Avoiding Canaima crowds
El Pauji, Venezuela
Avoiding Canaima crowds El Pauji Reviews
Jul 05, 2007
If you're fed up of going to supposedly 'wild' and 'remote' locations where the most common creature is a tourist then read on and be inspired by El Pauji.
July 2006. Having arrived into Caracas, caught the sun on Isla de Margarita and dived in the Parque Nacional Mochima, it was time for me to head inland to the South towards Ciudad Bolivar - the gateway to the Parque Nacional Canaima and the wondrous Angel Falls. My next planned highlight. Having bused for 12 hours from Puerto la Cruz, it became apparent on my arrival that it was thousands of other travellers' next destination too! Wanting a more 'remote' experience, I turned to my trusty 'Footprint South American Handbook'.
After exploring Ciudad Bolivar for the evening and the following day, an overnight bus took me East then South to the frontier town of Santa Elena de Uairen. It may be better known as the base location for expeditions to climb Mount Roraima. Tour groups operate from the town and there are several well equipped hostels nearby but I didn't want to hang around.
The bus had arrived at around 0600 so I had time to find my way to a small ticket office and secure a place in locals' 4 wheel drive transport departing at 0800 to the settlement of El Pauji, 80-90km to the South West of Santa Elena de Uairen and only a few kilometres from the Brazilian border. Baggage lashed to the roofrack, 1 driver, 11 other passengers and myself squeezed into the 1972 Toyota Landcruiser to begin our journey. Wooden bench seats flanked the rear and the 2 smallest passengers were crammed into the front passenger seat! The first 30 minutes of the journey were on smooth, paved road but having forged a path into the jungle, the paving disintegrated into dusty, rocky track.
90km may take you an hour on a highway in normal conditions. The guide books will tell you Santa Elena to El Pauji will take 2 and a half hours (in the dry season). I made the journey in the dry season and endured 4 hours of rocky, dusty road on a wooden bench in a jam-packed 34 year old Landcruiser! At some points the heavy rain from the wet season had completely washed away the road meaning precarious diversions into streams and small rivers. Eventually the jungle vegetation thinned and opened up to reveal glorious views of La Gran Sabana, a vast expanse of grassland covering the South-Eastern corner of Venezuela.
Aches and pains forgotten I hopped from the old-faithful Landcruiser (no breakdowns despite the unavoidable rough treatment!). I was still a couple of km from El Pauji but had decided to pitch tent at 'Campamento El Pauji' (recommended in the guide book and very cheap). Giving the driver and my sore-limbed companions a wave I headed on foot down the dusty driveway.
I was greeted by the owner and she informed me that the place was empty so I could pitch anywhere so I got to it, but after only a shortwhile I realised that the big ants would be an issue! I repacked the tent and rented a cabin from the owner (still incredibly cheap!). I settled in for my 5 day stay and quickly got used to the windowless shower view over La Gran Sabana (stunning!), the primitive building and the constant audible accompaniment of the Cicadas and Crickets which became the soundtrack to many of my videos!
Being around midday and intensely hot...and me being an Englishman (you know the saying) I struck out to pound the red dusty road for 3km to El Pauji. My first glimpse was from the top of a rise in the road - a tiny scattering of ramshackle dwellings in the lush green expanse of the grasslands. About half a kilometre further I could hear the thunderous pounding of water on rock and crossed a rickety bridge over an extremely fast flowing river rushing downstream to fuel some of the many waterfalls in the area, some of which I would later visit. Sweating all the way up the incline from the river, I passed what appeared to be a school on my right, a few builders working on some kind of new dwelling to my left and then a grocery store with a bench outside on which were parked a few barefooted children and several elderly villagers, sensibly hiding from the intense Sabana sun.
The road widened slightly, and the centre piece of El Pauji came into view. Nothing incredibly exciting, yet fitting for such a remote settlement - a junction of two roads, one heading South and the one I was on heading East to West, and at the junction another small store with a hatch serving ice-tea and a bid sleepy dog lounging in the shade. Also a small triangle of grass (the village green?!) with a few stray chickens pecking at the dirt. The quintessential South American scene!
In the store I stocked up on the basics for my stay and asked the shopkeeper for directions to the various points of interest highlighted in my guide book. I also found out that the annual Santa Elena to El Pauji mountain bike race was being held in 4 days time, giving me 3 days to explore in peace before the village would be transformed into a party town! Thanking him, I headed for home to plan tomorrow's activities.
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