A Travellerspoint blog

Anaconda Hunting and Piranha Fishing in Los Llanos

sunny 35 °C

Hola!

After spending a few days in the Andean city of Merida we hopped in a 4x4 and made our way over the mountains down to the plains of Venezuela, Los Llanos. Here we had signed up for a 3 three day tour of wildlife watching, piranha fishing and horseback riding.
The trip from Merida took all day, and our first evening in camp was spent getting to know our co-tourists over beer :)

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The crew

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Blind Camp Parrot

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Camp Lizard

The first day started with breakfast at 6 a.m followed by a boat safari. For a couple of hours we cruised down the river looking out for birds, turtles, caymans and pink river dolphins. We were incredibly lucky to spot a dolphin before we even got in the boat :) They’re apparently difficult to spot and even though we were being followed by one or two of them for a while, we never saw more than a back fin and once a tail.

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Getting ready to go

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River dolphin! Part of it anyway…

Other than river dolphins we saw a vast amount of different birds. They were everywhere, and our guides were very good at spotting rare species and pointing them out to us. Neither of us have ever been particularly interested in bird watching, but I’ll admit that it was pretty interesting.

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King Fisher

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Ara Parrots

Caimans, small crocodiles, lined the riverbed, and after a while you almost stopped noticing them because there were so many.

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The turtles were a little shyer, but we saw lots of them hanging out on branches in the water and on the river side along with tons of lizards.

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As it started getting hot out the animals begun retreating into the cool of the surrounding bush and we headed back to camp. After a couple of hours rest we prepared for a car safari as it started to cool down again. Jason was pretty pumped as we’d been told odds were good for spotting anacondas :)
Turned out we didn’t have to venture to far from camp (seriously, 300m) before our guide picked up a small anaconda!

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While we checked out the small snake, some brave locals started looking for a bigger one known to live in the area.

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It didn’t take long until they found it, and it was huge! It took four grown men to pull it out of the marsh!

Out of the entire group I’m pretty sure Jason had the biggest smile of all! Going on this trip all he really wanted to see was an anaconda :)

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Jason the Snake Hunter

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After admiring the snake for a while, we let him retreat to his home and piled back into the jeep. We continued along the river for several kilometers spotting more birds, caymans and lots and lots of capybaras. Capybaras look like guinea pigs on steroids, and are the biggest rodents in the world. They were about as big as a medium-size dog and seriously strange.

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Capybara Family

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Capy-baby

Colourful birds were everywhere

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Ramon, one of our guides, spotted these baby caimans from the roof of the moving jeep!

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They made a ridiculous amount of noise considering how small they were, and they didn’t mind being cuddled :) To a certain extent anyway….

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Continuing along the river Ramon spotted an anteater, and proceeded to run after it trying to steer it towards us.

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I felt sorry for the poor thing being chased around by Ramon just so we could get a good look at him, still I was pretty excited. An anteater was the one thing I really wanted to see on the trip :)

As the sun was setting we returned to camp. After a long day we were all beat and it made for an early evening, just as well considering breakfast would be served at 7 a.m the next morning.

Our second day on the plains started with horseback riding. Being scared of horses I wasn’t looking forward to this, but what was I supposed to do? I had made it pretty clear that I didn’t like horses that much, and Ramon was very nice giving me what he claimed was the wimpiest horse. Jason on the other hand ended up with a rather grumpy stallion.

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"I'm on a horse"

We rode along the river spotting birds and monkeys, and after a while I felt more confident on the horse, especially because it seemed to know where it was going having done the trip a thousand times before.
This feeling lasted until our guide decided to cross the river, in waist high water. I’m not scared of water; I’m scared of caimans and piranhas living in the water. However, my horse didn’t seem too worried, and we both made it across.

After a couple of hours on horseback, it was siesta time, before we went piranha fishing.

We spent a few hours fishing in different locations before we returned to camp to cook our catch :)

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Me excited about fishing. Obviously I didn’t catch anything

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Jason caught lots!

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Dinner time :)

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The next morning we had an early start, and were ready to go at 6 .am. Unfortunately someone had managed to lock the keys in the car… Jason and I have some experience in that department, and finally Jason managed to open a window.

Halfway back to Merida, we left the rest of the crew and got on a bus to Puerto Colombia. It was time to get back to the beach :)

Posted by CanWay 07:13 Archived in Venezuela Comments (0)

The Long Road to Venezuela

sunny 30 °C

Hola!

After spending a couple of days in the beautiful national park of Tayrona we were getting ready to leave Colombia for Venezuela. After travelling on a bus for two hours we ended up at the border. Here we wanted to exchange some money before we got our Colombian exit stamp. Usually we never exchange money at the border; we just get money out at the closest ATM across the border. However, Venezuela is a bit different in that regard. The country operates with three exchange rates!
Venezuela has pegged its currency to the American dollar, and the official exchange rate is 2.15 Bolivares Fuertes to the dollar. This exchange rate is not influenced by the international market, it is always the same. Then there is the actual exchange rate which reflects what the Bolivar is actually worth and is usually around 4 BsF to the dollar, this exchange rate is available at banks and ATMs . But, you make the best deal at the black market where you can get up to 8.5 BsF for a dollar. To add to the confusion Venezuela slashed three zeros off their currency a few years ago turning “Bolivares” into “Bolivar Fuertes”, and people will often give prices and exchange rates in the old currency out of habit. Also Bolivar Fuertes are just referred to as Bolivares, yeah confusing.

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Newly acquired Venezuelan currency :)

Fortunately, we already knew about this and got out a substantial amount of U.S dollars when we were in Panama. (Panama uses the dollar, but calls it the Balboa. Pure logic.)

After ridding ourselves of some Colombian pesos and U.S dollars we got to wait in line for two hours to get our exit stamps, before crossing the border and getting in an equally long line-up at Venezuelan immigrations.
At this point our bus driver, who had to wait for us, was getting annoyed and arranged for us to bribe some immigration officers to get first in line. After seeing a girl being pulled into interrogation kicking and screaming we politely refused the offer. Finally we had all our stamps and were on our way to Maracaibo, a hundred kilometers from the border. You would think this journey should only take max two hours even at Latin America speed, think again. We had to stop at 19 military road blocks, 10 of which we had to identify ourselves, once we had to bribe the military officers not to search our bags and finally five of our co-passengers were interrogated behind closed doors.

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A Venezuelan entry stamp at last!!

Upon reaching Maracaibo we were fairly stressed out and eventually found a cheap hotel in the pay-by-the-hour district.
Maracaibo was only a stop-over for us on the way to Merida, which we reached on an eight-hour bus trip. Merida is situated in the Venezuelan Andes at an altitude of 1600 m, and gets refreshingly cool at night. It is surrounded by mountains, and although the city in itself is not that beautiful we predict a major tourist influx once Venezuela seriously starts catering to foreign tourists.

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Merida Streets

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MADE IN SOCIALISM. Welcome to Venezuela!

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Hostel Turtle

Being the adrenaline capital of Venezuela, Merida offers outdoor activities of all kinds. We were planning on doing some canyoning and absailing here. However, we were convinced to do a safari in Los Llanos (The Plains) instead, which we did not regret :)
We did not feel safe getting our camera out during the border crossing, or on the bus, therefore we don’t have many pictures to show you this time :( We promise to make it up to you in the next post, we have lots of great photos from Los Llanos!!

Posted by CanWay 07:18 Archived in Venezuela Comments (3)

Tayrona

semi-overcast 35 °C

Hello!

After spending almost a week in Taganga we decided to start the new year by visiting Tayrona national park, just outside Taganga. Some people are hesitant towards visiting national parks in Colombia because they are known as hide outs for the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). However, the FARC has been on the defensive the last years, and Tayrona is considered safe despite its proximity to the Venezuelan border. It is one of Colombia’s most popular national parks, and since it was the peak of the high season we prepared ourselves for a large crowd.
Expecting overpriced everything at the camp site we stocked up on crackers, tuna and other foods which needed minimal preparation and headed for the park entrance.

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Ready to go :)

There are several camp sites in the park, and we had decided on the furthest one, about a two hour walk through the rain forest and along the beach. As usual we were the odd ones out in our not-so-trekking-friendly havaianas…
After a few minutes’ walk we realized that most people there were heading for the same camp site as us, and you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that there wasn’t going to be enough space for everyone. We decided to out-trek the hordes and started half running through the jungle, sweat dripping and flip-flops slapping.
After a while we had left the masses behind, and started taking in the scenery.

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Busy Tayrona Ants

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Tarzan Jason

The beaches in Tayrona are strewn with huge boulders that the indigenous people, whom the park is named after, used to worship back in the day.

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Along the path the scenery changes from beach to rain forest several times

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Jungle swing!

Upon reaching our destination, Cabo San Juan de Guía, we were told that all the hammocks were booked, the tents as well. In our broken Spanish we managed to put our names down on a wait list, crossed our fingers and waited for check-out..
Luckily our half-sprint through the jungle paid off and we secured two hammocks for the night :) We were given two choices; the Mirador, overlooking the beach and sea, or the camp ground. Not a very difficult choice.

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The Mirador

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Our home for the night

Accommodation sorted for the night, we hit the beach :)
There are technically two beaches at Cabo San Juan de Guía separated by a rock outcrop where the Mirador is situated.

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Never saw Pamela :( However, Colombian women love their implants so it did feel like we were in a Baywatch episode!

After lazing on the beach and having a non-can dinner at the camp ground restaurant after Jason found some money on the ground (bonus!) we headed for the hammocks. The Caribbean coast of Colombia is HOT during the day, but it gets cold at night. Around midnight the thunder started roaring and the rain gods had a fiesta. Due to fairly strong winds up on our little rock between the beaches it didn't take long before we were not only freezing, but also wet. Luckily we had brought our wind breakers, and we kind of slept swinging in the wind in our hammocks.

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After the wind and rains of the previous night, we made arrangements for moving to the camp grounds hammocks the next morning. (I know, we're supposed to be used to the cold. But this is a holiday, not a NATO winter drill.)

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Cozy!

Our second day at the park was spent on the beach doing absolutely nothing :)

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We hit the hammocks not too late, and the next morning we packed up and headed back to civilization. It had rained all night again, and we were a little worried about how a muddy jungle trail would treat our flip flops. In the end we made it to the main road only moderately muddy even though we made a wrong turn somewhere and took the horse trail home instead :/

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A mini frog we saved from the main road

Back in Taganga we got ready to leave Colombia, preparing ourselves for a potentially difficult border crossing into Venezuela.

Posted by CanWay 07:57 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

New Year's in Taganga

sunny 35 °C

Hola!

After almost a week in the beautiful city of Cartagena we got up early and hopped on a mini bus to Taganga. Taganga is a small fishing village a couple of hours drive from Cartagena. This little town has seen heaps of tourists come its way the last years, and even though the dirt streets are unmanageable for most cars and the ATM only works every now and then, the place is packed with guesthouses, restaurants and dive shops.

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Posing in front of Taganga

We arrived a few days before New Year’s, and found the place absolutely packed, with both foreign and Colombian tourists.
On our first day we decided to get a taxi boat to Playa Grande, one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. We arrived after a five minute boat ride and found the beach absolutely packed, we seriously had problems finding a spot to lay down our sarongs. After about half an hour of being kicked sand on by running kids and getting the occasional sun screen spray from neighboring tanners we decided enough was enough.

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Crowded!

We had arranged to be picked up by our water taxi four hours after arriving at Playa Grande, not feeling like staying any longer we started walking. On our way back we came across a smaller but still gorgeous fisherman's beach with a far smaller crowd. We ended up spending the rest of the day here, and came back pretty much every day we stayed in Taganga.

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Fishing beach from the path

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Beach Jason :)

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Taganga is also the place were we got addicted to freshly made juices. All around Colombia, and generally in Latin America, there are juice stands mixing your juice while you wait.

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Our favourite juice stand. The super cute lady running it always makes too much juice for the cup, so she waits until you've had some, and then fills it up again :)

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The selection of fruits here is also ridiculous. Colombia is home to many fruits rarely found anywhere else in the world. Forget about orange and apple, get into some lulo or guanabana mixed with maracuja and pitahaya.

We spent New Year's Eve at our hostel, the Bayview. They were hosting a big party,and we ended running into some friends from the Christmas party in Cartagena :)

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Happy New Year!!

Like in so many other small towns we've been to our days were usually spent at the beach and our nights at the bar :)

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On the way to the beach

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Beach Lizard

Taganga Sunsets:

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From the hostel balcony

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Taganga is the jumping off point for Tayrona national park, and when we recovered from the New Year's party we made our way there for some relaxation and nature bonding.

Posted by CanWay 19:01 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Christmas in Cartagena

sunny

Hola!

We finally made it to Colombia! We flew out of Panama on the day before Christmas, and arrived in South America for the first time the same day :)

Christmas in Cartagena:

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After 3 layovers we landed in Cartagena and got a taxi to Hostal El Viajero were we had finally had the foresight to book two beds. Being tired after a day of travel, we went to bed early.

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El Viajero, a really nice hostel :)

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Relaxing outside our room

Our first full day in Cartagena was also Christmas Eve. Unlike the Canadians, Norwegians and Colombians celebrate Christmas on this day and not on Christmas morning. We had already signed up for a Christmas dinner at the hostel, and spent the day walking around the city and getting groceries for Christmas Day breakfast.
Almost everyone at the hostel ended up going to the Christmas dinner, and although it was served cold two and a half hours late we still had fun :)

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Colombian wine, yummy...

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Christmas morning began with opening of presents, mimosa drinking and Christmas stocking goodies :) After watching Jason's family unwrap some presents on Skype, we started cooking a proper Canadian Christmas breakfast :)

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Cartagena is another beautiful colonial town, and is one of our favourites right up there with Antigua. We spent most of our days here just wandering the streets of the old town taking way too many pictures...

Streets of beautiful Cartagena

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Fruit vendors are everywhere

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A little shopping...

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After five days of city life in Cartagena, we were ready to get back to the beach. A couple of hours outside Cartagena is the small fishing village of Taganga known for its pretty beaches and cheap scuba diving. The Panama City Hostel Failure still fresh in mind, we booked a hostel before leaving Cartagena and started looking forward to New Year's on the beach :)

Posted by CanWay 05:44 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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