Before bucket lists became the flavour of the month Bert and I visited Angel Falls, Venezuela, the highest waterfall in the world. If one can back track on creating bucket lists then this is one adventure we would have included on our list.
Angel Falls is located in Canaima National Park which covers an area the size of Belgium. My book and brochures told of a place sacred to the indigenous Pemon Indians who had built camp accommodations for tourists who came from all parts of the world to see Angel Falls, though at the time of our visit you were not allowed to go to Angel Falls but could view them from boats, helicopters, light planes or take a six day guided hike to the base of the falls.
The trip from our hotel to the Simon Bolivar International airport would be about one and a half hours. The tour included the flight from Caracas to the airstrip at Camp Canaima during which we would view the falls. After refreshments at the camp we would take a two hour hike over a mountain, speak with a hermit, if we were lucky, gaze at spectacular vistas and get back to the camp for lunch. We could swim, fish, have a siesta, watch some craft making, shop for souvenirs and generally relax until our plane came for the return trip. We would again see the falls from a different perspective on the way back.
We spoke to a young Canadian couple, she from Goa he Canadian born. All were excited to be going to see Angel Falls.
At the airport, our tour guide led us quickly to our waiting area which was quite a trek from the entrance. As we walked to the waiting area Bert looked out the window and saw a small, somewhat decrepit airplane sitting on the tarmac.
“With our luck, I bet that will be our plane.” He said with amazing prescience. We laughed and one German guest said: “That is a DC 3 which is one of the safest and best airplanes ever built and though old I would trust it more than some of the newer ones. You can trust a DC 3 to get you where you are going.” Obviously an airplane buff he told us more than anyone wanted to know, but it was a paean to the craft so all positive.
That was our plane. The stewardess placed an empty beer case on the ground. That was our step up into the body of the plane. She had an upturned orange crate for a seat placed between two straps for her security. The plane took off with a loud back fire. The pilots seemed to be sharing a joke. Oh, did I reveal that there was only an open curtain between the cockpit and the cabin? The plane rose and settled with a sound that was reminiscent of a buzz saw. I looked around. The German seemed to be praying. Our Canadian couple was a study in contrasts. He was slightly green, echoing Bert’s new hue while his Goan wife was eagerly looking out the window, bursting with curiosity. The tension was palpable.
We leveled off and immediately our intrepid stewardess came around with beer, juices and water, all part of the impeccable service. She never ceased serving the entire two hours it took to get to our destination. Throughout the flight the two pilots joked, listened to the radio and only interrupted the cabin chatter and prayers to announce that there was heavy fog and we would not be able to see Angel Falls on the way in but we would on the way back. Speculation as to which was the better side to see the falls became the new topic of conversation.
It was a relief to land. Comments varied. The Pessimist: “I just hope we can get back. We are in deep jungle here.” The optimist: “Well, if Mr. Angel and his WIFE (his emphasis) could make it down from the top of the falls then we can get out of here too.” Me: “Yes, but it took them 12 days and by that time I would have missed my flight home.”
The scenery was breathtaking! We were climbing up a ridge overlooking the lagoon. We saw the hut, but no luck. The hermit was not at home. The local guide told us he was from the USA and that he could be around but not wanting to receive visitors today.
We rounded a bend and the guides brought out large strong plastic bags.
“Please put your bags, cameras, anything you do not want to get wet in these. We will be walking under a waterfall. Also we would like you to walk in single file and stay close to the mountain.”
Carrying the bags and armed with waterproof flashlights, we were led over large wet rocks and boulders, on no defined path, a watery screen on the left, wet craggy outcrops as hand holds on the right, and a sheer, extremely hazardous drop to the lagoon, if you make it. The worst possible walk for anyone with acrophobia (read Bert! We followed instructions closely except for our Goan pal who was scrambling all over the boulders, peering through the falling water, standing on the edge exclaiming about the views. Her husband meanwhile had joined the praying group.
“Were you not concerned when your wife leaned over the edge of the cliff?” I asked.
“Oh, no. She is a mountain goat. She does this all the time. She is really adventurous.” He laughs. She laughs. I shudder.
The hike continued. Wonderful vistas all around, but I was happy to see the Camp and lunch and the plane sitting comfortably on the tarmac. Lunch was very good.
Our languorous, supine selves are rudely aroused by repeated back fires. Smoke billowed from the undercarriage of our aircraft. The stewardess beckoned. No one rushed to board.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the weather is beautiful for our flight and views of Angel Falls.”
The views of Angel Falls are spectacular. Unforgettable. We were being flown though an opening between two hugs mountains. We flew in one way, turned and flew the other way. The pilots did some dips and turns and gave us spectacular views from all sides. At times you felt you could touch the sides of the two mountains on either side of the aircraft. A green Bert soon exclaimed:
“That’s enough. Let’s just get the hell out of here.” Both cheers and groans are heard when the pilots announce the last sweep.
The stewardess continued her beer rounds. We are invited to see the cockpit. There are quite a few takers, including me. The pilots are great. I accept the invitation to ‘fly the plane’ while they announce: “We have a new pilot flying the plane”. Such fun.
“Did you really fly the plane?” Bert asks. All around answered: ”Yes.” We laugh. We are more relaxed. The gambit worked.
We are back at Simon Bolivar International airport. We find our waiting minibus. On the way in it was quiet, on the way out we cannot stop talking about our wonderful adventure.
The Meander: I would not want to go to Venezuela now. I am grateful we have been there, done that!
On our way home we changed aircraft at La Guardia. We went from an airbus to a DC 3. Updated, of course. Serendipitous?