Wednesday 23 October

I fair slightly better trying to sleep than last night, despite snoring and the light rain that sounded like a downpour on the thatched roof. The last few hours of darkness are almost chilly. In the morning, several of us testify to having heard a loud thump on the floor, immediately preceded by a startled cry. Further investigation throws doubt on Richard’s sense of balance in his hammock, but he strenuously denies memory of any mishap.

The rain during the night has turned the track from the lodge into slippery clay, and Miguel has considerable difficulty getting the bus up the slope through the gates. Eventually a 4WD Toyota is brought in to help, but even then it quite a struggle. Finally a cheer goes up and we pile onto the bus, muddy shoes and all.

The scenery is fairly monotonous and I doze for a fair bit of the journey. At around 1 pm, the sight of the Angostura Suspension Bridge across the Orinoco, at 712 m one of the longest in South America (and in fact the only bridge across the Orinoco), heralds our arrival at Ciudad Bolívar. Mounds of refuse at the roadside don’t make for the most inspiring entrance to the city, but nearer the centre it is quite pretty. Our room at the hotel is ok, but the low ceiling makes it a bit claustrophobic. The blue bathroom suite and tiles remind me of how my bathroom at home looked before I replaced it – very 70s. There’s time for a speedy shower and then we return to the town centre for internet and a sandwich.

There follows a slightly fraught shopping expedition for essential supplies for the river expedition. Patricia is very concerned that Richard requires a torch and Donna and I should both have sun hats, and we need to restock on mosquito repellent. I refuse to be seen in a baseball cap, but the other items are eventually procured and we make our way over to the old colonial part of the city.

The houses here are painted in vivid colours and are very attractive. We climb to the top of a steep flight of steps for the view, and then over to the Plaza Bolívar and the Museo Casa San Isidro, where Simón Bolívar stayed once to write the speech that led to the creation of Gran Colombia, encompassing present day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador. The house now contains mainly paintings. The cathedral across the square is more interesting. It is colonial in style, with an impressive altar piece of light-rays radiating from the Virgin Mary.

While Patricia calls in at the office and the others wander off in search of a café, I go off to find a proper sun hat, eventually procuring something that is at least functional, and somewhat similar to Tim’s cricket hat, in the ladies section of a clothes store.

On the way back to our rendez-vous point, I spot Miguel and the bus, so hop aboard. He seems a bit unsure as to where we should all be meeting, and we circle several times before locating the rest of the group.

There is plenty of time before dinner, so after arriving back at the hotel, I wander off on my own back towards the city. The road takes me past a giant statue of Simón Bolívar, and I bump into Nik and Liz there, who we had left in town earlier. There is a track heading into a park, and I explore down there for a while, making a circuit of the lake (startling both a small crocodile and myself) and returning as it is getting dark.

We have dinner at the restaurant next to the hotel, and then I set off with Donna, Debbie, Michael and Richard in search of a disco where Patricia had suggested we all meet up. After a great deal of walking up and down the badly lit streets and setting off choruses of barking dogs, we finally abandon hope of finding it and try a small bar. It turns out to be a rather grotty little betting shop. I make my excuses and leave the others to it.