Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Iiissss . There Anybody Out There?" in Guacharo Caves

For the group trip to the guacharo caves, I was anticipating a junked 1970’s “Dodge church van” that was exhumed from the dead for service in Venezuela. Instead a brand new Mercedes Benz Sprinter van with A/ C and a professional sober driver showed up. Now we are talking.

Within just 10 miles, the vegetation turned from dense cactus growth to lush tropical. Along the road we noticed an above ground water pipeline that carried water from the mountain reservoir to Margarita Island. Pro Chavez stencils were painted on the pipe every kilometer or so. Every town, it seemed, had some public works project underway and a huge Chavez poster with his picture on.

We stopped by an old mission church from the 1700’s where the bells and a wall of the old church still remain. Smartly uniformed school children were standing around where we stopped. Apparently their teacher who has to come from 2 hours away was delayed and therefore, no classes. Teachers, we learned, are in short supply, not well paid, and stretched thin trying to fulfill Chavez’s educational initiative.

The roads up into the mountain were excellent, minus the guardrails considered a frivolous expense in most Latin countries. The air was cool and damp when we arrived at the Guacharo caves near Caripe. It is 8 miles long, one of the world’s largest and most magnificent caves. What makes it particularly interesting was that it was inhabited by some 18,000 guacharo birds. These large strange creatures: live in the dark, echo-locate like bats, and only come out at night to feed on fruit. They are sensitive to light so only the guides’ lanterns are allowed. The strident cry of what sounds like all 18,000 birds calling at once adds to the atmosphere. Jean Marc’s wife was thought to be our interpreter but backed out just as we were getting our tickets, saying she doesn’t do caves. So Angie with her high school Spanish and concentration did her best to translate.

The kids learned about all about the addictions of nicotine on this trip. Three chain smokers joined us on the trip, who could not wait to leave the non-smoking cave. The guide was asking for them to hold up, but they were nearly running to get to day light after 2 hours without nicotine! Every time the van stopped they already had their cigs in mouth and lighter lit before their foot hit the ground. After enjoying a stop for some strawberries and cream, we headed back high above a valley of clouds. It was like a fairy tale scene looking down into the cotton filled valleys with other peaks rising up out of the clouds like islands in the sky.