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Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela

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After leaving Taganga, Colombia, Eric and I spent two nights in the town of Coro near the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. As I mentioned in my last email, we were not impressed by Coro at all. Coro is a boring, dusty old town with few attractions and lousy restaurants. In many ways Coro reminded us of El Salvador, so we began to fear that all of Venezuela might turn out to be a disappointment.

On Thursday morning we awoke around 7:00 am and headed to the bus station on the outskirts of town. We started out unsure exactly where our next destination would be. We knew we were interested in visiting Angel Falls in the remote southeastern region of Guayana, but were unsure of which route to take to get there. We ended up boarding a bus bound for Valencia, Venezuela, with the option of heading to Caracas for the night if we couldn’t get a bus to Ciudad Bolivar. After five hours on the bus, we arrived in Valencia around 12:30 pm. We grabbed a quick lunch at the bus station, then found a bus headed directly to Ciudad Bolivar. We knew the bus ride was supposed to take another 10+ hours, but felt it would be better to get as much traveling done in one day as possible.

The ride turned out to be over 12 hours due to rain and road construction, so it was after 1:00 in the morning when we finally arrived in Ciudad Bolivar. From the bus station we took a cab to a recommended posada and crossed our fingers that they wouldn’t be full. After knocking and waiting outside of its two massive wooden doors, we heard someone fumbling with the lock. One of the doors cracked open and a short old man, with tired squinty eyes, grudgingly peered out. “Habitacion para dos?” I inquired. “Si . . . si,” the old codger muttered slowly, in a low raspy voice. The door opened wider and we followed the old man through a grand entranceway with high ceilings and faded antique pictures on the wall. The entranceway led into an equally impressive open courtyard, tastefully decorated with Spanish-style wooden furniture and an incredible collection of antiques. Eric and I exchanged silent glances of astonishment as we were led back to a beautiful, boutique-style double room with private bath.

After confirming a price of $6.50 per person, we slung the backpacks off our backs and began to celebrate. We had been on the road for nearly 18 straight hours, and had actually feared we might have to sleep on the streets after arriving in town so late. The day had been a true test of our endurance, so to arrive at this posada, located in a beautifully restored historic mansion, felt like entering the gates of heaven. Although we were exhausted beyond measure, we danced around the room and promised each other we would stay in that very spot until we were fully recovered from all of the break-neck traveling we had subjected ourselves to. You can imagine our jubilee as we settled into our new home and drifted off into a long slumber.

We have now spent the last two days here at our mansion in the beautiful historic center of Ciudad Bolivar. Ciudad Bolivar is an old Spanish port located on the Orinoco River, a name you may recognize from Enya’s song title, “Orinoco Flow.” The town itself is infinitely more beautiful and colonial than Coro. In addition to being a beautiful town, Ciudad Bolivar is also the most popular city from which to organize tours to Salto Angel (Angel Falls), the world’s highest waterfall.

Angel Falls is located near a small village called Canaima in the remotest reaches of southeastern Venezuela. Canaima is inaccessible by road and can only be reached via a tiny airstrip for small planes. Today we signed up for a two night, three day tour that includes a 70 minute round-trip Cesna flight, as well as three day’s boating through the laguna to the foot of Angel falls. The tour also includes all food, as well as hammocks to sleep on. After we return from the falls, we’ll be taking an overnight bus back across Venezuela to the Colombian border. I won’t be able to check email or write a blog about our experience at the falls until Wednesday the 13th, at the earliest.

Venezuela has proven to be an interesting country, with plenty of pros and cons. In some ways one can see similarities to Cuba. Chavez’s socialism has provided perks, such as the cheapest gasoline in the world, yet there are some obvious, unappealing aspects of the culture and cuisine that remind one of old Soviet block republics.

Venezuela has produced more Miss Worlds and Miss Universes than any other country, so it takes beauty very seriously. The Venezuelan people also revere the great liberator Simon Bolivar, so each town has a statue and square named after him. Yesterday I got my first haircut of the trip for a whopping $2.50. Eric and I are both considering shaving off our beards. People always ask if we are brothers, and when I reply, “No, solo amigos,” they always make mention of our similar beards. Tomorrow we’re off, on another adventure to one of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders: Angel Falls.

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