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The Lake called Silent

John Gregan

Article & Pictures © 2013 John Gregan

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Far from civilisation, in the Orinoco Delta, is the lake called Silent. You go there to see the wonderful sunsets and commune with the blind Orinoco dolphins.

Boat on Orinoco Delta VenezuelaFar from civilisation, in the Orinoco Delta, is the lake called Silent. You go there to see the wonderful sunsets and commune with the blind Orinoco dolphins. The local people, the Wareo, call it Gauranico which, in their language, means quiet, still, silent. They consider it a special mystical place. The sunset is vast and the colours startling. As the sun sinks quickly below the horizon, the blind dolphins appear, drawn by the little sounds of the boat as it lies in the water. They sough and burble around the boat, raising their white bulbous foreheads to listen to us and whistle and click quietly to us and each other. Dusk falls and we feel close to nature , the world, the cosmos as the stars come out like someone has turned on a lightshow . It‘s the nearest thing to a mystical experience I have ever had. Dusk turns to darkness. It is time to return to camp.

The camp is two hours back up the Mariscal Largo River through close packed virgin jungle. There is no discernable bank to this river as the water and the jungle merge into each other. The boat we are in is a 30ft steel pirogue powered by twin 40 hp Honda engines which push it forward at about 30 km/hr. It is driven by our boatman, a Wareo called El Mocho. He is, in the language of the Reader’s Digest of my youth, the “Most Unforgettable Character I have ever met”. On the way to the camp he stands at the back of the boat steering and controlling the engines with one hand while, with the other, he flashes a torch along the side of the river and into the trees. He is looking for a Bava, the Orinoco caiman which our guide, Luis, has promised to show us.

Something dangerous lurking!We are bounding along full pelt, the bow of the canoe up out of the water. There is no way he can see anything, I say to myself. This is just for show. This is to keep the Gringos happy. Suddenly he kills the engine and sweeps the canoe around in a tight turn and straight into the side. As we get closer we see it, unearthly bright shining ruby, the eye of a Bava. We pull right up to it, lying motionless in the reeds. It is about 5 feet long which doesn’t sound much but when about 2 feet of it are jaws you don’t want to take chances. Mocho reaches down and, God Almighty, grabs the creature by the nose with his hand holding the jaws closed and then, Holy Moses, pulls it into the boat so we can have an even closer look. Just put it back, there’s a good lad.

We carry on. Well, that’s it, I think. Honour is satisfied. We build up the speed again but Mocho’s torch is still searching. But then he kills the engine and the now familiar turn into the side and stops in front of a tree growing out of the water. He points. We look. We see nothing. He points again. We look again as a tiny almost pencil thin white snake appears on the branch. To my dying day I will never understand how he saw it. But he did. Later on he showed us a kingfisher and we were so blasé that we didn’t notice, until we looked at the photos later, that there was a huge Fish Eagle perched in the same tree just a few feet above the kingfisher.

A piranha fish on the Orinoco DelataNext day El Mocho took us fishing for piranha. They seem to be relatively easy to catch. All you need is a piece of bleeding meat. We had to go some distance up river to catch them. There were four of us in the boat, the wife and me, Luis our guide and El Mocho. We all dropped our hooks over the side. Mocho jiggled his line like you do for mackarel and started hauling them in. We sat with our pieces of bloody meat and waited for a bite… and waited..... and waited. He had about ten in as many minutes. These were red piranha, about 6 to 8 inches long with the most ferocious set of teeth in the world. Luis took a stick of wood about the thickness of a finger and picked up a piranha from the bottom of the canoe where it was lying, to all intents and purposes, dead. He held the stick to its protruding teeth. There was a snap and the stick fell in two, bitten in half by a dead piranha. The rest of us never got a bite which is hard to explain when there seemed to be so many blood-thirsty piranha around. Maybe there was more to that jiggling than met the eye.

I had a sudden realisation that, if we had fallen into the river, we would have died and El Mocho would have lived quite happily until he got home. We drifted down river and chatted and saw otters and outzels and giant herons and howler monkeys and then went back to Camp where we ate the piranha for supper. One-up! Firm white flesh and no bones. Couldn’t have been better.

Camp Borat is an old oil exploration site which is having a new lease of life as a tourist destination. As far as I know it has no connection with the Kazakhstan journalist of the same name. It is a simple but comfortable building on stilts with a central dining room and about five bedrooms. We had the place to ourselves for a few days which was an idyllic experience. We could watch the parrots hurrying home each evening or sit with the locals as they fished desultorily. We learned that the object of desire on the river is an outboard engine. Everyone wants one. As we were leaving we passed a group of East European travellers making their way to the camp. They were in a small plastic boat and each had a well used bottle of rum in their hands. It was 8 o’clock in the morning. I have a feeling the idyll might have been tarnished if we had stayed any longer.

But then it was time to go back up the River to the Road where we had started our adventure. El Mocho was in a hurry to see his family and we did the 40 kms in a few hours. The Wareo build their villages stretcing out along the river side. The houses are made of wood and reeds and the sides are open. There is a canoe tied up at every house. As we passed through the village close to the Bridge and the Road, Mocho pointed out his wife and 6 kids in the family home on stilts above the river. A collection of empty plastic bottles and cans bobbed in the water under the floor.

Now that we were back in Civilisation, El Mocho seemed to shrink a little. A small guy in a faded t-shirt and torn jeans, he had always been quiet and reserved with just an occasional shy smile when we were on the river. If you had seen him in Caracas or Bolivar you would have thought "beggar". But on the river, in his own world, he was astonishing, in total control, supreme lord of all he surveyed, totally at one with his surroundings. His skill seemed to us to be superhuman. His senses honed to a level beyond our understanding, he was living proof of what mankind is capable of achieving in harmony with nature. It was a good point to return to Civilisation.

By the way, the Lake is sitting on proven oil reserves of 500 million barrels, so it, too, is to be civilised.

We got there thru Trailseekers who are great.

Travel Alert: The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommends against all travel to some areas of Venezuela and against all non-essential travel to others. Please check with your relevant national government.


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