Bette Davis quipped in one of her movies, "Growing old is not for sissies."  That was true for the trip to Angel Falls, highest falls in the world.  Jimmy Angel was searching for gold atop one of the mountains around 1935 when he discovered the falls.  The falls had actually been discovered earlier, but Jimmy Angel publicized it so the falls were named after him.

On August 28, 2000 at 0600, six of us we took a short taxi ride from Bahia Redonda Marina to the airport at Barcelona and boarded a seven-seat Cessna. 

Aboard the plane,
Mel to the left and to the right
Tom and Jordan

Our Venezuelan pilot Victor flew us for 3 hours over the populated city, patchwork-quilt cultivated farm land, low mountains, oil rigs, high mountains, inland bodies of water, meandering rivers, deep into the interior of Venezuela. 

We flew past tupuys, high mountains jutting straight up high into the sky with flat tops, much like mesas in the American southwest. 

Tupuy

Victor circled the lower falls twice for a good view then landed at the air strip near the village of Canaima

The Pedon Indians live in this area and speak their own language with Spanish as a secondary language.  There are no roads or railroads into this back country.  All supplies are brought in by air meaning things are in limited supply and more expensive. The Venezuelan Air Force flew in the asphalt for the airstrip where we landed.  In addition to the small private planes bringing in touristas to see the falls, the Venezuelan airline makes a daily commercial flight in a DC-3 carrying 30-35 people.  One of the planes crashed in 2001 and killed a load of German tourists.

Lower falls at Canaima

After deplaning with our backpacks, we rode in a pickup truck on seriously rutted dirt and sand roads through the small village to the river. 

Our river boat, a dug-out canoe, was made from a single huge mahogany tree.  It took two men a month to make the canoe, built to last 20 years and valued at $1,500 US.  Hewn out of a log, the front quarter was angled up high and squared off.  The back of the boat took a 48 HP Yamaha. The sides were four inches thick, the bottom probably thicker.  Ribs were inserted and seats nailed in.  The boat was at least thirty feet long and wide enough for two people to sit comfortably side by side.  The boat had enough seats to accommodate ten or twelve couples along with a crew of three men who worked according to the apprentice system.  The most experienced who could speak English was the guide.  He was assisted by the second crewman who handled the outboard and the third who was just learning the river and sat on the bow with an enormous paddle to help steer the boat up the river.  It takes two years of training to become a guide.  In an emergency, our main guide could step in and do either of the other two jobs. 

When we boarded the boat, the water was very cool and the color of steeped tea.  The tannin in the vegetation caused the water to be dark brown, like some areas of the ICW.  The locals said it was pure enough for them to drink which they did but they provided us with bottled water.  They loaded the boat with our packs and their supplies, covered all with plastic tarps, and pushed off, heading up the broad river bordered by lush green vegetation on each side.  We could see flat fields called savannahs spreading away from the river to mountains in the distance. 

At one point, we had to get out and walk a mile or so around an expanse of rapids which were deemed too dangerous for passengers because an Italian had drowned in this area some years back.  We re-boarded the boats and continued up the river. 

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