Saturday 19 October

I am constantly disturbed by noise from the street during the night, and also have to make a couple of trips to the bathroom where I discover cockroaches exploring. Wake up at 5.30 am, serenaded by a cricket behind the telephone. We set off in the bus to find breakfast, but the café is not open. The next one’s coffee machine is broken. Once we are outside San Fernando, there will be nothing else for miles, but finally we do manage to find a satisfactory café right on the outskirts.

After buying lunch, we are finally properly on our way. Miles and miles of straight road; flat yellow-green grass stretches away to the horizon, broken occasionally by patches of water and trees. There is almost no other traffic. The ferry crossing over the Rio Capanaparo at Santa Juana comes as a welcome respite from sitting on the bus. A steel canoe with two powerful outboard motors shunts the ferry barge from one side to the other. A little later, we cross another river in the same manner.

Finally, noon, and we reach the mighty Orinoco River. The sun is beaming down mercilessly directly overhead and the heat is intense. I find a single spot of shade on the ferry tug just between the bridge and the funnel. The roar of the exhaust increases in intensity and the tug, temporarily detached from the barge, performs with it a brief pas de deux near the shore as it turns around to face out across the river, then we are away.

We drive off the barge into the Amazonas. The landscape is immediately different, much less flat and more trees, though they are smaller and more twisted. Black granite domed rocks punctuate the landscape, each rising up out of the grass like the back of a giant sea-monster. We drive on until Puerto Ayacucho and stop to look around a fairly uninspiring local Indian handicraft market. Sitting on a step beside the square, we are accosted by the local loony. We have not the faintest idea what he wants, but he persists in an overly good-natured way trying to make us understand for some considerable time. Meanwhile, the owner of the shop outside which we are sitting looks on with obvious amusement.

It is not much further to the Orinoquia Lodge, but for the last 2 km we turn off along a narrow rough track that winds around granite rocks, and at one point rises so steeply up the side of one that the Miguel has to make several attempts to get the bus over. With spinning wheels and an alarming scraping sound, we finally make it.

The camp is beautiful. Most of the lodges are round adobe buildings with open windows and thatched conical roofs, although Michael and I are in a terrace block on the other side. In the centre there is a large circular dining room, again open at the sides. Around three sides of the camp, the Orinoco River sweeps around in a huge U-meander.

There is a quiet bay among the rocks on the downstream side of the bend, and Sim, Diane, Debbie and I waste little time in taking the opportunity for a swim. We are joined a little later by some of the others. A thin layer of sediment over the rock makes it perilously slippery getting in, but the cool water is heaven. Swimming is a little bit tricky, as the sediment in the water obscures sight of the rocks just under the surface, making it all too easy to bruise a knee or an elbow. Afterwards, I manage to get some washing done in the river, but am bitten to death by tiny sandflies.

As dusk falls, bats start flying around the camp and inside the central building where we have dinner. In the distance, we can see the lightning flashes of a thunderstorm, and before the evening is over the roof gets a pummelling in the torrential downpour.