving the car, and in which we discovered almost by accident an excellent three-hour trail through the jungle - the trail I was originally looking for had been discontinued due to lack of maintenance, and indeed it had become completely overgrown and all but impassable in the few short months since I was last there.

Canaima National Park, Venezuela (Ucaima, Laguna de Canaima, Angel Falls)
Their first major excursion was the three-day two-night package to Canaima, and I managed to persuade myself to go along with them for my third visit. I chose Jungle Rudy's Ucaima Camp over the busier but more accessible Avensa Camp, which turned out to be a good decision as the main camp was full of German package tourists visiting from Margarita, and Ucaima was populated by we three and three pleasant German guys, who left anyway on a longer trip up river after our first day, leaving just the British contingent. Although the cartoon three-star chef from our first visit had obviously been replaced (or gone on to better things, who knows?), Ucaima had however benefitted form a new addition - an adolescent tapir who had adopted, and been adopted by, the camp, and who wandered the grounds at will nibbling at plants, shoes, hammocks and anything else he happened to find lying around. They were still proudly serving river water to drink, and so presumably had not encountered any lawsuits from poisoned Americans in the last year.

My third trip under Sapo Falls was definitely not as inspiring as the first, or even the second, (the water level was even lower, although for that reason we were able to walk across above the falls as well, where the water disappears through some alarming cracks in the bedrock), but Richard and Sue were suitably impressed. (They were model visitors: informed appreciative, and constantly reminding me of how different and imposing Venezuela is, lest I forget, which I do from time to time). Rounding off by a pleasant swim in the tea-coloured water of the laguna, and slapping at the ever-present puri-puri, we peered smugly across at the large, regimented groups from the Avensa Camp, following in our footsteps across the falls.

We were booked onto the one-day excursion by boat to Angel Falls the next day, which involved a 5.30am start in pitch blackness, although gradually a stunning dawn illuminated our way through the tepuyes. Clouds rolled in, as they tend to around there, leaving it quite cool, in the early morning, although before they could bring any rain we were a long way away, and the welcome sun broke through (I have still never worked out how it can be so cool at 400m above sea level and just a couple of degrees from the Equator). By the time we reached the Falls, the thin layers of cloud were shifting in and out with disconcerting regularity, although I did manage to snap a good photo in the sun (an enlarged copy of which is now proudly displayed in the window of the photo shop I use in Caracas).

Richard and Sue were enraptured by the whole trip, including the hike up through the jungle to the base of the Falls, and I was glad that I had changed my mind at the last moment and made the trip after all, despite a nasty little tick which lodged itself in my little toe, and refused to budge until I had hacked at it with a penknife, tweezers and needles for quite some time. My little panoramic camera, a recent present from my sister, was well and truly baptized, although I later found I could not get the photos printed here in Venezuela, and would have to wait until Christmas for the results. Strangely enough, possibly my most vivid memory of that particular trip were not of Angel falls or of Canaima Lagoon, but of lounging around in hammock at sunset, watching the firework display of distant lightning and nearby fireflies.

On our return, I discovered that Julie had had a minor accident in the car (she always used to fall ill or fall off her bike while I was off travelling when we lied in Canada too), and, although still driveable, it was well smashed up on the driver's side, and Julie was probably lucky to come off completely unscathed. Apparently she had skidded in the rain on the treacherous, oily (normally deserted) roads near our apartment. The other car came off significantly worse than our tank, but the driver was luckily very philosophical and un-Venezuelan about it all, and the insurance claim should present no problems.

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