A year ago today I boarded a plane in London for Madrid, and began a journey that has taken me through fourteen countries in 12 months, culminating back in Spain where I am now. Along the way I have had some amazing high points, and also without doubt some of the most challenging times of my life. The countries I have travelled through are, in this order:
12 months later I am speaking Spanish fairly well (albeit with multi-country accents & vocabulary), I’ve finally learnt some yoga, and I’m in the process of setting up an online English teaching business with an old friend here in Barcelona. You’ll be hearing more about this sooner rather than later as it should be ‘going live’ within the next couple of weeks.
Finally, I just wanted to say a big thank you to all the people I have met along the way. The trip wouldn’t have been the same without you. Special thank-yous to: All at the Cooperative School in San Pedro, Sushi, Francisco, my mother, Paul, Serena, Jameson & Laney, Pete & Heidi, Svayam, Carlos & the Reina Madre crew in Buenos Aires, Rachel, Ben & Marina, Rory/James & Marcela in Spain, and Ana-Maria.
Venezuela may be considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world today, but it is also one of the most beautiful countries in the world and a very worthwhile place to visit. Despite its shady reputation we didn’t have any problems in Venezuela and drove all the way through the country in three weeks. On the contrary we saw some of the most amazing landscapes in South America – most notably the Gran Sabana. This video shows you the glory and beauty of the Gran Sabana.
The Gran Sabana (Great Savanna) is an immense, empty region which lies within the boundaries of Parque Nacional Canaima. The Savanna’s rolling grasslands are broken up by the unique and spectacular tepuis. Tepuis are table mountains. More than 100 of these plateau mountains can be found from the Colombian border in the west to Guyana and Brazil in the East, but most of them are found in the Gran Sabana. The most famous tepui, Roraima, extends into Brazilian and Guyanese territory. Many tour companies arrange hikes to the top of Roraima in which you can experience a lost world of unique flora and fauna.
Geologically, these sandstone table mountains are remnants of a thick layer of sediments (some two billion years old) that gradually eroded, leaving behind only the most resistant rock formations. As they were isolated from each other and from the world below for millions of years, the tops of the tepuis had its own evolution of flora and fauna. About half of the 2000 plant species found on the top of the tepuis are unique to the specific mountains.
The easiest way to access Roraima and the Gran Sabana is to go to Santa Elena de Uairen, which is the only town in the Gran Sabana, and is located close to the border with Brazil. From there you can hire a taxi to take you for a day trip to the Gran Sabana (like we did) or book a tour to climb Roraima. Both options are highly recommendable.
I hope you enjoyed the video tour to the Gran Sabana with us 🙂
Our first glimpses of the Gran Sabana in Venezuela were through the night bus window, shortly after a dawn army checkpoint woke us near Santa Elena de Uairén on the Brazilian border – the only town in the Gran Sabana. We woke up and gazed in awe at the rolling countryside, topped with the famous & striking ‘Tepuis’ (table mountains).
Some of you may have heard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, The Lost World (also made into a film) which described an expedition to a mysterious table top mountain in South America where dinosaurs & ape men still roamed. It is thought that The Lost World was based on the most famous of all Tepuis, Roraima – pictured above towards the right of the photo at the back.
As the tops of the Tepuis are more than two billion years old, and have been isolated from the surrounding savannah for much of this time, various flora and fauna have evolved independently upon their summits. There are more than 2000 plant species and various animals & insects unique to these specific mountains.
It is possible to organise a fairly strenuous 5-6 day trek to the top of Roraima, which is best arranged in Santa Elena de Uairén, although we have heard varying reports as to how worthwhile these are. It is not unheard of to climb the mountain, get rained on, and not see very much at all (thanks to the near permanent cloud cover). It’s also fairly common to get savaged by aggressive but almost invisible Puri Puri flies. You pay about $450 for this experience.
Suffice it to say that we decided to cruise around the Gran Sabana on a one day tour only. We went with a very knowledgeable and friendly local guide called Santiago, whom we organised through Roberto’s Mystic Tours (Roberto also specializes in local UFO sightings). We’d highly recommend Santiago, but the tour is in Spanish only. Oh, and we also go savaged by aggressive but almost invisible Puri Puri flies despite using ridiculous quantities of repellent.
Los Llanos in Venezuela is an immense plain savanna of 300,000 sq km south of the Venezuelan Andes. It’s one of the most ecologically diverse regions on earth and a popular area to go on wildlife safaris. You can listen to our podcast from Los Llanos by clicking on the play button at the top of this post.
Los Llanos, a region famous for its abundant Anacondas – one of the reasons for its many appearances on the Discovery Channel & other nature documentaries – is one of the best areas in the world to get up close to Cayman, Anacondas, Capybara, Pink River Dolphins , Piranha fish & many hundreds of species of birds.
We picked a 3 night, 4 day tour from Merida (details below), and had an amazing time. The first day of the tour was spent driving through the Venezuelan Andes with several stop offs in small mountain towns, hot springs & national parks. With heights of up to 5000 metres, the Venezuelan Andes are proper mountains, and we experienced some truly breathtaking views of the mountains and glaciers.
The first night was spent scoffing our faces in Arassari Trek’s purpose-built camp, from where we did the tubing the next morning. It was all very tranquil and relaxing until I came close to knocking myself out playing ‘silly buggers’ whilst going down a set of rapids head first.
On the second day we made our way to San Vicente, a small riverside town in Los Llanos. We packed up the boat, and headed up river and into the Los Llanos waterways. The second night was spent in hammocks at a camp beside the river, and it was from here that we headed out by night and found Cayman and Anacondas. We were also lucky enough to have several carnivorous Piranhas jumping into the boat with us, which in the dark was somewhat disconcerting.
On the third day, the morning was spent cruising the Los Llanos waterways, spotting pink river dolphin and more Anacondas, and in the afternoon we went on a ‘safari’ through the partially flooded fields, spotting the vast array of birdlife, and Cayman (small alligators).
On the fourth and last day we got up ridiculously early in an attempt to spot giant ant-eaters. Although we unfortunately didn’t manage to find any, we did spot some Capybara, which resemble giant Guinea Pigs. We rounded off our time in Los Llanos with a spot of Piranha fishing, before the tour began the long trip back to Merida at lunch time, and I jumped off in the middle of nowhere (Mantecal) to head further into the middle of nowhere (San Fernando de Apure – Puerto Ayacucho).
We picked the highly recommended Arassari Trek for our tour. Arassari Trek has camps in areas away from the majority of other tour companies in Merida. Our English-speaking tour guide was Alan Highton, a vastly experienced wildlife guide and photographer, and one of the pioneers of wildlife tours of Los Llanos. We would recommend him unreservedly for his knowledge and passion on the area, plus his fearless handling of Piranha, Cayman and Anacondas!
Our 3 night, 4 day tour cost $160 – which included all meals, accommodation, and transport for the duration of the tour.
We ignored all warnings and decided to cross the border between Colombia and Venezuela overland.
We had been staying for a few days in the lovely little village Mompos in Colombia. To get out of this city we had to take a “jeep”. We thought that sounded reasonable enough…until we realised that we were 18 people plus heavy luggage travelling with one car. The result: The car broke into two…several time. As you can see on the picture in which we are, again, stranded in the middle of nowhere.
We finally reached Buracamanga after 9 instead of 6 hours and obviously lost our onwards bus. Lucky we got the next overnight bus to Cucuta in Venezuela and it all went smooth from there…except Thomas being covered in dust from top to toe…having been a gentleman and sat in the back of the car the whole way 🙂
Ooooops! We’ve been pretty slow at updating Earthoria recently, and it’s about time we updated you on our whereabouts. Since the last post from Nicaragua (below), we have hot-footed it through Panama to Columbia, through Venezuela and into Managua, Brazil from where I’m writing this. During our travels we’ve recorded a backlog of audio and video that we’ll be putting together on a week long trip up the Amazon towards Iquitos, Peru, beginning tomorrow.
In the mean time, here’s a photo from the Venezuelan Andes to keep you going: