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Henri Pittier National Park (Venezuela)

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Country: Venezuela / Region: South America

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      02.04.2010 13:08
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      A beautiful place on earth

      Parque Nacional Henri Pittier is a truly beautiful place on earth however for me I found it hard to really enjoy my four days trekking there as it was some of the hardest trekking I have ever endured and it was only meant to be out acclimatisation trek however for me it was a tougher experience than the five days we spent in the Andes.

      Located in the north east of Venezuela Henri Pittier was the first national park in the country and it runs right into the Caribbean coastal waters and as such for many people it is the beaches that they experience. We too got to couple of days on an idyllic beach however first we had a four day hike through the hilly jungle terrain with three nights of camping thrown in for good measure. The launch point for our trip was Maracay which is a fairly typical Venezuelan state capital and really does not have a lot to offer other than a place for us to meet up with our three guides and purchase supplies to last us for the four day trek.

      I must say that I would not want to navigate this mountainous region without guides as at times our rather strapping young men were pulling out their mighty weapons and cutting a path through the jungle, also you need a guide who knows where the safe water supplies are as on one of our overnight stays we were deep in the jungle and not at a recognised camp site however it was a place where there was a very small, well hidden water spring from which we could stock up. Anyway Carlos and his mighty machete are a subject of hero worship for me as without him I doubt I would have got out of the place alive, if you sense a certain amount of homo erotic hero worship well Carlos could switch many a straight male in my opinion.

      The park is most famous for its wildlife and in particular the bird life. Over 600 species in fact which according to the guide book accounts for 43% of the bird species found in Venezuela and 7% of all the birds known in the world, in all I reckon I saw four species the whole time I was in the jungle if you do not count the time at the beach, it was not that I could not hear them it was just that the overgrowth was so dense and I was in head down slogging my way through the uneven slippy ground with a pack on my back and sweat coursing down my face.

      It is a stunningly beautiful place with rich colours of varying degrees of green and then bright splashes of colour from the many varied plants and flowers, at times it is breath taking and then at others I felt like I was breathing my last. The trekking started easily enough with a climb up to about 1,000 metres on day one on what was a gentle undulating track through a wooded area and a nice spacious overnight camp. Day two was a lot tougher as we climbed to just over 2,000 metres and this included some very steep sections and the humidity was high and a scorching sun was beating down on you in the exposed areas. The mountains were absolutely stunning and we saw some birds of prey flying above although the group cynic did wonder about vultures and us being dinner. In all we covered about 16km over tough terrain.

      The campsite however on that second night at Helechal was quite superb, an expanse of flat land jutting out with steep cliffs on either side and views out across the valley where as night fell you could pick out the odd farmers home. There were trees and a couple of boarded up huts that provided shelter, Carlos again played the hero by stringing up his hammock seemingly over the cliff edge however this was a trick as the ground fell away below gently however even he abandoned it when the wind picked up. There were two working taps and a bricked area to cook around and it was a beautiful and awe inspiring location.

      Day three was the day from hell, 25km in tough undulating jungle terrain where effectively we ascended almost to sea level, it was incredibly tough on knee and ankle joints, I always prefer climbing to descending, the heat was oppressive and it was a real ordeal, we also had torrential rain storms and a river crossing to cope with, in the end we fell 4km short of our objective and had to camp in the jungle with tents crammed along the path. Looking back it is one of those never to forget experiences but at the time I had a fever, was getting eaten alive and felt thoroughly miserable.

      The next day however was one of highs, we reached our original intended campsite in time for breakfast and then three hours later came to a wonderful flat river crossing where we literally kicked our boots off and waded into the cold clear water, it was truly heavenly and the best boost to group morale you can imagine.

      An hour later we arrived in the small coastal town of Chuao Town, the first part of the town is inland and while there we chartered a truck to carry us all at breakneck speed the four km to the coastal part of the town, it was a crazy journey but we could smell the sea air and the promise of some beach time. Arriving we negotiated with a local cafe owner on the beach to camp for free next to his restaurant with no obligation to eat there however of course on the first night we did and I enjoyed the best meal of my whole trip, a large red snapper, cooked to perfection with rice, beans and coleslaw washed down with a cold beer, pure heaven and at under a fiver a real bargain. That night I slept the sleep of the fatigued going to sleep to the soft lullaby of the breaking waves.

      The beach at Chuao Town can only be reached by boat unless you hike in; there are no roads out of the place. It is a beautiful natural harbour with a tree lined coast and golden white sands. The only downside are the large number of stray dogs who sleep on the beach, we were the only foreigners there at the time, the rest of the visitors were Venezuelans although a German couple did appear one of the days and shared a drink with us. There are a number of restaurants and cafes as well as a couple of posadas.

      We left by boat which was an adrenalin packed trip as the three boast we chartered raced against each other across the sea for what was a 30 minute journey to Choroni where we hired a bus to take us back to Maracuay.

      I have to say that Henri Pittier was an experience, not necessarily one that I would want to do again as I incurred some long term damage to my knee during the descent however it was a stunningly beautiful place with some fantastic vegetation and mountain views. The one thing I cannot give you is the cost of the whole trip as it was part of a five week trip around Venezuela and this was one of the pre-paid components however the guide fees worked out at about $1,800 for the four days in the park, the day in Maracuay and the travelling back day. I have to say that the guides were brilliant; they facilitated the changing of money on the black market at an excellent rate and also helped when one of the group needed medical care after getting a fever. There are easier ways to see the park and experience its varied wildlife and I would recommend not spending the whole time on the beach as you would be missing out on a major experience if you did.

      Thanks for reading and rating my review.

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