90. GUYANA – Lethem – Dadanawa Ranch – Lethem

As our “style” of this journey, we don’t plan far ahead, we don’t have a schedule nor a route. Though we might have a vague “wanna go there/don’t wanna go there” feeling. At the beginning didn’t “feel like” going to any of the Guyanas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) but somewhere in Venezuela -perhaps because we were next door to Guyana we considered to visit it. We read up on it and it seemed like a place worth visiting. At that point in the south of Venezuela we bumped into a guy who just came back from Guyana (2 weeks travelling) and his description of it just fired us up more.

Britain took control of the country from the late 1700’s – early 1800’s until in 1970 Guyana became an independent republic with and elected president. Guyana, despite located on the South American continent is actually part of the Caribbean Community and has strong relations with Caribbean nations. The country has a long-running land disputes with Suriname and Venezuela (the one with Suriname more or less has been cleared recently but the one with Venezuela has been going on for over 20 years and the two countries relations is a bit shaky)

The country is about the same size as England but with only 750.000 population. They speak English as their first language and -at least where we visited they are very environment oriented and live in rhythm with nature.

There are no paved roads in Guyana. Their “M1” (south to north highway) is a nearly 600km mud road, that just 20 something years ago was only a cattle herding path from Lethem to Georgetown and with a vehicle took over a week to get from south to north. Nowadays it takes 2-4 days. Obviously better in the dry season and can be quite challenging in the wet season.


The highway between Lethem and Georgetown

Somewhat British culture and the language has been left behind and I could sense a certain connection to Britain in this jungle-filled, hot and humid tropical place. It is certainly mixed with Caribbean jolly, laidback attitude or the soft and kind attitude of the Amerindians but there is this nice old-fashion Britishness behind it. How people talk, their manners. They take their time, they are kind and polite. They don’t greet each other with a Hi or Hey. I love how they say Good Day, Good Afternoon and Good Night (instead of Good Evening). Even the teenagers. They always ask how everything is and listen to your answer. Young people give respect for the older and call them Uncle and Aunty. We met a sweet guy -bit tipsy one evening. He was one of the Elders from a Makushi village (Makushi is one of the tribes in Guyana) and after a long chat he asked us, innocently and genuinely which tribe we were from.

Before we got to Guyana John emailed to the owner of Dadanawa Ranch. We read about this remote but very active cattle farm that we could partake in ranch work, help in anyways on the farm besides hiking, bird watching and such. It is a family ranch and the owner and his wife weren’t there. Sadly the wife is ill and getting treatment abroad for a year now but the friendly owner directed us to his daughter and son to get in touch with them. We found Keyla, his daughter in Lethem -as she is working for a conservation international organization and partially lives in town who was more than happy to hear from us. She and her partner, Leroy were packing up that morning to leave town for Dadanawa and she suggested to follow them.

That afternoon we left but after a few km’s down the dirt, bumpy road we suggested them to go ahead, give us directions to the first town we’ll stop for the night and we’ll meet them there as we were much slower than they were with their light Toyota pickup.

The drive was very beautiful. It is more like a savannah with big hills at the background. It is super dry in the dry season and flooded with mud in the rainy season.
After a few puddles John noticed the clutch was stiffening up. This happened before somewhere in Central America, perhaps in Belize also in a rainy season but john checked everything, plus we had it checked later at the Mercedes garage and there was no leak or anything and the clutch sort of healed and was OK after that. But here it started again and John was more cautious.
Dirt roads occasionally leading away from the main road towards small Amerindian villages and communities. Even in this epic place the houses and villages were neat dotted pretty mud huts with straw roof and their fore garden filled with flowers and mango trees -and all of them had their own solar system with portable panels (every village, every house has one from the government) instead of using generators.


Just after 5PM we arrived in the Makushi village where everyone seemed to know we were coming. Very kindly they led us to someone’s land with a little convenient shop to park up for the night. Keyla and Leroy were on another farm nearby and they organised a guide for us tomorrow to come with us and show the way to Dadanawa.

We hardly parked up when people were gathering around Burt chatting and being curious who we are and where we were from. Two young British guys appeared, who were there on a year teaching contract at the village school. They were so shocked to see a British number plate vehicle that they left watching the world cup game that the whole village was watching in the small convenient shop.

The teachers hopped up and we had a few beers with them and a good chat. They were near the end of their contract and were looking forward going home. Once they are done the school has its summer break and the organization in Britain sends another pair of teachers from September. Each village in this area which has a school connected to the same charity organization so there are always young teachers from Britain all over the place here. We were happy to bumped into them as for us it was unique to meet Brits (after our fellow travellers the Brit Family) So it was fun.

The next morning Keyla and Leroy came to introduce our guide who will travel for us today. It was apparently important as the mud road leads all over the place and we could get lost plus as this was the rainy season – they had some heavy rain recently, we might have to go on a longer, more complicated route to cross a bridge while to the ranch while the Toyota can cross the river (as lighter) if the water isn’t too high.

It was a long day. but the drive was beautiful but bumpy. We were driving through huge puddles and deep slippery mud at places.

We also noticed that the clutch was back to normal again -which points it to the direction of some water leak or something but we can’t find any crack. We just have to go and see.
It was sometime mid-afternoon when we got to the bridge (our guide decided to lead us straight to the bridge because by then the flood was obvious and we had to take that route if we want to cross to the ranch) Well the bridge was there, the road was there -at least from this side, then as we crossed the bridge the road disappeared under the water. The river just swallowed it up for miles.


the bridge


the road

We turned back and in a couple of hours we got to the point on this side of the river where everyone (of the ranch) leaves their pickups and trucks in the entire wet season.

What they do -and what Keyla told us to do is park up here by the river and beat the big drum so they can hear it on the ranch and can come to pick us up with a boat. So that’s what we did. Drumming and honking and in 20 minutes they came. Also to pick up three barrels of fuel Keyla dn Leroy brought from Lethem. We locked up and popped in too. The river, in normal form is about 25-30 meters wide but this time it flooded the entire woods next to the river and it took 15 minutes for the little motor boat to cross the water.


Dadanawa Ranch is a huge cattle ranch and we came at an inconvenient time as it is the rainy season when nothing much happens. We knew this and still decided to come over. Keyla was very inviting and when we got here she was so happy to show us around. The farm is so big that they actually have a mini-village for their workers and families. The ranch has its own community even a convenient shop (which I loved!)

They have a couple of guest houses and Keyla offered for us to stay there. They have their family house where they just had their community meeting before we arrived. They are also involved in a birding project saving the red siskin which is native in the area and was near extinct a few year ago. Thanks to these guys it’s looking good now. (they can take you to places to see them in their own habitat) So we were taken around at this fascinating places and our hostess was so willingly explained everything from how the ranch is run through the paperwork to the type of fruit trees. I couldn’t help but love the place, even that I knew by this point that there’s not much we can do here.


Someone arrived when we finished our ranch tour telling us that we should move our truck because it is close to be under water. The river was coming up and up and flooding the area more. Though it wasn’t raining right here it must’ve been raining further up the river.


We said thanks and goodbye to Keyla and the guys and hopped in to a motor boat to get back. It was about 5-6PM. Yep the water almost touching BURT’s front wheels when we got to the other side. Which was amazing as we parked pretty far away from the river bank on a small hill. Anyway we moved back and levelled out for the night. We chatted a bit with the guys who took us over then said goodnight and started making dinner and had an early night.

All night was raining and so was all morning. Really thick rain… Despite we wanted to spend the day on the ranch we decided to pack up and make our way back. We didn’t know for how long the rain was going to last. If it was going on for even just the day, we would probably have to stay here for a week or so (if it doesn’t rain anymore, which is unlikely in the season) to wait until it’s dry enough so we’d be able to drive out. We wrote a note put it in a ziploc and left it on Justin’s (Keyla’s brother) car windshield.

I remembered a few tricky parts on the way here and I knew if there was any rain it would be worse. Well, if these places look really bad we just have to take it slow or stop, look and consider. When we got to the one them -the worst actually. Yesterday it was only a deep and large puddle but after the rain it became a lake. The river came up to this point and created an actual lake. It was still raining. John got out and walked into it. He only got half way which was as his mind couldn’t resist freaking him out with the piranhas and their cousins with long sharp teeth (we saw their terrifying sculls yesterday on the ranch) and caimans that live in the water and give you no time to escape once they get hold of you. So he turned back but he got to the deepest point. We prepared and pushed through the water and we made it. Then 2 minutes down the ray we stuck in a shallow slippery mud. It didn’t take long to get ourselves out and we were on our way again. A few hours later we reached my third concern which was a long way, very slippery clay mud on a narrow elevated single lane road, flood both sides. We got out to walk first. It was a sloshy ice rink, and the soles of our shoes picked up a layer of clay at every step. The wheels were covered with an inch and a half thick layer too. I freaked out but John was confident and so we made it. He navigated through this crap effortlessly and dealt so well with the sliding that threatened us to slip off the road. He was excellent.


this how it looked the day before


and the morning after (John is checking the depth)


Once we got to the Makushi village -where we stayed on our way down, we stopped for a break and catch my breath. We found the teachers and had a relaxing chat for a short while.


The sky cleared out by the afternoon and the road was considerably better form this point. We wanted to get as close to Lethem as possible so tomorrow we only have to drive a short distance, besides John was seriously concerned about the clutch now and thought that in Lethem we will have to find a mechanic to have a look at it.

We made a good progress by 4-5PM and were looking for a spot to stop for the night -it isn’t hard. Everywhere is peaceful and beautiful. Though it is Indian land and better ask permission. We did in the Makushi village where they said we can stop wherever we want. So we were just looking out for a nice spot when the clutch snapped. I mean snapped. As John pushed the clutch in it just gave up and broke. Bugger. Of course there was a moment of looking-at-each-other-wide-eyed then had a think for a few minutes. We had the only option of stopping the engine, putting it in to low-3rd gear then start again and travel in that one gear.

Soon we found a peaceful place to stop for the night. While I was preparing dinner John took everything apart and found the problem. The water leaked into the flywheel. It wasn’t the water actually that caused the problem, it was the grit in the water of course which eventually caused a small (plastic) component to give up and break.

Knowing what the problem and cause was gave us power…or peace of mind… At least we knew what we need to deal with, who we need to find and what we will have to watch out in the future. This is an ongoing learning curve. Sometimes I’m still looking for a big purpose of this trip. Something we can gain from it and I have to realise that these things give us the lessons. Not necessarily truck mechanic stuff but dealing with sudden crisis. I remember driving down on M1 in England, delivering BURT to the port in Southampton and we ran out of diesel in one of our tanks (we were still new to the tank switch and had the wrong tank on) I was so stressed and nearly in tears. Now if that happens without a blink we jump out, tip the cab forward pump the air out of the fuel system and off we go. Takes about 3 minutes.

We had an early start the next day and when we got to Lethem, almost immediately John found just the right guy for fixing the problem. Tall Boy. (In Lethem, almost everyone has a nickname) Tall Boy had a few trucks and deals with mechanical issues on them with his two boys. When John was explaining the problem to him he knew exactly what the cause and the solution was.

We rolled up at his place and they immediately jumped on the problem. An hour later John came to say that we might stay the night here so Tall Boy can fix something else we wanted to be looked at in Manaus (in Brazil, as we thought that’s a shipping, trucking city) But Tall Boy knew exactly that solution too, right there. He needed a few bolts the next day but can fix it. When I asked John “but what about the clutch?” he said that was already fixed. Tall Boy recreated the component and fitted it in. Done.

On that note, John thought we could ask him to look at a couple of other things too so we actually stayed 2 more nights. His place was conveniently located in town walking distance to everywhere, also right next to his daughter’s Grill restaurant who was a sweetie and I ended up sitting there all afternoon chatting with her. We also met here a fun Bulgarian couple travelling in South America and had an evening out with them. There were also the Brazil games to watch back at Shirley’s bar with the locals also kept meeting Keyla and Leroy, Haan and the Bulgarians. So got ourselves very comfortable here. Tall Boy’s family was fabulous and on our last day they took us out to a waterfall for a swim. This was also our test drive and after the swim we stayed out there for the night. Cooler, quieter than the town.

The next day we rolled back to Lethem do some shopping and get ourselves ready for a trip north form here. All was great. BURT was healthy again, we finally found water to fill up (not so easy), packed the fridge with food and went to say goodbye to Tall Boy. He offered to stay on his land out of town if we wanted to. This was towards the end of the day so we decided to take up on his offer. Found his land, let ourselves in and had an early night.

Tomorrow we will be visiting an Amerindian community Surama about 100 km north from here. We heard wonderful things about it and we got in touch with the village. They are expecting us.

Next, Surama…

89. GUYANA – Border crossing

There is no border crossing between Guyana and Venezuela -despite they’re neighbouring countries. You had to check in to Brazil first, travel a couple of hundreds of km to Boa Vista, then head east for another 180km to the border of Guyana. This was actually necessary, from the point of you of getting a visitor visa for me -as a Hungarian citizen. In Boa Vista there’s a Guyanese embassy where this could be done.


We travelled all day from the Abyss to the border and stayed the night on the Venezuelan side as the border offices and the international petrol station was closed by the time we got there. The next morning we got in line at the pump station first. Apparently if you have other foreign (than a Brazilian) vehicle they let you go ahead in the line. We didn’t do this, but for diesel it is always lesser cars than for petrol so we didn’t have to wait long. They call it the international fuel station as here foreigners are allowed to purchase fuel. The diesel here costs BsF 32 as opposed to BsF6 like in the centre of the country, but it is still much cheaper than in Brazil so we filled up.


After this we went through the border crossing formalities. This was the easiest, quickest crossing. The most time the Venezuelan check-out took but with all the wait and queuing took only 20-30 minutes, then the Brazilian side took about 10 minutes. Weirdly -and we checked with 4-5 different people, we didn’t need the usual vehicle temporary import paper for Burt or anyone cared for checking the vehicle.

We got all done by 9AM and we were in Brazil. I loved it already. People we came across with so far were very friendly. The road to Boa Vista is a good, paved road that for a short while at the beginning winds its way down to sea-level and then the rest of the road is pretty much straight all the way to the city. It took 3 hours to get to Boa Vista, a large spread-out city with modern shops and avenues. We knew the address of the embassy so headed right there. I got the visa the same day however it was late afternoon when we finished so we just found a convenient place to park up for the night in the city, had something to eat, a couple of beers watch a game on the screen and have an early night which was relatively quiet and cooled down by the rain.

The Morning was grey and rainy as we drove out of the city heading to Guyana. It was an easy drive and took only a couple of hours to get to a quiet, relaxed border crossing. We checked out on the Brazil side within 5 minutes. In Guyana they drive on left hand side and most of the vehicles are right hand drive so we felt home. On the Guyana side of the bridge there’s a clever little lane-swapping system so without confusion (or even notice it) drivers find themselves on the correct side of the road.


Now driving on the left hand side

Immigration and custom seemed very “British”. Probably the only border crossing where the officers wear uniform (as I can recall it, most of the countries’ border crossing officers wear casual jeans or Bermudas and T-shirt which occasionally I mistaken them to money-changers or loiterers and sent them away!) Anyhow, no mistakes here. Guyana has a proper office for each department and in the right order too. First we needed to visit the health department to show our yellow fever certificate, then stamp in our passports and then custom. First it seemed quick and thought we are going to break our 30 minutes border crossing record we did yesterday but at custom first they asked to take a seat. After 15 minutes wait John walked up to the seaming bored and bugger-all-to-do officers (mainly just playing music on their phones, filing nails or chit-chatting one another) to ask them politely what it is exactly we are waiting for. It took an astonishing 10 minutes to get them explain to us that we actually first of all we need a vehicle insurance that we only can get in Lethem -the border town. Without the insurance they can’t proceed the import papers. Err okay, it was one of those backward thinking again… (why did they make us sit and wait and not telling this in the first place? is a mystery) Oddly they didn’t know a place in town for insurance, they had to ask around in the office to find out where we can purchase one from. When we got a suggestion, we were free to go a drive in town -which was a strange concept but by this point of our travel we aren’t that surprised when things like this happens, just go with it.

It takes 5 minutes to get to Lethem. It is a spread out small town with mud roads, lots of large Chinese warehouse-like shops (lots of Brazilians comes or used to come here shopping) and friendly locals. The most happenings are at or around the airfield. After we haven’t find the place the border officers suggested for insurance we headed to the airfield where we found Shirley -someone our travel book mentioned as a good person to ask for help. She has a shop/tourist info type of place and her son has a bar next door. She was very friendly and told us where to get insurance, where we can shop for food and offered to park up at her place (her home, a couple of blocks from here) for the night.

We got the insurance, did some shopping (Marmite on the shelves in the supermarkets!) and headed back to the border to get our papers done. There we learnt that they have an apparently new, strange and twisted policy if we wanted to go to Georgetown (capital of Guyana which is located north on the Caribbean coast)
If we want to travel to Georgetown or the northern part of the country we have to apply for a special permit err… in Georgetown. This border crossing office is not entitled to give us a permit for the whole country -only to the bottom half.
There is a river that pretty much cuts the country half, we can travel up to that point with no problem. But there is a police/military check point at the river crossing and they only let vehicles through with a permit.
Here, we can only get a 48 hours permit to Georgetown, find the custom office and apply for a longer vehicle permit there. If we slip off time -which could easily happen as the (only) road that travels from south to north is a mud road and we are well in to the rainy season, so if we miss our 48 hour deadline they confiscate the vehicle!
Otherwise we can just travel with our vehicle in the southern part of the country freely with no vehicle permit what so ever (!) as long as our tourist visa allows us. That’s not a problem.
Go figure.

Believe you me, John is not a man of letting these kind of illogical things go so easily. He grilled over and over the custom officers, firing cross-questions at them trying to make any sense out of this until they couldn’t explain any further and just laughed embarrassed. Of course, we eventually decided not to visit Georgetown, also according to our research most of the places we intended to visit were on this side of the river so logic or not, we dropped the whole thing.
I think for John, it was more that “someone” was controlling where we can and can’t go, especially by an illogical, backward rule like that. But hey, we were allowed to scoot around the bottom half of Guyana and I was looking forward to it.

So after this was sorted, we rolled back in to Lethem and headed to the airfield again. There was England playing and we found and English guy and a Dutch guy watching the game at Shirley’s. Turned out the Dutch guy was Shirley’s partner a biologist and very interesting. We ended up having some food next door at the bar and chatting and watching more football with Haan till late. Then he lead us back to their home where we parked up and stayed the night.

Tomorrow we want to visit a farm further south form here that our book recommended and here in town we can get info about it.

Next, Lethem and Dadanawa Ranch

88. 10 things we couldn’t do without (at least not so easily)


1. Sand ladders and shovel
We had welded a grippie layer to the original ladders. The shovel is vital to get the ladders under the stuck tire. They’ve been our saviours in many occasions stuck in snow, sand or mud.




2. GPS (Garmin)
Every now and then we still have to cross-reference the GPS route calculations with various other maps as it has peculiar ideas to reach an A to B point but generally Garmin is the best what we are doing in this part of the World.


3. Smartphone apps
– Mapswithme (offline) Only need to download a country once online then we have a detailed map often even with the smallest, dirt-track type of road marked on it.
– Google Translate (offline) Again, only need to setup the required language once online then we can use it without internet, translating quite complex sentences. (Used it mainly in Brazil)
– browser and emails, Skype
– Pocket, Kindle
– flashlight
– XE currency converter (offline), Calculator
– Notepad
– Camera
– iTunes



4. Air inflator for tires
On rough roads, soft sand or mud letting the air out of the tires help a great deal and when back on tarmac conveniently we can inflate the 4 tires ourselves within 20 mins.


5. Washing machine
Don’t get me started…



6. Fans
We forever got the question in the US if we had A/C, but what we only have is two small, silent marine fans. Usually use it overnight (also creates white noise) They are enough to keep us cool when it is upto 29-30C in the night.



7. on-board drinking water
Sounds like quite an obvious one but sometimes not even expensive, custom made motor homes have one. This was one of John’s prime focus to build one in.



8. Fly screens
They are/weren’t not perfect but we adjusted them and it would be impossible to be without them. (could do without the black-out blinds but not the fly screens)



9. On-board toilet

*no photos taken


10. Solar system
We couldn’t do what we’re doing easily without it -especially that we want to stay as environmental focused as possible.


87. VENEZUELA – The Gran Sabana #2 or The Abyss (El Abismo)

We spent 3 really good days at Posada Los Pinos in Santa Elena. The town is a backpacker-friendly, tourist oriented place with lots of shops (Brazilians come frequently here for shopping) cheap backpacker places, tour operators and wifi. So we parked up at Eric’s place but spent the afternoons and evenings in town. The first town in Venezuela where you don’t hear the warning “peligro”. Apparently 80% of the population is Brazilians and it’s a pretty laidback place and everyone is friendly.

At the posada each day we met another person and we loved the time we spent with each of them chatting over breakfast or over a few beers in the evenings. A German business guy, a Venezuelan tour-operator (just came back from Guyana and really sold it to us) and an bright and fascinating young Aussie backpacker. Not to mention Eric the owner of the posada who is very nice and helpful and offers tours around the Sabana.

Absolutely loved these few days and could’ve stayed more but it was time to leave. We want to visit a fascinating place for a few days before we leave the country.

It’s called the Abyss (El Abismo) and it is 100km west from Santa Elena. El Abismo is basically the (southern) edge of the big plateau. You can sit at the edge of this plunging drop and down below ahead of you is Brazil and the Amazon rainforest. I remember seeing a photo of a traveller sitting on the cliff that made us wanting to see this. A point of view of the Amazon not many people get to see from. We didn’t want to miss this.

So we set off town early afternoon and headed west on a graded dirt road that first lead us through jungle forest out onto the rolling steppe. We left late and we took it slow so for our first night camp we found a nice spot only about 60km in, by a little side road. Apparently the whole area is divided up and all land is private -though there are no fence or any sign of it. We didn’t see anyone to ask for the night park but it seemed OK.

171 Sandy lane camp

The next morning we reached El Pauji, a little hippy town famous of its local honey, growing foreign population and good hikes. From here it is possible to reach the abyss but only with a guide. We were tempting to stop but it was still very early and at the end we decided to keep on going. Eric (our German host back in Santa Elena) recommended his friend’s place to stay for us, and it was another 40km further on.

The road was rapidly deteriorating. Huge cracks, I would say smaller canyons appeared in the road that was becoming steeper and narrower at places.


We also had to cross a few smaller rivers that I assume becomes more of a problem in the real part of the rainy season. (we are already in the rainy season but there are no floods yet) We were very slow that day so decided to stop again in a similar fashion as yesterday. I walked down on a small side road to check the quality of the road, if we can turn around etc and find a spot well enough away the road. Once we decided it was OK we parked up, went for a walk and had an early night.

The next morning we woke to a guy knocking on our door asking who we were. We told him that we are tourist and only parked up for the night and will be leaving soon, it was OK. Turned out the whole area was his land, he was just surprised to see us there. But it was fine and he left. John got more annoyed than by the fact that there is no indication of the private area, but I guess that’s how it goes here. Everyone knows everyone, they respect each other’s area so there is no confrontation. Independent tourists with a vehicle appearing on a road out of the blue, frankly can raise questions. The funny thing was that later we found out that this guy and his wife believe in UFO’s (they even run a little UFO theme hippy cabana place) so I could just imagine his amazement when he first saw BURT…

It was Johnny’s birthday and with our UFO guy appearing early in the morning we weren’t in the mood of celebrating yet. We had our morning coffees and moved on. We knew we are getting close to the place Eric mentioned though John didn’t remember the name exactly, also we were running out of the area where it is possible to walk to the abyss so we were looking out for a place to stop.

Only in a hour or so we reached a sign; Kuyaima Camping. We stopped and walked up to the house. We were aware that it is the middle of the low season and some of these camp/posada places aren’t open so we weren’t sure they are up for guests. We found a young man on the ranch and we asked him about the possibility of parking up, and if we are able to walk to the abyss from here. He lead us to the big house where he introduced us to his mom, Tamara. They both speak perfect English (their main language is German though they were born in Venezuela) First they were shy but very friendly and Tamara said that the camping area is run by her daughter who isn’t here right now but as we don’t need anything we are welcome to stay for a small fee. After a few minutes small-talk and introduction she offered dinner too if we wanted for a reasonable price that we gladly accepted.

Ralek, Tamara’s son took us around and showed us where we can park up on a large grassy area with gorgeous view and offered that he’ll show the beginning of the trail to the abyss whenever we’re ready. We parked up and got ourselves ready for a hike. I remembered we still had a bags of wheat flour (we stocked up on it in Colombia as it is very hard to buy in Venezuela thinking we can give away to people) so I packed up the remaining 3 bags and on our way to the hike I handed it to Tamara. She was so happy and grateful for the precious gift. It was nice to see how happy she was receiving such simple thing.

Ralek lead us up to a plateau crossing a small waterfall and showed us the direction we had to carry on going.


It took less than an hour to reach the edge of the cliff and the view was spectacular!


Instantly became my favourite place we have visited (probably in my life) We sat on the edge of the cliff and were practically speechless for moments as we were admiring the rainforest 400 meters below and in front of us. We even had two very noisy macaws greeting us somewhere in the forest having their voice echoing throughout the abyss. Eventually they took off showing themselves to us flying across above the jungle. It was very special. It was a very special place.

We took our time but got back just on time for dinner. Tamara made a wonderful dinner and as we finished the chicken she presented a gorgeous strawberry cake. It was one of those moments when somehow everything “fitted” together. Suddenly it occurred to us that it was John’s birthday so the cake become more special and “purposeful”. I also found out that Tamara loves baking. She bakes cakes and cookies to a little shop in El Puji for sale. I felt our flours made a real good home. We ended up chatting with Tamara and Ralek for a while and we decided to stay one more day, and perhaps walk up to the abyss once more tomorrow.

The next day it was absolutely pouring down all day so nothing happened but over another gorgeous dinner and nice chats with our hosts we decided to stay one more day. Tamara said it was Father’s Day and they are going to visit her father -who lives on the next ranch and we are very welcome to go with them.

The next morning after Tamara and Ralek showed us around on their farm having a wonderful chat for ages, we jumped on their Toyota pickup and headed to Grandfather’s house. It turned out his place was the posada that Eric recommended and as much as they were very sweet people too we were very happy staying at Kuyaima. Here we met further family members, all absolutely lovely people. After this we visited a friend on the next ranch, a very nice Italian guy who invited us for coffee in his gorgeous house. Then an hour or so later we headed to Tamara’s ex husband and his family house. His is a bee keeper and makes honey. We met his wife and two lovely boys, showed us around his farm. He is British-Venezuelan and was delighted to speak English to an English. We got some delicious honey from him, drank some of his honey-wine and had papaya fresh from the tree. They were all so very sweet and welcoming, Tamara and Ralek treated us like family and we couldn’t be happier.

After this lovely day we thought we give them family time and Johnny and I walked back which took just over an hour and was lovely in the sunset. We just had enough time to have a dip in the river, as we did every day since we got here before dinner. Tamara decided to have BBQ together. Ralek made the fire and very skilfully roasted the chicken while we were chilling with beers and continuing our never-ending conversations.

They are wonderful, gentle and universally wise people who so trustingly welcomed and opened up for us sharing a tragic family story and the beautiful way they look at life. It was truly moving and inspiring, and I can speak in John’s behalf too when I say we both felt so privileged to meet them.

We stayed one more day and visited the abyss once more which was such a confirmation of my favourite place on Earth. In a different light and with the mist looked so haunting and powerful. With a gentle sadness in our hearts yet with a fulfilled feeling that this journey was so worth it, we decided to move on the next day. It just felt right leaving Venezuela. Had one more evening with our hosts then coffee in the morning when they surprised us with gorgeous leaving gifts. Such a wonderful surprise.


I don’t know how life works, and when you have a second chance to meet people, we once connected with, again. Maybe sometimes we have that one shot but we can hold on to the memory of them. I sure never will forget Tamara and Ralek.


Next, Guyana…

86. VENEZUELA – La Gran Sabana #1

We were looking forward to the Gran Sabana since the beginning of Venezuela. Just reading about it made the place not to miss. We couldn’t, even if wanted to, as the Gran Sabana is the gateway to Brazil.

The Gran Sabana is an elevated (approx 1000m high), flat plateau grassland on 35.000 sqkm that extends southeast to the Brazilian border. It has a unique flora and fauna due to the special climate and the scenery is unbroken by any agricultural sight. Because of the slight elevation there’s a very pleasant temperature in the evenings and when it’s cloudy in the day but when it’s sunny the sun is seriously strong. The entire savannah is dotted with its signature tabletop mountains (tepuis) and has over 100 waterfalls and rapids. It feels very empty and remote but in the 35.000 sqkm there are about 300 tiny indigenous villages and its largest town is Santa Elena that is located south, near the border. The only inconvenience in the whole place are the tiny biting flies (puri puris) They can ruin a wonderful moment.

So after our stay at the hydroelectric company we headed to Upata the last city with fuel station (for tourist, anyway) to the Brazilian border (500-600km from here) We filled up with fuel and discarded our slashed tire here. The town isn’t a sight in any stretch but was a little complicated to find our way out -kept bumping in to street markets and narrow roads so we got a police escort. Then we headed straight south on the one straight road that leads from here to Brazil, through the savannah. We assumed that we won’t be able to make it to the edge of the National Park this day but knew of a campground/cabana place owned by a Swiss guy so aimed to get there by the end of the day.

We found his place with no problem. It was great grassy, palm tree filled area by a river with a bar and restaurant, looked usual as all these camp places. The owner, Bruno wasn’t there when we arrived but there was a German and a Swiss guy helping us showing where we could park etc.


We had a couple of beers at the bar with a few military guys (they are much friendlier when not on the road) Though the place seemed a bit unusual and we found out why.
As we were enjoying our cervezas met Bruno, the owner. He didn’t speak English but was friendly to us, he introduce himself and said to enjoy his place then off he went to his business. He had a certain aura. We found out that Bruno is an ex-colonel for the Venezuelan army and still is highly respected in the area.
First I just thought the military likes to come here for a few drinks after duty but this place in fact was a military river-checkpoint and these guys were on duty. They were here to “control” the river traffic. Let me tell you just this much; This river was the perfect avenue for the Venezuelan fuel make its way to gold and diamond mines in Guyana… I can’t tell more but John was delighted!

The next morning we had long morning coffees with the guys (they had cognac and cigar for breakfast, we had coffee) and had a great chat. John was mesmerised and even got to watch how the barrels make it on the boats… This was a real unusual place, everyone was friendly and the whole place had a fascinating story. We were very tempted to stay one more night but we needed food and essentials, and as we were driving further and further away from the Swiss place in search of food, somehow it seemed right to keep continue south -we still had a long way ahead of us. On our way, as usual, we bumped into a few military checkpoints and instead of starting our usual statement “we are tourists from England….” all I said was “we are coming from Bruno’s” The guy just flagged us through without a blink (first time in Venezuela!!) It worked for a couple of more checkpoints and we loved it!

By the end of the day we made it to the “wall” of the Sabana. It was leading up steep through a forest, feeling the temperature dropping by 10C. Half way up we found a perfect bushcamp area and decided to stay there for the night and finish the climb the next day.


The following morning we made the remaining 10-15 kilometres to reach the top of the plateau. There was one more military checkpoint here but the officers were noticeably friendlier, more tourist-oriented, they even tried to help us getting fuel from the military resources.

We decided to take turn-off for some 70 km west off the highway on a gravel road as our first discovery point in the area. We got hold of a Gran Sabana map and it was indicating several waterfalls and rivers around here with camp opportunities.


On our first day we made it just beyond Kavanayén village where the gravel road turned quite challenging splitting to several ways with amazing size of water-wash-outs and cracks. It was getting dark and we decided it was time to stop for the night. We found a good spot with a breathtaking view of one of the magnificent tepuis (flattop mountain) and decided to continue tomorrow. We met a local guide with two British tourists earlier, they were planning to come this way tomorrow to visit Kauray river and its waterfalls. So we knew we will have his Toyota tracks ahead of us to follow.



And that exactly what happened. Thankfully. At places the road was splitting in to 7-8 directions not knowing which one is the passable one. Without the Toyota tracks to follow we wouldn’t have the chance to back out if we went down on a wrong lane. The river was only 27 km form town (probably 20k from our camp spot) but it took 3 hours intense drive to get there.


It was really worth it. It felt like it was the edge of the Earth far far away from civilization.


It had such a calm vibe. Even that it started pouring down all afternoon covering the whole place with thick grey rain-cloud, it felt lovely and peaceful. We found the Toyota pickup parked on the grassy camp area and figured that the guys went down the river to one of the waterfalls -which was only accessible by boat but we didn’t mind as the other one was walkable distance from here and it was beautiful.



A few hours later the two Brits and the two guides returned and we made coffee and cookies for everyone and sat under a palapa for a chat. The nice guide (we found out he was actually from Guyana) gave us a few tips where to go and what to see further on in the Park.


That afternoon John went out for a walk while I made dinner. We had the most peaceful night here.


The next morning after we went for a short hike it was impossible to enjoy it as there were thousands of puri puris. The rain didn’t want to stop ether so eventually we decided to pack up and move on. Or drive back -more like it. It may seem like a lot of effort for only one night but as short as it was we loved our experience with the long drive, the weather its dramatic grey clouds and coolness (after leaving England I would’ve never thought I would miss the grey sky!) John loves the challenging roads, the fuel is practically free so we enjoyed it however long it was.

Driving back was fun and quite relaxed, we knew now which lanes to take and stopped several times to just enjoy the view and have lunch. The end of the day we made it all the way back to the highway where we knew of another waterfall a few kms off the road for our next camp. However we didn’t find the fall we found ourselves a lovely spot and called it a day.


The following couple of days, as we were gradually making our way south we visited few more waterfalls. Can’t miss them there’s one round every corner. We were spoilt with camp options. There are plenty of “official” camp areas at indigenous communities but we always prefer the outback on our own. One day we found a gorgeous river, dotted with palm trees on the bank, crystal clear water but the surrounding was covered with rubbish, plastic bottles and beer cans. John and I got our large bin liners and filled up about 8 of them. Felt so much better staying there.


We loved our week-long travel on and around Hwy 10 through the savannah was coming to the end. It would be so easy to spend another week just wheeling around, visiting waterfalls but eventually we reached the last town before the border, Santa Elena.

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We tried to fill up with diesel here in town. After half an hour waiting in the queue all of a sudden we were threatened with jail! (if we dared to park up at the diesel pump!) by the military officer who were there. It was quite ridiculous and when we politely asked them (even spoke to the manager) if we could have at least 20l to get to the border they refused and sent us away. I know it was a busy day at the pump station but, Jeez!
This side of the country had the same policy as the Colombian border side (no fuel to foreigners -mainly Colombians and Brazilians, for several hundreds of kms of the border) This was reasonably new as we read other overlanders’ blog who could fill up here not long ago. Or was it just us? Anyway, it is understandable that the government try to control smuggling but it is really a joke. Firstly, we saw how easily fuel comes and goes under the military’s nose -they get their cut of the whole business. Even in Colombia we were able to buy Venezuelan fuel. Secondly, really? We are quite clearly tourists. And thirdly, there is a way to explain and advise us in a simple human way without threatening us with the “cuff ’em & stuff ’em” line straight away. To be honest, we still had plenty of fuel but as we were leaving soon might as well fill up with the cheap diesel as in Brazil the fuel will be 1000x more and that is a huge difference when diesel is a big part of our trip.
Oh well, we tried. We didn’t go to jail and there was the “international” pump station between the two borders, about 15km from here where fuel was a lot more than in the country but still so much cheaper compare to the Brazilian price.

Anyhow, we didn’t mean to leave just yet. We parked up at a German posada place (Posada Los Pinos, lovely place) in town and spent a couple of days getting ourselves organised for the next little detour we wanted to make before eventually crossing for Brazil.

Next, The Abyss (El Abismo)…

85. VENEZUELA – La Paragua (or an attempt to reach the Falls) and the Guri Dam

La Paragua is less than 200km from Ciudad Bolivar so we weren’t in a hurry. We found a petrol station too so could fill up all our containers with the cheapest diesel you can come across with (about a 1000 litre of diesel was $1)

Angel Falls is the world’s tallest waterfall (979m makes it about 16 times the height of Niagara Falls) The falls was named after an American bush pilot, Jimmie Angel who first landed on top of it in 1937 while searching gold in the area. Angel Falls doesn’t have road access. People usually fly from Ciudad Bolivar to the nearest village, Canaima then take a 3 days round trip by boat (sleeping in hammocks) to see the falls. We thought we would skip the boat and hammocks and try to fly there and back in a day (probably 2-3 hours) So we choose La Paragua as our stepping stone as it has an airport and often tourist change here to Canaima.

The drive was nice and we took our time, then as we were approaching to La Paragua, we were more frequently running in to military checkpoints. Then we understood why. It was a real dodgy town. At our last checkpoint, in town, even the military tried to steal stuff from us. They insisted to look inside the box. John went up with the first guy who were opening every cupboards and putting our ipods, flashlights, bits and pieces he could reach in to his pocket, then handing other stuff to his “colleagues” at the door. John wasn’t having it, and reached in to his pockets grabbing our stuff back, take his wrist twisting items out of his hand. Then a second guy wanted to “search” the vehicle too. In the meantime I was distracted by one officer who spoke a little English, asking for all our papers, original passport and insurance etc and telling us that this town is not safe for us. He seemed genuine (even friendly) but I couldn’t tell if he was just doing it to keep me “busy”, plus I had to keep an eye on our papers so they wouldn’t be snatched. At the end, thanks to Johnny, nothing was stolen, we got all our documents back and the English speaker official recommended a place for us to stay and let us go. This was at around 5PM so we had to consider a place for the night.

Just the other side of town we found the airport (well, more like a airstrip with a couple of sheds) and found an English speaking pilot who walked us over to several pretty grumpy pilots to translate our request. Essentially we wanted a flight to and over Angel Falls then back the same day. Considering the price of kerosene (a few cents a litre) we figured it can’t be too expensive. That evening we didn’t find anyone who would be interested to take us. That night we stayed at the airport and was hoping we’ll find a plane tomorrow morning.


The following day we got up early and walked around the airstrip asking all the pilots if they would take us but no luck. It was a pretty shady crowd. One, after a long conversation between few men, looking and laughing at us, offered to take us for a ridiculous amount which to we said “no, thanks”.


Most pilots here are transporting gold and diamond from the mines (and presumably drugs) so no wonder they had absolutely no interest in tourists. It was cool to watch a few planes land and take-off really close (no health and safety issues here) I felt we tried, did our best to make our trip happen but this place wasn’t for us, and I was ready to get out of there. We packed up and headed out of town. For our pleasant surprise the military check points were ether unoccupied or if officers were there, they just flagged us through.

We were disappointed that we didn’t make it to the Falls but it was our decision to try it this way so I accepted the outcome.

We were travelling about a 100km north on the same road we came down yesterday but turned off to East at the fork as our GPS showed a shortcut to our next town. We drove down this road, which seemed perfect at the beginning then gradually worsened until we hit a gate and right there we drove over a sharp metal piece sticking out the ground. This caused an enormous “bang!” sound and that how we lost our back tire. It took 20 minutes to change the tire and we were back on the road choosing the slightly longer, and now obvious route.


What we didn’t expect was that we will come across with a hydroelectric company and the country’s largest Dam. It was a quite posh, well organized company, they even had a visitor centre with movies and English speaking guide to take us around the dam. John was delighted and we decided to park up and go for the whole package. It was Sunday so was only us, and our guide, Jose took us to places he normally can’t take people. We -especially John really enjoyed the tour.


The dam was built with the help of the US at the beginning so they created a town around the dam for its engineer team with a real 50’s American style. Once the US workers left the town became occupied by the Venezuelan team. We were fascinated and asked Jose if it’d be possible for us to drive around town. (as no outsiders allowed without permission) Jose lives there and he took us around the enormous village-complex where they have supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, sport-clubs with swimming pools, it even has its own hospital, and a luxury house of the President. It was really interesting to see this. We dropped Jose off at his house, said goodbye and it was time for us to leave.


On our way out at the main entrance we asked the friendly security guys if we could tuck ourselves away in the corner for the night, as we realised we will have a long drive ahead of us tomorrow to Upata. Our map showed this as the route but didn’t know that it was a private road and that we cannot drive through the dam-complex. We will have to drive about 180km around to get to Upata now, instead of 70km that would take from here. The security guy asked where we heading tomorrow and when I told him that we are driving to Upata, he immediately grabbed the phone and asked permission for us to be able to drive across the dam and camp on the other side at the East entrance so tomorrow we can just head off from there. It was very nice of him, we didn’t even asked, in fact we said we it is OK to drive around but he insisted to help. He got the permission and a guy with a company car to lead us through the dam. It was pretty cool having the whole place for ourselves, especially with the beautiful sunset. The couple of friendly security guys there greeted us at the East entrance and showed us where to park.

For sure, it wasn’t Angel Falls but it was a marvellous and fun experience where we got to meet friendly and smiley Venezuelans who were very happy to help.

As we are heading to the Gran Sabana for the next week or so, we will be able to see some of its gorgeous waterfalls, rapids and rivers where we will be actually drive to and even park for a night or two, and that was OK with me.

Next, the Gran Sabana (aka. Parque Nacional Canaima)…

84. VENEZUELA – Ciudad Bolívar

We certainly made a good decision to drive the southern route through Los Llanos to Ciudad Bolivar instead of taking the northern route through busy towns and endless police/military checks (which were sometimes quite challenging and difficult) On this route we found some real gem bush-camping spots (one on a large sandy river beach and the other -our favourite in a remote area next to a crystal clear water river)


We had to take a river ferry across the Orinoco which was fun then we were driving through a breathtaking, ever-changing scenery. That’s where we found the most beautiful spot for camping, by a river with small waterfalls flowing over black, smooth, volcanic rocks and boulders. The water was fresh, cold and clear. We could drink it. We decided to stay for two nights as it was so gorgeous and peaceful, we could just bath in the water whole day. It was a nice break of the long-driving days and the heat.


We eventually got to Ciudad Bolivar, according to the Lonely Planet, the most beautiful city in Venezuela. We didn’t have a chance to look at it properly this time. The heaven opened and it was absolutely pouring down. Also because the place (a German-run posada/camping) we were after could be reached from the ring road. It was through a few mud-road (really muddy!) but we got there at the end and we were greeted by the friendly hosts.


We also met a lovely Australian couple who were heading north from here. It was a travellers’ haven with all facilities, restaurant, self catering bar, swimming pool etc.

The friendly owner Peter runs a tourist operation at the airport, also was repairing the restaurant building after it burnt down a couple of months back, and just had a baby with his wife so we only met him once but he had two delightful hosts/managers (German and English speakers) and several local staff who are happy to help whatever we were after.

We stayed, nigh by night, up to 4 nights here and could do some essentials. One day we wanted to pop in to town for shopping but the staff advised us not to go with the vehicle and certainly not on our own as it is dangerous. Again, another warning of danger and when I asked why “it’s only shopping in a supermarket” They said because we are tourist and easy targets to be mugged. The manager, Benjamin took us to town with the posada’s pickup. He dropped us off at the centre to look around for a couple of hours while he had some business to do at the airport office. We walked around in the tiny, few streets but colourful historic centre and the market. Though it was pretty, there was nothing much to do or see. The museum, church and a tourist info office with wifi were closed, we couldn’t even find a cafe for a cuppa so we were just walking in circles until Benjamin got back to take us to the supermarket.


The supermarket was its own experience. Venezuela has one of the greatest potentials as a country we came across with, and one-of-a-kind resources (oil and water -they have one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric dam) yet it amazed us how impossible it was to buy basic essentials in shops and supermarkets. This made me understand why most of the people in the country seem depressed and concerned. Whatever the government is trying to do, they are doing it by controlling what, when and how much people can buy milk, toilet paper, rice, flour, butter and many more basic food and supply -if at all available. The country is sitting on one of the world’s largest oil resource and, though fuel is cheap, people have to queue for hours to get some. There are 2-3 type of supermarket and Benjamin took us to the one that considered a posh but expensive one as we would have more chance to buy things. The enormous store looked as normal at first but as we were walking down the aisles we noticed that a whole aisle had only 4-5 types of products on them spread out.


At the meat counter the queue was enormous or more like an unorganised crowd than a queue. It was interesting that they had expensive Nutella, Moët champagne and organic soya milk but no regular essentials, including normal milk. This problem, we heard about before we entered Venezuela so we stocked-up with things that last long but we still needed fresh veg and fruits. We spent a couple of more days in the posada, made use of the swimming pool, and had a lovely time with Tania and Benjamin our hosts.

With Tania

With Tania

We decided to head south from the city first to get to La Paragua on road where there is an airport where we thought we might be able to organize our own trip to Angel Falls. We came across a couple of travellers’ blog (they were here 4-5- years ago though) who made it to this town and they organised their own flight.

Next, La Paragua and the Guri Dam…