Angel Falls

Trip Start Nov 29, 2007
Trip End Dec 30, 2007

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Flag of Venezuela  ,
Monday, December 17, 2007

Canaima and Angel Falls
To the extent that Venezuela still has a tourist industry, Angel Falls is the reason. Tumbling in a vertical drop of 979m (unlike much in this log, that is not a typo: 979m)from about 1800m above sea level the highest waterfall in the world plunges spectacularly from the top of a glorious flat-topped mountain.  I'm sorry if that is too many modifiers in one sentence.

But first, some context for my gloomy intro. Perceptive readers may have noted moments of frustration in the Venezuela section.  Today I learnt why this country may sometimes not be as easy to travel in as I would  like. The industry is collapsing. From 1.5m tourists in 2000, the annual take is now 50,000. Bad stats for a country with so much to offer. And it can't all be the fault of the US State Dept commentary on the place (warning to all parents - never look at this web site!).

Angel Falls
Back to the story. To get here, you fly for an hour mostly over depressingly barren looking land, but also over and, towards the end, jungle from Ciudad Bolivar to Canaima, a tiny village in a spectacular setting on the shore of Laguna Canaima.  Then you hop in a canoe and head up the river Carrao for three hours or so. This bit of the journey is pretty special. Dense forest follows the river on either side, although it seemed strangely empty of visible life, and soon provides tremendous views of the famous tepuis - huge sheer mountains rising from the forest, half hidden in mist when I was here and teeming with waterfalls. The river is black with tannin, and so is every puddle. Tepuis are very big formations - Angel Falls starts from the biggest, tepui Auyan, and the flat top of this mountain covers 700 sq km.

Having finished with the canoe you then hike for an hour or so to the lookout which gives a complete view of the entire 979m plus the raging river that emerges from the cauldron at the bottom, and has its own little cascade that would normally be considered quite impressive in its own right.

The only problem with all this is hat Angel Falls fits the scale of the landscape. It is obviously big, but everything else is so big too that I didn't get the sense that I was watching a column of water almost 1 km long. Looking back across the valley from our lookout, there is another enormous tepui with some very impressive waterfalls. It barely gets noticed.

We were pretty lucky. The afternoon was clear so that we could see the top of the fall, and the weather had been wet so there was plenty of water coming down. Our guide said that this is what the waterfall looks like in the middle of the wet season, not December. And it is pretty fleeting too. The next morning, looking back from our camp,  I felt sure that there was appreciably less water coming off the tepui.

Laguna Canaima
We spent the night in hammocks under a tin roof with a view to the falls and returned after breakfast with a quick stop at a swimming hole (with a little cascade), but it was still quite cool and only three people ventured in. 

We had a little time in the afternoon before our next outing and Nancy and I wandered down to the lagoon, which was featured in the cover of Lonely Planet's 2005 edition. Why? The lagoon is the bottom bit of one of those lips you sometimes get when whoever was putting the planet together couldn't quite line the pieces up straight. The result is a string of waterfalls along a stretch of river several hundred meters  long.  The water pours over with great energy, the brown water frothing white and turning the colour of well shaken coke. For some reason three palm trees grow 30 or 40 m offshore and frame the nearest fall irresistibly.

Sapo Falls
Our afternoon activity was a trip across the lagoon and a little overland to Sapo Falls, named for all the toads in the region.

This fall is impressive and  no doubt passes far more water than Angel Falls does. It is 40m high by 100m wide   and it is wild. The walk behind it is like passing through a mini-hurricane, as in places you are not so much behind it as in it, being drenched by torrents  of brown water and battered by the waterfall's wind. It is great fun.

We left Canaima on day three, around lunch time with a close-up aerial view of the lagoon, and also a smashed little plane bout the same size as our fragile little six-seater.
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