Ian Wright travels to Venezuela, the country where Columbus first set foot on South American soil. Venezuelans have been voted the world’s happiest people – and who could blame them for being chipper, living as they do in a country that has mountains, rainforests and savannas, and where petrol is cheaper than water.
Ian starts his journey in the Andes. Home to the country’s five highest peaks which souring to heights exceeding 15,000 feet, the state of Meridas is known as the roof of Venezuela. Ian takes a cable car to the top of a mountain – it’s the unashamedly easy option, but he finds an even faster way down again, paragliding! He then sets out to explore Meridas. It’s a university town, and the lively student nightlife also attracts the backpackers.
From Meridas Ian heads south by bus to Hato Pinero, a vast 500 square mile ranch situated in the flat grasslands that cover almost a third of the country. This is Venezuela’s answer to the Wild West, and it’s inhabited by the Yanieros, some of the toughest cowboys on the planet. Ian thinks he could learn a thing or two from these guys, whose ancestors fought the Spanish in the wars of independence and who are famed for their strength and bravery. He helps out Ian helps out with the cattle round-upwith the cattle round-up, then rides off around the ranch hoping to encounter some of the wildlife that thrives there. He’s not disappointed – crocodiles and piranhas are just some of the creatures who call Hato Pinero home. But it’s not until the following day that he teams up with a local biologist and goes in search of the most fearsome inhabitant of all: the anaconda. Growing up to ten metres long weighing more than a grisly bear, anacondas have been known to eat humans, crush a man to death before swallowing him head first. He also joins in a water buffalo race, as he comes in last he realises this isn’t one of his strong points!
From Hato Pinero Ian heads to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela where a quarter of the country’s population lives. He stops off en route in the small town of Chivacoa, the centre of a religious cult sacred to Maria Lionsa, the nature goddess. Cult members make a pilgrimage to a nearby river where they perform a fire-dancing ceremony to invoke the spirits, to the accompaniment of beating drums, candles and cigar smoke.
Caracas is nestled between two beautiful mountain ranges. After oil was discovered in Venezuela in the 1920s the capital city became a boom town and a thriving metropolis. Ian is lucky enough to hook up with the reigning Miss Venezuela, who shows him around town. Venezuela has won more Miss World competitions than any other country, and it’s probably because they start them so young. Ian visits a beauty school which teaches girls to be beauty queens from the ago of eight, and picks some modelling tips for himself.
Not far from Caracas is Los Roques, an archipelago of 300 sun kissed islands, coral reefs and sand bars of the North coast. It’s a favorite sea-side haunt of stars such as Bruce Willis and Sunset at Los RoquesLeonardo Di Caprio and since it was designated a national park in 1972 flights here have been restricted, which means it never gets too crowded.
From Los Roques Ian flies south to the rainforest region of Gran Sabana. The area is also known as the Lost World because of it’s strange pre-historic landscapes, where some people even claim to have seen dinosaurs. He embarks on a 3 day boat trip down river from Kamorata, through the rapids of Devil’s Canyon. For the final part of his trip he has to trek through the rainforest to reach Angel Falls, the world’ tallest waterfall. Sixteen times higher than Niagara Falls, three times the height of the Empire state building, measuring over 1,000 metres in length, it was named after an American pilot called Jimmy Angels, who was looking for gold in the area and got his plane stuck on the top of the mountain. He became part of local legend, and his ethereal sounding name became forever linked with this magical place at the end of Ian’s journey route through Venezuela.