Day 39 – Sat 16th March
Despite all Tracey’s hard efforts to sort out the Angel falls trip we admitted defeat & decided to catch an early bus to Ciudad Bolivar & try again when we got there. This was an all-day bus trip – fine for me with a good book, but Tracey was fidgety as ever. Arrived, to be met by man who tries to sell us trip to Angel falls, no river trip but flight. Agree a price & we get dropped off at our Posada – Amor Patrio – which was ok & on historic square, but with no locks.
All the restaurants appeared shut but Tracey managed to sweet talk a restaurant owner into opening up for us – great meal too; we tipped him heavily.
Since our attempts to book an Angel Falls tour are still proving unsuccessful, the latest being that we have to turn up to pay cash in Euros – er, you mention this now and think I brought Euros with me?!? The price seems to have doubled in Bolivares, thanks so much for your help Backpacker Tours! We decided to just GO to Ciudad Bolivar to try to arrange something, the dry season is not helping…
A man met us at the bus station trying to sell us a tour, have suspended cynical response to book, Keir really wants to go!
Day 40 – Sun 17th
Meant to be off to Angel falls early but cock up with their admin meant that we were now going Mon & the river was high enough to take a boat trip to falls – Hurrah & Huzzah!
Spent day looking around Cuidad Bolivar…saw the one horse!
Early rise for trip again, to be met with complete confusion, and attempts to charge us US$1300 for the trip we agreed for US$900 yesterday, suddenly all becomes clear when we realise the black market exchange rate for US$ is 3x the official rate – take note, my friends, bring dollars with you! Eventually agreed a bank transfer for less than either price for the trip sans boat (no water) with a flight over the falls – joy, I get to rise at 6am tomorrow too!
Early impressions of Ciudad Bolivar being a cute city are dashed within 20 minutes – there is a nice square, it is very small – we did check out the Orinoco though, it is sadly rather un-photogenic apart from the lightning (too) fast leap of the pink dolphin we spotted there.
I also learned from a local that the ‘universal’ hitchhiking gesture means something rather different in Venezuela, ha ha.
Day 41 – Mon 18th
Cool light aircraft flight to Canaima which is beautiful tannin stained lagoon fringed by numerous waterfalls. We had a fun boat trip to falls, a swim & then a hike behind waterfalls – a fantastic experience. The highlight so far.
Angel Falls! And it has changed back to a 3 day tour with boat, I am made up as this is what I really wanted, am still slightly dubious about the company and expecting something to go awry, but all seems good – Keir and I get our own private plane, flown by the lovely Josan, out to Canaima, accompanied by several bottles of Coke, Lemonade and assorted packets of rice (no chickens). Some of the waterfalls are ex-waterfalls right now, but Jesus (our guide) took us to some others, we had a sort of swim, and walked behind Hacha Falls – pretty cool. Celebrated with an extremely expensive Cuba Libre in the only bar on the lake.
Day 42 – Tue 19th
The trip up to the falls was very Apocolypse now – was hoping be able to do some pushing of the canoe up the rapids but the river level was slightly higher & our boatman was unbelievably good… still not sure how he managed to drive the boat straight up some of those rapids…?!
The landscape was very stark &hugely impressive… the Tepui (rock plateau’s) just rose out of nowhere – very ‘Land that Time Forgot’.
Breakfast, then boat trip today, almost 6 hours, but no pushing! These guys are really good! Saw the falls, very high and not very strong – not a patch on Kaieteur really – but pretty, and there was a nice spot to hike to for a swim with a view.
Camp is very basic, no lights, no showers, no flushing toilets…. Had a moonlight bathe with Keir and our new friend Aron, the boys found it very romantic ;).
Amazingly managed to sleep in a hammock, despite Jesus’s lovely stories about tarantulas – happy to report that there were no spider incidents, just extreme cold.
Day 43 – Wed 20th
Boat trip back the next day was quicker, but equally as beautiful. Very glad we did the trip – was definitely a great experience. The Falls themselves were majestic, not a huge amount of water, but the beauty is in the trip itself.
Met some lovely people on the trip – Aron in particular gave us the low down on just about every country in Central & South America. Hopefully we’ll catch up with him in Mexico City where he lives.
Flight back was uneventful but gave as a great view over the country – much of which was very stark with thin green veins of tree lined streams ribboning the countryside.
Missed a picture of Aron wearing all his clothes for breakfast, including waterproof jacket with hood up, priceless. I think he may have been even colder than me…
Pictures: Angel Falls & Canaima, Venezuela
Day 44 – Thu 21st
Early morning taxi to pick up the bus our Posada owner had assured us was leaving at 0930 to find that there weren’t any that day at the company she called the night before & confirmed with…. The next one didn’t have any going either…. Finally we found one going 45 mins later than planned.
This was easily the most uncomfortable journey to date – broken seats, no aircon, crammed in…. I knew my day was going to go any better when the biggest man in NATO sat next to me at the back of the coach & wallowed over me…. A hot, sweaty 6 hrs & not in a good way!
Arrived at Puerto la Cruz with no accommodation & scarce money, but quick bit of negotiation by Tracey sorted out a room & a quick illicit trade of dollars… cushtie!
I think it best to view the bus trip back to Puerto la Cruz as an experiment in weight-loss, I have never sweated that much in the sauna, an effect unfortunately negated by the $5 chocolate covered ice cream I was forced to eat in order to cool down.
Day 45 – Fri 22nd
Tracey checked our flight again in the morning to find that it’d been moved back by nearly 12 hrs. Taxi to the airport was booked so we checked in & spent the day wasting time in nearby Barcelona . That really summed up Venezuala – nice people but poor organisation & indifference. Not on my ‘To do again’ list.
Panama – now that’s a completely different story…
Avior airlines – I am far from happy! At least Keir agreed we could leave the airport and go into town this time, I don’t think he could face 11 hours of me being as bored and annoying as I was in Sao Paolo!
The fact that the flight was actually delayed beyond the ‘new’ time would only have exacerbated matters – fortunately a nice man in the airport shop responded to my cheeky request to use his wifi and this kept me mildly amused.
Nice new hostel in Panama City, at which we arrived EXTREMELY late. Got drunk on half a bottle of red wine to get over the trauma – where has my alcohol tolerance gone?
Pictures: Barcelona, Venezuela
Day 46 –Sat 23rd
Mamallena’s Hostel in Panama City felt like the first real hostel we’d stayed in – lots of backpackers & beers!
Went & got our onward bus tickets to Boquete near the Panama/ Costa Rica border and then up to see the Miraflores lock on the Panama canal – impressive bit of engineering (Adam, Dave & Martin would have been dissecting it for hours…. No elevators though Ad!)
Saw a couple of yachts make their way through & then, as we were catching the bus back, saw an enormous liner squeezing its way through.
Late afternoon was spent walking through the old part of the city – Casco Viejo. It was a little bit like Havana in that beautifully pristine restored buildings were alongside crumbling slums. A lot of time & effort is obviously going into restoring this quarter though to attract the tourist dollar.
Panama City is very different to my expectations, if I had any (?), skyscrapers combined with old colonial buildings, some newly restored, some crumbling ruins. Interesting.
Actually, interesting is a good word for the ease with which one might catch a bus – we wandered for around half an hour being directed from place to place to bus a bus card so that we could catch the bus, before yielding to the temptation of a cab -so it seems you have to take a taxi to get to the bus station to buy a ticket for the bus…. Then, of course, the bus we actually needed was one where you just paid the driver, for Christ’s sake!
Day 47 –Sun 24th
Arrived early in Boquete, after the overnight bus from Panama City. Immediately felt very relaxed & chilled. Boquete is a beautiful highland town near the border with Costa Rica. A backpacker centre for hiking, watersports, etc.
Birdsong fills the air 24/7 & it’s a perfect temperature. We stayed in a different Hostel Mamallena again having liked its sister hostel in Panama City. This one was even better – a converted wooden house right in the centre of the town.
Had an energetic walk up hill & down dale to see a beautiful garden – it was closed (doh!!) & a nice meal out in the evening.
This may be one of the best hostels we stayed in, friendly staff, perfect location and fantastic room with private bathroom – hooray! (The need to convince ourselves we are slumming it sometimes means otherwise).
Had a fabulous, huge breakfast at Café del Encuentro. Yum.
Day 48 –Mon 25th
We had to re-organise our itinerary at this point as the ensuing Easter break meant that travel between countries was getting all booked up. As ever, my Travel agent – the beautiful Miss Tracey Cox – came up trumps by getting us flights direct to Mexico city from San Jose, Costa Rica. So went into David to book our onward bus tickets to San Jose. Timed it wrongly so we arrived as the ticket office shut for lunch – bum! That meant the afternoon trip to the hot springs was out.
Met a very nice Englishman, Gary, who owns the laundry – amazing what talented people you meet in such remote places. Boquete was full of Americans – either backpackers or retirees – who come here for the cheap cost of living & for the lovely climate.
Managed to see bugger all of Boquete again, apart from the inside of another very hot bus! This was a local one, so I guess aircon was out, however even the aircon buses don’t seem to actually use it??! Maybe there has been a successful backlash against the freezing temperatures I was led to expect by Lonely Planet et al…
Day 49 –Tue 26th
Last day in Boquete so we decided to do an organised tour to do all the things we hadn’t managed to do over the previous 3 days – hike to some waterfalls, canyoning & visit to the hot springs.
In light of our unsuccessful attempts to experience the beautiful scenery and multiple activities that Boquete has to offer, we decided to bite the bullet and pay for an all day tour, a quick hike to some bloody freeeezing waterfalls – Keir & I were the only two foolhardy enough to try it – followed by a slightly warmer river at the canyon, I was too chicken to jump in, and when I missed the photo opportunity of Keir mid-jump, he refused to do it again for some reason… Finally some super-hot hot springs and another monkey! This one an affectionate, yet impertinent, spider monkey called Cheetah, who decided to sneak up on us while bathing in an attempt to abscond with our water…