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Tobago - Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela - Canaima
9 - 11 May

Our departure from Crown Point airport Tobago was a breeze. Yvon knew the duty officer well and we went smoothly through customs and immigration; and the landing and parking fee was a reasonable 26 US$. Refuelling was efficient and not too expensive at 0.78 US$ per liter.

The climb out was a very close encounter with another aircraft taking off behind us. We had filed a flight plan by fax following the airway to Port of Spain, Trinidad (POS on chart) and then direct to a beacon in Venezuela called TUC and then following an airway to Ciudad Guayana (GNA). As the air traffic controllers like to have a handover point, I had entered a waypoint (WP1 on chart) at the FIR boundary between Piarco UIR/FIR (Trinidad) and Maiquetia  UIR/FIR (Venezuela) at 1000N06140W. When I called Crown Point tower to verify that they had received the flight plan, I was asked why I wanted to pass via POS (Port of Spain) VOR and whether I would like to go direct to the FIR boundary waypoint 1000N06140W. I said that I would go direct to any waypoint that pleased them. Strange question as POS is on the way to 1000N06140W (WP1) anyhow!

When ready for take-off at runway 11 I was given the clearance Crown Point direct to 1000N6140W and then as filed, climb to and maintain FL100 (10'000 feet). I read back the clearance and was given a readback correct. The take-off clearance included a left turn-out which I questioned as the most direct turn to 1000N06140W would be a right 120 degree turn. The left turn was confirmed. So we took off and did a left 240 degree turn over the airport before heading to 1000N06140W (WP1on map). Another aircraft  behind us was cleared to FL60 (6'000 feet) and given a take-off clearance. Some time later the female tower controller asked me for my track to 1000N06140W. Crown Point  is a non-radar environment. We confirmed 230 direct to 1000N06140W which is not very much different from the 233 degree track to POS.

Then she must have realised her mistake. She asked us to immediately turn right to a heading of 270 until reaching FL70. Too late! Shortly after, the departing traffic behind us (probably the Tobago to Trinidad turboprop shuttle which was level at FL60 and which was much faster than us) reported a close encounter with a Mooney climbing through his level of FL60. The traffic behind us was obviously headed for POS. We did not see the other traffic as he was behind us. We were then handed over to Piarco control (Trinidad). They questioned what clearance we had been given by Crown Point tower and we confirmed that we were given direct 1000N06140W and climb to FL100. The mistake was obviously due to the fact that the Crown Point tower controller thought that direct to 1000N06140W was in a totally different direction to the direction to POS so by clearing us direct to 1000N06140W she would separate us from the following traffic. During the climbout we were mostly in the clouds, so the following  plane could very  easily have hit us due to the tower controller's mistake. Scary!!!

Our ultimate destination of the day was Canaima where we wanted to visit Angel Falls (the highest in the world), but we already met our guardian angel in Ciudad Guayana.  With amazing luck, we landed just after another Mooney, piloted by its owner Sr. Hector Tello.   Hector befriended us immediately and helped smooth the way at the Despacho de Vuelos with the guy who collects the landing fees and the customs and immigration officials, even convincing the customs official that he shouldn't charge us for coming to the airport specially for us.

We took photos in front of our planes and exchanged addresses.   Then Hector, who was in an important management position at EDELCA (Electrificación del Caroni) - the national hydroelectric company - invited us to land at EDELCA's private airport at Macagua, four miles away from the main airport, on our return from Canaima.  We would be his guests at the Hotel Macagua, a private hotel for the employees of EDELCA.

Our 55-minute flight to Canaima took us over the artificial lake of Guri which exists since 1964 when the dam of the Caroni river was completed. With at total power of 10'000 MW, the Guri hydroelectric power plant must be amongst the largest in the world. There was not a road anywhere in sight.  The only way to reach Canaima is by air and, possibly, by river.  On the approach to Canaima the country became mountainous and we had a magnificent view of several falls above the Lago de Canaima just before landing.

At the sweet little airport of Canaima, we were greeted by an official of the national park and a guide who helped carry our luggage to the hotel, which was only about 4 minutes walk away.  This was the nearest we have parked our plane to a hotel on the whole trip!  Even on Maupiti Island in French Polynesia, there was a short boat ride to Chez Janine.

The guide suggested that we take a full-day excursion on the river the next day to visit the Angel Falls.  We were surprised and delighted as we thought that the falls could only be reached by river during the wet season which begins in June.   He told us there had been more rain than usual and the water level was high enough to do the trip by boat.  Strange things seem to be happening to the weather this year.   Throughout Mexico and the Caribbean, people had been saying the same thing.   So that was our second piece of luck of the day.  We left our bags in our room and headed to the bar overlooking the Lago de Canaima and several waterfalls.  We sat back and enjoyed the view while we sipped rum punches until sunset.

It was a long trip to the Angel Falls the next day, taking us 12 hours roundtrip, but well worth it.  Our bums got rather sore from sitting on the hard wooden seat of the motorized dug-out canoe for 4 hours upstream and 3 hours downstream, but there were walks in between which provided some relief as well as some welcome exercise.  There was a half-hour walk to avoid the worse of the rapids.   While we walked, the skilled boatman got the canoe over them and met us the other side. 

There were plenty more rapids later on which provided a good deal of excitement and some screams from a young Venezuelan girl until she got used to it.   The boatman skilfully guided the boat between the rocks at an amazing speed.   He had to be quick to get  us to the falls and back in one day.  From the boat we spotted a turtle resting on a conveniently flat rock near the bank and several species of bird, including a falcon, a huge royal eagle, kingfishers, parrots flying in pairs and long-legged birds called garsa in Spanish.  Will have to look up the English name when we get the chance.

The last hour to the falls was on foot, taking us through thick rain forest decked with exposed roots.  We stopped at a mirador to admire the highest falls in the world - with a free fall of 987 metres.  Then we continued uphill to a bathing pool beneath them.   It was quite precarious scrambling over the slippery rocks to reach the pool, but we were determined to be 'baptised'.

We got back to the hotel just before sunset, tired but happy with the day, to find that our guardian angel had been working for us again.  The hotel manager greeted us with a message from an engineer from EDELCA, called Alex Luces.   Apparently Hector Tello had phoned the head of the company in Macagua, Sr. Zurita who, in turn, had asked Alex Luces to show us around the small (800 kW) hydroelectric power station in Canaima.  Alex met us later at the hotel and we arranged to visit the power station early the following afternoon.

The next morning we  made a short excursion to Sapo Falls (named after the many toads that inhabit them in the afternoons).  These falls are unique in that one can walk behind the curtain of water the whole way across them.   Most of the way one only gets a little spray but at one point you get a refreshing shower with full water pressure!

Back at the hotel, we hurried to the plane to take off on a scenic flight to Angel Falls. The best time to see them is in the morning when the light shines on them.  Luck was with us again as they were even more in the clear than the day before.  I should add here that the falls were not named by one of the missionaries.  They  were 'discovered' by Jimmy Angel, an American jungle pilot, in 1937.  Of course, the Indians who lived in the area had discovered them a long way back.

Young Alex Luces gave us an interesting tour of the hydroelectric power station.  The station only caters for the local population so they only need a limited power supply.  They have therefore preserved 99.5 per cent of the fall and tucked the station away in a discreet corner.  Normally there is only one technician on duty at Canaima, but our visit happened to fall on the one week of the year when Alex and other colleagues fly by helicopter to Canaima to do an annual maintenance job.   Another piece of luck! 

Flying in and out of Canaima is totally hassle-free.  No need to file a flight plan or pay any landing or parking fee.  You just call up on the radio to announce your intentions.  We took off for Macagua at about 4 p.m.  The sky looked a bit threatening to me, but Flemming assured me conditions were OK.  We were flying VFR so just had to find a hole in the clouds before descending on the approach to Macagua.  Hector had flown home the day we met him and returned to Macagua just in order to greet us there.  He drove us to the very pleasant hotel which is for the exclusive use of employees of EDELCA.  The receptionist welcomed us and handed us the key to our room.

Later Hector drove us into town to his club where he invited us to a gourmet meal.  Afterwards, he took us to the house of a friend where a party to celebrate Mother's Day was in full swing.  I joined the women who were having a nice lazy time while the men cooked their dinner.  We didn't linger though, as we had an early start planned for the next morning.  It was going to be a 5-hour flight to Manaus on the Amazon river and we wanted to get there before the tropical showers arrived in the afternoon.



Judy and Yvon Gemmet, Hector Tello, EDELCA


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Judy and Ivon seeing us off at Crown Point Airport

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Our routing from Tobago (TTCP) to Ciudad Guayana (SVPR) with the near miss point climbing through FL60
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With Hector Tello and his Mooney at Ciudad Guayana
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On the approach to Canaima
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In one of the tamer rapids (couldn't take out the camera in the wilder ones!)
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Getting out of the canoe to walk the last few kilometres to the Angel Falls
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Underneath the Angel Falls
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Angela's 'baptism' at the Angel Falls
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The 'Toad of Toad Falls'!
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The Sapo Falls curtain
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On the Mooney's way to the Angel Falls
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Honey Mooney's wing in front of the world's highest falls
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Sapo Falls on departure from Canaima
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Hector, Flemming and the two Mooneys at EDELCA's airport, Managua
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