Tom Faulkner

Joined February 2017
  • Day49

    Week 7: Brazil to Caracas (in the Beetle

    April 23, 2017 in Brazil ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    After an incredible week hiking and camping Mount Roraima, me Nathan and Adrian returned to Shrek (the green VW Beetle) and hit the road for an eventful week of travel. The plan was to return North to Caracas and stop at places on route, a mammoth trip itself but first we headed south to the Brazilian Border. It wasn't really planned, but as we were so close, why not go to Brazil? And once we were there, why not spend the night? So that's what we did, in an interesting town called La Linea.

    We drove freely accross the border not being stopped once at 'checkpoints', and arrived in the busy and very different town. First off, everything was Portuguese and no-one really spoke Spanish, so that made things interesting. Secondly, in Venezuela there is a shortage of pretty much everything (but the essentials), but this town had EVERYTHING, and so many options and places to buy. Thirdly,  it was of course a different currency, the 'Brazilian Real' and things were more expensive. We found someone who would change US Dollars for Reals and then paid for a hotel for the night. I was getting dark, so time to get on the beers and go for steet-food. We sat out on the main street and had various skewered meats, and experienced the town go from super-busy to dead in an hour. After being hassled by some funny Brazilian hipster for about ten minutes, Adrian bought a shitty bracelet in the hope he would go away, but he stayed for another half-hour, lol. After we headed to a couple of 'bars' then carried on drinking back at the hotel on the balcony.

    Our first and last morning in Brazil started with a great breakfast and more hassle from street sellers. Adrian gave in again and bought 3 ridiculous straw hats, which we would wear for the rest of the week... We wandered around the town and spent the rest of our Realis before heading back for Venezuela. We witnessed somebody pay for groceries in Bolivars, in which stacks of bills were pulled from a rucksack and weighed on scales because it was quicker. That's inflation! We drove back accross the border (without being stopped) and saw people waving big wads of cash at the passing cars. Of course, we stopped and asked, to find they were selling Venezuelan Bolivars for Brazilian Reals. The interesting thing was they had all new banknotes (up to 20,000's) which are rarely seen in Venezuela. We asked a guy if he could change dollars, and he wacked out the calculator. After simple negotiation we got the desireable new bills worth 200 times more than the standard notes (and importantly  weighing 200 times less!), everyone was happy.

    We filled up petrol in a town called Santa Elena, which was another hour-long chaotic ordeal, and continued on the Road North, a 200km journey back through the national park to Las Claritas. We stopped in Kumarakapay again for lunch, and the same gas station that we waited 2 hours for last week, only this time no queue at all, bizarre! The charming shit-hole of Las Claritas welcomed us wierie travels with much needed chicken, beer, and champions league football! I bought some rum and coke to drink back at the Posada, and we got an early night.

    Wednesday was the long stretch. A 400km drive to Puerto Ordaz, the place I started this whole journey. We stopped at a riverside tourist camp that reminded me of the Orinoco  delta lodge; a beautiful place with facilities and rooms, but zero tourists... sad to see. Anyway we had specially cooked breakfast and chatted with the owners son for a while before getting back on the road again. Our next stop was for fruit at the side of the road in some random town, where we met equally random 'gold-boy'. We bought bananas and coconut when a young man approached and un-discreetly opened up a small wrap in front of us. Expecting a white power or some other drug, we were suprised to see a chunk of gold. We got talking, i held it (suprisingly heavier than it looks) and we talked about prices and how he makes money etc. He wasn't really trying to sell it, more showing off I suppose, this little chunk was worth more than most people make in a year here! It was a truly random 5 minutes, then we were back on the road.

    We arrived in Puerto Ordaz late afternoon to begin an unplanned eventful evening. After the long distances shrek had driven on poor roads, he started backfiring (sounding a lot like gunshots) so we search for a mechanic. We found a small place where a guy took a look at the exhaust, and admitted he didn't have the part we needed, before three guys all started messing around under the car and bending a random piece of metal and other parts into a makeshift bracket with a hammer. After half an hour of labour we paid the equivalent of 1 dollar and headed to our home for the night; the lovely home and very welcoming family of Nathan's friend. His friend wasn't actually there so it was a little awkward (especially as they had never met me) but we were fed great food and had some broken conversions in Spanish. However, we decided it would be better to go out for a while in the town, which would turn out to be a bad idea...

    We drove to the central mall (where I had been before with Romel) but soon realised there had been protests all over town against the government. Everything was closed, there were national guards with riot-shields lining the streets, and it was getting dark so protests had dispersed and there was no-one around. First thought, back to the house. But, there was a giant fire in the middle of the main road lighting up the area. We take a detour to avoid it, but every way we try to go there is some obstacle; a purposely fallen tree, makeshift road-blocks or fires in the road in protest. We end up doing a really long detour to get on the highway, and when we pull off at our exit, in the now dark night, a large 4x4 pulls alongside and forces us to stop. 6 national guard jump out with Ak-47's shouting 'fuera del carro!' We get out hands above our heads, Nathan converses with them, and we show ID's. They soon realise who we are and calm down, but demand we empty our pockets and they search the car. I guess with all the protests and happenings in the city they are on high alert. Anyway after 5 minutes they appear to find nothing and swiftly jump back in the jeep and speed off. It's only 5 minutes later when we get to a bar that Adrian realises they stole his expensive Sony Xperia Phone. In the space of a few days he lost a new go-pro and a phone, some $1000 of expense, but also all his photos and videos from the trip...

    That Night we drank a few beers and tried to brush off the whole ordeal (feeling sorry for Adrian) before returning to the friends family home. The next day we were again cooked for and had an awesome breakfast, and in return I smashed an ornamental plantpot with a chair. It was accidental of course but I felt terrible and must have apologised a hundred times. After saying our goodbyes we hit the road and laughed about our bad luck in the car. We headed to El Tigre, but first stopped in Ciudad Bolivar, a lovely riverside city with colourful buildings and charm. We didn't stay long, and kept going until we reached a hotel in El Tigre mid-afternoon. This place (called 'Las Palmas Resort') was huge, really nice, and had a large swimming pool area with tennis courts, gym and everything. Of course, it was all dead so we enjoyed beer and tapas while playing frisbee in an empty pool. Later we went to town for food and beers, and ended up buying a bottle of gin. After asking a taxi driver to take us to a bar of his recommendation, we ended up in a dingy 'strip-club' with equally ugly girls. We took advantage of cheap beers and headed  back to the hotel.

    Friday was a long boring drive on a 200km straight road through flat scrubland. We were supposed to go to stay at a cool ranch that Nathan had been in contact with, but we spent a long time trying to find it and had no luck. It was getting late and we were exhausted, so instead went to the nearest town of 'Valle de Pasqua', another delightful shit-hole in the middle of nowhere, and another night in a hotel. The next day was our final 350km back to Caracas, and a much more interesting drive.

    We started Saturday on a twisting 'Road' that was labelled a national highway, but was in extremely poor condition. The surface was terrible, a mixture of torn up concrete, gravel and dirt, with potholes the size of the moon, big pools of water to cross, and a heard of a hundred cows to wait behind. The scenery was cool though, and after an hour we made it back to actual roads and continued a few hours more, through a few towns until being stopped by police before the mountains. We said we were heading for Caracas but they were telling us to turn around and take the other really long route. They were actually being helpful as they explained the road ahead through the mountains is ten times worse than our previous one and for large 4x4s only. Of course we had no way of knowing that just following a map, and now our journey just got a whole lot longer.

    A few hours later we hit the mountains again on the different road, and begin to drive through a green dense jungle-like environment in a valley. 10 minutes into this cool road we hit a random queue of cars at a standstill, and cant see how far it goes for. After half an hour we finally start moving, and later pass some people stood by fire and debris who had made a road-block in yet another act of protest against the government. The rest of the way back to Caracas was quite beautiful, but the topic of conversation was the problems in Venezuela due to the socialist government. I had a sort of history lesson and understood a bit better what the protests were all about, and the struggles that people here face.

    We passed through numerous towns, suburbs and barrios (favelas) before finally entering the capital city. Caracas looked cool in the evening sun, with a backdrop of the enormous Avila mountains high in the clouds. After a little trouble navigating around the chaotic city and a few large street protests, we finally arrived at Nathan and Adrian's appartment block. There we were greeted by another of the English friends 'Booth' and some beers. We would drink and tell stories in Nathan's flat before Joel and Sergio turned up with rum to start the party. We went to a nearby Chinese restaurant and kept the beers flowing, before going to everyone's favourite place; 'Mr P's'. It was a swanky place and had good music, but in reality it was just another strip-club. Of course I woke up Sunday morning on Nathan's couch with a headache by a saucepan full of sick. From what I could remember it was a great night and a good way to end the epic Road-Trip...
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  • Day43

    Week 6 - Expedition Roraima

    April 17, 2017 in Brazil ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    (Read previous blog before this)

    We were up at 6 on Wednesday and met our guide Toni, and Porter Leo at the tour company, who were both really cool. Toni was a short and chubby middle aged man, who had surprisingly climbed Roraima 70 times, and also worked as a judge for the local indigenous population! Leo lived in Kumarakapay, and was younger and fitter, and could carry an unbelievable amount of weight as a Porter. The 5 of us, a driver, and 3 random people crammed into a big 4x4 Land-Cruiser with all our gear on the roof-rack. We set off at 8am, driving up a dirt-track for an hour to reach the town of Paraitepuy and the starting point of our hike. The road was rough, angled and twisting; only a large 4x4 could make it up here, and ours felt close to rolling over on several occasions! Anyway we arrived at a small national-park-office, signed our names, and began our 6-day 100km hike in the Gran Sabana.

    We began slow with our guide Toni, but Me Nate and Ade had too much energy, so kept walking ahead, having to wait for him to catch up. In the end we set such a fast pace that we just left him behind, and walked on the clear path with the Roraima mountain emerging from the clouds directly ahead. The landscape around was, somewhat like the English peak district with open rolling hills and grey skies, with the exception of the enormous tepuis in the distance. After 4 hours hiking we arrived at the first camp, and had to wait over an hour for our guide Toni to catch up. We had hiked at an incredible pace with big heavy bags on our backs, but still had the energy to play Frisbee while waiting for him, and our porter Leo joined in. When Toni did arrive, we hiked another hour to the empty camp 'Kukenan', where we would stay that Night. We set up our tents for the first time and went in the Kukenan river right by camp to wash ourselves and our clothes. We ended up hilariously 'swimming' down some shallow rapids while the evening sky cleared and the two tepui mountains (Roraima and Kukenan) dramatically appeared from the clouds in the background. Messing in the river was a highlight of the trip, and after drying off we started a camp fire and ate our first meal cooked by Toni and Leo in the dark empty camp.

    The next day started wet, overcast and miserable. After a carb-filled breakfast we smashed a '4-hour' hike to Base Camp, and to our suprise made it in 2! We had Energy and speed, and didn't stop once. The hike was shorter than the previous day but more uphill with steeper climbs and descents. The scenery became greener and the dramatic Roraima and Kukenan Tepuis got closer. Base Camp was at the foot of the mountain, so when the weather cleared in the afternoon, Roraima looked incredible.

    Just after arriving at Base Camp, we were suprised to meet the other group of 12 who were making their way down! Joel and everyone from Caracas (who I saw in Puerto Ordaz) had made it, and had just descended from the top that morning. We caught up and spent a good hour chatting, playing frisbee, eating lunch and taking photos. They told us all about their trip, and when they left we were ready and eager to climb to the top! However, we had to wait for our guide and porter, who wouldn't arrive until the late afternoon. We were a little frustrated, but had a late second lunch when they arrived and set up camp for the night. We would have to wait for tomorrow to make the climb. In the meantime I had a wash in ice-cold stream-water and we played Frisbee target games before eating late dinner and stargazing in the clear night sky.

    Friday. Today was the day. The big climb. 1000m gain in altitude to the top. Steep climbing on slippy rocks and dirt paths, through humid dense jungle under the heat of the tropical sun. It was exhausting, but made even more difficult by the size and weight of our backpacks. Again, we set a ridiculous pace and stopped infrequently, so i was constantly out of breath and tired. But, we all had the same 'challenge yourself' mentality, and kept going all the way to the top. We passed through jungle, forest, streams, and an incredible 'waterfall' that poured over the edge several-hundred feet above and cascaded down into a fine mist our a rocky path. Staring up in awe and watching the water fall from such a height was surreal. Equally, the views became more amazing the higher we climbed, until we made it to the top...

    The landscape changed completely. On arriving at the top of Roraima I was suprised to be walking on a different planet. It was an enormous, flat, rocky plateu with little signs of life; no trees, insects or birds. There were small pools of water eveywhere, with some plants and fauna in places, and a constant blanket of cloud close to the surface, so visibility was poor. We managed to find the cave which we were to camp in (with the help from a random guy), and set up our tents. This cave was cool; it was set back from the cliff-edge and was a natutal overhanging rock feature sheltering us from rain and wind on 3 sides. The open side was facing over towards the edge and where we had come from, so when the cloud cleared, the view was spectacular. We had arrived, set-up, and eaten lunch before midday, so we relaxed, slept, and waited for Toni and Leo, who arrived 3 hours later!

    That evening we hiked a short distance up to the summit, a point 2,800m right on the edge of the west-facing tepui wall. Peering over the edge was frightening; a sheer vertical drop of 1,000m, How long would it take to fall a kilometer? Everything below was so small, and you could barely see Base Camp at the bottom.  The other tepui mountain to the north, Kukenan, looked spectacular and dramatic battling with the low clouds. We took some great photos at this point and enjoyed the awesome view over the Gran Sabana; you could see for miles. Later, me and Adrian would climb to another high point and sit watching the sunset over Kukenan. Another incredible sight hard to describe, and Ade captured a cool sunset time-lapse on his go-pro.

    Saturday was our first full day on top of this giant mountain. We would do a 25km-round hike to 'Punto-triple', a point where the borders of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana all meet. The walk there was a long 3-hours with no change of elevation or scenery, and a constant cover of cloud and mist. The point itself was just a stone monument, but nevertheless it was cool to be sat in all three countries at once. On our return we took a different route and visited 'El Fosso' (The gap). This was an enormous pool sunk 50ft below the surface, with a stream cascading into it. The only way to get down to the pool was a long and difficult clamber down some steep rocks into a crevass which led to a network of caves and eventually the pool. It was so ridiculous that Adrian dropped his new go-pro 5 down a deep crack, and although we crawled through dark underground caves trying to find it, it could have gone anywhere. An hour of searching was useless, and he'd lost all his footage of the trip...

    We did still go to the pool, which was awesome, and showered in the waterfall before making the climb back out. The walk back to camp was long and the mood subdued, plus we were tired and hungry. It felt like forever, but we did pass through the 'valley of crystals' where there were thousands of natural large quartz crystals scattered everywhere in the pools. Much needed food awaited us on return at 5pm, and later we played cards in the tent before an early night.

    Sunday was the long descent, and probably the hardest day. Before we made our way down the mountain, we took at 2 hour hike in shite weather to a popular viewpoint where we couldn't see anything. I was gutted, as Leo was describing a usual incredible view over Guyana, but low cloud and rain meant we couldn't see more than 10m. We were cold and wet, and wasted time and energy, so a great start to the day...

    The way down was the same 'path' we took up, but it was more difficult going down on steep slippy rocks in the dense jungle, so we all fell a few times. Once we were off the mountain and out of jungle, the path was easier and the sky cleared, making a pleasant afternoon walk. The scenery of the dramatic sun-lit tepui mountain now behind us was incredible, and the sun was out the whole way to camp. We had to cross 2 rivers which were now at peak flow so we got wet feet and Nathan even fell in, lucky it was shallow. On arrival at our campsite 'Rio-Tek' we pitched the tents and went for a wash in the river. There was a bizare deep blue pool hidden  in the trees which we bathed in to an incredible  background of the Kukenan tepui in a now completely clear sky. It must have been the first clear sky of the trip, and it lasted all evening while the sun set and the stars appeared. We played cards and drank rum in a busy campsite, and made friends with a group of Venezuelans. However we were exhausted and had to be up at 4.30, so another early night.

    We got up ridiculously early to start our final hike in the dark, and make it to the Base town before anyone else. We had a long 4-hour hike with wet boots and tired heads. The sun rose over the mountain and was in and out of clouds all day, but we paid little attention to scenery as we played verbal games the whole way, not stopping once. We arrived in good time, so relaxed and waited for Toni and Leo. Our transport (the same 4x4) arrived late at midday so we were back in Kumarakapay for 1pm. After much deserved beer and lunch at Lineker's place (again), we got to the car and on the road south to Brazil. What an incredible week...
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