Venezuela

Venezuela

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  • Day5

    Today I managed to get out and see and experience a lot more of the city. Early morning Joel managed to get some money for me and Sergio before going to work. Me and Serg then spent the whole day together! He took me round the city, on the subway, through the rough 'barrios', and to his appartment. I got a really good feel of life here for the locals, and could appreciate the constant struggle that Venezuelans face.
    Our highlight was taking the 'teleferico' cable car from the city to the top of Mount Avila. The incredible mountain separates Caracas from the Caribbean Sea, so you can imagine the views from the top were insane. We had some more local food at the top whilst taking in the views. I didnt take a phone or camera for fear of being robbed, and we got some dodgy buses to and from the cable car, as well as being hassled by various locals, and on entry i got charged ten times more for being a white European. So, I was constantly reminded of where I was...
    After the mountain we walked down the main commercial boulevard and through the city centre as the sun set. This was an experience in itself. The place was very busy and packed with people, desperate beggars, street sellers, and the corrupted police. I wouldn't feel safe if I was alone. It was around 7pm, and Sergio was explaining how everyone was rushing to get home, shops were closing, and the city disappears before it goes dark. After 7.30, you see no-one on the streets, the thriving city becomes a ghost town, thanks to its dreadful reputation at night. However, I can understand why; we saw an angry driver pull out a gun and point it down the street shouting in road rage, and this was earlier in broad daylight!
    Anyway, we arrived safely back at Joel's place after an amazing day together, and started the Friday night drinking before heading to Andrews house once again for a bit of a party. Rum, music, and Chinese takeaway saw us into the early hours and I had a great last night in Caracas.
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  • Day65

    I had a great week living with the family and helping out around the farm. I'd be up early and  working hard most mornings; gardening, clearing, labouring, digging, painting or whatever else there was to do. The jobs were made enjoyable by the natural beauty of this place, good weather, and of course some music. Typically I would finish in the late afternoon and relax for the evening before an early night.

    The week started with heavy work. Monday I finished some 'hands and knees' weeding, before starting to clear the other overgrown garden with a machete and shears. Tuesday I met Gualo, a cool young friend of Bruni's, and together we dug a large metre-deep square hole for building foundations for a water tank. We really got on, and after working we went into town for a beer. It turns out he is also a mountain guide and he wants to take me up the Andes. Perfect.

    Wednesday I finished destroying all the plants and clearing the garden area, as well as helping a builder with construction; digging foundations, moving materials, carrying iron bars and such. I was painting in the house all of Thursday (doors, gates and window frames) and Friday worked with Gualo's younger brother moving bricks and cement. In the week I spent time bonding with the family also, particularly at mealtimes and in the evenings, and also went with Bruni on supply-trips and to a local town, Tabay. I even played videogames with the son Tomas, watched sustainable  agriculture documentaries, and talked music, spanish and culture with Raul, the grandfather. However, the best day for me was Saturday...

    Bruni and some women from the local primary school had organised for a community action-day working on improvements for the school. We were the first to arrive, and early, but by midmorning nearly 40 people had turned up! We had Latin music playing on big speakers, and groups of people all around the school working together on different tasks. I was with Gualo and a few other guys doing the hard labour; moving rock and dirt with spade and pick-axe to create garden space. It was great to be part of a community happily volunteering together, and of course the setting was beautiful and the weather incredible.

    We worked all day, then I collected my bags and said goodbyes to the family, as I headed back to Merida city in the evening. I arrived back at the hostel where to my suprise, Maycon (my friend from the Orinoco) had also arrived earlier that day. I had reccomended the place to him the week before, but didn't expect to see him! Although tired, we bought a crate of beer and got drunk with Hugo, the hostel owner, and went out to some bars, where we drank too much with some locals... Expectedly, our first full day in Merida was spent Hungover, but Me and Maycon got out and walked around the city. We walked all around the city, and even through protests, checking out different places. We came accross some tour agencies in the centre, and met Tony, a crazy Venezuelan local guide and outdoor/animal expert who spoke English. We talked for an hour or so, and planned some cool stuff for what would be an awesome week ahead...
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  • Day6

    Car Horns and tyre screeches, gunshots and police sirens. The sound of the concrete jungle that is the capital of a country in despair. A normal day in 2017 Caracas is chaotic. With the highest inflation rate of any country ever, Venezuelas economy looks beyond saving, which hits the capital hard. The middle class have left, businesses gone bankrupt, people are hungry and what little money they have is worthless. About 5 years ago the rare 100-Bolivar banknote was worth $20. 2 years ago it was worth 50¢. Now so common, it makes good toilet paper, with a value of 2¢. Most of the problems I have seen are because of this horrific situation, and it seems people are desperate, unhappy and just trying to survive. Large favellas called 'barrios' surround the city and are some of the most dangerous places in the world. I've seen these places from the safety of an unlicensed, 50 year-old broken fully-packed vehicle called a public bus. I've seen people routing through bins,  police forcing bribes, and even a gun pulled out of a car window in road-rage!

    However, if you see past the reality of these problems, you experience a city with charm, natural beauty, and some really cool people! Groups of brightly coloured Macaws, vultures, and tropical birds fly around the city and are very vocal. Towering palms, mango trees and thick vegetation line the streets, and in the local park there are iguanas, sloths and other wildlife. Caracas is in a beautuful valley, and separated from the Caribbean coast by the impressive coastal mountains and El Avila national park. I took a long cable car ride to the top of the Avila mountain with Sergio, a cool local Venezuelan who, like most people, is struggling to live and wants to leave the country. The views on both sides from a sunny 9,000ft were incredible, with the bright-blue carribean sea to the north, and the expansive  Caracas to the south. Being with Sergio for a couple of days was very eye-opening; I learnt a lot about the city, country, and the spanish language, but was constantly reminded of the problems Venezuelans face.

    Since arriving in Caracas, I have stayed with Joel, whos been in the city for 2 years, and is probably the coolest guy I've ever met. He works at the international school and has introduced me to so many amazing people; friends, colleagues and his family! It's been great meeting so many people, we've had some incredible food and a couple of great nights out. I'm very grateful to Joel for hosting and giving me all the help, and it's thanks to him for my amazing Caracas experience.

    I left England 6 days ago, and have had a great first week of travel. Thank you Vincent for hosting me in Lisbon, and thanks to Joel and all his friends in Caracas. I'll be back! Now it's time for a long overnight journey to East Venezuela, where the Orinoco Delta awaits...
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  • Day7

    Today I got lucky. I'm genuinely surprised to have arrived at the Orinoco Delta camp with no major problems or hassle. Of course, that doesn't mean that the journey was pleasant, fast or safe.
    I started with a premature taxi ride to the Caracas Bus terminal. The driver says stay inside, it is not safe when it goes dark. My first problem is that there are no buses to Tucupita today (my destination town), so I buy a ticket for Maturin, a city close-by. My second problem is I'm very early, I have nearly 3 hours to wait in a scary run-down depot with everyone staring at you knowing you're a foreigner. Truth be told, the time passed and I got on the bus (realtively) easily after talking with a few locals. The bus set off (an hour late) and was quite empty, so i got some alright sleep.

     My third problem came when we pulled into some bandit-looking town and the driver instructs everyone to get off. We are about halfway to Maturin, and have to board another bus waiting for us. This one is old, disgusting and packed. We get on and fill every available seat with none to spare. Hot and cramped we set off with a bang and a grind. The drivers all over the place, probably drunk, and the sounds of the bus aren't comforting...

    It's 2am and dark. I have a good view out of the front window, and I see the distant sky glowing orange. As we get nearer, the sky becomes brighter. Then, over the horizon appears several balls of fire. We drive through endless oil refineries, with tall stacks that emit enormous bright flames 200ft above the ground. On all sides of the bus the sky is alight as though it were sunrise, from the countless columns of burning fire. Venezuela sits on the worlds largest natural oil reserve, and these refineries go on for hours...
    I eventually arrive at Maturin in an equally run-down depot and ask about catching a bus to Tucupita. I get very lucky, as one is just about to leave. The woman explained that if I were a few minutes later, I would have waited 24 hours for the next one...

    This bus is comfortable and I sleep into the early hours before arriving at Tucupita 8am. What a shit-hole, but I strike lucky again meeting Carlos, a man here to pick up his wife, and who actually speaks a little English. I gratefully take a ride with them to the river, where I will aim to hitch a boat-ride into the delta. However, he tells me my destination is very far and there are very few boats on a Sunday...

    On arriving at the river there are many locals gathered and police everywhere. We see the dead body of a national guard laid on the ground, and people mourning. The body is bagged, taken away in a van, and people leave. Carlos leaves too and I explain my gratitude for his help, as I am now left alone on the shore thinking what the fuck just happened!?
    I strike luck a third time. Within 5 minutes of the commotion, 4 guys lower a boat into the water, and I approach to ask about getting to the delta camp. After some awkward exchanges of broken Spanish, I realise they are heading to a settlement close to my camp, and after offering a generous amount of money, I climb on-board and we speed off down the wide open river. This boat looks shit, but my God is it fast!

    Problem number 4 came when the oversized engine blows up at full speed. Well, that's what it sounded like as I was thrown forward off the bench and the boat came to an abrupt stop. The guys didn't react much, and after pulling off the engine cover and sticking their hands in, the engine was started up again in minutes. It was music to my ears. I smiled and gave the thumbs up as a wave of relief hit me. It didn't last long though, as the same thing happened a few minutes later.

    After 2 hours, 3 stops, and 6 more 'break-downs', Venezuelas finest speed-garbage-can slowed down and approached the camp at 1pm. By some miracle, I had arrived safely (and with all my stuff) at my home for the next month in the heart of the Orinoco Delta. And this place is jungle paradise....
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  • Day14

    My first week in the Jungle of the Orinoco Delta (Please read my blog; 'An introduction to the Orinoco' before this)

    My first week at the Lodge has been a real mixture of highs and lows, hard work and relaxation, adventure and confinity, conversation and silence. However, it has been an incredible experience so far and I'm very happy to be here.
    Throughout the week there have been at least 7 of us working here, a few others have come and gone on occassion. They're all Venezuelan and seem nice, but are generally untalkative, and speak absolutely no English, with the exception of Johanna - the woman in charge. Immediately I found it difficult to communicate as my Spanish is poor, and when there is conversation I cannot understand any of it. The language here is spoken lazily, without proper pronunciation and at incredible speed! I have managed to have the odd short chat in broken Spanish, but rely on body language and basic phrases, something very familiar from Tanzania.. Anyway I can only really talk to Johanna in English, and mostly sit and smile in silence at meal times. This should be good for improving my Spanish, but only time will tell. The situation improved slightly on Wedneday with the arrival of Anthony, the creator and owner of the lodge. Originally from Palestine, Anthony is an American citizen who discovered the Orinoco Delta when backpacking Venezuela 25 years ago. He had the vision to create this place, and has built up the lodge from just a few initial cabins to the size of a village today. He's cool and speaks perfect English so we get on.

    The typical day here starts at 6.30am when the rising sun illuminates my cabin and the chorus of birds begin like the perfect morning alarm. Breakfast is around 7am, after which everyone gets to work doing various things around the lodge. Although the lodge could probably cater for 100 people, there have been no guests this week so not much to do as a volunteer. My typical tasks have been cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. Whether it be surfaces, furniture, floor or kitchenware, I've learnt that cleaning is a soul-destroying job that I will not be doing in the future. It's been difficult at times, as my willingness to help and asking for more jobs have been met with 'oh, can you please clean the...' *Eurgh!* Thankfully there are other less monotonous tasks like watering plants, feeding the Parrots, washing the dogs, and answering the phone. The others are busy with maintainence, gardening, fixing up boat engines and all sorts, but by midday everyone gathers for lunch and then the afternoon is a bit more relaxed for me.

    Since Anthonys arrival I've been able to play music through the bars speakers, making work more enjoyable, and he has taken a keen interest in my photography skills. One night I showed him some of my best shots from around the lodge and he was really impressed. We talked about his website and social media, and he is now asking me for photos inside guest-cabins and all sorts that he can use for attracting more guests. After telling him about my degree in design, he also wants me to photoshop edit the best photos at some point, and add logos etc. for posting online. Having a little side-project on the go is nice, especially when you're passionate about photography! Anyway, life as a volunteer is pretty easy and the incredible setting makes up for the boring tasks.

    This week there have been 2 stand-out days for me; non-suprisingly two boat trips out of the lodge. The first was a routine afternoon job to go to the nearest town of Boca with Callo and get weekly supplies. It was the first time I was able to enjoy the rivers, and sat on a comfortable boat with sunshine and a breeze in my face, it felt good. The boat was fast, but we still travelled 45 minutes to get to Boca, showing just how deep in the Jungle the lodge really is. We bought gasoline and supplies, filled 4 enormous Jerry cans with drinking water, and I went to a small 'shop' to buy a few bits. We then waited for Anthony, who arrived with his wife in a jeep full of supplies, which me and Callo loaded onto the boat before heading back to the lodge. The ride back through the open delta in the late afternoon sun was amazing, and I had a grin the whole way.

    The best day for me however was Friday, when a trip to get wood for building became a crazy day-long jungle adventure. This was the highlight of my trip to Venezuela so far, and deserves a separate blog post - please read it!

    However mind-numbing some of the work here may be, it's experiences like these that make being here so worthwhile. In the afternoons I have started going on solo Kayaking adventures too, and are aiming to do so every day to experience as much of this place as possible. To sum up my first week in the Orinoco Delta, I've worked hard, but for the rewards of this wild yet tranquil place, it's been worth it.
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  • Day8

    I have arrived in the Orinoco Jungle, at my home for the next 4 weeks, and it deserves an introduction...

    La naturaleza vive aqui, or 'Nature Lives here' is the moto for this place. The phrase is painted in 21 different languages at the entrance to the lodge, and rightly so. The Orinoco is a wild jungle; a vast network of waterways teaming with wildlife. In the skies I've seen Macaws, Toucan, Pelican, Eagles, and in the trees howler monkeys, bats, and tropical birds. I've seen giant lizards, toads the size of your head, butterflies bigger than birds and a variety of bizarre insects. The fauna is equally impressive with towering palms, banana trees, many colourful flowers, and in the water are plentiful fish, piranha, crab, and crocodile. I really am in the wild, and the sounds of the jungle remind me so; by day the incredible and diverse chorus of tropical birds, by night the constant chatter of a million cricket-like insects. Although very much loud and alive, this riverside paradise is the definition of tranquility.

    Upon arriving at the 'lodge' I was very impressed, not only by the beauty, but the size of this place. There is an enormous open central lodge looking over the river with decking above the water. Pathways extend from both sides giving access to the 40+ guest-cabins and other lodges that all face the river. Everything has been built by hand mostly with wood from the jungle, bamboo interiors, palms for roofing, and all surrounded by tall trees, thick vegetation, and swamp. The lodge layout is perfect; a well-established and harmonious part of the jungle.

    The transformation of the delta at dawn is incredible. I've woken up before sunrise a few times already to sit out on the river and absorb the tranquility. Before sunrise, the insects quieten, and the birds are still silent. The undisturbed water is smooth like silk, a mirror for the sky, and it is the only time when all is calm. The sky warms through shades of pink and orange, high wispy clouds become colourful, and the scene is reflected perfectly by the water. It gets brighter, the sun is risen, but it takes 30 minutes to appear above the high jungle canopy on the other side of the river. When it does, the lodge and jungle burst into flames of colour and character, and the orchestra of a million tropical birds fill your ears. A breeze picks up, the water is now rippled as if flowing, and the sounds and sights of the delta are transformed in minutes.

    The transformation of day to night is not as spectacular. I'm sure the sunsets here would be insane but the lodge faces East and the jungle behind blocks any view of the last hour of sunlight. Nevertheless, there's something special about dusk. As it darkens, the oil lamps lit, and the lodge lights switched on, there is a calmness again about the jungle. The water becomes still once more, and reflects what little light is left in the sky, as the army of relentless mosquitos emerge after dusk. On one occasion I witnessed a bright full moon rise above the palm trees just after sunset. However, most nights are clear, so when its dark the sky is spectacular. This place is remote, so the milky way shines bright (alongside fireflies) to the earie night noise of chirping insects.
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  • Day28

    Week 4, and my 3rd week in the Jungle started really well. The lodge was suddenly kicked into action for the guests (from England! - read previous blog). Although they only srayed for a couple of nights, the place had been decorated with fresh palms, tablecloths, cushions, and of course, the bar was now open. One of my jobs was waiter, and the food i was serving was incredible, nothing like the 'yuka' casava crap we have every day! It was cool being the 'rep' of the lodge, and I got to go on their day-trip with Orlando, our guide. It was an aweome day, and I felt part of the guests group.

    So the tour started at 9.30am when we set off down the sunlit river in a canopied boat; the 4 guests up front (cameras, binoculars, life-jackets and all), me and Orlando at the rear. Orlando is a cool lively 25-year old local who can speak near perfect English, so we really get on. We head down the same 'jungle' river I've been before, but within minutes Orlando is stopping the boat and pointing out wildlife so well hidden or far away it's unbelievable. At full speed he shuts off the engine and says 'monkeys'. Even when he pulled the boat up really close and pointed right at the tree, it took us 'gringos' a while for the 'oh yeah I see it' moment. Incredible eyesight! Anyway we see numerous howler monkeys, Tortoise, Snake, Kingfisher, and a wide variety of birds, before stopping to do some Piranha-fishing.

    This is my first time fishing, and I catch 4 piranha, each bigger than the previous. Orlando gets 5 but, funnily enough, between the 4 (paying) guests not a single fish is caught. We were there for almost an hour, so there was an air of frustration, but we had good fun and laughs, Orlando also held and force-fed a piranha twigs to demonstrate the sharpness of their teeth. After crusing around in the boat a bit more, we stopped for a jungle-walk. This was something I'd already experienced, but it was nice to appreciate the surroundings without having to work; we swung on vines, trudged through swamp, saw scorpions and bizare insects, drank fresh vine-water and ate palm-heart, of course all whilst being attacked by Mosquitos.

    We found a 'beach' so I had a quick dip in the refreshing brown water, then visited a small Warao community on the main river. They were selling alsorts of hand-made stuff all weaved from dried palms and you could see them making the next basket, bowl, bag or whatever. I bought a beautiful little 'dish' for my mum (after all, it was mothers day that day) for the equivalent of 15p. I'm telling you, if this shit were in selfridges it would be £15! Anyway we had a look around before setting off down the wide main river, where we followed a group of river-dolphin. These were smaller and less pink than ones I'd seen previously (they are somewhat common) but it was still special seeing them up-close, and one even jumped out the water in front of us. On our way back to camp we found more monkeys and interesting flora, before a passing downpour soaked us in the last 5 minutes.

    That Night, I would be waiter again for the guests, and bartender after their meal. This was a cool experience and we had some great conversations, particularly about how fucked Venezuela is, which was highlighted when it came to paying the tab... a little over 100,000 Bolivars (£30). Its cash only for obvious reasons (it's the jungle) and the highest bill is 100b. Hmm, let me just go get a bag of over 1000 notes weighing a kilo to cover it... ridiculous. Anyway we laughed about it all, as it took almost an hour to settle the tab, before I closed the bar for probably the last time.

    The next morning I served breakfast, and the guests went out in a canoe with Orlando. I followed in my kayak playing photographer in the awesome weather. By midday it was time to say goodbye, as they left in a boat, begging their journey to angel falls. So, by the afternoon it was back to cleaning bird shit off furniture and spreading diesel on logs. The guests had come and gone quickly, but it was great for me, and a highlight of my time here....

    Before leaving on Wesnesday, Anthony wanted to take advantage of my photography skills. Tuesday night we sat in the lodge together for a few hours on his laptop, and I copied accross all my photos, then gave him a long lesson in photoshop. Initially I showed him the basics; navigation, enhancing photos, adding his logo and saving for use online. It wouldn't have taken long, but anthony was full of questions, and wanted to know EVERYTHING. I was a little rusty, but the next couple of hours were spent messing around in the program and showing him all i knew. His reactions to some of the shit i was doing reminded me how awesome photoshop is. It was all new to him, but he was amazed by almost everything; removing people from photos, face-swapping, flying boats, giant-frog invasions and alsorts of silly shit.  I was showing off a bit but he was enjoying it and certainly learnt a thing or two! Anyway he appreciated the photos and is going to post them to the company website, instagram, Facebook etc. Exciting!

     The rest of the week would turn out to be a lot less exiting; the mornings and early afternoons occupied by boring jobs, the late afternoons out solo in the kayak. I did however discover something quite cool; a long, narrow, dense waterway through the jungle. It starts about 30ft wide at the main river, but soon narrows, before becoming almost unpassable in places. For a few miles, there's dense vegetation immediately on both sides and above, like a natural tunnel. The 'stream' opens out in places, revealing towering jungle palm trees, many birds, and the odd bit of sunlight. It may be narrow, but the water is quite deep, and teaming with fish, piranha and electric eel, which you can see constantly making a splash. It eventually becomes too narrow and overgrown to continue, but this has to be the coolest place I've ever kayaked, and I return the next couple of days with my Go-Pro and a fishing 'rod'. Truth be told, I'm shite at fishing, which is why I caught zero fish there, but on other days I've been trying my luck at the Lodge, and crully caught a couple piranha and sardine. Anyway, this week I have found my new favourite place in Venezuela, and I'll be back again a few times for sure before I leave the delta...
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  • Day35

    My final week in the Jungle was a short one, as I left on Friday, but I had a great final few days. Me and Orlando spent Monday morning in laughter whilst moving mattresses, bed frames and furniture around cabins in preparation for future guests. We used the old boat to help (I got to drive it!) and did a lot of messing around as were both in a giddy mood. The day became even better when after lunch we headed to the jungle. We had to cut, carry, and transport bamboo from the jungle to the camp for building material. It was hard work, cutting down enormous shoots with a machete was one thing, but dragging them back to the boat through a dense, muddy, hot wnd humid jungle was unpleasent. We needed 20 large bamboo, but the machete broke after 10, and thank God it did - I was fucking exhausted. Before leaving the jungle, Orlando climbed vertically up a 50ft palm tree to get coconuts. It's normal practice for the people here but I was scared for him; one slip is all it takes... Anyway we ate some coconut and i drove the bamboo-filled boat back to camp. At this point I wanted my bed, but I still went out in my kayak for a few hours down the jungle-river to complete an awesome day.

    On Tuesday afternoon a new volunteer arrived. Maycon, A 28-year-old backpacker from Brazil, had just come from Roraima (my next destination) and would spend a month at the Lodge. He'd lived in New-Zealand for 2 years, and in Brazil he was an English teacher, so speaks perfect English, lucky me! He's a cool guy, and we worked all of Wednesday together so got to know eachothers well. We talked about our travel plans and it turns out we're both doing a similar route, so will probably cross paths in Colombia. He also told me all about Roraima and how awesome it was so I'm now very exited for it.

    On my last day in the delta, after packing and cleaning my cabin, I took Maycon on a Kayaking adventure down my favourite 'river'. We did it at peak high-tide, so the usual overhanging branches and vegetation were low and touching the water in places. It was difficult for me, but for first-time kayaker Maycon it was a challenging 3-hour battle. The river was super dense and there was shit everywhere so it was tricky and he really struggled. Anyway we emerged back out of the jungle 3 hours later; scratched, bitten and bleeding, just before it was going dark. We had a great afternoon, and for me it would be the last time Kayaking here.

    Friday morning was my departure from the camp. After saying goodbyes I boarded a tiny wooden boat with a local Warao family at 7am. It would take some 2 hours rough journey uncomfortably sat on the floor to reach Tucupita, the nearest town. There I met Orlando, who had just come out of hospital with wife and newborn baby girl Estelle. He helped me get to the transport terminal and onto a shared 'taxi' heading for Puerto Ordaz. Compared with my last Venezuelan travel experience, this one was fairly straightforward, and I even fell asleep in the car.

    Joel and 12 others were passing through Puerto Ordaz on Friday night, on their way to Roraima, and were staying at 'the Mara inn'. This is where I would stay the night, and I had no idea what to expect, but I arrived to a fancy modern hotel with a room-price to match (£20 a night is a lot here!). I paid, but was short on cash, so after talking to the receptionist, her friend drove to the hotel with a binbag full of bills. I gave him $150 (just 3 notes!) in return for 500,000bolivars (all in 100's and 50's notes) weighing more than my bag. Anyway, I had arrived safely and obtained cash by 2pm so had the whole afternoon to relax before my friends arrived in the evening. It was great to see everyone again; we had some food and then drank spirits all night at the bar. After a month without alcohol, it hit me pretty hard, so i had a good night! The next morning I would see them all again at breakfast before they set off on their 12 hour drive in the minibus.

    That morning (Saturday) i found a couchsurf host, so I checked out of hotel around midday and got a taxi into town to his place. Romel, a really cool quintuple-lingual local welcomed me with open arms and some incredible home-cooked food. We hit it off instantly and had loads in common so becme instnt friends. After chilling in his appartment we headed to the Parque Llovinza, a huge riverside park with several waterfalls, bridges and water-crossings. It was a beautiful place and we had a great afternoon; we ended up trekking 3 hours back in the late afternoon sun through scrubland, rivers and forest. And of course, we were chatting and laughing the whole way.

    That Night we would go to a 'concert' with Romel's friend Thais, which in actually turned out to be an intimate gig on a terrace in the outskirts of the city. There was an awesome band, a female singer 'Mariana', and of course beer and food. It was a great way to end the perfect day, but Sunday would turn out to be even better...

    Romel's 34th Birthday started with home-cooked Arepes and music with the 3 of us in his flat. In the afternoon me and Romel got a haircut which was an experience; he had longish hair and a big beard, but came out buzz-cut and clean-shaven - a completely different man! We then headed to a hotel on the Caroni river where an incredible adventure would await. The hotel ran daily kayaking tours, so we geared up and met with the group we would be with. First, we would kayak a few kilometers towards La Llovizna waterfall, before getting out and preparing for a swim. We then swam around some rocky outcrops and into a hidden horseshoe of several incredible waterfalls. These waterfalls were enormous, powerful, and loud. The volume of water falling into this bowl made it difficult to swim close, so we would try a different approach...

    Following the lead of a guide, we vertically climbed a rocky cliff face (with difficulty) to get to a ledge high above the water. We were now stood right beside the main waterfall some 50ft up. There was only one way down, and of course this was the reason why we climbed in the first place. After a nervy leap, the thrill of jumping from such a height and feeling weightless made me want to go again. This time 3 of us would jump at the same time, which gave me some awesome Go-Pro footage. This experience combined with the awesome scenery and people was the highlight of my week. After, we would shower under the cascading water and climb around to the top for some incredible views in the late afternoon sun. Upon returning to the hotel in out kayaks, we saw capuchin monkeys up close with a background of the Caroni river and the setting sun. What an amazing day. To finish a great weekend, me Romel and Tais went to the Orinokia centre; a huge modern mall that you wouldn't expect to find in Venezuela. We ate loads of food and ended the perfect day with a shite film and buckets of popcorn in the cinema.
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  • Day38

    Monday 10th April would be the first day of a 2-week road trip around Eastern Venezuela. I was picked up from Romel's place in Puerto Ordaz by Nathaniel and Adrian, 2 brits working as teachers at the British school in Caracas. I had met both of them before but didn't know them well at all. Nathan is 27, from London and has been here 2 years so speaks reasonable spanish (which would turn out to be lifesaving!). Adrian is 26, has been here for 7 months and is our driver and owner of an awesome 1996 VW Beetle. My face lit up when I was greeted by the little olive green car (appropriately named 'Shrek'), and I soon realised it would be a tight squeeze and one hell of a journey! Shrek was small and had no boot so along with our bags and supplies, the three of us would just fit in the car! Anyway, we set off on our 600km journey to Kumarakapay, where we would climb Mount Roraima.

    Within a couple of hours I'd got to know Nate and Ade quite well, along with some of the Venezuelan countryside. Our first stop was for fuel in a town called Guasipati. Typical in Venezuela, there was a long queue of cars stretching down the road, but Nate chatted with a Guardia (National Guard) and offered a small bribe to get us to the front and we were filled up within 10 minutes. His Spanish and big balls saved us an hour or more, and would be very useful for many future situations. There are Armed-Police and Guardia checkpoints on roads all over Venezuela, so having someone able to explain in Spanish upon getting stopped was great, and that happened to be a lot... We even got a police dog thrown into the car to search for drugs on the first day!

    After another few hours of driving we reached the town of Las Claritas. This place was chaos - people, cars, motorbikes, stalls, shops and street sellers all concentrated on the main traffic-filled dirt-road through town. It was incredible to see, but it felt unsafe, especially standing out as 3 white guys in a Beetle! Anyway we grabbed some good food and stayed in a Posada (like a motel) 10 minutes out of the town, where we felt safer. That nights entertainment involved Nate and ade injecting eachother in the ass, which was hilarious. They'd bought 'Miovit' in Caracas; a supposedly 'insect-repelling' vitamin medicine, but they didn't realise it was an injection and had no time to find a nurse. Ade nearly passed out, but it was funny...

    The next day we would drive the rest of the way to Kumarakapay. Early morning we crawled through the busy town traffic again, with the intention of getting fuel. We were met by a network of chaotic queues from all sides of the gas station blocking several roads. There were all kinds of vehicles in total disorder, well over one-hundred, and a suspected 4 hour wait in this dodgy area. Fuck. That. We knew the next station was far, but with 2 jerry-cans of fuel in the car for backup, we fancied our chances.

    We were soon driving on cool winding roads through forests, and gaining altitude before we entered the Canaima National Park. Shrek managed about 300km before we ran out of fuel, so we poured a Jerry can into the tank to get us to the next gas station, which was in the middle of a hot baron nowhere and had a queue of around 60 cars for as far as you could see. We tried to play the tourist card and offer a bribe, but with no luck we would have to queue for 2 hours. Me and Nathan walked off down a dirt track to a random campsite where we found a river and small waterfall. It was midday and hot, so drinking and diving in the water was really refreshing. Poor Adrian stayed with the car, but made a friend in the queue...

    Franyer, a middle-aged Venezuelan, was behind us in the queue, and after talking we discovered his interesting way of life. He would queue for fuel here early every morning, then once filled up, siphon it out of the tank and into jerry-cans hidden in the boot. He'd repeat this 3 times before driving 3 hours to the Brazilian Border, where he could sell the fuel for 2,000 times the price. In Venezuela petrol is as good as free, but prices in Brazil are comparable to the UK/US. Franyer would pay the equivalent of  2p for 100litres (worth over £100 in Brazil) and sell it near the border for about £40. Authorities are aware this happens so they don't allow people to fill Jerry cans anywhere, hen email why Franyer would queue multiple times and siphon the petrol out of the car each time. Clever!

    Anyway, we were also asking him about Roraima and he knew a friend who worked for a tour company in Kumarakapay, Perfect! After filling up, we would drive there in Convoy and find his friend, which we did, but it took a painful 2 hours of negotiation and language difficulty to organise and pay for our 6-day Roraima trek. But, it was done, and we were starving so went for lunch accross the road at a small place, one of only a few 'bars' in this very small relaxed town. After talking with the owner named 'Lineker' about the football, ballsy Nathan managed another trick. Lineker would get his TV and satellite dish from his home, bring it accross town and set it up so we could watch live champions league football  while we ate and drank beer (Juventus 3-0 Barcelona). Ridiculous... but it was awesome, and after the game we would be even cheekier  and manage to pay with a 50$ note, receiving a big bag of Bolivar cash as change (which we needed). After a bit of shopping and beers elsewhere, we packed our bags ready for Roraima and got an early night in a Posada. The following day would be the start of our 6-day adventure into the wild, and we were excited
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  • Day56

    Week 8 started slow. Sunday was spent feeling Hungover and lying on Nathan's couch watching football. We did eventually get out, and went to a cool rock bar for food, football (el classico), and more drinks... We played pool into the evening before going to an awesome steakhouse with Joel's family.

    The plan for the week was to get to the Morrocoy National Park (on Venezuelas Carribean coast) as soon as possible, but i needed Monday to recover and research. I went round to Nates in the evening and cooked a spicy pasta dish, and ended up crashing of his couch again although I'd promised Sergio I would stay at his place. So, the next day I went round to Sergios, and we went on a bit of a tour around downtown Caracas. It was great to get out and see some of the city centre with a local, which was a suprisingly nice place. We walked around all afternoon in a huge loop, visited a friend, and didn't get back until dark.

    Wednesday morning, and i still hadn't left for Morrocoy. I had left some things at Joel's so me and Sergio took the long walk through a busy afternoon in protest-filled Caracas to get there. There were National guard everywhere, riot police and a lot of angry people in stand-still traffic caused by roadblocks. It was hectic to say the least, and motorbikes were using the pavements like they were highways, so even being a pedestrian was chaos! Anyway we arrived late at Joel's and watched the sunset over the city (with the Macaw's) from the roof of his building, and of course beer in hand. We went down the road for a Chinese wiyh sara, who after drove us to some empty restaurant for drinks. There Kelly joined and we started knocking back cuba-libre's (triple rum and coke) like they were water. The group kept growing and became a party when we all went to Sara's place for drinks and music. The last thing I remember was leaving the macarena to throw up in the sink...

    So I woke up on Joel's couch Thursday morning to one of the worst hangovers I've had. I convinced myself I could make the journey to Morrocoy but after standing up and still feeling drunk, it was back to sleep for me. Even when I finally got up in the afternoon I could barely function. In was my third failed attempt to leave Caracas, and I started to think I was never going to leave. However, after Joel returned from work (I don't know how he does it!) we relaxed and watched 'walk-hard', before an early (alcohol-free) night in preparation for my travel the next day.

    Friday, I FINALLY left Caracas. I didn't actually mind because I had an awesome week, but it was good to be back on the move again. I took a complicated 3-bus journey starting at 7am from a busy capital bus-terminal, but arrived in the coastal town of Chichiriviche by 2. This gave me time to find some cash, which took a while, and I found a licor store who swapped my dollars for the cash I needed. I headed to the harbour where I met a rogue boat-tour guide; Antonio. There was only a couple hours of light left so we went to the nearby island of 'Cayo Sal'. White Sands, crystal clear turquoise water, towering palm trees, and the low sun reflecting  off the calm sea. I felt like I was in the Caribbean (which I actually was) and got trigger-happy with my camera. Me and Antonio got to know eachother a bit, but he spoke way too fast so understanding was limited. He and his friends took me back to town and we made a plan for the following day...

    Saturday was the big boat-tour. Me and Antonio set off at 8am with grey windy weather and VERY choppy water. We were in a pretty small boat and had to battle with huge 20ft waves for about 20 minutes. Antonio was just going straight over and into them at full speed, so we had to hang on tight. It was rough, but once we'd got behind a few islands the water was calm. Our first stop was some random clear shallow water known for starfish. I dived in and brought one up to the surface, it was at least twice the size of my face, and looked incredible. After some photos we threw it back and continued to a couple other shallow water spots, mangroves, and island beaches.

    Antonio had assured me that the weather always improves during the day, and he was right. He dropped me off at Cayo Sombrero (the most famous island) around midday; the cloud had disappeared and the morning sun shone bright and hot. First I walked around the beautiful coastline with my camera, and found a huge reef on the quite side. I had all the gear from Antonio so I went Snorkeling for about 2 hours. It was incredible; the water warm, clear and blue, the corals colourful, and the fish plentiful. I must have seen a hundred different species of tropical fish, and took some great photos with my gopro...

    After Snorkeling I continued down the beach to the busiest section. There were loads of people (almost all Venezuelan on a 'weekend get-away'), fancy yachts and music. I bought a Piña colada and found another great spot for Snorkeling. There was also a tent where a couple were frying freshly caught fish so I bought a meal with salad and platano, which was incredible. Antonio picked me up in the boat late afternoon and we crashed through some immense waves, where i was almost thrown overboard, on our way back to Chiciriviche. I found another shop to change dollars, bought some beer, and later met Antonio for dinner. We ate and went down a 'evening market' strip on the shore, full of Souvenirs, food and music. We chilled and drank beers whilst listening to music blasted out of the back of some pimped up cars with huge speakers.

    Sunday was the shorter boat-ride (paseo corto) around the inside of Morrocoy, this time with Antonio's cousin, Jose. We went to a Boat-wreck, through mangrove tunnels, and visited some incredible caves. Morrocoy has a huge tree-lined cliff-face straight into the water, and there are a few enormous amphitheatre-like open caves, over a hundred feet tall and deep, with vines and other fauna hanging dramatically all the way to the ground. After exploring them I was dropped at Cayo person, another beautiful and very small island. There weren't many people here and it was tranquil, but I met an English-speaking Venezuelan/Dutch man and his Dutch friend. They were cool, we chatted for ages and they invited me to their place for beer and BBQ later that Night. 

    After visiting yet another beautiful island and meeting more Venezuelans, I went back to the hostel to get ready. On my way to their place, I bought rum and a bottle of coke, but after 20 minutes searching (in the dark) and getting help from locals, I couldn't find the house. I was probably in thw wrong place and didn't even have their number, so I headed back to town a bit gutted and got some Street food. Then, by coincidence Antonio walks past. We get a flask, some ice, and start drinking the rum down by the shore with 2 of his friends. It's a similar setup as the night before with cars playing music and loads of people around. We finish the bottle in about an hour, and head to some wierd empty bar, where we drink more. The next morning I'd feel like shit once again..
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Venezuela, ቬንዙዌላ, Benezuela, فنزويلا, Venesuela, Венесуэла, Венецуела, Venezuwela, ভেনিজুয়েলা, ཝེ་ནི་ཛུའེ་ལ།, Venecuela, Veneçuela, Venezuela nutome, Βενεζουέλα, Venezuelo, Venetsueela, ونزوئلا, Wenesuwelaa, Vénézuéla, Venezuèla, Veiniséala, A Bheiniseala, વેનેઝુએલા, Benezuwela, ונצואלה, वेनेज़्वेला, Վենեսուելա, Venesúela, ベネズエラ共和国, ვენესუელა, វេនេហ្ស៊ុយឡា, ವೆನೆಜುವೆಲಾ, 베네주엘라, Venezuêla, Veneswela, Venetiola, Venzwera, Venézuela, ເວເນຊູເອລາ, Venecuēla, Venezoelà, വെനിസ്വേല, व्हेनेझुएला, Venezwela, ဗင်နီဇွဲလား, भेनेजुएला, Veneçuèla, ଭେନଜୁଏଲା, Beneswela, Wenezuela, Biniswila, वेनेजुयेला, Venezzuela, Venezueläa, Fenisuweela, Venezuelë, வெனஜுவேலா, వెనుజువేలా, ประเทศเวเนซุเอลา, Venisuela, ۋېنېسۇئېلا, Венесуела, وینزوئیلا, Vê-nê-zu-ê-la (Venezuela), Venesolän, ווענעזועלע, Orílẹ́ède Fẹnẹṣuẹla, 委內瑞拉, i-Venezuela

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