There is a brief red sky as dawn breaks. There has been more heavy rain during the night and the river has risen another couple of feet. The tops of the tepuis across the river are hidden in cloud, and sunlight glints off the crags further down. There is no rush and we have a rather leisurely breakfast and departure.
We follow the Rio Carrao as yesterday, this time continuing straight on past the Devil’s Canyon. After some way, we disembark and walk across savannah for about half an hour while the crew continue with the canoes down the river to negotiate some tricky rapids. Palm trees grow along the river’s edge, and smaller trees are dotted around across the plain. Apparently one of the scenes from the film Jurassic Park was shot here, and it is easy to imagine dinosaurs roaming this land. But disappointingly, no dinosaur fossils have ever been found in this region. The Tepuis themselves are of hard crystalline sandstone rock laid down it is thought 1900 to 1500 million years ago on top of the 4500 million year old Guiana Shield. Around 200 million years ago, the separation and drifting of the continents caused fissures to open up that were enlarged by erosion to leave the more resistant rock of the tepuis. More recently (in geological terms at least) about 75 million years ago the whole region was flooded for a while by the sea and the tepuis remained as islands.
Back in the boats, we continue to the Salto el Sapo (Frog Falls), disembark, and walk along a path six inches deep in water to the falls themselves. It is another hot day and the water splashes warmly around my feet.
The huge torrent of water over the falls sends spray high into the air. Patricia leads us down a steep rocky staircase in the trees next to the falls and one of our guides takes our cameras and stores them safely in a large plastic bag, which he then carefully seals. We strip off to our shorts next to a sheer rock face and then walk down a passage that leads underneath the falls themselves. We find ourselves in a long rock passageway with an overhang above us and a cascade of water to the left. The view ahead into the mirk is of a raging maelstrom of crashing grey/brown water. We are going into that?
With my right hand shielding my face and holding onto my glasses (I don’t trust the elasticated strap in this furious downpour) and my left clutching the rope, I stumble forwards in terror. If I open my eyes I can see nothing but crashing water. However we all emerge gasping into the light at the other side, drowned rats, but otherwise intact.
After regaining our breath, we climb back up to the top of the falls for more grand views across the savannah and of the “Little Frog” falls on the other side. We then have to do the passage in reverse, which if anything is even more terrifying, knowing what is coming. Michael remarks “You’d have trouble getting a health and safety certificate for this”. Patricia’s comment is “Orgasmic!”
Our guides have prepared us lunch back at the top of the falls, which we eat gladly, and then we return in the canoes a short way back up-river, whereupon we turn down a different branch to the jetties at Canaima. Here we disembark and crowd onto the rear platform a battered old ex-army jeep. I am the last on and, seeing that there is little space left anyway, offer to walk along behind. They won’t be making rapid progress along this pot-holed road in any case. But Patricia is adamant that I should ride, and insists that I take her seat next to the driver. There’s no arguing with some people.
Well, it’s a kind of “Costa del Canaima”. It may be just the contrast from camping on the river, but it feels touristy. We are stabled in a block about ten minutes walk from the lagoon. Around the lagoon is the luxury accommodation and a couple of bar/restaurants. The lagoon itself sits at the base of the Salto Ucaima and the Salto Golondria, part, with Salto el Sapo, of an extensive complex of falls as the Rio Carrao descends in a large delta towards the plains of the Orinoco. It is actually incredibly photogenic, the quintessential image of a tropical paradise with the sandy beach and three palm trees standing tall in-line in the water and the falls behind.
In fact, the place is nearly deserted. Tourism has been hit hard by a combination of the September 11 World Trade Centre disaster and the volatile political situation in Venezuela. I join Debbie for a swim in the lagoon while Donna sits on the bank. Although the water looks calm, it is hard work swimming against the current to reach the first of the palm trees.
A walk later around Canaima does not reveal a great deal more to see. The souvenir shop seems a little over-priced and has nothing especially exciting.
I have a good shower back at the room (cold of course) and read for a while. Dinner is an eat-all-you-like (until the food runs out or they snatch away your plate) buffet. It’s not too bad, but at $11 a head seems rather pricey for what it is.
We retire to the bar next to the lagoon, where I get drawn into a long argument about my Christian faith with Debbie. She throws every objection in the book at me, and I make a complete hatchet job of trying to explain myself. But we remain on speaking terms, much to the surprise of Julie sitting at a nearby table!