Finally we reached the region we had looked most forward to in Venezuela: the Gran Sabana. After town ‘Km 88’ (also called San Isidro), an asphalted road called La Escalera (the Stairway) wound up to about 1000 meters, snaking through rainforest and later cloud forest. The change was surreal. At km 130 we drove out of the forest and rolling, grassy highlands stretched out in front of us and to our sides. As if we had reached a different universe.
In the distance we saw the undulating mountains. On some of them rose vertical table mountains called tepuis. They are imposing as well as intriguing. It doesn’t surprise me that the indigenous people not only say that all this was created by the gods, but that in fact the gods live on top of those tepuis. The highest is Mount Roraima, at 2850 meters, which lies on the border of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana.
From the Lonely Planet:
Geologically, these massive tablelands are the remnants of a thick layer of Precambrian sediment laid down some two billion yeas ago when South America, Africa, and Australia were joined together a s part of the supercontinent Gondwana. Warping of the continental plates created fissures and fractures in the sandstone plain, which gradually eroded, leaving behind only the most resistant rock ‘islands ‘ – the present day tepuis.
A big disappointment was the slash & burn we saw 360 degrees around us. Much of the Gran Sabana lies within the boundaries of the Canaima National Park but apparently is not protected to that degree. The slash & burn is supposedly done for cattle raising but during our two-week stay we didn’t see one single one cow.
Locals later explained that it an age-old ingrained habit. The Pemón walk everywhere, motorcycles are not much used. They like to have a flat terrain without bushes blocking their views and a flat terrain minimizes their chances of stepping on a deadly snake.
Since I’m on the topic of criticizing what we saw, let’s stay with that for a moment. Another topic, unsurprisingly as it returns everywhere on this continent, is garbage. Venezuela has been worse than any other country on this continent in this respect, and unfortunately, the Gran Sabana isn’t clean either.
Apart from that, there was more than enough to love the area nevertheless. We drove to the hamlet of Iboribo that lies in the middle of nowhere. The laterite road made way for a dozen of sandy tracks. A bit down those tracks is a settlement which is the base for tourism. Only Pemón indigenous people can live in the Gran Sabana and they run the businesses. Tourism is an important, if not the most important, source of income.
We could camp along the river for a few cents per night. The locals drank the water from the river so we followed their example but after two days my stomach protested too much and we filtered the water instead.
Off-Roading Beyond Kavanayén
We drove to Kavanayén, which offers nothing special so we pushed on. Now we were really getting of the beaten track. This was no more than a rough trail with jagged stones and eroded sections. For this trail you need a high-clearance vehicle and even then it can be tricky. At one point, when Coen wanted to back up a rocky part, the carriage got stuck for a second. Coen managed to get it free. We used low range quite a bit to keep a steady snail’s pace uphill.
We camped on the bank of a cascading river. There is a wide waterfall on a five-minute walk from here through the forest. The locals had built a couple of open-sided shelters with thatched roofs, making it comfortable to sit outside in the shade or in the rain. Rainy season announced itself with three days of rain and so we gave up and returned to the main road.
Back on the main road we saw smoke rising alongside the Land Cruiser. The oil meter had gone up drastically. Coen halted the car, jacked up the hood fearing a fire but that was not the case. What was it then? I took another look and saw water pouring down the engine block onto the road. The radiator was leaking big time and Coen worried we had blown the engine. Truth be said, so did I.
We waited for the temperature to cool down before opening the radiator to fill it up with all the drinking water we had. More than 20 liters went in. It made a sizzling, scary sound with steam coming out. Unnerving. With our eyes focused on the oilmeter we drove to Santa Elena.
We had the GPS waypoint of a hotel: YaKoo, outside town, up a hill. It’s run by the German Manfred. The hotel has large cabins on a grassy field, a swimming pool and a natural pool (now not enough water) at the far end. We camped in the parking lot.
Coen tinkered with the Land Cruiser. The radiator wasn’t leaking but a tube had ripped. That was much easier to solve. But to his despair he also noticed that the engine mounts were gone. We had replaced hem only in December, in Bogotá. Where to find those?! And, on top of that, Coen noticed that the V-belt was almost through.
It’s a small consolation that some vehicles are in a much worse state than ours, but are still driving!
Back to the Gran Sabana
When the easy problems were solved and the engine mounts put on a back burner to be solved at a later stage, we returned to the Gran Sabana. We had by no means tired of the landscape, the tranquility, the fabulous camping spots. Truly, the Gran Sabana is a reason in itself to travel to Venezuela!
The thing that drove us out of the Gran Sabana, eventually, was rain…