Roraima: rewarding, riveting and.... rainy
Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
96Trip End Apr 16, 2011
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We then had a two hour stopover at around 2 in the morning in the town of Manaus before hopping on another plane which took us north up across more Jungle and the equator to the town of Boa Vista close to the border with Venezuela
So, 3-4 hours in a hot sweaty bus, one rip-off taxi ride and two border stations later we pulled into the town of Santa Elena de Ularien in northern Venezuela: a place that can only be described as bizarre. It seemed to consist of mainly import shops with people selling stuff imported from Brazil at very high prices. Who is buying this stuff we are not sure. The closest town was Boa Vista (in Brazil) and they clearly didn't want to come into Venezuela to buy expensive Brazilian goods, and the next town in Venezuela was a 12 hour bus way. Bizarre. It also seemed to have a thriving trade in black market currency as we soon found out; if you took money out of a cash machine or paid by credit card the rate you got was 4 bolivars to 1 US dollar. However, if you took dollars, euros or Brazilian reals to the black market guys on the street corner you could get double that
Anyway, we digress from our hike up to Roraima; a stunning 3000m high table mountain not far from Santa Elena and the reason we were there. After a very frustrating day trying to pull together basic supplies for a 6 day hike which appeared to be very hard to find in Santa Elena’s profusion of import shops (we are not talking anything complicated here- bin liners, chocolate bars, sun cream, insect repellent, cheap rain ponchos.....) we met the rest of the group going up the mountain which consisted of two Americans Mike and Derek, a Spanish couple Miguel and Carma and an Australian named Harald and bundled into a jeep for a ride up to the trailhead. We also met our guide, a bubbly little Guaynaian fellow called Frank (at least that’s what we called him) who also seemed very nice and would be guiding us and cooking our food. And a thoroughly good job he ended up doing of both, between telling us ludicrous stories and giggling a lot
was “very strong” (although he then slightly ruined that by adding, “I am very
surprised”) and “a happy person”.
2 days earlier and having just left expensive Brazil we had opted to save some money and pay a cheaper rate for the tour which meant that we would not have a porter and therefore would be given 12kg of supplies on top of all our camping gear to carry up the mountain. We started to regret this pretty quickly as we hauled our now 20kg+ backpacks on and set off towards the distant-looking mountain. The first day was a beautiful and not too challenging walk through the savannah surrounding the mountain to the first camp, a beautiful place by a river with awesome views up to the mountain. We had some initial worries about the food when Frank showed us the termites the villagers were collecting and then pulled of the wings of one and popped it in his mouth, assuring us they were yummy. For the record they tasted like oily paper. By the time we got to camp we had had a mostly clear day with the mountain visible all of the time. "Not at all usual", Frank told us ominously. The only downside were the daytime “puri-puris” - sadly not a new type of chicken at Nando’s but tiny little biting bugs that cheekily covered any exposed areas of skin with nasty little bites (after putting a bit of anaesthetic on so you don’t feel them) which developed a particular taste for Sarah
The 2nd day got harder as the path turned uphill and Gordon began to regret his purchase of new walking boots in Brazil as they began to create massive, egg sized blisters on both heels. By lunchtime we reached the 2nd camp, a muddy patch of land spectacularly set at the base of the 500m sheer rock cliff ahead. We had the afternoon to relax and we spent a lot of time staring up at the cliffs above us wondering how on earth you actually got up there! That evening the weather took a turn for the worse and some massive heavy rain set in for a good couple of hours. Luckily our trusty tent once again proved itself mostly waterproof and we were able to hunker down in it and keep mostly dry and warm. We had noticed when we arrived at the campsite that there was clear evidence of a river running through the middle of it and had, thankfully chosen a spot where two channels ran on either side of it. It was quite amusing to watch out of the little window as a veritable river developed on either side of the tent. One little channel went right through our porch!
The next morning the weather was a little better and we set off up “La Rampa”, a very slight forested protrusion sticking out from the rock face that is just wide enough for a path. It was a tough climb up scrambling over rocks, roots and mud, scrambling over streams, clambering past waterfalls and, at one point towards the end, literally climbing up through a waterfall over massive great rocks. All the time, of course, there were precipitous drops on our left although near the top we couldn’t really tell as we hit the clouds that had gathered during our climb and which were to stay with us for the rest of the trip. Nevertheless, because it was fun climbing and with scrambling on all fours at many points it was actually less tiring (and less hard on the blisters) than the endless plodding uphill on a steep, hard track of the previous day
The weather was by now pretty terrible and we set off across this incredible bleak and foggy landscape along one of these “paths” heading for our lodging for the next two nights called, amusingly, the Hotel San Francisco. 'Hotel’ on Roraima meant a small cave (aka the kitchen) and a flat sandy area with a nice big overhanging rock above that kept the worst of the weather off (aka the campsite). And thank goodness for the Hotel San Francisco because the weather for the 2 days we spent up there was unrelenting: cloud, fog and drizzle were only replaced by huge rainstorms that came rolling in every now and again
Still, we didn’t hunker in the cave the whole time and we did manage a couple of jaunts around the mountaintop. On the morning of our second day on the summit the sky above cleared slightly for a couple of hours and we headed out to “El Abysmo” and “La Ventana” [‘the Abyss” and “the Window”] both of which had supposedly spectacular views across the valley to the next tepui and down into the jungles of Brazil and Guayana
The afternoon of our 2nd day on the top the weather was so bad that there was nothing for it but to head off on a walk wearing flip-flops, swimshorts and a rainjacket to some beautiful clear pools & waterfalls nearby known as “the Jacuzzis”. Again, sadly no hot water but by then we were so wet already it didn’t really matter. The last evening the rain upped a couple of notches further and Frank started getting worried about how much water would be flowing down the mountain into the various waterfalls, streams and rivers we crossed on the way up.
Sure enough, as we set off on the way down the next day there was water everywhere
Sitting in our wet clothes under a soggy tarpaulin at base camp we all started talking longing of hot showers and warm beds when Frank mentioned that there was a hotel at the village at the trailhead. We all looked round at one another thinking the same thing; can we make it there tonight? The thought of not having to set up the tent again, of sleeping in a warm, flat dry bed and, perhaps the clincher, drinking as much cold beer as we could and not having to get up and put wet clothes on was very tempting. And besides the last section back to the trailhead was pretty flat wasn’t it? We were sold. At least, the two of us and Mike and Derek were.
It turned out to be a bad decision
Having located the posada it was soon obvious that they don’t get many walk-ins as they looked very surprised to see us and not in the slightest bit interested in renting us a room. Not the warm welcome we had looked forward to. Eventually we convinced them to provide us with a couple of rooms and coaxed a hot meal out of them, and we then located the fridge full of beer and soon were feeling a lot better. In all, we walked for about 11 hours that day from the top of the mountain at 2,800m to the village at about 1000m and 20km away - and that was as the crow flies. We went to bed feeling pretty chuffed with what we had done and perhaps a little bit drunk. It was a shame that we were, literally, too physically tired to sleep well!
Of course next morning we did our best to look nonchalant and smug when the others rolled into town and we set back off on the trip to Santa Elena for many more congratulatory beers. We may have ended up more than a little broken but Roraima was amazing, and given the weather the company definitely made it so. Mike & Derek – see you in the US, Harald – see you in Columbia and Frank – you’re a legend!