Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Los Llanos

After Merida I left for los Llanos on another tour. What is los Llanos you say? Well according to wikipedia, it is a vast tropical grassland plain situated to the east of the Andes in Colombia and Venezuela. It is an eco-region of of the flooded grasslands and savannas Biome. 

Obviously I wanted to go there.



The jeep picked me up first since the German couple were outside of Merida. Along the way I spoke to our guide (Juan) about life in Venezuela. Questions like why is petrol so ridiculously cheap? Why is there a toilet paper shortage? Why are there so many teen girls with babies here? Is educating women not a priority? 

He had some interesting answers like Latinos are basically all really horny and that’s why there are so many teenage mothers cos the kids can’t keep their hands off each other. 

Ok...

But most teenagers are pretty horny and teenage pregnancy is not out of control in Australia (except maybe in Summer Bay). This led to me to education question. Maybe girls think they have no other opportunities beyond motherhood? Makes sense, cos in my opinion women get a shit deal in South America. Not as shit as women in most Muslim countries, but it is like being in the 1970s in terms of sexism. There is not a lot of respect for women here (in the poorer South American countries anyway) and few women seem to hold professional roles (that I've noticed). Juan said that education is not really a priority for the government. It seems that if they can keep people uninformed, uneducated and poor and throw them a few bolivars (like at teenage girls for having kids) or rolls of toilet paper, they will keep voting for them. Hmm, that is not really how you get a country off the poverty line. 

Another favourite thing I have heard is that Venezuela should be so rich cos they produce so much oil. People here really believe the oil will last for generations and seem to have no concept of "peak oil" and that it is a non-renewable resource which will only get more expensive and difficult to extract. Here, oil’s thought of the like the Magic Pudding. I think this is why they produce nothing else, because the people have been led to believe that oil has, and will continue to solve all their problems. Not that most people in this country are benefiting from oil sales mind you.

Anyway enough about that. Back to los Llanos. Getting there took all day (of course) but we did go through some amazing scenery crossing the Andes. I have been in the Andes in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and now Venezuela. I love it every time.





This gorgeous stone church is on the front cover of an old version of Venezuela’s Lonely Planet. Apparently it was built by just one guy. That's commitment. 


By the time we arrived at the ranch in los Llanos it was about 10pm. Around the ranch you could see thousands of fireflies lighting up the area. Amazing. I've never seen so many. We also stopped for a caiman in the middle of the road.


Dinner was ready when we got there and it was pretty good. I had told them I was vegan and what that meant and the ladies in the kitchen didn't disappoint. The food was excellent. Along with the arepas (which are much better here than Colombia by the way) they also made me vegan pancakes for breakfast! So good. Also los Llanos is where I discovered my favourite Venezuelan dish. It is a pancake made out of fresh ground sweet corn, sugar and salt. I'm told it's called a torreja and it is so delicious. Completely vegan unless you smother it with cheese and butter, which they like to do.

There are a lot of chickens running around the ranch. I like this one. 



She looks like she got wet then someone held her out a car window while driving to dry. But hopefully that isn't what really happened.

On the first morning we did a horse ride for a few hours. I am a bit iffy about horse riding over here cos some horses look really thin and overworked but the owners pimp them out to tourists anyway. I would refuse to ride a horse that was in need of a serious feed and some veterinary care. These horses however looked healthy.


Unlike these horses.


Like most young girls I loved horses as a child and used to ride when I could. It turns out though, my thighs and arse do not have muscle memory and after a few hours in the saddle I was sore. But the horse ride was really good and I really liked my horse. We bonded. Along the way we saw a lot of beautiful birds, buffaloes and caimans. 








In the afternoon the others went piranha fishing. I didn’t want to miss out so I went with them but went for a walk instead. I got to see turtles and I was happy. Turtles are so cool.

In the evening the Germans and I decided to go caiman spotting in the dark. Near the front gate (so about 100 metres away) we found four. One was on the driveway. The other three were in flood water around the gate. Luckily the guy is a detective who had a very good detective's torch (unlike my shit one that doesn't light up anything. Fail.) and he could find them before we became their dinner. Not that I think they’d attack people. I know that fresh water crocs in Oz don’t usually attack things bigger than them. These seem of a similar size so I’m guessing it’s the same. Plus I told his fiance (who was very scared) that humans are faster on land (I think I learnt that from Steve Irwin.)  It’s in the water where they have the advantage. Anyway, the caiman spotting lasted all of about 10 minutes before we decided it might be a bit risky out there and went back inside.

The next day we took a boat ride.



More birds and quite a few iguanas.





 

Then we found the pink dolphins. They are difficult little buggers to photograph because the water is dark from the tannins from rotting vegetation. They are hard to spot until they actually come out of the water.





Boaconstrictor.




In the afternoon we went on a jeep safari to look for giant things including capybaras (which are the world's biggest rodent - basically a giant guinea pig), giant anteaters and anacondas. You could sit on the roof if you wanted but it looked unsafe to me. However, despite being illegal, CSI Berlin decided that when in Venezuela, it's ok to sit on the roof of a car while in motion.



Anacondas are difficult to see in the wet season but Juan said they found one on the last tour before ours, so not impossible. Here is one of the other guides poking around in the swamp for anacondas. 

He really wanted to find one. 

I really wanted him to find one.


He didn't find one.

We also didn’t see the giant anteaters, which was disappointing. So here is a photo from google of what I missed.



However, we saw heaps of capybaras and they are cool.






Capybaras swim really well too. I asked if the caimans eat them but the guys said not usually cos they can really hurt the caiman if they bite. Respect.

More birds.




Love this one.




Los Llanos is generally better to visit in the dry season. Less water means the animals are more concentrated around the rivers so you can see a lot more. However, Angel Falls is much better in the wet season so basically you need to trade one off for the other, or come twice. Anyway I was happy with my experience and what I did see. The bird life here is amazing. I got to see pink dolphins finally, and the capybaras are really cool. Obviously I would have liked to see an anaconda and the giant anteater, but these are wild animals and you cannot make them appear.

Overall, it was a pretty awesome few days and I’m glad I did it.

Next stop: Coro.

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