Salto Ángel: Size Matters

Size does matter, sorry guys but it’s the truth. Why else would anyone pay the slightly ridiculous amounts of money to fly into Parque Nacional Canaima to check out Salto Ángel if it wasn’t the highest motherfucking single drop waterfall in the whole damn world at 979 metres? Hmm? Why indeed. Once you’ve parted with your BsF1800 to BsF2300, depending on who smooth-talked you into the trip, you’re bundled onto one of them small planes from Ciudad Bolivar that don’t seem like they’re gonna stay in the air and you’re flown into Canaima’s mini-airport, flying over Laguna De Canaima.

I cannot wait to get up close with this lake!

Ok… fair enough… there’s one reason right there. If you’re sat on the left hand side of the plane (which I was) you have to wipe your drool from the window as you cruise over the four small waterfalls that plunge into the laguna. It’s breathtaking, even from that height. Once we landed, me, Freddy and Cecilia (who’d also been sold the trip in Santa Elena by Francisco who gets you the prices at the lower end) met up and waited for our guide to show up and take us to our campamento. And waited… and waited. Eventually Jesús rocked up and took us to our accommodation for the night, Wey Tüpü (Tepuy) Campamento, where we stashed our stuff and were instructed to go and have fun at the laguna until lunchtime.

This place though!

Sweet as. Can do. We changed and headed to the playa and as we emerged from the trees onto the beach, the scene we’d witnessed from the air presented itself up close. Now, one of the things I love about the English language is the sheer variety of words that can be used to describe the same thing. There are often subtle differences in definitions between the words but basically it’s difficult to not be able to think of a word to describe any given scene or situation because the range of words available is just so expansive but in order to describe Laguna De Canaima, first you have to pick your jaw up off the floor and brush the sand off and even then the only word I could utter was “Wow.” It’s fucking stunning. It’s beautiful. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been. You step out onto a beach and you’re greeted by a tea coloured lagoon, a set of palm trees poking out of the water with a boat moored to them and in the background you can see one of the waterfalls crashing into the water, completing the perfect picture. Well it’d have been perfect if there wasn’t a guy in Speedos stood by the water’s edge. Didn’t they outlaw those in the late 90s?

After a good couple of hours frolicking in the laguna it was time for lunch. Or so we thought. We’d been given a time so we all duly rocked up and waited for food. And waited… and waited. It was an hour and a half until we got fed. It was slowly becoming apparent that Wey Tüpü was even more liberal with the idea of time than even the rest of South America. But at least we did get food and before we knew it we’d been loaded onto motorised canoes and were being taken to a waterfall we could walk behind, Salto El Sapo. Hehehe. I love showering in waterfalls. If you had any illusions of staying dry they’d be dashed as soon as you saw the sheer power of the water you’d be walking behind. Not only did it fall straight down, in parts either due to wind or rebounding off rocks the water was thrown straight into you, almost knocking you off-balance. There is no shower on this earth as refreshing as a waterfall shower and once we emerged through the other side we were treated to a small swimming hole where we got to chill out for a while.

You have to walk behind this waterfall in order to get to the swimming pool. I am totally okay with this.

I have to be honest, day one alone was worth a large portion of the money for me. So far, Parque Nacional Canaima ranked with the Fiordlands in New Zealand as one of the most gorgeous places I’d ever been. Buuuut the day wasn’t over, me and Freddy felt like a drinky as did a couple of American girls we’d met and whilst Wey Tüpü couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery, we managed to organise a piss up on the beach in a village where the sale of alcohol was prohibited. Go us. We found a store that sold grog to gringos albeit at a ridiculous price. Every country seems to have its favourite liquor. In Brazil they have cachaça, an evil sugarcane drink that steals your thoughts. In Argentina they have a vile brew they call fernet which is made from herbs and the devil’s spunk. I had to down it in a drinking game once and I’m pretty sure I lost a small portion of liver in the process.

I’d have stayed here forever if they’d have let me.

Here in Venezuela they stick to the ron. Rum. Well known world wide, quintessentially Caribbean and should never, ever be drunk from the bottle on a beach round a bonfire you made from the remains of one you’d found abandoned that was surrounded by upright logs that may or may not have represented Woodhenge. We went through four bottles I think although christ only knows where they came from. I’m not sure. I don’t entirely remember how I got back to the campamento but I woke up in the morning according to the time we’d been given by Jesús, thanked the deities that they clearly weren’t going to be on time before me, Freddy and Cecilia in descending order of hungoverness slowly got ourselves ready to face the three hour boat trip to the thing we’d paid all that money to see.

I must have still been drunk because I felt much better than I had any right to feel at breakfast. I ate my pancakes and my eggs as Cecilia told me the eggs would be good for me, no better hangover deterrent than eggs, she said. After we finished we congregated for the obligatory waiting and that’s when I started to deteriorate. We waited… and waited. I got my pillow out and sprawled on the nice, cool concrete to try and nap until it was finally time to walk to the top of Salto Ucaima on the way to the boat. I stumbled in behind the group, snapped a couple of quick photos before retreating back a few metres to deposit my breakfast behind a tree. I rejoined the group and Cecilia looked at me, grinned and simply said, “Bye bye, egg.” Thanks, mate.

I was not, at that very moment, totally okay with the idea of spending hours on one of those fucking boats.

The first boat trip was mercifully short then we had to walk for 20 minutes or so because the rapids in that area were too dangerous to take tourists over. Once at the other end we sat down to wait. And yeah, of course, we waited… and waited. I took this golden opportunity to sleep off the rum. Apparently we were there for around an hour, Jesús claimed it was mechanical issues but I’d spoke to a couple of people in Santa Elena who’d done this tour with the same campamento and they’d told me a lot of time was spent sitting around waiting, possibly whilst they attempted to discern the difference between their arse and their elbow. It massively pissed Freddy and Cecilia off but I did need that time to drool into the grass and feel sorry for myself. I must have been out cold for a while because Cecilia managed to get hold of my camera and take photos.

The second boat trip felt like it’d never end but I was feeling heaps better. My stomach grudgingly accepted the ham and cheese roll offered to it and the scenery was astounding; tepui after tepui and not a single one we had to walk up. It was breathtaking and not in a Roraima way which takes your breath and refuses to give it back until you stop walking up and down mountains. We fought rapids in the motorised canoe as we made our way upstream to our camp for the night which happened to be positioned slap bang opposite the falls themselves. It couldn’t be a more perfect location. It was another jaw-hits-floor moment as we unloaded the boat and gazed at Angel Falls, the highest single drop waterfall in the world. We wouldn’t be walking to it today, it was too late, but we set up camp with our hammocks, fought over the ones that had the least holes in the mozzie nets and the ones that didn’t smell as bad and waited for dinner as we watched the falls plummet from Auyantepui into a mist until darkness fell.

There it is, then. Angel Falls. Our campsite was just over the river in full view of this beauty.

So today started earlier than expected. I mean, we already knew we’d be dragged out of our hammocks at a time in the morning unfitting of Wey Tüpü’s time management skills on account of the fact we were meant to be watching the sunrise but we were woken well before that by the most epic storm ever, the thunder was the kind that you feel in your rib cage and it shook the building. Now I do love storms, they’re fabulous to watch but not when you intend to do something that requires decent visibility. The rain didn’t relent by the time we left for the falls, nor did it give up for the majority of the hour and a half it took to get there. Freddy was fuming. He’d also done the Roraima trek albeit a couple of days after me and he was so fed up of having wet shoes he ended up wearing plastic bags on his feet over his tennis shoes. A group of people coming down told us it was 0% visibility but we pressed on anyway, some more reluctantly than others. There was no question of me stopping, it was worth it just in case we did manage to catch a glimpse so once again I found myself trekking up a hill in the pissing rain to look at some cloud. I swear nature loves to mock us.

They might have some issue with time management but at least they knew how to feed us.

We congregated at the lookout point to stare at fog and the bottom part of the falls for a while and in a display of uncharacteristic leadership, Jesús started to get everyone to chant “clear up” in the Pemon language, presumably his dialect. He got us to shout it over and over again and suddenly the clouds began to part. It was unreal. Buoyed by the apparent success we chanted at the wall of cloud as it continued to lift and reveal the falls themselves, probably the most graceful falls I’ve ever seen. I revere waterfalls above many things, they’re pretty special to me, I still haven’t worked out if it’s a spiritual thing or why I feel this way and I’m not overly sure it matters. Sometimes its just better to accept that things are a certain way instead of trying to work out why all the time. The clouds only gave us a few minutes to drink in the sight in front of us before they swirled back in to reclaim the falls. But it was worth the hike for me. Maybe it wasn’t ideal but hey, this is Venezuela in the rainy season. Let’s face it, it’s probably gonna rain.

There is literally no photo which could do these falls justice to be fair. They were way more impressive in person.

After a feed we headed back to the campamento the way we came before we were sent off to the airstrip to be allocated a plane. We used the inevitable waiting time to dry our clothes off in the sun that had finally shown itself before we were bundled into an even smaller plane than before with a pilot who let Misty, one of the American girls, take off then once we were in the air and cruising along he whipped out his newspaper and proceeded to catch up with the days news. Yep, there are few in this world more chilled out than the South Americans.

Jesús, our guide.

And the puri-puri here are just as vicious as at Roraima, I look like a walking dot-to-dot puzzle and I officially hate biting insects. As in insects that bite, not the actual act of biting insects, not that I’m too keen on that either although I did eat some ants in chilli at Roraima because they’re apparently full of vitamin B12. Next time I’ll just go to the pharmacy and buy some vitamin B12 tablets, you don’t have to chase after them to catch them and their legs won’t get stuck in your teeth.

The memorial to Jimmie Angel at the airport.

Ok so I’ll finish off this post with a quick note on how Salto Ángel got its name. Back in the 30s an American pilot called Jimmie Angel crash landed in a particularly small plane on top of Auyantepui along with his wife and crew. Now, being a man with a name befitting of a 70’s TV detective, Angel wasn’t going to just give up so him and his crew, including his mrs, spent 11 days hacking their way through the jungle to safety. And so that’s why we know the falls as Angel Falls, or in Spanish, Salto Ángel. In the indigenous language the falls are known as Kerepakupai Merú… Buuuut that’s harder to pronounce and spell and tourists with short attention spans would never be able to get their head around it after the third syllable.

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Canaima National Park, Venezuela
Stayed at: Wey Tüpü Campamento

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