Santa Elena de Uairen, Venezuela
“There is only one possible thing that could happen,” my father said to me last year, “that would necessitate me having to cut short our trip.” The thing to which he was referring was his prostate, with which he`s had trouble for a long time now. He has procrastinated for years over the operation that would fix it due to the minimal risk of resultant impotence or incontinence, and who can blame him? Unfortunately, the “one possible thing that could happen” has happened and suddenly he is gone, back to the UK for an emergency operation, and our long-planned and semi-executed bonding session is over.
It was the boat trip that did it, there`s no doubting that. It was a hard couple of days but when I left him in Cartagena I was sure he would recover. I was totally wrong. Whilst I was hiking in Ciudad Perdida he was in hospital being fitted with a catheter. Of course, he didn`t email me the bad news so it wasn`t until I returned to collect him a week later that I learned of his condition. It was his (last-minute) choice to come sailing, but if only I`d been more stingy and just flown, or more adventurous and taken the dangerous overland option, he`d still be here. As it was … he had to go. Just like that, I was alone.
I don`t mind being alone per se, I travelled solo around much of the globe before I met my wife Gerda in Mexico, but that wasn`t the plan. This was our trip and I don`t know if we will ever have another chance. Quite apart from the difficulty of finding time and money for such a jaunt, he is only getting older. Before we know it he`ll be pushing 80 and some other problem will surely have arisen. I can hope, but in my heart I know that this was our chance. I grasped it with both hands and juggled it like a tricky catch in the slips, but ultimately it popped out and fell away. Gutted.
So I continue alone (pulling out was not an option), adrift in South America, 10 to 20 years older than most of my fellow travellers. Never has it been so difficult to break into a group dynamic. Despite my best efforts I haven`t so far ´clicked´ with anyone else on this trip, as so often easily and rewardingly used to happen. Of course it was more difficult with the old fella in my shadow – we`d always go out to dinner then walk or talk until he was tired, by which time it was getting late to insert myself into a bunch of semi-drunken, already-bonded youths. I didn`t really mind though, I had company, but now that I don`t I`m struggling to find anything in common with the people I meet. I`m the only person without a phone, I have grey in my beard, and I`ve already had most of the conversations I hear around me. I`m the same traveller I always was (I think) but I know that, when they look at me, some of them dismiss me as old and therefore boring. I`m not even 40!
I have had some good nights out along the way but I didn`t see any other travellers in my entire arduous crossing of Venezuela. They all seem to magically teleport between Merida and Santa Elena. Another complication was the presidential election – all voters needed to return to their place of birth to vote so transport was a nightmare. Every bus left hours late, and took hours longer than quoted (although this may well be normal). Many were full or cancelled. Apart from a lovely few days in the high Andes near Merida, my Venezuelan experience has been a frustrating and tedious string of night buses and bus stations, of sitting, standing and above all – waiting. I could tell you the ins and outs of every terminal de pasajes from Colombia to Guyana. In a way, I`m glad Peter is no longer here, as that week would have killed him!
At last though, exactly halfway though my trip (time-wise) I did reach the extreme SE corner of the country. I decided not to visit Angel Falls for 3 reasons: a) it is the dry season and the water flow will be low or non-existent b) for the same reason the much-mooted boat trip to the foot of the falls is not running c) it is an expensive trip to make with neither of the above attractions. What I have achieved here though is the realization of a ten-year ambition: the six-day trek up Roraima, Mother of all Tepuis, Arthur Conan Doyle´s Lost World. Now that was a highlight. Pity I`ve run out of room to describe it!