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Touring the Venezuelan Amazon Part II: Canaima National Park

Editor’s note: In the March issue of All at Sea, Nancy Terrell wrote about touring the Venezuelan Amazon with friends from the British Virgin Islands in a private Cessna 206 aircraft.  The group flew through the canyon at Angel Falls (at 3200 feet high, the tallest waterfall in the world) and landed at the Camaina National Park airport.  The series will conclude with a future report on the Guri Dam.

As a real rock lover, I enjoyed the distinct Precambrian rocks in this area, some of which have been subjected to 600 million years of erosion – they form a spectacular landscape.  Gazing out of my room at Jungle Rudy’s posada onto the surrounding area, over the tepuis at dawn, was indescribably beautiful.

According to detailed reference materials available on the internet, there are three distinct areas in the Venezuelan Amazon:
(1) The lowlands from 350 to 650m
(2) The flat plateau of the Gran Sabana from 800 to 1500m
(3) The Tepuis Summits from 2000 to 2700m, often scarred by gullies, canyons and sinkholes of several hundred meters in depth. Water drains from the flat summits forming hundreds of waterfalls and Jungle Rudy’s has gorgeous views of all of these vistas.

The Rio Caron has many tributaries within the park itself and supplies the Guri Dam with 80% of Venezuela’s hydroelectricity.  While tourism is encouraged, it is restricted to designated areas such as Laguna de Canaima in the western sector of the park.  This area, like the areas where we visited, can only be reached by air and local boats called Curiaras.  There are a limited number of Posadas and camping areas that provide visitors with board, lodging and recreational services.  

Our Pemon Indian guide, Antonio, took us on several treks to different waterfalls, via rapids, but my favorite was El Sapo, a very wide falls of 120 meters that we hiked from one end to the other, all behind the falls, wrapping our cameras and personal items in zip-lock bags. The force, pressure and sounds coming from the falls are overwhelming.  You cannot hear yourself think, much less talk; yet it was one of the most thrilling and exotic experiences I have ever encountered. 

Here you are, walking behind a tremendous waterfall, with tons of water cascading on your side and where you cannot see either end.  This narrow trail is filled with various varieties of ferns and water flowers.  What an experience!  Upon reaching the end, there is a lovely small pond where we all sat and collected our wits while watching a downpour continually plummet where we had just walked.  It is amazing.

A main road from Ciudad Bolivar runs along the eastern border of the park through the Gran Sabana, bisecting its south-east corner. There are no other roads within the park, the western section being accessible only by air.  Private bass fishing resorts are located nearby where Bill Gates and ex-president George Bush and others visit, but otherwise there are no tourists except those to the falls themselves. 

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