Our trip back to the States followed by our trip to Angel Falls, Vz
16 October 2003
Born in the USA, I was born in the USA
This famous refrain from Bruce Springstein’s song stuck in our subconscious for weeks as we anticipated our return trip to the US. Finally on September 15 we left Venezuela to visit family and friends, a typical pilgrimage for most cruisers during hurricane season. The season limits the available cruising area or more precisely insurance companies limit the available area by imposing an exclusion zone during the prime months of hurricane activity. The zone covers most of the Caribbean and runs up to 23 degrees and 30 minutes North which is just south of the Florida Keys. This no doubt means that hurricanes seldom if ever enter US waters?? Anyway it is a good time to put the boat on the hard and paint the bottom and take care of other necessary repairs. We have all of our repairs complete but are having difficulty getting a haul out in Puerto La Cruz due to our 23-foot beam. Two facilities in PLC have the necessary equipment to haul Shiraz but PMO cannot lift a Fountaine Pajot due to the slight curve where the bridge fits the almas (outer hulls) and the Bahia Redonda trolley cannot lift a boat with a 4’6“ draft without reshaping their trolley, a project they plan to undertake soon. So we will reappraise the situation upon our return. Shiraz is not quite due for a bottom paint but Venezuela is a good place to have it done because of the attractive price and because there is no limit on heavy metals used on bottom paint.
When selecting anti-fouling paint or for that matter any paint, there are two things to consider; first is the effectiveness of the paint for the waters that you will be cruising in and second the adhesion to the existing paint. Preparation can include anything from a light sanding to complete removal before the new paint is rolled on. There are several theories as to the number of coats of bottom paint. One claims that more is better and the other is that two is enough and anything beyond that is a waste of paint that cost close to $150.00 per gallon. We would also like to have a few thru-holes closed while the boat is out of the water. The fewer holes in the boat the better and right now our count of total holes through the hull above or below the water line is twenty-four. It sound like a lot until you start thinking about all the luxuries i.e. water makers, air conditioning, ten bilge pumps and the fact that a catamaran requires two of each since it has two engines, two heads, and twice as many bilge pumps.
Upon arriving in the US, the first thing that struck us was the cleanliness of everything. It is impressive to see how neat and well scrubbed the US appears to be. Every highway, yard and empty lot is mowed and trimmed and green, a far cry from even the exclusive areas such as El Morro where you find million dollar homes lining the channels next to empty lots littered with trash. Although we didn't visit any blighted areas in the US during our visit it is obvious that in the US we have engendered a greater consciousness of property rights and public responsibility.
Another thing that struck us at the US airports were all the women wearing comfortable travel cloths which typically consisted of blue jeans and white tennis shoes and admittedly many were a little overweight. In contrast Venezuelan women wear tight fitting skirts and dresses, high heels, makeup and large accessorizing pieces such as ribbons and costume jewelry. In Spanish, women dressed as such are described as, coqueta, which translated as coquettish or flirtatious. Women of well to do families also avail themselves inexpensive cosmetic surgery. A little nip, a little tuck, a little augmentation and a push up bra and the next thing you know is your wearing a thong bathing suit and joining the aerobic class in the pool.
The trip started with an embrace and a blessing bestowed on us by our taxi driver. We were hoping that this was a nice tradition and not as a result of past experiences on Aeropostal, the major airlines in Venezuela. We flew to Caracas and spent the night since the departing American Airlines flight was too early to connect in the same day. We stayed at the Hotel Santiago, a reasonably priced hotel on the shore. The nights lodging was only 48,000 B’s (something less than $20 USD) but the taxi was about half that and lunch in the hotel was 45,000 B’s. But all in all a good experience.
We chose to return to the U.S. in the fall for the crisp weather, to catch a bit of the color change in the Midwest, watch a little football and most of all celebrate birthdays. Being back in a colder climate and away from the cruising community necessitated a new wardrobe. No longer could we run around in swimsuit and a t-shirt. Long pants felt uncomfortable for the first weeks and since I have been wearing sandals for almost a year, narrow loafers were pinching my feet.
We were able to visit with most all family members in the Midwest and North Carolina and we are very appreciative of our parents and children for providing us with a place to stay. Almost every meal was shared with family members giving us the opportunity to catch up with all the news. We were able to see many more of my family than planned due to the unfortunate death of my Aunt Harriet. We have included many family pictures on our picture page of this website but in this short writing we cannot explain how good it was to see everyone.
We also had the opportunity to have dinner with John and Chichi Guy from Pachamama. They were in Indianapolis for a few months while their boat is on the hard in Trinidad. They are contemplating heading to Venezuela and it was an opportunity to give them our perspective and catch up on past experiences and common acquaintances.
With four weeks of TV and radio under our belt, there is little of this we will miss with the exception of NPR and Charlie Rose. Since only CNN is available in Venezuela it is impossible to understand what is behind the news and these two programs provide real insight to the news and to current and cultural affairs. NPR takes the sting out of long car rides and my only disappointment is that we missed Car Talk. But All Things Considered, Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, etc. provided a tsunami of information. Our enthusiasm led us to Best Buy to inquire about Sirius satellite radio but a call to technical support told us that Venezuela was out of reach. We had a list of boat items we needed to purchase in the US along with a to do list to accomplish. We changed our mail forwarding address, checked on our insurances, visited or called family and friends and made the necessary trips to West Marine and other marine stores. Before leaving N.C. we decided to take a side trip to Wilmington, NC and while there we were able to pick up some Yanmar filters. All these parts and a few new clothes for Rene, made it necessary to return with an extra suitcase. Fortunately we were not stopped by customs nor hassled by a new shakedown some cruisers have encountered at the Barcelona Airport. But some of the items we purchased were gone from our luggage by the time we arrived in Caracas and it is impossible to tell at what point in the journey they went missing.
Now with tans faded and a few pounds heavier we are back in Puerto La Cruz visiting with friends and welcoming new arrivals. Cindy and Alan from Camperdown and Steve and Gayle from Misty Blue, two boats we traveled with in the islands, have docked at Maremares after we left for the States and it was nice to return to old friends. Cindy and Alan gave us a "Welcome Home Shiraz" party the night we returned which was very nice.
We know it's another old refrain but we still don’t know where we are headed after the hurricane season. About six months ago we were planning to head east with the ARC and cross the Atlantic and enter the Mediterranean Sea. We also know boats that are heading west and after a year in the western Caribbean are planning to slip through the Panama Canal and sail the Pacific, another interesting option. And lastly we might just spend another year in the Caribbean and see where that takes us.
As much as we enjoyed our visit it's good to be back on the boat.
29 October 2003
Angle Falls, Canaima National Park, Venezuela N0555 W 62629
Just two days after returning to Puerto La Cruz with our boat parts or most of our boat parts, we left for a five day tour of Angel Falls, located in the Canaima National Park near the western coast of Venezuela. Purported to be the tallest falls in the world, the water cascades from the top of a mesa falling about 3000 feet to the Churun River below. Canaima National Park is the largest National Park in South America and is located near the "disputed area" a part of Guyana claimed by Venezuela. The group on the outing, consisting of old friends and soon to be friends, left PLC by private bus on a four or five hour journey to Ciudad Bolivar where we spent the night in a hotel next to the airport. The next morning we departed on a Russian built aircraft for the air strip in the National Park close to Canaima Lagoon.
After a short ride in a truck and a curiaras (indigenous boat), we arrived at Jungle Rudy's camp which in and of itself is a story of adventure. The founder of the camp arrived in Venezuela in the early 1950's after working as a veterinarian forr Rafael Trujillo, President of the Dominican Republic. Rudy, a Dutch native, was one of the founders of the tourist trade in this area and helped build the original encampment assisted by a local Indian family. After a failed hotel venture, he became a river guide where he met his wife who was traveling as a tourist. Rudy asked her to stay in Canaima and together they built Ucaima, the camp that today is operated by their three daughters. Gabby, the youngest, was at the encampment with her husband and son during our stay. You can visit their website at www.junglerudy.com. Ucaima is by far the most luxurious camp in the area despite the lack of hot water, air conditioning, privacy and potable water. The meals were served family style and surpassed everyone's expectations.
The camp has a beautiful view of the river and the 4000 foot high mesas that come straight out of the surrounding savanna. The mesas were created by tectonic pressures and are believed to be the oldest rock known to man. During our first afternoon at Ucaima we toured the lower falls and were able to walk under Sapo falls and swim in the Canaima Lagoon. At this point in the river the water is black in the deep pools and turns to the color of foamy root beer as it goes over the falls. The color lightens to a rich yellow/orange as you move to shallower water. The color is created by the decaying vegetation creating humic acid. You can taste the wood and leaves as you swim in the strong current present even in the lagoon. The pink sand on the shore of the river and lagoon stretches only a few yards into the water where you can feel the thick layer of leaves on the bottom brewing the tannic solution.
Later in the day most of us opted to take a one hour flight for the aerial view of Angel Falls. Five at a time loaded into a Cessna 206 built in 1973 and flew to Devil's Canyon to view the falls and the surrounding topography. The falls were named after an American pilot and gold digger, Jimmy Angel, who in 1937 landed his plane on top of the mesa. Jimmy won the bet but lost his plane since he was unable to fly it off the mesa. After eleven exhausting days trekking down the mesa he arrived at the river below. Jimmy is now memorialized on every map of Venezuela. Leave it to a hard drinking American to somehow be credited with "discovering the falls". Indigenous Indians and Spanish and Venezuelan explorers had been wandering the area for hundreds of years.
The next morning we traveled by curiaras some 80 kilometers up the Carrao and Churun Rivers to the camp at the foot of the falls. The trip alone was worth the price of admission. To give you an idea, the 48 HP Yamaha engines powering the boats last only six months and the propellers must be replaced every three weeks. From the starting point at Ucaima the boats climbed some three hundred feet in elevation through more than twenty rapids made more difficult since we were now entering the dry season and the water level is about six feet lower than several months ago. On four occasions it was necessary to disembark and walk around the rapids in order to lighten the load. The boats were piloted by six crewman who acted as guides, oarsmen and cooks. Although there was little wildlife along the way there was a great deal of flora and fauna most of which cannot be found any place else in the world. From the pictures you can see rocks on the bank of the river looking like large fuzzy Chia pets (which makes me think of Christmas many years ago - but that's a different story). On the way up we stopped for a short break and a swim at the "Happiness Pool". The water was cool and refreshing and provided a photo op for the dozen or so cameras on the boats.
Hours later we arrived at the base camp were we swam and bathed in the river. That evening we enjoyed an excellent meal cooked by the guide and crew, drank a few Caribe Lager beers, played cards and dominos and told a few jokes. When it was time to turn the generator off, we retired to our hammocks although a few of us were able to find bunk beds and forego the hammock experience. The next morning we climbed for over an hour mostly in a vertical direction to a pool near the bottom of the falls and took a swim. The fresh water pounded down upon us not from 3000 feet but from the next highest level. The view in every direction was inspiring.
We did have one medical emergency during the trip as Rose, the youngest member of our entourage and guest of cruisers Bob and Marta, went into convulsions. Rose has an existing medical condition that was no doubt exacerbated by dehydration. She was so weak that the guides and members of the party had to carry her down the mountain in a hastily made sling. Some of the pathway was so steep that she had to walk, despite her condition.
After the assent and a quick lunch of chicken roasted over an open fire, we left for Ucaima a few hours later than planned. This made it necessary to go through some of the rapids after dark but the guides knew where all the big rocks were. A make-shift bed was provided for Rose for our journey back down the river. During the next few days she returned home to Washington DC. We hope that Rose has recovered and that she and her husband Dean have pleasant recollections of their trip to Angel Falls!
Although this trip is made by many visitors to Venezuela, it's no Disneyland. There are no waivers to sign, no height restrictions, no safety belts and when there was a medical emergency no radios to call for a helicopter medical evacuation. But like a trip to Disneyland there were lots of pictures taken. Nine couples exchanges over 1000 digital images. Every sunset, sunrise, departure, arrival, meal, bend in the river and oh yes waterfall was electronically recorded for posterity. We would have put a hoard of paparazzo's to shame.
We can thank Jose' primero and Jose' segundo and all the other help at Ucaima for a safe and enjoyable trip. We could spend most of our golden years going through all the pictures taken during this five day outing. We have spared you from looking at hundreds but you may want to take a fw minutes to look at the slideshow below. We hope that you enjoy them.
Angel Falls - Mark and Jane checking out some local handiwork