In the year 1498, when Columbus arrived at the coast of Venezuela, near the Orinoco river, he considered that he had found heaven on earth.
Eleven years later, when the explorer Amerigo Vespucci witnessed on the banks of the Maracaibo lagoon Indian villages with stilt huts, he reminded of the image of Venice. Thus he named this country Veneziola which means little Venice and is translated in Spanish as… Venezuela.
When I first visited this place back in August 2006 on my 2nd trip outside Europe, I was fascinated by this “lost world” that changed my life’s motivation towards exploring our planet.
August 2017. Over a decade has passed and memories from this country are still so fresh. Without having it on our schedule, we decide with my travel companions to leave the -lower than expectations- Brazil and find ourselves for 3 days in Southeast Venezuela. At a time when the country’s political and economic circumstances rank it in the list of countries that travelers would avoid mostly. In a country ranking high in crime, long before its financial collapse, let alone now! Regardless the refugee wave that seeks shelter in neighboring Brazil, in wretched living conditions on the road and in camps, in the southern area of Santa Elena De Uairen and Gran Sabana that we visited, we spent the most beautiful moments of the trip. People warm, kind and welcoming in a city full of life that continues till night, unlike the ghost cities of Brazil. Four-day events with concerts as well as improvised parties around cars with loud sound systems, gave the city an exceptional liveliness. Beyond the city, the countryside of which the country is famous, was once again rewarding… A country with a landscape varying from the jungles of the Amazon, the Andean peaks, the great river Orinoko with its vast tropical delta, the enchanting islands and Caribbean beaches, the savanna with the “tepui”, the imposing flat top mountains that are believed to date since the time the American and African continents split. Not to be missed, the countless waterfalls, including Salto Angel, the world’s highest waterfall with a height of 979m. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a land rich in oil and natural resources, is oddly in an economic collapse because of political incompetence, corruption and global economic and political games. At the same time, this situation makes Venezuela the cheapest travel destination on the planet, with a low value local currency.
Venezuelans like all South Americans are noted for their Latin temperament. But extreme poverty and social contradictions intensify crime on extreme levels. Almost everyone has a personal story of armed robbery and advises you not to walk out after dark.
A mix of races and skin colors is featuring local people, white, creole, african ancestry and of course indigenous indian tribes with a somewhat primitive way of life, live in the vast tropical jungles
Mochima national park
A coastal and endangered national park with tropical vegetation and exotic beaches.
The Orinoco River, the second longest in South America, flows into the Atlantic Ocean forming an extensive labyrinthine delta, home to a rare ecosystem and many indigenous tribes.
The highest waterfall in the world falls from 980 meters above, surrounded by dozens of “Tepuis”, the impressive trapezoidal mountains that rise sharply through the jungle and are believed to be remaining geological formations since the secession from the African continent. From the roof of one of these “land islands” Angel falls is precipitated.
Islas Los Rogues
Exotic coral islands in the Caribbean sea with white sand beaches and rich underwater world.
A capital in a dramatic scenery, typical of South America. Glass skyscrapers reflecting the dark gray sky, surrounded by green hills dotted with colorful slums
Exploring a lost world
August 2006. Venezuela, a country of nature’s feast.
The return to the Lost World
11 years later, I am returning to this place, which once again will lure me into its magical charm and give me the most beautiful moments of the entire trip.
With my two travel buddies we head from the town of Boa Vista in northern Brazil, to the border with Venezuela. The country is in a deep economic crisis and the numbers of refugees at the border are big. A few hundred of people manage to cross through each day, waiting patiently on cue lines with a piece of paper with a priority number on it. We, as tourists asked to be exempted from waiting upon entering and exiting the country. The officers we met on both occasions were extremely helpful. One of them, in fluent English, asked us for tourist information about Greece. We exchange €40 equal of local currency and pick up a large volume of Bolivares banknote bundles, which barely fit in a backpack and we will need to visit often our accommodation for resupply. This money will prove to be more than enough for the five or so days of our stay, it will cover accommodation, food, excursions and treats.
Santa Elena de Uairen is a small, colorful border town full of life. We find a beautiful room in a mansion and spill out into the neighborhoods, local markets and squares. The statue of the liberator Simon Bolovar figures here too, he is an honored figure everywhere in this country. Despite the country’s bad reputation for dangerousness and despite the fact that the economic situation is much worse than before, the feeling I get is of a normal and friendly society.
A baseball game is being played in a field, the spectators are enthusiastic. A group of young children in the street serve us rum and beers. We just have to consume them on the spot and return the bottles, which are worth more than the contents. In the evenings in Santa Elena the entertainment has its due. Some events with live music from local bands are going on these days, setting the pace with people of all ages participating energetically. At the outdoor bar counters that have been set up, beers are sold at a price of €0.30 and caipirinhas at €0.60.
The next day we depart with a guide of an acquaintance of the host for an excursion to the Grand Sabana area and some parts of the Canaima National Park. The cost for all 3 of us is around €25. The owner of the Land Rover speaks moderate English and informs us that he used to have the same vehicle which was taken from him in an armed robbery. We fill the car tank completely for just $1, fuel prices in Venezuela have always been the lowest in the world. With us on the excursion we also have a group of local youngsters, 3 girls and a boy from Merida. Even though they don’t speak English, and neither do we speak Spanish, we will develop a good friendship.
The landscapes we encounter are of amazing beauty, Venezuela once again enchants me. In the background is the famous Mount Roraima, one of the most famous tepui, as the dozens of trapezoidal mountains in the area are called which date back to the time of the Gondwana supercontinent, before the separation of Africa from the American continent. From such a tepui that is located a little deeper in the jungle, falls the Angel waterfall, the highest in the world, which I had visited on the previous trip. Our friends have not visited this wonderful attraction of their country, as it requires a cost which they cannot cover.
The tour continues through enchanting plateaus with green valleys and thin clouds underneath. We meet a few indigenous families, mothers with infants stoically in their arms surrounded by older children. We ford a shallow river with a solid crimson bottom (Jasper Creek) and cool off under a waterfall. The variety of waterfalls in the area accompanies us throughout the excursion. We swim in a lake of another waterfall, Quebrada Pacheco. After a descent we face a phenomenon of unreal beauty hidden in a canyon. A ghostly rainbow looms in the distance you can almost touch it, with an imposing waterfall behind it and a pond flowing at our feet. This is the Kama Meru waterfall.
The repeated contact with water, combined with the sweat and humidity of the rainforest, does not allow any sunscreen to remain on bare skin. This will remind me of the endemic mosquitoes of Venezuela that had “embroidered” me on the previous trip, the infamous puri-puri. This is a very aggressive species that, although they do not carry diseases, have a painful sting that leaves a small black spot that itches for weeks. The “medals” of the Amazon, together with those I will collect in Brazil, will accompany me for a long time after my return to Greece. Another waterfall, Aponwao, allows me to stand on its edge balancing on the rocks, with 110m of vertigo-inducing emptiness below my feet.
The remaining days in Santa Elena will complete the unforgettable experience, that Brazil or the other countries of the trip will not be able to compete with.