That waterfall is HOW high?

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of Venezuela  , Bolívar,
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

So, on our return to Santa Elena we had been planning on getting an overnight bus down to the next town, Ciudad Bolivar, from where we had booked a return flight to Canaima National Park in order to visit the world's highest waterfall, Angel Falls, deep in the Venezuelan jungle. This was, as you can probably understand a fairly unpleasant prospect after 6 days on the mountain, mostly wet and sleeping in tents.

However, fortune shined on us as when we got back to town we bumped into 2 German guys Uli and Josef, who we had met in town before leaving. They had chartered a 4 seater plane to fly them direct to Canaima. They had spent the whole day looking for people to share the cost of the flight with and had failed (they are not many tourists in these parts or, we were to discover later, anywhere in Venezuela which we found very strange). They asked if we wanted to fly with them and would accept any money we could get back off the agent we had booked the flight with – no matter how much. Errr.... Yes please!

So, instead of a horrible night bus we got to spend a night in a proper bed, eat a leisurely pizza and wake up at a perfectly reasonable time to hop on a plane. Result. In the end the agent gave us a full refund for the one flight we had booked so everyone was a winner. The flight itself was an amazing, if slightly unnerving experience. The plane was the smallest we have ever been in; we were crammed in the back with our big backpacks and were amused to see the pilot open up a newspaper and start reading it not long after taking off. We tried hard not to giggle and stared out of the windows as the jungle went past below. At first, it was dotted with the odd village, gold mine or deforested square, but for the middle 30 minutes of the flight there was literally not a single sign of habitation below. Just tepuis, other kinds of hills and rock faces, winding rivers (black, brown and blue) and jungle - lots of jungle. The skies were not clear but we could still see a lot in between the fluffy clouds.  Then we approached Ayan Tepui, the tepui off which Angel Falls falls, (sounds strange that doesn’t it, but we think it is grammatically correct?) and flew along next to its massive 1000m high wall for literally 15 minutes. We couldn’t see it all but it was clearly a beast of a table mountain making Roraima look like a little flat topped mound by comparison. It was about this point we noticed the fuel gauge showing that both tanks were empty. We really hoped it was the gauge that was broken but then that opened up another question - if so how did he know how much fuel was left?

Anyway, we landed safe and sound and were shown to our surprisingly decent accommodations in the jungle "campamento" and were soon herded off along with Uli and Josef on our first afternoon’s entertainment: a trip across the small Canaima lake to see another set of waterfalls there.  Having been to Iguazu falls a few short weeks ago and having come here to see Angel Falls itself we weren’t that fussed about this first trip but were more than pleasantly surprised by it. It started fairly innocuously with a walk across the savannah and jungle to a medium-sized but powerful waterfall. Then the guide announced that we were to go underneath the falls. Slightly bemused but intrigued we stripped down to our swimmers, wrapped the camera carefully in a waterproof bag and followed him down through the jungle to the base of the falls, where to our surprise we literally walked under this pretty massive waterfall. There was a path about 2 feet wide where the rock overhung and the waterfall just pounded down to the side of you - and onto you at some points. For film buffs it was so like the scene in the Last of the Mohicans when Daniel Day-Lewis and co were running from the evil Magua and tried to hide under a waterfall that Gordon was very tempted to turn to Sarah and shout “Just stay alive! No matter what occurs, I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!” and then run and jump through the waterfall. Well, actually he wasn’t really but it did feel like it looked in that film; it was pretty cool. When we came out of the return trip through the waterfall it almost seemed for a moment as though we were still under there as the most almighty rainstorm had arrived while we were underneath!

The next day we set off on the long haul to the falls themselves. This involved a 45 minute walk past one falls to a long wooden canoe which we boarded and tried to make ourselves comfortable on low wooden benches for the first hour’s ride. Then we had to get off and walk across the savannah for 30 minutes before re-boarding the boat (which had gone through some rapids to get to us) to continue up-river for the next 3 hours, including over some surprisingly big rapids where the guide would sit in the back and scream at us all to stay in the middle of the boat and not move, very encouraging. The last hour of the boat journey the scenery around us got more and more beautiful as the river got narrower and strewn with boulders and the walls of the tepui rose up around us. Finally, we rounded a bend and a massively long plume of water falling off one of the massive cliffs came into view. It was Angel Falls. We were doubly pleased to see it because a) we had spent quite a lot of time and money getting here and were thrilled to be finally seeing it (and in sunshine no less!) and b) this surely signalled that soon we would be able to ease our sore backsides out of the little canoe and start the 45 minute climb up to the base of the falls.

Having seen a fair few waterfalls in our time we hadn’t expected all that much of Angel Falls and were completely blown away by it.  The long journey there was definitely worthwhile and in some ways added to the sense of adventure when we finally clambered out onto the viewpoint beneath the falls.  However it is quite hard to get your head around the scale of the thing. We sat at the bottom on a rock getting slightly wet from the spray and with our necks getting slightly sore from staring up at it, trying to take photos of all 979m of it.  It just didn’t seem possible that it could be that tall and lead to a lot of head scratching and some very GCSE physics-debating with Uri and Joseph about just how high that is. As we have since worked out (yes there was a spreadsheet involved), if you were to jump off the top you would fall for 20 seconds before hitting the ground. If that doesn’t sound like a very long time, count it out. Or try this on for size: if you put the highest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, next to it, it would still be 150m shorter than the falls. Bear in mind that the Burj Khalifa itself is over 300m bigger than the next biggest building in the world (Tapei 101). One last comparison: you could put three Eiffel towers, end to end, next to Angel falls and it would still be nearly a 100m shorter. “Wow” we all said as we stared up at the falls with new respect.

Unfortunately, as it had taken so long to get here it was beginning to get dark and we were forced to tear our eyes away from the falls in order to head back to the canoe before it got dark. We were then ferried across to the river to the campsite where we were all sleeping in hammocks in the jungle. Another new experience for us and whilst not the most comfortable night was actually surprisingly fun. In the morning we were treated to some final views of the falls under a gorgeous blue sky before it was time to get our protesting bottoms back in the canoe to catch our flight north out of the jungle – thankfully at least this time it was downstream and therefore a little quicker! 
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Dickie on

It all looks so amazing, really missing being out there with you guys!

Ruth and Peter on

Another lot of amazing photos!

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