June 2002

ihana.com - big trip - diary - venezuela - june 2002


The black squiggles are the birds!

The way in

Fallen birds...

...dont last long

Thursday 20 June - Friday 21 June

After disembarking the ferry at Puerto Cruz, we headed southeast towards the largest cave in Venezuela, Guacharo, with the intention of getting there by sunset to witness the main residents of the cave who gave it its name, sightless oil birds, exit for their nocturnal activities.

We got there in time after driving through some super scenery in Mochima National Park. The resident guide at the cave, first discovered and studied by the German scientist Humbolt in the 18th century, was friendly and let us camp right at the entrance for $3, which in true Venezuelan campsite style, we never paid. As dusk fell the strange squawking and clicking sounds, used as a type of sonar similar to bats, we'd been hearing from above started to get louder as more of the birds gathered at the entrance to the cave. We stood under the arched entranceway as the birds flocked out above us, trying to get a decent picture but there wasn't enough light.

Messages from centuries ago


Pale plants grow on the piles of bird waste

Gerr'off my land


ihana.com, what is that?

Next day we took a tour partway into the cave, which is 10.5kms long. In the first large chamber the floor is covered with bird droppings and seeds from the fruit that the birds bring back to eat at home, which makes the path a bit slippy, like walking on pooey marbles. The little stream running through the cave makes the air moist and a bit dank with many insects. In the wet season the stream turns into a raging torrent and tours are not possible, at one point on the cave wall there is a clear tide mark above head height.

The oil birds perch in every available ledge and cranny, filling the air with strange sounds, occassionally they fall (or get pushed?) and we saw three birds of various ages shivering weakly on the ground, wings useless, awaiting their inevitable fate. Other residents we found were sightless rats and mice, strange spiders plus black crabs who think they are well hard.

Passing deeper inside through a narrow passage just big enough to crawl through, the environment was quite different. The birds can't penetrate this far into the cave so its much quieter with better air quality and no insects or mulch on the ground, but still the continuous dripping of stalagtite-forming water comes from above. All the way along the cave are interesting stalag formations, one looked like the leaning Tower of Pisa, another cast a shadow which is supposed to look like a saint, there weren't any white Jag shaped ones though. Unfortunately a lot of them have been broken off over the years. At one point on the roof of the cave is some graffiti from the 18th century, written by the original explorers of the system or perhaps by some kids last month.



The way out

Soon we reached the end of the tourist part of the cave, permission from the authorities is needed to enter the bowels, usually of interest only to geology students or people with excessive facial hair. All in all an interesting trip, caves are much more interesting when there are things living in them.


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