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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Seventy-One

After crossing some 10 rapids we stopped to take a break and swim in a beautiful little lagoon created by a small falls emptying into the river. Then it was back in the dugout for another two hours crossing perhaps another ten rapids. We then pulled over to the side of the river where the current did not flow very fast and had sandwiches for lunch. After lunch, another hour and five or six more rapids and we finally reached an area where we could pull the dugout up on rocks and walk from there to Angel Falls. We were told that from Canaima we had traveled about 100 kilometers, some 62 miles on the river. While our guide led us up to the falls, the men in the dugout took our belongings across the river to a camp and unloaded everything for us.

The walk to Angel Falls took about an hour and a half. The path was easy to see in the jungle, but the walking was anything but easy. Tree roots were everywhere. We had to step on them or between them and try not to break an ankle. The first mile or so was relatively flat and then the terrain began to get steeper and steeper. The final quarter of a mile was a vertical climb. Imagine walking to the top of a 10-story building. Only instead of stairs, climbing up rocks and roots. Finally, we reached a clearing where we had our first close up view of the falls. It was a clear day so we could see the top. We were totally captivated by the site and at first could only stare at the water that seemed to fall in slow motion 3,000 feet to the lagoon at the base. We have been to Niagara Falls and Yosemite Falls, but this sight was absolutely breathtaking. The tremendous volume of water falling from such a great height, created lots of noise and generated a cloud of mist that rose hundreds of feet in the air. Everything around us was wet from the fine mist. After taking pictures and resting, we traipsed another quarter of a mile to the lagoon, where we all swam in the delightfully cold water.

After we all had our fill of swimming, we headed back down the hill. Then some big black clouds moved in and it started to pour. Imagine hiking in a rain forest in the rain. It was faster going downhill, but still treacherous because now all the roots and rocks were wet. Everyone was extra careful and within 45 minutes we were at the rivers edge. We climbed into the dugout and crossed the river to the camp, which was more primitive than the one in Canaima. But there was a generator. So, we had electric lights and showers via river water that had been pumped to a tank on stilts. Dinner was chicken cooked over the campfire. No fancy sauces, just really good smoked flavor. After dinner we all got better acquainted. There was an Italian couple, a German couple, a Spanish couple, a man from Australia, a woman from Boston and us. Everyone spoke enough English or Spanish so that the conversation was fun. The generator was turned off at 2100 and we all got in our hammocks in absolute total darkness. It was so dark because it was still cloudy and it rained most of the night.

Dawn came clear and bright. We looked across the river at Angel Falls and due to the amount of rain overnight, twice as much water was falling. We all ran for our cameras. Our guide, Antonio, told us we were lucky that we saw the falls when we did, because the tourists visiting it today would not be able to swim in the lagoon, because the amount of water rushing through it would make it too dangerous. After taking lots of pictures and oohing and aahing about the falls, we had breakfast of scrambled eggs, salsa, bread and orange juice. Then it was time to pack up for the trip back to Canaima. The river had risen about two feet due to the overnight rain. We didn't realize how this would affect the trip back, but we soon found out. We roared back to Canaima in less than two hours, flying over rapids swollen by the rain. What a thrilling ride!

A light plane, again a Cessna 206, left Canaima at 1100. We were in the restaurant at the Ciudad Bolivar airport by 1230. We had lunch with the Spanish couple and the man from Australia, with whom we had visited the falls. We all agreed we would share pictures by internet. After lunch we took a taxi to the bus depot and departed CB at 1600 and arrived in Puerto La Cruz at 2030. We then took a taxi to the marina and were asleep in our own bed by 2200. It was a trip to remember and talk about for a long, long time.

We spent four more days in Puerto La Cruz visiting friends, washing Sojourner with unlimited fresh water and on 27 August 2003; we departed the mainland for the island of Margarita, where we would provision Sojourner for the trip west to Bonaire. Beef is very reasonably priced in Venezuela, so we decided we would stock up before leaving. We went to our favorite butcher shop and ordered four kilograms (about 10 lbs) of lomito, which is tenderloin. As is the normal procedure in Venezuela, the butcher brought out two whole tenderloins. First, he trimmed off some excess fat, and then he weighed the remaining meat, which came to a total of just over two kilos. This is the amount we would pay for. Next, he meticulously trimmed almost all the fat and some of the meat from the tenderloins. These trimmings were ground into hamburger at no extra charge. We left with about seven pounds of lean tenderloin and 3 pounds and of hamburger.

We left Margarita on 2 Sept 2003 and motored against a west wind to the west side of Margarita. It is very unusual to experience a west wind, but we encountered it. The next day, the wind was still out of the west, so we opted to sail northwest to the island of La Blanquilla. Deciding to wait for favorable winds, we stayed two nights at La Blanquilla and finally left on 5 September for the group of small islands called Los Roques. For the first time in many months we had an opportunity to sail downwind in 15 plus knot winds. It was time to use our spinnaker, which is a large billowy sail that is deployed on the bow of the boat and functions simply by trapping wind. It is not unlike a small parachute. Rigging a spinnaker on a catamaran is easier than on a monohull in that catamarans have two hulls enabling attachment of the spinnaker at each hull and at the top of the mast. A monohull must use a spinnaker pole that sticks out to one side of boat or the other in order to hold the sail square into the wind. Our rigging technique had been worked out while we were at Margarita, where we had the advantage of advice from a former sailing instructor. We were very pleased to note that the system we developed worked excellently and we were able to sail at about half the speed of the wind. We thought that was very good as we are a rather heavy catamaran. Stay tuned.

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The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.