Tuesday, 20 December 2011
In Central Venezuela I left the Orinoco River and headed in a Southerly direction towards the Gran Sabana and the famous Cainama National Park. In contrast to the rest of Venezuela where I´ve been so far, the Gran Sabana is a grassy highland fringed by flat-topped rocky mountains in the distance. I had to climb up to this area on a 30-km section of road aptly named La Escalator (fortunately it was raining as usual, so at least I didn´t overheat). Due to it´s altitude this region is also a bit cooler than the tropical lowlands. The Angel Falls are also in this park (although getting there involves taking a guided tour from a different place to where I was cycling). After turning South from the Orinoco I at first passed through some towns and farming countryside before getting to the Gran Sabana. Asking for directions from a group of men in one town where I arrived after dark, one man suggested that I camp amongst the scrap metal under a roofed area next to his house. He then proceeded to prepare an interesting dinner for me and himself amongst the tools and scrap metal in his kitchen, and offered me plenty of coffee which he served in a plastic margarine container (his overgrown back yard served as a toilet, which seems to be quite common in some rural areas of Venezuela). Petrol is dirt-cheap in Venezuela, and as a result there are many big old crab-walking American-model V-8 cars and trucks on the road. Drinking and driving seems to be a national sport, and in the National park where one can spot the litter in the roadside grass, I counted 235 empty beer cans in a single km only on one side of the road. I also amused myself in other ways, such as hanging dead snakes over my bike and taking pictures of them. Distances are given in hours (not km), and I´ve found that some people think I average about half the speed of a car! Whether I ask or not, I´m often informed that the road ahead is flat (plano), which it has never been. At the Southern extreme of the Gran Sabana is the Brasilian border, where I now find myself. Distances cycled on this section were:- Upata 92 km; Guasipati 114 km; El Dorado 105 km; San Isidro 104 km; Rio Kamoiran 84 km; San Francisco De Y. 81 km; Pacaraima (Brasil Bdr) 84 km. The total so far in South America is 20 869 km, and the total distance I´ve cycled so far on this trip is 87 356 km.
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
From Puerto Carreno in Columbia I had to cross the mouth of the Rio Meta in a small boat to Puerto Paez in Venezuela, and then I had to take the car ferry across the mighty Orinoco river. From there I could take the road East towards Bolivar city and central Venezuela. I stamped out of Columbia at the local immigration office in town, where I was informed that there was indeed a Venezuelan passport control point in Puerto Paez. Unfortunately there was no such thing, and I had to cycle 100 km South up the Orinoco river (and back) to Puerto Ayacucho where I could officially be stamped into Venezuela. (Finding the immigration office was a mission in itself, as the place was in a shed in the industrial area way out of town). Further, I was reliably informed that the road through this part of Venezuela was really good all the way to Bolivar city. On the contrary, the very rutted and poorly constructed tarred road comes and goes - with the unpaved sections easier to cycle on. Of course, in isolated areas there are usually lots of interesting people, and this area has been no exception. I´ve camped at farms, roadside bars, cock-fighting clubs, and in mud huts in small communities. One day I spotted a water tap at a bodega, and when I stopped there to fill up I met the 3 stooges in picture (they were working their way through a case of beer which they´d bought there, and insisted that I help them with the task). This route roughly followed the huge Orinoco river, and every day I crossed tributaries which are big rivers on their own. There are also some indigenous tribes living in the area, and one day I came across a group of men on bicycles, wearing their traditional g-strings (they wouldn´t let me take a picture of them). There´s not much in the line of road signs indicating distances, and the few such signs have been comically incorrect (one needs a sense of humour when distances indicated to the next town are 40 or 60 km short). However, without too much ado I´ve managed to reach Bolivar city, and soon I´ll start cycling in a Southerly direction. Daily distances cycled since I crossed the river from Columbia into Venezuela have been:- Pavoni 39 km; Puerto Ayacucho 76 km; Pavoni (return) 65 km; Tirital 80 km; Bicochuelo 94 km; Caicara 113 km; Maripa 103 km; Santa Jose Pao 104 km; Curiapo 104 km; Cd Bolivar 110. The total distance cycled so far in South America is 20 205 km, and the total for this trip is 86 692 km.
Friday, 2 December 2011
I was desparate to get some decent info before heading through Eastern Columbia along the Rio Meta towards Puerto Carreño and the Venezuelan border. I was aware that the river was widely used for transport, but due to the flood plains of this big Orinoco tributary the map indicated that I would usually be quite a distance from the water. However, locals don´t travel all the way along this route, and I was told that the road was anything from 200 to 350 km long (or just far). For 2 days I battled along a terrible bumpy and dusty road, and I found it better to cycle on paths alongside the road where possible. Then 2 things happened:- I branched off that road onto a series of jeep-tracks and footpaths, and the rain started. Often over the following days the water stood so deep that I couldn´t make out the track I should be cycling on. I had many spectacular falls during that time. There were also many times when I had to drag my poor old bike through sucking black swamps, destroying my sandles in the process. Unfortunately my camera didn´t survive all the falls and the water, so the last picture I took on this section is the one where my bike is lying in the road on a good day. However, a strange thing happened, and I picked up a Blackberry in the middle of nowhere the day after my camera broke (it seemed slightly damaged and didn´t seem to be in working order, but I kept it anyway). I lost my way quite a number of times, as it was often diffucult to decide which one of a maze of tracks was the actual highway. So much for complaining. This part of the country is cattle-ranching land, and I camped at farmsteads quite a number of times. I found the farm people and the cowboys to be wonderful people, and they were more than willing to accommodate me. Without fail I was offered food as well, usually before I could even pitch my tent (always under the cover of their roof, to shelter from the rain). There is only one proper town about half-way along this route, an interesting place called Prima Vera. I stopped in there to do some shopping, and before I knew it a crowd had gathered and I was being interviewed by the local TV channel who followed me all the way out of town with their cameras. All along the way I still couldn´t figure out how far the end of the road at Puerto Carreño was, so I just made sure that I had enough food with me for a few days, but clean drinking water started to become a problem in some isolated areas later on. I imagined that I was bullet-proof, and a few times I drank water from suspect sources. As can be expected, the suspect water took it´s toll and caused me to become extremely ill, not being able to take in any food or drink for a couple of days (eventually I collapsed at a farmhouse early one day, where I lay until the following morning when I felt strong enough to continue). After what seemed like forever, 750 km later, I rolled into Puerto Carreño where the local Fire Brigade have been happy to evacuate an office where I´ve been able to camp for a couple of days. Further, I´ve been able to charge the battery of the Blackberry which I´d picked up, and I was happy to find that at least the camera still works (so I am able to take some simple pictures). Daily distances cycled since I last reported distances from Cali have been:- Andalucia 122 km; Armenia 90 km; Cajamarca 37 km; Ibague 78 km; Fusa 103 km; Bogota 63 km; Villavicencio 90 km; Puerto Lopez 109 km; Puerto Gaitan 115 km; Matanegra 57 km; Karim Aguas 54 km; Finca Carillo 68 km; Finca Marabre 44 km; Finca Virgen 58 km; Prima Vera 31 km; Santa Barbara 60 km; Antiguaneuvo 56 km; La Vendicion 74 km; Rio El Chiqui Chaque 62 km; La Esperanza 46 km; Finca Tienda 65 km; Puerto Carreño 75 km. The total distance cycled in South America to date is 19 317 km, and total for the trip is 85 804 km.