11/21/2016 10:15 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Birds, Lagoons and Cataracts of Canaima National Park: Vaulting in Venezuela on the Looney Front, Part 2

Forget about Hitchcock's horror film The Birds and the violent attacks the murderous crows and seagulls perpetrate on California. I'm under assault by an ornery black toucan in Venezuela.


Jeez, in the country that's the world capital of crime, with soaring-up-through-the-heavens murder statistics to turn Chicago or Rio green with envy, and humongous hosts of human muggers to boot, I go and get mugged by a bird!

All I was doing was sitting quietly in the splendid gardens of the Waku Lodge on the banks of Canaima lagoon, tapping away at my computer, when a much noisier tapping and a broad yellow and deep red beak begins castanet-ing right next my left ear, its claws gently poised on my shoulder. Talk about an albatross around your neck.



He's quite tame although not a captive. He's wild and can fly away any time he wants. But the lodge feeds him and whole troupes - or is that troops - of brilliant scarlet, blue, yellow and green macaws and yellow-headed green parrots. They're all wild, but they know where the money, or rather food, is.




Unlike Hitchcock's Birds, these fellows are friendly critters; they're not going to bite the hand that feeds them, after all, although there's a good bit of impatient cawing.



My toucan just won't go away. He's doing a fandango on the glass top table, clacking his huge beak, tapping his feet away, staring at me out of his blue-circled eyes, first the right one, then the left, twisting his beak in rather combative mode. He has a bright orange and yellow bum, too.




Now he's pecking at my shirt. Finding nothing there, he starts pecking at the keyboard. Gawd, I wonder if he's going to tap out a message - I AM HUNGRY! GIVE ME FOOD!

Well, two can (Oh, Gawd, what an awful pun!) play at that game; I make beak noises, shout 'git off' - and beat a hasty retreat to the open sided lounge. Parrots are flitting from arm rest to human shoulder to inanimate table as guests partake of an afternoon snack. A gigantic macaw is waddling over the floor, cursing me for running out of food for him.


They really are magnificent creatures. The parrots swarm the dining room at breakfast time, making a buggering nuisance of themselves, while the macaws, some of whose species can live to over 100, show off in pure ostentation. Talk about peacocks. These are flashing their red bodies and sprawling their brilliant blue wings in droplets from the lawn water sprays.






Canaima is principally known as the gateway to Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall, several hours upstream through the jungle by small boat.

But it's also a worthy destination in its own right, not only for our multicoloured feathered friends, but for its magnificent natural scenery of rich green savannah, a lagoon facing small but powerful waterfalls, and hikes to the villages of the indigenous Pemón people.






You can only reach it by small planes that take about an hour from Puerto Ordaz or Ciudad Bolívar, or by pioneering a mammoth overland hike with guides that take Lord alone knows how many days.

High-walled table-top mesas, known here by the Pemón word tepuy, and craggy mountain battlements prop up the sky on the horizon with soaring buttresses.


Narrow open wooden boats with outboard motors ply the lagoon, a placid sheet of water with no navigable exit, to waterfalls tumbling down the rocky bluffs on the opposite shore - only a couple dozen or so feet high but pretty impressive as they pound down from a small table top.





Now, can somebody, anybody, please tell me how I've managed to put my lifebelt on back to front, almost throttling myself?

We disembark and clamber up rock steps over slime slippery crags to a narrow rocky path half way up the Hacha Falls. Here you can don your bathing suit and walk behind and under the plummeting torrent.


Well, having already celebrated 80 candles, I decide that this is indeed a disaster waiting to happen, a catastrophe foretold, the annunciation of Armageddon. I can see it already: crazy old crank slips on slimey crags and plummets to death with plummeting waterfall.

So whiney little bitch that I am, I leave it to my Venezuelan hearties to brave the waves, or rather torrent. A tawny yellow butterfly flits past, dipping its wings in salute to my cowardice.



Of course, my slow-reacting ham-handed fingers miss it when I try to record it, almost sending the bloody camera careening into the waterfall.

Likewise with a gorgeous electric blue morpho that followes, then a couple of iridescent violet and golden brown cousins. Now a bright red one, a white, and a large yellow join in the semaphore of flashing colours as the sun gilds the multitudinous shades of green. I miss them all.

The others return from behind the torrential curtain to selfie paradise. They declare it the most spectacular experience of their lives. Oh, shut up, will you!


From here, there are plenty of pleasant short hikes - skirting the lake shore to sandy beaches, crossing the savannah past a traditional Pemón village built for a film, topping a ridge for a magnificent panorama of tepuys, valley, jungle and river far below, and moving on to Sapo Falls, for another walk behind the watery curtain when it's in spate.





Well, today it's not in spate, and of course if it was, I'd be reprising my whining little bitch act.






[Upcoming blog next Sunday: Venezuela's Margarita Island, self-anointed Pearl of the Caribbean]


By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.

Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist, available on Kindle, with free excerpts here, and in print version on Amazon in the U.S here.