I’d been thinking of leaving Tumeremo early, and having a relaxing day at Cesar’s place, but it didn’t quite turn out like that. I slept in at the hotel, leaving the room just in time for breakfast, and followed that up with more lazing around, trying in vain to use the slow internet to download some podcasts. By 11am I figured I should do something productive, and so, after getting my sandals sewed up the day before, I took my cycling legwear to get a bit of the stitching re-done as the daily use was starting to show. That cost $1. I then figured I should get the velcro re-done on my sandals, as the lower straps were a bit loose. I went to the cobblers, and he told me to come back after lunch (which for him was from 12-2:30) because the velcro he needed was in his house.
I went back to the hotel and, as I’d had to check out before 12, sat round in the lobby sipping coffee for the next few hours. I tried to work on my dad’s website, but the internet was horrifically slow and the lake of free coffee that I’d drunk had given me a headache so it was in no way productive. By 3pm, I’d achieved next to nothing so went to the shop, where of course he had forgotten the velcro. I got to go and buy the velcro from another shop, for about $1.20, and then he took about an hour to re-do all 4 straps, charging me about $5 even though I’d provided the material. It seemed expensive, as I’d paid 50c the day before to get both of them re-sewed, but it means that hopefully my sandals will last a good amount longer. They’re not the easiest thing to replace.
By the time that was all done, it was almost 4:30 without a single pedal stroke. I knew there was a national guard post about 20km south of town, and Cesar, from outside the cobblers the day before had told me he lived 500m away from the post where I could stay with him. That sounded perfect. The only instruction I had was that he lived on the left hand side, near the telephone mast just after the checkpost. I got there just after the sun had gone down, figuring that I’d soon be getting to Cesar’s. It turns out by 500m, he meant 10km. I asked at 4-5 different houses where the tall, slightly chubby, dark-skinned man in his mid 30s lived and eventually I found his place. He wasn’t in, but his brother-in-law was, so I was welcomed in, shown where I could put up my tent, told to sit in the hammock and then given a plate of arepas and recently slaughtered cow that they raised. A successful end to a lazy day.
Having hit the sack by 8:30pm, I was awake just after 5. I left a note saying thank you, not wanting to disturb the brother-in-law who was happily sleeping in a hammock. I had a bit of cheese left over, and so munched on that expecting to find more food around El Dorado. As I got there around 7:30, the one restaurant was closed and I had no interest in going into the town, which would involve a decent detour. I passed km 0, and crossed over a bridge designed by Eiffel. It had been the main bridge over the river, but being only one lane wide, they’d built a larger one to handle the traffic and so Eiffel’s bridge was sadly unused and overgrown.
Just south of the river, there was another checkpoint. Many cyclists talk about being stopped at the multitude of checkpoints, but I’ve yet to have that experience. The ones in both Mexico and Colombia stopped me more often. I stop at maybe 1/3 of the ones I pass through, because they can always fill my water bottles. I was reassured that I’d be able to get breakfast somewhere not too much further along the road and so headed off along the narrow road, which seemed even more so with the large amount of vegetation that nearly always lined the road. I went through a couple of small communities before finding a place.
I ordered a plate of whatever they had saying that as big as possible would be good. I got a giant plate for only $1.50, making the most of Venezuela’s cheap prices, and managed to eat a bit, while reading my latest Terry Pratchett book – The Last Hero, before putting the rest in a bag for the road. I slowly made progress, and, when I got hungry, finding a lack of places to stop, stood my bike up, put a branch near the edge of the lane to move traffic and laid down in the small shoulder to eat, and then I fell asleep listening to a podcast with only a bit of fear that I’d get run over.
The narrow road continued until the two towns of Las Claritas and km 88. Even though they are more than 200km to Brazil, they definitely had the feel of border towns in terms of dirt and the overarching sense of unpleasantness in the air. I had met a few national guard and soldiers at the checkpoint just outside town who, as well as providing me with a 2 litre bottle of Sprite, told me all about Venezuelan women and where to find the best ones in town. They said that I’d have no problem camping in the national guard base and to go there. I did, but because of a situation they wouldn’t explain I wasn’t allowed to stay, but informed that I should go to a nearby 2 floor house which would work fine. I’m sure it would have, if there’d been anyone there. I waited a while, and was about to head back to the national guard when I saw a police truck and spoke with them. They told me to head back to the station with them where they pointed at a roof across the road that I could camp under. It was a noisy road, but with my mask the lights didn’t bother me and I fell asleep listening to music.
I had ham and cheese sandwiches for breakfast, and started off to climb up to the savannah. I’d been told by everyone that I’d mentioned the Gran Sabana to that I’d be in for a hard climb and lots of gestures to show that it’d be really steep. It’s really not that bad. There are some parts where it does kick up a little, but it’s generally a very pleasant climb up at a reasonable grade. The first thing to stop and see on the way up is La Piedra de la Virgen (The rock of the virgin). The rock, named that way because someone claimed to see the virgin there (not sure which one!), is rather large but unimpressive looking with lots of graffiti and a small shrine. The most impressive thing, is that it’s the first commonly known place to fill up water bottles with the delicious water coming from the savannah.
A couple of hours of climbing through vegetation with almost no traffic and the sound of birds chirping mixed with running water constantly in the background, I arrived at the first waterfall – Salto Danto. I’d gone past lots of small creeks, ending in pools by the road, but Salto Danto is the first one that’s big enough to warrant a signpost. It’s located just off the road, and accessible down a hidden steep path, although much less dangerously slippery than the option I originally tried to take. The water dropped a good way, into a pool below, but there was a fair amount of rubbish which ruined what could otherwise have been a pristine scene.
The climb ends at a national guard checkpoint where I was waved down and told to put my shirt back on. That seemed a little strange, but it was because they then invited me to sit down, drink coffee, eat bread and chat but the regulations wouldn’t allow me to sit there without a shirt on. We chatted for a while, and when I told them that I generally eat bread the ranking officer told a guy cleaning nearby to go and fetch me some. He came back with a giant bag of rolls, a large bottle of orange juice and a couple of tins of sardines – not my favourite food but I’ve learnt not to turn down anything I’m offered.
Just beyond the checkpoint, was the official entrance to the national park and signs welcoming me to the Gran Sabana. Before, when there was just the super continent Pangea, the Gran Sabana was apparently near the centre making it one of the oldest places – the signs said 2-3 billion years old – on earth. It was a bit cloudy meaning that I could mainly see the rolling hills near me, but it was still a fantastic place to ride with a newly paved wide road sweeping up and down.
I’d hoped to get a map at the ranger’s office, but being a Friday instead of the weekend it was closed. I rode past a military base who told me it was 15 minutes downhill to the next place (30km along and about 200m lower). I do wish that people in those positions learnt to give accurate ideas. Even in a car that would be going at 120km/h in an area where I think the speed limit is 80, although that didn’t seem to be something that the few drivers had a problem with.
I made it to a river where my GPS mentioned a waterfall 400m away so I decided to go upstream rather than take the road. I parked my bike and put my camera in my pocket, because why go and see things without a camera? I waded for a while before going with the much easier option of walking along the bank, until it finished. I carefully got into the river but the water was a murky enough that I couldn’t see the bottom. I made it about 10m more before having to turn back. Without the camera, I could have easily just swum, but then I wouldn’t have been able to share the pictures here, so I headed back to my bike. Before hitting the road again, I cleaned up in the river and while there I realised just how many small sandfly-like things were trying to bite me.
Shortly before arriving at the first place to get food all day, Rapidos de Kamoiran – a fancy hotel and restaurant, I was waved down by a group of indigenous people walking along the side of the road carrying wood. Most of them had bundles of twigs, but a few of them had 8-10 foot long trunks, and one of them figured that I could put it on my bike and ride with it. There was no way, without some good strapping, I was going to be able to do that, but I had no problem resting it and pushing my bike. The lady seemed quite unimpressed that I couldn’t just rest it down the length of my bike and ride like that. After about 5 minutes, a friend came past in a pickup truck and so they all jumped in the back.
I ate at the cafeteria in front of the fancy hotel, and went to ask about camping. I’d seen a few places nearby that had seemed possible, but, being well past sunset, I didn’t fancy doubling back. I asked at the hotel, and they said that they normally don’t allow it, but with a bit of sweet-talking I was given permission to throw up the tent there. While I was setting up, a tour group of Venezuelans arrived in a mini-bus that they’d rented. A good few wanted their photo with me and my bike, and then we sat round drinking rum and chatting away.
Camping at km 88
Monument to the pioneer soldier