We stretched our legs after the long trip, gathered our bags, turned around to take in the view, and then stood with our mouths open till it got too dark to photograph the waterfall.
In the camp, we staked out our sleeping spots, showered, changed, and then had a marvelous dinner of chicken grilled over a wood fire, with the best rice I’ve had in Venezuela, so far, and freshly made, golden arepas (cornflour pancakes). Good coffee was ever-available from two huge flasks, and after dinner we hung around the long trestle tables, getting to know each other better, exchanging stories, and quizzing our guide, Francesco, about the itinerary, what we would need, and about the history of the falls, the tepuys, Pemon culture.
I’d had too much coffee, and stayed up a few hours after the rest of the group had gone to sleep, sharing cigarettes with Francesco, and answering his wide-eyed, amazed questions about life on a boat and traveling over the sea. He was quite a reserved young man, always gentle and friendly, with a faint smile about the lips, but when I told him about whales, dolphins, sailing with just a compass and a sextant, and how we spent the time it took for us to get to Brazil from South Africa, he had the biggest, craziest smile I ever saw on him…it delighted him so much. We also discussed environmentally-enlightened architecture, because he was studying architecture at the university in Ciudad Bolivar, and wanted to end up designing better campsites and facilities for his people in Canaima. Buildings and homes that would blend in and work with nature, rather than against it.
We were so lucky to end up with this alternative tour group, Excursiones Kavac; the group offers less ‘modern’ conveniences, which means that instead of a rickety bed in a concrete box called a “cottage”, we all slept together in locally woven, super-comfy hammocks, underneath a huge shelter made of bamboo, wood, and moriche palm thatch…so much better than the cheaply-constructed campground facilities of bigger companies!
Excursiones Kavac is an indigenous Pemon-managed company and half of the entire experience was discovering how nice, quiet, intelligent, honest, dignified, hardworking, unaffected, proud, and generous these people are. Yes, they are Venezuelans, too…but they are Pemon, first, foremost, and deep-down…it sometimes seemed like they were from another planet
Modern life was something they functioned well in, but they could also slough it off as easily as shucking off a raincoat. They weren’t attached to things, and didn’t seem the least bit impressed, or even curious, about any of the fancy gadgets that we cityslickers had brought. They refused all gifts, weren’t ingratiatingly chummy, didn’t waste their words, certainly didn’t play native clowns or go out of their way simply to amuse us. But they watched everything, and often knew what you needed, and had it ready for you, before you had realised it, yourself.
The next morning, I awoke completely refreshed, at five. It was still dark. I dressed, grabbed my camera, went for a walk in the selva behind the campsite, and then down to the beach, but Salto Angel was completely hidden in the fog. On the way back to the campsite I ran into the Mexicans, who had thought they were up before everyone else, and screamed when I walked out of the trees. We all had a good laugh, and then I sat around the campsite tossing small, strong cups of coffee back, until the others were up and breakfast was ready.
At 7 we set off for the View Point, Mirador Laime…named after the Latvian explorer, Aleksander Laime, who was part of the first team to reach Auyan-tepuy on foot, in 1949. In 1955, he climbed to the summit of Auyan-tepuy, and was the first man to reach Jimmie Angel’s plane, El Rio Caroni. The path, the same one Laime used to get to the foot of the falls, was a good hour’s scramble up boulders and over tree roots, grabbing at tree trunks to hoist ourselves up. My knees, damaged many years ago by volleyball and cycling, as well as by being overweight for most of my life, were killing me.
At last, the Mirador (View Point), where we all collapsed like lizards on the boulders. You can really appreciate the falls from here… I didn’t think I could go one step further, my knees were in such pain, I was hot and exhausted.
“Déjame aquí! Déjame morir en paz!” (Leave me here! Leave me to die in peace!)
Francesco just smiled and replied gently “Ah, bueno, vamos a seguir sin Usted, entonces…” (Oh, well, then we’ll go on without you…)
I groaned and got up. “¿Cuántas gorditas han muerto aquí?” (How many fatsos have died here?)
He laughed. “Ah, tantos! Enterramos los cuerpos detrás de la colina.” (Oh, so many! We buried the bodies behind the hill.)
I’m glad I pushed myself over that last bit of hill and down again…we emerged at a beautiful pool at the bottom of the falls, flowing over huge boulders and on down the slope. Kris and I sat spellbound for an hour, gazing at the cascade, but also turning around to gasp at the panorama opposite…
Going back to camp, Francesco came up and handed me with a walking stick he’d made, and it worked so well that I was much more chirpy going down…at least until we met a Japanese woman, part of another tour group, who looked like she was in her 80s, coming up. I felt 150 years old and fat as a walrus, then. LOL
Back at camp we had lunch, packed up, and got into the canoes for the 4 hour (faster going with the current) ride back to main campsite in Canaima. I kept twisting my head back to gaze at the tepuy as it receded into the distance, and felt the first twinges of sadness when it finally disappeared from view.