Oasis Blog

A trip across the back of South America – Andes to the Atlantic

February 18, 2015

Oasis Overland’s Operations Director, Mark, has just got back from South America where he has been working on our trucks, and this is a short account of his time out there…

I arrived in to Cusco early morning, and my mechanic friend, Efrain, was waiting at the airport.  This is a part of ‘Overlanding’ that you don’t see.  By travelling in this style, not only do you get a trip of a lifetime and a real off the beaten track experience, but you support local people.  10 years ago Efrain worked as a fitter in a rough garage – mainly thanks to the steady income of working on Overland trucks, he now owns his own garage with concrete standing and covered areas.  It has literally changed his and his family’s lives.

It was also handy that Efrain was a dab hand with a 10 speed splitter gearbox, and within a couple of days we were ready for the journey ahead, with the gearbox having never changed so well.  We really like to keep roadside problems to a minimum, and that can only be achieved by regular maintenance such as this.

Our purpose was to get Frida (the name of our truck) from Cusco to Rio de Janeiro in about 9 days, and definitely in time for arriving passengers, ready to party at the Carnival celebrations.  Cusco sits at 3300mtrs high in the Andes, and our first day’s drive literally took us off the side of the mountains.  Until 3 years ago, the journey to the Peruvian jungle in Puerto Maldonado took almost 10 days, throwing mud, river crossings and thick jungle at the driver.  Now this has all changed with the Trans Oceanic highway – the sign above the road told us Sao Paulo was a mere 4750kms away!

The route takes you over 4700mtrs altitude with astonishing views of the surrounding white capped peaks.  The route has literally joined high Andean Alpaca farmers with banana growers and made them just a few hours apart.  This amazing mix of indigenous people is apparent as we stopped for a quick bite of Trucha Frita (fried trout) with a local family in a stone building high in the mountains.  3 hours later, after plummeting down a great many switchbacks, and we were sweating in shorts and T shirt eating a wide variety of jungle fruits, with faces looking more Brazilian with every mile.

We did indeed make it to Puerto Maldonado to our jungle lodge, which still sits on the outskirts of town in an area of untouched jungle.  It’s a comfortable place, complete with swimming pool, and with one of the owners being Thai, you are sure of a tasty feast, after a hard day’s drive.  From here our travellers venture down the Tambopata river in search of anaconda and the glimpse of a jaguar.  Sadly we were here to drive, so it was onward to the Brazilian border.  This turned out to be a mere formality and although the Peruvian official made a meal of selecting a variety of stamps to use in our passports (he obviously doesn’t get to use them too often!) it was all with a friendly smile and we were on our way to Rio Branco.

Rio Branco is famous for its rodeo, and we passed a variety of arenas with gauchos riding their steeds in preparation.  Roads are full of potholes and the going is slow at times, but the traffic is light and the scenery stunning, so our day runs quickly.  Brazil is now the largest producer of beef cattle, even over Australia, and on both sides of the road large swathes of rainforest have been cleared for pasture land for the hardy white horned cows.

This deforestation unfortunately continues as we travel east toward Porto Vehlo, and it brings me to think that this is something everyone should see and make up their own mind about.  Who am I to say it’s wrong and stop a family from making a living and putting food on the table.  But this is on a grand scale and not just a local family taking down a few trees.  In the distance to our left and right, beyond the rich pastures, you can clearly see primary rainforest forging its way skyward.  But with this in mind, you have to say that these areas have not been ripped out without forethought – pasture land is next to the road, with easy access to transport (everything moves by truck in Brazil) and great trees have been left untouched, probably only used as scratching posts by the herds, but nevertheless still standing.  Unfortunately however you look at it, our rainforests are disappearing, and it is clearly visible here.

Porto Velho is the gateway to the Amazon and the River Madeira makes its way north east before joining with the mighty river itself.  The soya bean is largely grown in this area and makes its way via boat to Manaus where it is exported to the rest of the world.  The town itself isn’t really a traveller haunt, but that in itself almost makes it a draw to me.  It’s a place where you can meet local people off the beaten track, and I’ve found jungle dwellers some of the most friendly in the world, and the most interesting – what is it actually like to live in the middle of the Amazon basin for example?!

Our journey now takes us south and on to a major trucking route.  This improves the road conditions – generally truck routes are better maintained – and we get our first taste of a major thunder storm – we are in the rainforest after all!  You can see how quickly flash floods happen and how whole road sections disappear.  We have already travelled some 2800kms, but looking at the map, have hardly scratched the surface of Brazil.  Travelling overland really is the only way to see a country of this size properly.  We stay in truck parks and garages, where there are clean showers and toilets and a decent meal of steak, rice and beans or the local feijoada (a sort of bean and meat stew).   Travellers on our trips often have this experience in Brazil and it is a way of meeting people that you would never come across in towns and cities and I can tell you, they are just as interested in you as you will be in them!  It’s not every day a giant orange truck full of ‘gringos’ pulls on to the forecourt and sets up camp!

Next on the agenda is Cuiaba and the main point of interest here is Chapada Dos Guimares – a fault ridge along a tectonic plate, which has produced a stunning valley of rocky outcrops and 80mtr plus waterfalls.  The town itself is quirky and small, and its inhabitants give it a kind of mystic feel, as it sits equidistant between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  As the sun dropped to the horizon I noticed a shape wandering on the road at the edge of my headlights and I immediately slowed, expecting a donkey in our path.  However, tonight was to be my lucky night as a large Tapir wandered lazily in front of the truck and into the scrub to our left – what an amazing spot!

View points in the area show the dramatic step to the flatlands that become the wetland area of the Pantanal – a vast plain crammed full of wildlife such as Capybara, Anaconda, Jaguar, Tapir and a variety of birdlife.

Our route now unfortunately was to take us further south, and then east and on in to the chaos of Sao Paulo, where I would need to jump off and catch a flight home – all good things come to an end.  However for our travellers this would be just the beginning of a variety of Brazil’s must see attractions, including the bizarre and futuristic buildings of Brasilia, the current capital;  Lencois, a small town with cobbled streets and a friendly air, with amazing trekking opportunities;  Salvador, a city with an African vibe and amazing nightlife;  the coast of Brazil, visiting beaches that only locals generally visit;  the colonial gold mining town of Ouro Preto and finally the famous Rio de Janeiro.

If you’d like to follow in Mark and Paul’s footsteps, why not take a look at the full expedition:
Trans Amazon Explorer – Rio to Lima – 55 Days

There are several options to shorten or lengthen your trip – please don’t hesitate to contact us for details, or take a look at our website: www.oasisoverland.co.uk

 

Posted in All Blogs, South America. Tagged with , , , , , , , , .

Mali: The kind of place your family and your government would prefer you wouldnt visit

February 11, 2015

Tour Leader Joe reports from our Trans Africa expedition, currently in West Africa:

Oasis Overland truck on the Trans Africa ExpeditionWay back in the middle part of 2014 I took the decision to accept an offer from Oasis Overland HQ to lead the Trans Africa Expedition. It had taken me six weeks to decide. There was a lot to consider. Was I, as a person, up to it? Was I, as a tour leader up to it? How would I cope taking a group of people to places I had never been? What about Ebola? Was it dangerous?

Through many conversations with Oasis HQ and our other crew out here I know who had run this very trip I arrived at the decision to accept the Trans Africa. I knew it would be tough and I knew it involved a certain element of risk but that in essence is what this trip and all travel is, at its core, all about.  Pushing yourself to the limits of your ability and understanding and coming out of it more or less unscathed and all the better for the experience.

So, it was with great excitement that I jumped into devouring everything I could find on the places we would visit.  I began planning an itinerary in a notebook and quickly realised that there was so much to see and do.  I had a vague glance at Mali as part of this but discounted it as our route was to be through Guinea and Sierra Leone.

As time went by it became evident that the Ebola problem was refusing to go away.  The number of infections grew, more people died and borders were closed, forcing us to consider another route.  Chief among these was going through Mali as the Trans Africa did up until that country’s civil war and resulting coups in 2013.

I had concerns about our safety.  With stories of travellers being kidnapped, some killed by Islamic extremists.  Some research into it suggested that the tourists killed had gone to Timbuktu against the advice of those in the know and made crucial mistakes when the shit hit the fan, if you will excuse the expression.  Further research suggested that the situation in Mali had somewhat stabilised and was now confined to the north of the country, unfortunately that meant we would have to keep to the south of the country.  But even the south was against FCO advice with them advising against non essential travel.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term FCO, it stands for Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  It is the British government department charged with issuing advice to its citizens about where is safe and unsafe to travel.  Amongst many other things.  In Australia we call it ‘smart traveller’, in New Zealand I believe it is ‘safe traveller’ and in the U.S the State Department issues such advice.  Although this advice is to be considered whenever you are planning a trip in my personal opinion it can be a bit vague which often leads to it being misinterpreted and is always very much erring on the side of caution.  It should still be taken into consideration whenever a trip is being planned though.

Then, in the preparation for the trip I was given a safety briefing.  We were to limit our time in these places and I was to impose a ban on the use of social media and blogging while there in the interests of our safety as there was evidence to suggest that the bad guys had used these things to target and track the movement of westerners.  All very daunting stuff.  I was also given a briefing in the procedures we were to follow should the worst happen.  I remember thinking I had perhaps bitten off more than I could chew but armed with all the relevant information I was confident that along with the driver Steve we would avoid any problems.  All that was left to do was actually go there.

Just to put a cherry atop it all a few days before we were due to leave Oasis HQ it was reported in the news that a case of Ebola had been reported in Mali after a two year old girl crossed the border from Guinea… I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth the hassle.

Busy Mali town on the Trans Africa ExpeditionSo after crossing Senegal it was time to enter Mali.  We were a little more relaxed than we were before entering Mauritania (also against FCO advice) as we kind of expected a similar experience.  What we got far exceeded our expectations.  Not to mention that the Ebola threat in Mali had now subsided.  The day we entered Mali the news reported that there were no cases of Ebola present in Mali and should no more be reported in the next 42 days Mali would be declared Ebola free.

The first hint at the experience we would have in Mali came way back in Rabat, at the Malian Embassy.  The friendly and relaxed demeanour of the officials who seemed to fall over themselves to help.  This was indicative of the Malian hospitality we were to receive.

From the moment we arrived at the border it became apparent that the embassy would not be an isolated experience.  The chief of the border post was all smiles and very helpful.  He was intrigued by our journey and wished us a wonderful time in his nation.  It was infectious.  As Steve drove us away from the border we blasted “Danger zone” a song from the top gun soundtrack from the cab stereo.

Friendly kids in MaliFirst stop was Kayes.  Kayes had been in the headlines recently as it was the destination of the bus from Guinea that ferried the 2 year old Ebola victim into Mali thus dragging Mali into the Ebola mess and world headlines once more for all the wrong reasons.  We hit the market for some food where we were greeted with big smiles and many questions.  On the road again, we were greeted with smiles and big waves everywhere we went.  Then I saw a man standing on the side of the road with a gun, my heart skipped, he reached for his weapon pushed it onto his back, flashed us a huge smile and waved enthusiastically.  Crisis averted.  Such encounters became normal.  Every village cheered and shouted upon our arrival.  Tourists clearly are a rare occurrence in these parts.  A lunch stop would usually be encountered with a visit from a passing local with a big smile and many questions to greet us.

The villages we passed through hinted at Mali’s past as a French colony.  Many with stone railway stations with their white washed gabled facades stained by decades of red dust thrown up by passing traffic, cracking and crumbling.  Shoots of new life sprouted from cracks in the platforms as mother nature reclaimed these bastions of all things civilised.

The Oasis Overland truck on the river ferry in MaliMali at this time of year is hot and dry and therefore quite dusty.  Getting down and dirty is all part of the fun of the Trans Africa so when we found a stretch of river easily accessible from the roadside it was a welcome opportunity for a rinse and some welcome relief from the heat.

After a couple days driving we hit Bamako, the capital.  None of us were really sure what to expect.  What we got was a city with a lot going for itself.  Bustling markets selling anything from veg to lion heads, grand architecture (one example funded by none other than the late Colonel Gadafi of Libya), a surprisingly good nightlife and some great live music.

We took a sunset cruise down the Niger River followed by a bar hopping session in which we were transported around in a Sotrama, one of the colourfully decorated 1970′s model Mercedes vans used in Bamako as local transport.  The night was topped off by catching a gig at the local racecourse where we took in some typically Malian music that included the Kora, a type of African guitar and the singing drum, a revelation to the ears.

As all good things must though, our time in Mali had to come to an end.  We left all the better for the experience and we had only scratched the surface of what Mali had to offer.  Not bad considering it was a country that everyone we told of our plans to visit thought we were nuts!

Thanks Joe!  Looking forward to your next installment!

 

Posted in Africa. Tagged with , , , .

Half Price Gorilla Permits-April and May 2015

February 2, 2015

Visiting the mountain Gorillas in Uganda/ Rwanda really is one of those once in a lifetime experiences. With only about 700 of these magnificent creatures left in the wild viewing them in their natural habitat is a true adventure. If you have been considering a trip to the gorillas for a while, now is the time to book. In April and May 2015 the cost of Gorilla trekking permits has been halved from the usual £540 to £270 only.

The following Oasis trips offer an option to trek to the Gorillas

Our 19 Day Nairobi to Nairobi Gorillas and Gameparks Adventure. Trip cost £495, plus local payment of $295 USD.

Our 40 Day Nairobi to Lilongwe Apes and Lakes trip. Trip cost £995. Local payment $495 USD.

Our 54 Day Nairobi to Victoria Falls Apes and Lakes Trip. Trip cost £1190. Local payment $585 USD.

Our 75 day Nairobi to Cape Town Grand Adventurer trip. Trip cost £1650. Local payment $850 USD.

Permit numbers are limited, so don’t leave it too long!

 

 

Posted in Africa, All Blogs. Tagged with , , , , .

Oasis Overland at Destinations Travel Show 2015

January 28, 2015

Destinations Travel Show 2015This  week we are at Destinations Travel Show at Kensington Olympia – we hope to see some of you there and find out about your future travels!  It’s on from Thursday 29th January to Sunday 1st Feb and you can find us at stand AA60.

Our UK team will be on hand to give you detailed information about all our overland trips to South America, Central Asia, Africa and Europe.

Meet the Oasis Overland UK Team!Destinations is a huge show with hundreds of operators, tourist boards and travel related companies exhibiting.  Listen to fascinating talks in the ‘Meet the Experts’ Theatres and at the new event for 2015, the Travel Writers Festival.   Amongst the celebrity speakers are Katie Adie, Simon Reeve and Griff Rhys Jones.  If you still have some time to spare after wandering the stands and listening to talks you can view the stunning images entered into Wanderlust’s Travel Photo of the Year Gallery or try some exotic food at Experience the World.

Tickets on the door cost £13.

The show times are:

Thursday 29th January – Sunday 1st February 2015

10:00am – 5:30pm Thursday

10:00am – 5:30pm Friday

10:00am – 5:30pm Saturday

10:00am – 5:30pm Sunday

To get there, the nearest Tube is Kensington (Olympia) on the District Line, which also has a London Overground stop.  Alternatively buses 9, 10, 27, 28, 49 and 391 stop nearby.  For more info check out the Transport for London website.

We hope to see you there!

 

 

Posted in All Blogs. Tagged with .

Adventure Travel Show 2015

January 14, 2015

Adventure Travel ShowIf you’re looking for some inspiration for your next trip, or you’ve already got an idea and want to know more, then you could do a lot worse than checking out this year’s Adventure Travel Show in London.  We’ve been exhibiting here for a number of years now, and we are always impressed by the variety of travel options on offer and inspired by the guest speakers – it tickles our itchy feet just as much as yours!

At this year’s show, along with offering expert advice on our trips and the places we visit, some exclusive special offers for the show and displaying some of our favourite photos from our crew and travellers on the road, Chris, the Oasis Company Director, will be giving a talk with his wife Jackie and two sons, Ethan and Seth, about their family adventure through Africa.  In a unique spin on the standard ‘family holiday, over the course of two months they drove a ten-year old Toyota HiLux from Nairobi to Zimbabwe, taking in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique along the way.   Chris, Jackie, Ethan and Seth at the equator in KenyaCome along and hear them tell you all about it in the Incredible Journeys Theatre at 13:45 on Saturday 17 January – as they re-live their adventure you’ll discover that such a trip is not only exhilarating, memorable and rewarding, but also, with a bit of planning, completely doable.  You’ll have no excuses for taking the easy option of an all-inclusive in Spain this year!

Other guest speakers at this year’s show include the legendary Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who needs no introduction, the lone explorer Benedict Allen and Lois Pryce, who at the age of 29 quit her day job to ride from Alaska to Tierre del Fuego on a beat-up trail bike and has since completed numerous unsponsored and usually solo motorcycle epics.  There will be, in total, more than 100 free inspirational talks over the course of the weekend.Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke That Thunders), or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Aside from ourselves, there will be around 100 other exhibitors offering everything from exploratory expeditions to fascinating world cuisine – the only time all year the entire adventure travel industry gets together under one roof!

If you can’t make it, then fear not!  We will also be at the Sunday Times Destinations Travel Show, also at Olympia from Thursday 29th January-Sunday 1st February inclusive, and the TNT Travel Show at the Business Design Centre, Islington, London, on Sunday 1st March.  Later in the year we are planning on attending some events elsewhere in the country – we know not everyone lives in London (we don’t, for starters)!

Tickets on the door cost £10 for one day, or £15 for a weekend pass, but if you book them in advance they are reduced to £8 and £12 respectively – under 16s get in for free.

The show times are:

Saturday 17 January:   9am to 6pm

Sunday 18 January:      9.30am to 5pn

To get there, the nearest Tube is Kensington (Olympia) on the District Line, which also has a London Overground stop.  Alternatively buses 9, 10, 27, 28, 49 and 391 stop nearby.  For more info check out the Transport for London website.

 

Posted in All Blogs.

Trans-Africa Part One – Gibraltar & Morocco

January 7, 2015

Here is the latest blog from our Tour Leader Joe, currently leading the 39-week Trans-Africa Expedition.  It’s not too late to join him on his way back up from Cape Town, departing 9 April 2015, there are a few spots still available.

Last time I put a post together for Oasis I was preparing for the mother of them all. The 39-week Trans Africa Overland Expedition. We were prepared and stocked with supplies for the journey and all that was left was to get to Gibraltar to meet the 17 lucky peeps who would be accompanying us on this journey. This involved some last minute farewells at Portsmouth to Mark Middleton, Fleet Manager and all round truck extraordinaire, and Natalie Smart, Africa specialist and hashtag queen! It was a fitting send off as only a week later Natalie finished up her time with Oasis by seeing off the said 17 at the airport. The Trans this year was her baby and it was now up to me to carry on her fantastic work in the behind the scenes preparation and get on with the day-to-day running of the trip.

So there we were on the cusp of something that my big travel dreams as a teenager would never have considered: West Africa.  After a lovely ‘mini-cruise’ from Portsmouth to Santander and two days driving the length of Spain, we found ourselves in Gibraltar, the start point of the trip. With the few days we had, Steve, the driver, and I set about making a few last minute preparations in anticipation of the arrival of the group from the UK.  It seemed in no time at all that but the day of reckoning was suddenly upon us. I made my way to the airport full of questions: Who are these folks? What are they like? Will they all get along? Damn, I left my Oasis welcome board behind… Will they spot me?

Gibraltar Airport isn’t exactly big and as it turned out you can spot an Oasis Overland group from a mile away.  There they were in their t-shirts and shorts, backpacks draped from their shoulders and a big smile to greet me. This was real…

One last day of normalcy was allowed for roast dinners, fish and chips and some serious duty free shopping in the theme park of all things British that is Gibraltar before we sailed to Africa!

It’s strange to stand atop a boat as you leave one continent and see the other looming large just there… What adventures awaited over the next 39 weeks?

Well initially, not many.  First stop was Rabat for the all important visas we needed to get us through the next few months. Once the paperwork was out of the way we were free to get the trip going for real. Morocco is a fantastic country and a great way to introduce everyone to the world of overlanding! There is plenty to see and do with some beautiful campsites. We took in the epic Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the ancient Roman city of Volubilis and the winding medina alleys of the very blue Chefchaouen, the royal jewel of Fes.

From there it was the natural wonders of Todra Gorge and the Atlas Mountains, before the Hollywood in Morocco of Ait Benhaddou Kasbah which has been used in films such as Gladiator, Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia and more recently Game of Thrones, just to name a few.  On our way to Marrakech we encountered swollen rivers and streams brought on by some on the most significant November rainfall in 50 years.  Luckily we managed, all the way, to stay one step ahead of the worse of it. Sure we had a few soggy nights but nothing compared to what those same regions would encounter just a few days later.

With a couple of days in Marrakech we were able to explore the seemingly endless souks selling all manner of oddities and indulge in some great Moroccan fare that is on offer at the dozens of pop up restaurants that materialise after dark on the Djemaa El Fna Square. Not to mention the famous snake charmers and the bizarre, ad hoc, take all comers, boxing ring.

We had culture coming out our ears and it was time to slow the pace with a few stops along the coast near the surfing hubs of Essaouira, Taghazout and Agadir.  Lazy days and sunny skies were in abundant supply as we worked our way south towards the Sahara.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. The previously mentioned rain had made some of the places we visited a bit damp, to put it mildly, which made for interesting times when it came to finding a suitable place to camp.  It appeared the Sahara had turned into one big lake and on the way to one particular camp spot the sands resembled a sloppy goo that in no time had our overland truck, called Nala, well and truly bogged.  Six hours and a big team effort later she was free to the relief of her occupants and the amusement of a few locals that had come to witness our plight.  Our camp site for that night remained an unattainable goal but thanks to the hospitality of the local mayor we were shown a suitable place on hard ground in the nearby village to camp.

Onward south we went finding shelter the following night in a camp with a large wall that provided some welcome protection for the gale force winds whipping in off the Atlantic.  This was what the Trans Africa is all about. Making the best in trying situations and the group were taking it all in their stride.

Finally, we escaped the clutches of the wild, wet and windy conditions and it was blue skies, open desert and silhouettes of herds of camels on the horizon all the way to Mauritania.

 

Posted in All Blogs.

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2014

Happy New Year everyone!

We hope you all have an awesome night wherever you are and wish you a wonderful 2015 full of exciting travels!

Some lucky Oasis travellers are spending New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach in Rio!  Here are some pics to tempt you… maybe next year?

Copacabana beach New Year's Eve

You can spend New Year’s Eve in Rio before joining our Rio to Quito or at the end of our Quito to Rio Kingdoms and Carnivals trips.

 

Posted in All Blogs, South America. Tagged with , , .

Christmas and New Year Office Opening Hours

December 24, 2014

 

Here are our office opening hours over Christmas and New Year 2015:

Wednesday 24th Dec: 9:00am to 2:00pm
Christmas Day: CLOSED
Boxing Day: CLOSED
Saturday 27th Dec: CLOSED
Sunday 28th Dec: CLOSED
Monday 29th Dec: 9:30am to 5:00pm
Tuesday 30th Dec: 9:30am to 5:00pm
Wednesday 31st Dec: 9:30am to 3:00pm
New Years Day: CLOSED
Friday 2nd Jan: 9:00am to 5:00pm

Wherever you are in the world, we would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and wish you all the best for 2015!

Happy travels,

The Team @ Oasis Overland

 

Posted in All Blogs.

Venezuela? What’s there then?

December 14, 2014

When someone says ‘Venezuela’ something strange happens.  Or, perhaps more accurately, nothing really happens at all.  Which is strange.  We know where it is, and it is not an insignificant country: around 30 million people live there, it has the world’s largest proven oil reserves (giving it a fair bit of clout) and up until recently had, depending on your take on it, either one of the most self-confident and refreshing or self-obsessed and annoying leaders on the global stage, in late President Hugo Chavez..  We also have a feint idea that it is supposed to be quite dangerous, but we can’t remember why we think that.  Perhaps we saw it on Ross Kemp on Gangs?  Oh, and they produce a lot of Miss Worlds.  But apart from these fairly trivial facts, our images of what is in the country itself are often oddly vague.

So when we started running trips from Rio de Janeiro to Quito via Venezuela, I was intrigued to see whaCanaima National Park Venezuelat our crew and travellers made of it.  It was fascinating to discover that there is much more to the country than chaotic cities, charismatic/oddball politicians and beauty queens: it is home to unique and stunning natural beauty, diverse and abundant wildlife, and one of the strangest and most exhilarating weather phenomena you are ever likely to see.  I recently caught up with one of our travellers, Nick, who completed our Rio-Quito via Manaus trip last year; here is an outline of some of his favourite memories from his time on the truck.

Lost in Time

‘Our truck entered Venezuela in the far south-east, crossing in from Brazil near the small mining city of Santa Elena de Uairén.  The first stop was Canaima National Park; the most famous attraction here is Angel Falls, the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, cascading some 979 metres down a steep rocky cliff.  During the dry season, when we were there, Angel Falls can actually come across as a bit underwhelming, as the low water levels see the flow come across as little more than a trickle that disappears into mist about a quarter of the way down.  But even bearing this in mind, the topography of the park makes it quite unlike anything you will have ever seen elsewhere in the world: looking outwards from a high viewpoint towards the park, the eye takes you along lush tropical forest in the foreground, is drawn to smooth, clear bodies of dark blue water that break up the flow of the trees, before leveling out and looking directly ahead to see the imposing tepuis: dark, rocky table-top mountains that tower stoically and independently across the horizon.

The stunning tepuis of Canaima National Park, Venezuela

Plunging deeper into the park you eventually find yourself surrounded by these giants, and everywhere you look there are waterfalls, freshwater lakes and sandy beaches encircled by the relentless forest.  It is said that this distinctive landscape provided the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’ novel, and it doesn’t take too much of an imaginative leap to picture prehistoric creatures trudging through the trees to visit one of the many watering holes.  It is certainly in the top five most stunning places I have ever been, and probably at the top.’

‘I think there’s an Anaconda in the bush, let’s have a look…’

‘Next up was Los Llanos, vast Retrieving an anaconda Los Llanos Venezuelatropical grasslands that stretches across central Venezuela and into Colombia.  It is broken up by the Orinoco River, and the flat geography means much of it is more like a mash or wetland than a fertile savannah.  The closest thing to it is probably the Pantanal in Brazil, but they’re still quite different.  Over the course of two days in Los Llanos we went out on various canoe trips and bush walks, and got a pretty good idea of its unique ecosystem: we saw capybara, caiman, pink river dolphins, a giant ant eater, piranhas and an incredible array of birdlife.  The real highlight though was when our guide found an anaconda in a bush and thought it would be a good idea to drag it out.  After a fairly fierce battle our guide won out, and we were able to inspect the impressive creature up close, before he was returned to his spot in the bush, which we were quite relieved about.’

The Continuous Thunderstorm

Ant Eater Los Llanos Venezuela

‘The main highlight of the trip in Venezuela, and one of the most incredible moments of all my travels, was Catatumbo Lightning Lake.  Where the Cataumbo River drains into Lake Maracaibo in north-west Venezuela, a very strange and impressive atmospheric phenomenon takes place.  For thousands of years this area has been the location of a more or less continual thunderstorm; air is blown across the lake and surrounding marshy land and encounters the steep peaks of the Andes.  Here, as it cools rapidly, massive amounts of electrical energy are created, resulting in pretty much guaranteed lightning shows, usually around an hour after dusk (that explanation is no doubt over-simplistic, but it’s about as far as my understanding goes).  [For more information on this, check out this Reuters article - external link] It is the highest concentration of lightning anywhere in the world.  We spent two days staying with a British natural photographer who has documented the lightning for years and become quite the authority on it.

Catatumbo Lightning Lake Venezuela

He’s also built a floating house on the lake where guests can stay and during the day he would take us around the nearby floating villages, where we had the chance to meet some of the local villagers and present them with some gifts of food we’d brought with us.  In the evenings he cooked up a large steak barbecue, and then we’d sit on the balcony overlooking the lake with a few drinks and wait for the spectacle to start.  For hours the lightning would flash, at times intermittently but at others relentlessly; the sky would light up as sheet lightning leapt from cloud to cloud some ten miles above us – a distance so great that it became inaudible, giving it an eerie, almost apocalyptic quality, made even strager by the fact it wasn’t raining – it was a warm, balmy evening.  What made this even more impressive was that until I’d got to Venezuela and started doing some research, I had no idea at all this even existed.  If it was in Europe there’d probably be stadium seating and every night countless tour groups would be marched in, tickets in hand.  But here we were, on the edge of Lake Maracaibo and we had it all to ourselves.’Catatumbo Lightning Lake Venezuela

‘Overall I was surprised by Venezuela; I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but never thought it would be home to such varied and unique natural attractions; from the stunning tepuis of Canaima, through the astounding diversity of Los Llanos and then the remarkable lightning of Catatumbo, it was a destination that constantly challenged, dazed and enthralled me.’

Thanks to Nick for telling us about his time in Venezuela on our 92-day Rio to Quito via Manaus trip.  In a few days we are catching up to talk about Colombia, so we’ll be sure to get another blog up soon about that.

 

Posted in All Blogs.

Travel Dilemmas:Should I Haggle?

December 12, 2014

We like this article, about what to think about when you’re haggling and thought we should share it with you as it is something we are sometimes asked about on our trips.  Haggling is a good way to engage with local people and can be a fun part of the holiday experience, but people should remember that paying just a few pence or pounds more in the local market may not make much of a difference to you but will have an enormous benefit to the local street vendor in a developing country. Buying local goods in souks and markets is great fun and should be seen in that light – it’s not about bargains but part of the holiday experience and a way of giving something back to the local community. Remember you are on holiday – a luxury for most people on the planet.

If you like haggling and end up with a good bargain why not give the vendor a tip or something extra in return for the experience?

Thanks to Tourism Concern for letting us reproduce this article. Have a look at other interesting articles on their website.


 

 

 

 

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