Venezuela – coincidences, cabin cowardice and Canaima

Try as you might, you cannot simply travel from A to B in this country. You must leave A, circumnavigate C to Z, wander around numbers one to nine, complete several complicated algebraic equations and square root yourself before finally reaching your destination of B.

Naturally, I learned this the hard way. The plan was to fly from Caracas to Ciudad Bolivar where I would meet my guide who would then fly me to Canaima, home of the famed Angel Falls. The plan started to fall apart early on; in the departure lounge of Caracas airport to be exact.

Tinny announcements suggested all flights were delayed. People began to get comfortable and I was invited to join a family who had spread a rug on the floor and were starting to unpack their food. They had clearly done this before. In fact I began to suspect that this was a weekly affair where families nibbled picnics and socialised over delayed aircraft.

After several hours of eating and chatting, people began to disperse as flights were finally called. I boarded a suspiciously vintage aircraft and we took off. So far so…and then we flew directly into the path of an enormous storm.

You should probably know at this point, dear reader, that I’m a nervous flyer. Which is why I’m sure you can understand why I’d assumed we had toppled directly into Dante’s Inferno when the aircraft banked steeply at one point and all I could see out of the window were flames licking the inky blackness. In fact we were passing over an oil field.

We were diverted to the city of Maturin and, on arrival, immediately discovered that this was the airport of choice for all passengers unfortunate enough to have been caught in the tempest. We bedded down for the night with hundreds of others under strip lighting and cold metal chairs – a miserable state of affairs if it wasn’t for the wonderful warmth of my fellow passengers who insisted on looking after me, feeding me and generally making me feel loved in the most wretched of circumstances.

Daybreak saw us taking off again for our intended destination. An uneventful flight led to me dozing off and missing the crucial announcement that we would be diverted yet again and would need to board a bus to Ciudad Bolivar in order to complete the journey. I have never been happier to feel terra firma under my feet and was hopping about in delight when a lady informed me that I still had some way to go and should go to the information desk at this unnammed destination to seek assistance.

By now I was resigned to missing my trip to Canaima altogether. After all, my guide was meant to have collected me from Ciudad Bolivar’s airport the night before and we had no way of contacting each other to meet up. Now I was in another strange metropolis needing to take a bus several hours east.

I approached the information desk and waited for an animated gentlemen speaking German-accented Spanish to finish gesticulating at the lady in front of him. I was tired and hungry and my rudimentary Spanish was suffering as a result. I could just about make out the words “English”, “girl”, and “Cainama”. He stopped talking at the same moment I worked out that I was probably the English girl he was asking about.

I stepped up to the desk and asked if he was meant to collect me from Ciudad Bolivar the night before. He looked astonished. “Yes! You are her! I heard the flight had been diverted but I didn’t know where to, so I sent my driver to find out. He waited for hours at Ciudad Bolivar and then I got a call from my wife saying she was giving birth to twins in Caracas so I am driving there now and thought I would come to this airport and check to see if you had landed here. And you did!”

I still marvel at the chances of meeting the guide in an unnamed city 14 hours after I was meant to arrive elsewhere else entirely. His driver eventually arrived, I then flew to Cainama Airport and spent the next night in a hammock with the ghostly white thread of Angel Falls behind me. As I say, you always get there in the end just not in the way you perhaps envisaged.

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