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Angel Falls, Canaima, Venezuela

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Our pilgrimage to Angel Falls took us through some of the most glorious and spectacular landscapes imaginable. It is an area of the world that defines the word ‘special.’ Like the Grand Canyon or the limestone karsts along the Li River in China, Angel Falls and the surrounding areas are so awe-inspiring in their vastness and beauty that a person can do little but stand and observe in respectful, mesmerized silence. It is a place where you have the space and inspiration to think a great thought. It gives you a chance to pause and study the important things in life — things like the sun setting, the arrangement of the stars, and the pattern of your own breathing.

Our three days in the wilds near Angel Falls proved a perfectly balanced adventure. There was just the right amount of everything: perfect hiking, plenty of boating through the Venezuelan bayou, and enough time to sit back, sip coffee, and study the ever-changing aspect of light on the great tepuis in the background. It’s a place where Herman Hesse, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Claude Monet would feel at home. The immortals definitely reside here. It’s a spectacle one must see firsthand to bear witness to its pristine glory.

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The first day of the trip we boarded a 6-seater Cessna and flew from Ciudad Bolivar to Canaima. From a small camp in Canaima we took a boat tour of the gorgeous Laguna de Canaima waterfalls. The Laguna had very distinctive, amber-colored water that looked like Scotch whiskey. After exiting the boat we hiked to Salto El Sapo, a powerful rushing waterfall with a perfect narrow path chiseled precariously beneath the pounding water. The experience of hiking along a rock trail under the tremendous force of the water was incredibly charging. We couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear with giddiness. It was like being charged with a healthy dose of pure electricity.

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Our journey peaked on the second day when we boated ever further into the Amazon-like tributaries of the Rio Churun, before hiking up to a vista that provided an unobstructed view of the highest waterfall in the world. At sixteen times the height of Niagra Falls, Angel Falls revealed itself as an ethereal cascade of water that seemed to plummet from the heights of heaven itself. The dramatic, falling water plumed into a rolling mist that looked like the wispy, white beard of God. Lady fortune smiled upon us with perfect weather, and it seems we picked an ideal time of year to visit. The clouds broke open and a rare, obfuscated view of this natural wonder appeared to us in all of its full-flowing glory. We then hiked down to the foot of the falls and went swimming in the most dramatic location I’ve ever swum in. It was a true baptism for the faithful few who complete this pilgrimage into the heart of darkness.

“Angel Falls” seemed a fitting name for such a celestial place; however, I was interested to learn that the appellation was actually derived from the name of American bush pilot Jimmy Angel, who landed on top of the falls in a four-seater Cessna in 1937. Apparently he ran into some trouble when he found out he couldn’t take off.

After our safari to Angel Falls, we spent the next 48 hours taking buses across Venezuela and into the heartland of Colombia’s countryside. Although we have become largely immune to the physical and psychological tortures of excruciatingly long and uncomfortable bus rides, our first Venezuelan night-bus proved to test our endurance even further.

The double-decker bus appeared comfortable enough, with reclining seats and even a couple of televisions; however, once it wheeled out of the terminal it turned into a meat- freezer. We had heard tell of this before — the infamous South American buses that pour out air-conditioning until you are literally blue in the face. Even though I wore shoes, socks, pants, a t-shirt and warm sweater, I found myself freezing to death all night. The absurdity of the contrast was stark and shocking– being driven through 90 degree weather in a bus that was so cold you could see your own breath.

After crossing into Colombia, we finally arrived in a quaint old countryside town called Barichara. Barichara is nestled between rolling green hills that are incredibly reminiscent of Chianti and Tuscany in Italy. There is a rustic, old-world feel to the town that lurks in the entrance ways of its churches and clings to the dusty, rust-colored pathways. There was also an incredible bakery near the central square where we whiled away a few days playing chess and drinking Cafe Tintos.

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We left Barichara yesterday and are now in Colombia’s capital city of Bogota. That’s right, the “mean streets” of Bogota. Our impressions of this place are great so far. I’ll blog more about it in a few days. Here are a few more random paragraphs about who we are and what our mission is:

We are becoming ascetics of the open road. Travel has become our life’s science, our religion. Each day brings new challenges and gives us every opportunity to reach deep inside ourselves and see what we are made of. We are constantly looking to each other, learning from each other, and pushing each other to newer, greater heights.

We live for the moment, trying always to find the artistry and style in the hidden nooks and back alleys. We are willing to risk everything, unlock every door and, “suffer the ethereal tides to roll and circulate through us.” If you simply listen and observe, the world will teach you a great deal.

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