JBL Expedition 2016: In the Rainforest of Venezuela - Part 1

In just a few weeks 50 participants are setting off for the Venezuelan rainforest. I planned this expedition - as far as it’s possible to plan it – during my preparatory trip in 2014. The best thing about it has to be that we are going to be travelling in regions where there’s no tourisms at all. This was noticeable on a few occasions, as when the indigenous people who lived alongside the river couldn’t quote me a price for a hammock I wanted to buy. It was only after an hour-long discussion involving the whole family that they named me a price, but this was so low that I insisted on multiplying it by ten.

Unfortunately Venezuela is not classified as a safe country. Riots, corruption and attacks are nothing unusual. But this mainly applies to the capital Caracas and the other cities. On arrival our group is not leaving Caracas Airport, but transferring to the national airport inside the same building, and from here we are flying directly into the pampas. Then we’re going another hour by bus to the Orinoco and yet another on the Orinoco itself in the labyrinth that is the river delta, into the middle of some absolutely unspoiled nature. No hotels, no tourists – just a few indigenous people and a lot of interesting animals! And completely safe!

Situated in the middle of the Orinoco Delta, built on stilts and without doors and windows, is a small group of huts. Just a few palm leaves for a roof, a mosquito net (though there are not many mosquitos around in April) and a mattress to sleep on. This is a five-star hotel in the jungle!

From there we will have three days and nights to do aquatic and herpetological research and to enjoy the experience of being in the jungle. We’re driving, for instance, to a lake called “Piranha Lake” by the locals. Even more exciting than the lake itself is the way there. The route will take us down a very narrow channel through some very thick scrubs. I used my landing net there last time and caught so many amazing fish species that we just have to come again. Sucker catfish, armoured catfish, tetras, knifefish and cichlides, all in only 10 minutes, was not a bad result.

It was a pity the water wasn’t very clear or, to be exact, it was totally cloudy, so that it wouldn’t be worth snorkelling. That’s why I asked my native companions about a place with clean and clear water. We drove through thousands of large and small waterways for over an hour until they said: “Here is clear water!” To me it looked as cloudy as everywhere else. But you could view some aquatic plants. And this is always a sign of good freshwater and often of the existence of many fish. While snorkelling I was surprised to find I had a view of about 1 m. This metre was sufficient to observe Crenicichla species and tetras. I was just about to tell my companions about these fish, when I noticed to my horror that they had been angling one piranha after another. I’m not normally easily scared, but I have to admit that it is a strange feeling to have been swimming between so many piranhas without having been able to see them. I’m quite interested to hear how our group will feel about this!

In the jungle we also will be able to view and eat the fat maggots which many of you will know from television. Unfortunately I am a bit picky and prefer to take photos of the living foodstuff. You don’t have to drive far from our base camp to observe animals and do research. There are canoes we can use to paddle directly from the huts to the jungle. Just turn twice left and there is not a single soul in sight anymore. But then you have to remember to turn twice right afterwards or you’ll end up extending your stay on the Orinoco by quite a while, whether you want to or not. By the way, measuring the conductivity directly out of the boat always provides quick information on whether you are in a region still influenced by the sea (brackish water) or whether you are in a pure freshwater area, where the number of species is drastically higher. These three days are going to be exciting!

© 16.02.2016
Heiko Blessin
Heiko Blessin
Dipl.-Biologe

Tauchen, Fotografie, Aquaristik, Haie, Motorrad

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