What do Venezuelan anglers and guitar heroes have in common?
As I found out one sunny afternoon on the Orinoco river, it's their technique. Our guides Ales and Chendo had taken my wife Helen and me to catch some piranhas for supper. The boat was moored near the riverbank as purple bora reeds floated by and macaws screeched overhead. We had long sticks with pieces of twine, a hook and a piece of white meat, and were obediently thrashing the makeshift rods around to make maximum noise and attract the fish. Helen caught a small red piranha; I snagged a bush and the bottom of the boat.
We were staying at the Orinoco Delta Lodge as the centrepiece of our week in Venezuela. The lodge welcomes you with a generous open reception area incorporating a bar and kitchen, with pillars painted a random selection of navy blue, turquoise, banana yellow and strawberry pink. Red floor tiles lead out to raised walkways with cabañas on stilts on either side.
Our back door opened onto the river; one step would put us in the water. Another unusual feature was that we were staying next door to a puma. Like the opposite of a Victorian child, the puma wasn’t seen much – she spent the day padding through the undergrowth in her cage – but we heard her alright. Her foghorn snoring was part of a cabaret featuring a chorus of frogs and insects; a pack of dogs; well-named howler monkeys; and, in the early morning, cockerels.
When daytime came, Helen and I went for a jungle walk. Heavy rain made wellies essential for staying upright. As we squelched ahead, Chendo cleared a path with a machete while Ales demonstrated his agility by climbing liana vines.
We also had the chance to visit a local school, across the river from the Lodge. This was a school for younger children of the Warao tribe who were learning to read and write Spanish. At break time, the children played a form of marbles with large white dice, or jumped against the netting walls, giggling and shouting.
We made two other stops in Venezuela. It is sometimes described as a Latin American country with a Caribbean beat. You can see this in Ciudad Bolívar, where Land Cruisers meander past the colourful colonial buildings, playing merengue or calypso at full blast, and stilt walkers lead the locals out of Plaza Bolívar in festive processions. The passion in Caracas, the capital, is more political. As we travelled to the impressive Hotel Gran Melia Caracas where we were staying, we saw street demonstrations, for and against Hugo Chavez, the controversial President.
But our strongest memories will be of the Delta: cruising along the river, stopping to view plants or howler monkeys or egrets; visitors to a strange and beautiful land.
By Neil Matthews, Travel Writer.