The Prow of Roraima
Saturday 4th March
Departed London Heathrow for Caracas via Miami.
Sunday 5th March
After delays in Miami, I finally arrived in Caracas after midnight. A not-so-funny thing happened on my way from the airport to Caracas. Anyone visiting Venezuela should now be advised, on arrival at Caracas Airport, to take an proper accredited taxi (if possible one of the white ones with yellow and black square patterning on the sides), and refuse to get into any "taxi" with two men sitting in the front or where there is any doubt about the situation. In the arrivals hall at the airport, visitors emerging from the customs area are hassled by both genuine taxi drivers and others posing as taxi drivers. Even the genuine ones are liable to charge a lot more than they should. I had arranged to be collected by a friend from the airport, but because my flight had been delayed, I was not surprised by the approach of a strange Venezuelan, in the "arrivals" hall who claimed that my friend had had car problems and that he was collecting me instead. As there was no sign of my friend I had no reason to disbelieve him, and I was not on my usual guard to sort out genuine taxis from those which are not. So, being a private arrangement, I found myself in a car with two men and the ride to Caracas turned into a nightmare. Arriving in a foreign country, one is immediately vulnerable. Of course you have all your important documents, credit cards, money, perhaps a computer, camera etc. And you are probably tired, looking forward to good night's sleep in a comfortable hotel bed. In my case, it was the middle of the night, so the roads were quiet. En route, I was chatting to the two men, but quite suddenly the one who was not driving threatened me with a long knife and they demanded that I give them all of my money. When I refused, things became very ugly. They pulled off the main road, drove up a side alley and announced that unless I gave them what they wanted they would cut my throat. They were jabbing the knife into my chest with increasing pressure, and things did not look too good. I could probably have run from the car, but I would have lost my bags. I thought I might lose everything - not only money, but computer, cameras, all my notes for this important trip, as well as passport, ticket, and credit cards. What a nightmare! I also thought I might be badly injured, or worse. I tried to call their bluff but in the end, I managed to escape out of the door with my bags on to the road side, having given them a lot, but not all, of my cash. I think I was lucky. As their car drove away I managed to get most of the registration number and commit it to memory; but there I was, at one o'clock in the morning, by the roadside with my bags and no cash! I walked for a while and then I was stopped by a genuine taxi driver who, having heard my story, offered to take me to the hotel for free. Truly a kind Samaritan! The next day I made a statement to the police. It was so sad to see that Caracas has turned into such a dangerous place. What I experienced has now become commonplace - everyone I speak to has either been attacked and robbed themselves, or they know someone who has been. It could happen to anyone. One story I heard told of an American scientist visiting one of the Caracas Universities. Like me, he arrived late at night, and made a poor choice when it came to taxis. An hour later, he was left by the roadside completely naked, having lost his money, watch, baggage and all of his clothing. With murders in Caracas running at a rate of a hundred per week, it is only a matter of time before a tourist or visitor will be killed. When stories like these find their way to the outside world it is not surprising that the tourism industry in Venezuela is flagging. The happy end to my own story is that I found the mugger's car at the airport a week later when I went to pick up Alex Gregory. I rounded up five armed policemen and together we staked out the car for an hour until the muggers appeared with another victim. As they were piling him into their car, we jumped on them, found the knife between the seats (where I said it would be), arrested the criminals and saved one foreigner from a nasty experience. I didn't get my money back but I did get a lot of satisfaction!!
Monday 6th March
Having recovered from my ordeal on arrival in Venezuela, I made contact with my friend Clemencia Rodner, who is President of the Audubon Society. Together we made a plan for the ensuing days during which time I needed to talk to key people who may be able to help in obtaining the necessary permits for our film project.
Tuesday 7th March
Made contact with British Embassy, and with Antonio Casado who may act as our Local Co-ordinator.
Wednesday 8th March
Meeting at British Embassy, and local scientists.
Thursday 9th March
Meeting at the Venezuelan Film Commission, who can issue us with a general permit to film in Venezuela.
Friday 10th March
Preparation of documents and translation into Spanish.
Saturday 11th March
Alex Gregory, the Executive Producer of the "Living Edens" series for PBS, arrived this evening from Los Angeles. We arrest the muggers. : )
Sunday 12th March
Introduction of Alex to key contacts.
Monday 13th March
Meeting at local TV station.
Tuesday 14th March
Meeting at InParques, the governing body for National Parks in Venezuela, in the presence of representatives of the British Embassy. Delivered documents relating to the film outline and my past experience both in English and in Spanish, plus supporting letters of recommendation from scientists held in high regard in Venezuela. We were informed that InParques normally charges a fee of US Dollars $600 per day for filming and for that price we would not be permitted to set foot on any of the Tepuis. They agreed however to look at our documentation and to give our proposal due consideration. (And so started six months of negotiating before we could obtain the permits we needed).
Wednesday 15th March
After a very early start, we flew south to Canaima in order to show Alex a sample of the Tepui landscape. It was quite a long flight in the old and slow DC3, and very cloudy so we did not really see very much during the flight, but it cleared during the afternoon. There's a flight planned for tomorrow morning to overfly Auyantepui and see Angel Falls, then we'll return to Caracas on Friday.
Thursday 16th March
We started this morning with a flight in the DC3 to Angel Falls; there was a lot of cloud but the Falls were clear and magnificent, even though the volume of water was not great (it's still the dry season here). On returning to camp we located the pilot of Cessna 206 and hired him for one hour's flying this afternoon for US $250. The weather in the afternoon was much better, and the views were clearer. We flew around the cliffs, over the summit plateau, saw the place where Jimmie Angel landed, and saw the ascent point, after which we landed at a small airstrip on the far side (Uruyen) which will make a great base camp for us. I took GPS way points for Uruyen and Jimmie Angel's crash site. After returning here to Canaima, we chatted to the pilot over some beers - I asked him about the possibility of hiring a plane for a month which we could fly ourselves and it seems it could be possible with a Cessna 206 based here at Canaima. We are going to investigate this tomorrow morning.
Friday 17th March
Finished fact finding work at Canaima, then boarded DC-3 for the flight back to Caracas.
Saturday 18th March
Alex departed for Los Angeles; I departed for London, via Miami.
Sunday 19th March
Arrived London Heathrow.