Saturday, September 18, 2010

How much does that helicopter ride back down cost?

Following a particularly ambitious urge to give purpose to the extra weight of our outdoor equipment, we signed up for a 6-day trek to the summit of Roraima.  Located just over the Brazilian border, Roraima looms over the Venezuelan savannah like a lithic castle in the air.  Known as a tepui, or a flat-topped mountain, its sheer cliffs drop nearly 2,000m into the churning clouds that encircle it. 

Our companions for the trek were: Stephen, a misanthropic, British cricket coach whose greatest dream is to have a chain of tea shops, Tomas, a well-traveled Slovakian who put us to shame by out-pacing us even with a sprained ankle, Lucy, another Slovakian, who constantly looked as if she were just strolling to the mailbox, and two Czechs who largely kept to themselves.  After two days of hiking over rolling plains through clouds of puri puris (small sandflies that leave bloody bites even through clothes), we reached the base camp and started a grueling climb over the next day, the entire last hour of which was a 65 degree ascent on all fours and through a waterfall.  Alex, our Guyanan guide, and Ray and Romano, our Venezuelan porters, not only carried our tents, food and chocolate (not the kind you eat), but also cooked amazing meals and made sure we didn’t fall in the rivers while crossing them. 

Reaching the summit, we knew it was worth it.  The bedrock and sandstone lay strewn about uselessly like some forgotten moonscape.  Our “hotel” for the next two days was situated beneath a rocky outcropping, ala Planet of the Apes.  Against the ash gray rubble, mini orchids bloomed in bright colors and carnivorous plants, the likes of which don’t exist anywhere else, quietly awaited their insect prey.  Our guides took us to La Ventana (the Window), where we had a perfect view of just how far we’d fall if a gust of wind came along. 

The descent was surprisingly hard.  Arriving back at base camp, our balancing muscles were completely shot and we still had half a day’s hike remaining.  Each wobbly step demanded willpower and we collapsed hopelessly onto the trail a few times asking ourselves why we signed up for this.  We were quite the sight when we got back.  Tia was covered in more than 156 puri puri bites (yes, we counted), we both had numerous, cavernous blisters on our feet and neither of us could walk without limping for days.  It was definitely worth it but, suffice to say, we’re skipping out on the 6-day journey to Ciudad Perdida that Lucy’s doing.

When we got back, we found out that it was Alex’s birthday so the group decided to treat him, Ray and Romano to drinks and Chinese food. Romano brought his 15-year old wife (who also happened to be Ray's sister) and one of their brothers showed up as well.  We started to wonder if the whole village was going to appear for free dinner from the crazy group of gringoes.  Ha.  The night ended with too many beers and lots of meringue dancing.  

Check out Tomas’ photos, which are much better than ours:

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