The 90 minutes flight from Santa Elena to Canaima in the old tiny Cessna is awesome. We fly through some wonderful landscape, between tepuis, close to the jungle roof, through river valleys, inches above a mountain ridge, through a short thunderstorm, back into the sun, dipping below a rain filled cloud for a quick shower, before landing on the shortest and most bumpy gravel road I have ever seen
. Welcome to Sabanita! So apparently we are not in Canaima yet. We let off a passenger and take a short break. I'm told by a local old man that I am the first Norwegian in the tiny village of Sabanita, so he starts to boil me some spaghetti in his old shack next to the "airstrip". Somehow the old man knows a few dirty words in Norwegian, and I start to doubt that I'm the first one to come here. We take off again before the spaghetti is even boiling, the old man on the ground with a big grin on his face, waving us goodbye. Over a green savanna, cross a muddy river, circling a tepui and back safe on the ground. Welcome to Canaima!
I stay at an empty camp with hammock views of Laguna de Canaima and it's line of waterfalls (Saltos Hacha). The only other guests are a friendly couple from the UK, living in Caracas. As a warm up, we go on a short walk through jungle and savanna, visiting a couple of other waterfalls, Salto el Sapo and Salto el Sapito where we take a refreshing bath in the rapids. On the way back to camp we visit Salto el Sapo again, but this time we don't walk on top of the waterfall, instead we actually walk inside it, behind a curtain of cascading water. Pretty impressive, must be fantastic in the wet season.
I have trouble sleeping that night, excited as I am about the next day
. I hope it will rain through the night, as it will increase the water level. A few minutes later it's pouring down. Wow, me the rainmaker in Pemon Indian country. We set off the next morning in brilliant sunshine. We go up the Carrao river in our long boat for two hours. Through several rapids, between dense jungle and beautiful tepui mountains, waterfalls thundering of the cliffs. We leave the Carrao and continue up the Churun tributary for another two hours. The rapids gets fiercer and fiercer. The water is shallow, but our captain keeps pushing the engine, knowing the river as his own backyard. In the dry season it's not uncommon that tourists have to leave the long boat and walk through jungle while the captain navigate the strongest currents and rapids on his own. Either that or you may have to get out of the boat up to 40 times in order to help push it through the most shallow parts. We are just minutes away from the remote and wild Angel Falls now, without leaving the boat once. Thanks to a brilliant captain, a light load of passengers and a newly educated rainmaker. We push on, the canyon gets more narrow and we are very close to the tepui's. We round a bend in the river, and there it is. I get all pumped up. This is it!!! Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world, dropping off Auyantepui (Devil's Mountain) and straight down for 979m into Devil's Canyon. It's hugely impressive from the distant viewpoint in our boat. But we also walk for one hour through jungle to a closer viewpoint. Carlos, our 21 year old Pemon Indian guide, says there's four times as much water in the wet season, but we are still pretty lucky
. The water level is quite a bit higher than what's normal for the season, the sun is out (many people go to Angel Falls without actually seeing the waterfall, as it is often hidden in clouds) and there's not a single other tourist around. Close to the waterfall it doesn't look as high as 979m, but it's of course very impressive. One of those moments you will always remember. And it feels so remote (well it is pretty remote in fact), and that there's no facilities, hot dog stands, viewing platforms etc. makes it all more wild and spectacular to me. We return to our camp across the river with splendid views of Angel Falls, from the hammock that is.
Before going to bed that night, Carlos tells us the moving Pemon Indian legend of Churún-Merú, another waterfall cascading off Auyantepui, as well as how the Pemon people make love, sleeping as they are in hammocks and not in typical Western beds. He claim to be an expert himself in the art of Hammock Sutra. He's a funny little Indian clown. The candles slowly burn out, leaving only the sounds of the jungle, the river nearby, and the distant roar of Kerepakupai Merú (Pemon for "waterfall from the deepest place"). I fall asleep that night being extremely happy that I came all the way here.
So the ten day all-inclusive starts with an uppercut. I've just been told that there's no flight from Canaima back to Santa Elena on the planned return day from Angel Falls. So my option is to stay another day in Canaima and miss the day tour to Gran Sabana, or I can fly from Canaima to Ciudad Bolivar, which is in the exact opposite direction from Santa Elena, that is north instead of south, and then take a ten hour night bus ride back to Santa Elena buried in seat head rest covers. By doing so I'll just get back to Santa Elena in time for the Gran Sabana tour. I manage to get a few bucks back from the tour company, and go for the ten hour bus ride. Nice start, what's the next hiccup waiting to happen?