It is easy to see why tourists have abandoned Venezuela, and much would need to change with the political and security situation before they came back. With inflation at 700% this year, most Venezuelans can no longer afford to visit tourist attractions within their own country. Their state-regulated salaries must be spent on the increasingly unaffordable staples.
Walking around towns and cities, even near the pinnacle that is Angel Falls, what strikes you most is what was and what could have been, not what still is. Gone are the cafes, bars and shops. What remains is boarded up or less than half-empty.
But despite all of this, the remoteness and beauty of Angel Falls, and the national park in which it hides, is its saving grace; I felt completely safe during the trip.
Onwards to Salto Angel
After a night at Canaima, the journey upstream to the base of the waterfall began at 5am, in a narrow dugout canoe with a stuttering motor. It had, long ago, been painted green and blue, but it was now peeling to reveal the burnt, black hardwood beneath. In some places, the wood had worn so thin that water intermittently sloshed through.
It was on the cusp of the wet season, but water levels were still low. The river had turned wine-red from tannins and minerals washed down from the tabletop tepuis that we were slowly winding around. The little boat couldn’t quite make it up many of the rapids still revealed from drought – every ten minutes the crew would be forced to jump in and heave it up by hand, while the passengers waited ashore.
The jungle was encroaching on the river at every opportunity, trees bending deeply out from the undergrowth to reach more light and water. White-winged swallows flew close overhead, skimming for skaters, and kingfishers dipped for flying fish. There were no settlements, no other people. Just dense jungle.