Monday 21 October

In the morning, I find that my insect bites are itching like crazy. We have an early start today for our longest day of driving, and amazingly after breakfast we are on the road only fifteen minutes late. It is slow progress through the town as we stop for diesel and bottled water. Patricia is telling us about Venezuelan politics, and it does not sound good. The country is divided between the very poor who see President Chavez as a kind of Robin Hood figure, and the rest who have lost all respect for him. He is well-known for his almost incoherent rambling speeches and his diplomatic gaffes. Corruption is widespread and there is widespread disillusionment with broken government promises, economic incompetence and higher taxes. Venezuela should be a rich and self-sufficient country with all its natural resources, but successive governments have mismanaged it and inflation is spiralling out of control. Money promised for schools, hospitals and housing never appears, while the president spends millions on his new private jet.

There seem to be more military checkpoints to pass through today. At one, a very young soldier gets onto the bus and greets us all with “Buenos días”. “Buenos días”, we all chorus back, like a class of school children. I struggle to keep myself from laughing out loud. He then proceeds through the entire list of participants, calling out each name and checking us off.

The countryside is hilly savannah – scattered trees and granite outcrops. The road is in a pretty poor state of repair. In one place we pass a group of local people who have resorted to trying to mend it themselves.

We eat sandwiches provided by Patricia en-route. As we continue, the road becomes progressively worse. For the last hour and a half, we are driving along a narrow single-track dirt road with just a few remaining patches of tarmac.

It is shortly after 5 pm when we arrive at the Caura Lodge. There is a building in the centre. Over to the left is the hammock shelter – a round open building with a conical thatched roof. The hammocks in which we are to sleep tonight are arranged in star formation around the central pillar. Straight ahead is the view over the Caura River between the trees.

We eat dinner outside overlooking the river and retire to the hammocks not long after. Rather surprisingly, they are reasonably comfortable. By lying at a slight angle across the hammock, it’s possible to keep a fairly straight back. Or one can curl up in the middle. Still, I find it hard to sleep and I’m disturbed by the noise of the generator (which finally goes off at 11 pm) and by snoring around me. There are a few other comedy zoo noises, but my sense of humour is failing. Eventually I give up and go for a walk. I finally drift off to sleep sometime in the early hours of the morning.