Monday, May 30, 2011

Los Llanos

This weekend we went on a trip to the "wild west" (though its much more central) of Venezuela - Los llanos. It is a wild, wet grassland and savanna filled with cattle ranches, very few people and some of the most amazing wildlife. There are more than 360 species of birds, along with anacondas, caimen (small crocodiles), capivara (the largest rodent on earth), anteaters, pink freshwater dolphins, piranha and so much more. We stayed at a camp with electricity at night, flush toilets and either hammocks of beds to sleep in. For me, it was amazingly comfortable. For some people it was the closest to camping they had ever gotten in their lives and the bugs that managed to get in through the door drove them nuts.

The first night we went on a safari to see animals, sitting on the tops of the 4-by-4's we took through the mountains. The second day we went on a boat tour of the rivers near by. It began to rain very hard and since it would quickly wash us off, the guide allowed us to jump into the warm beautiful river water, as long as we got out and away from all the crazy lethal animals and parasites in the water. It was warm and fresh and amazing. Finally, we went horse back riding through the plains and it was so amazing! Having gone trail riding through the forest a lot gave me a lot of experience, but galloping through a ranch and rounding up the cattle on my own was fantastic. Also, I was the only one in group that had much riding experience, so having a little ego boost is always nice.



"Drink of the Gods" Made with an amazing fruit smoothie and hunks of other awesome fruits inside.

Entering Los llanos, you can see the plains beyond.

Our 4-by-4 we needed to get through the rainy season mud to the camp.

National Guard check points. These are all over the place and they are in theory supposed to stop everyone, but they don't. I've never been in a car that's been stopped yet. Mostly the police just sit there playing cards. We did go by one where police were taking soda and food from a family. Our guide explained that this is quite normal if you get stopped. The police will "ask" if they can have the food and you say "yes". Or if there is a problem with your passport, that's nothing a couple of Bolivars can't fix.


I cannot tell you how much meat (especially red) they eat in this country. Beef is a main part of the diet, and chicken is a close second. I literally have gotten to the point where I cannot make myself eat more meat some days. It just makes me feel gross. Los Llanos have an especially high quantity of meat in their diet, being the beef sector of the country.

Now we are in the wild parts of los llanos. There are SO many birds, and they are so beautiful and unique.

Unloading the trucks.

Our camp. It was beautiful, with a big mango tree right in the center. It was a tourist camp as well as a cattle ranch, so they had a lot of cattle and horses and chickens and pigs milling around.

For our safaris, up to five us of got to sit on the top of the car. I jumped right up at the first chance.

The room we slept in. It was much better than I expected.

Catching Caimen so we could see them. They are smaller than what Americans imagine as alligators and crocodiles, and they are about as common as squirrels along the waterways of los llanos. I can't even count how many I saw, laying around in the sun after the rains.


Up in the mango tree.

Several caimen are in this picture. Can you see them?

Los llanos have two seasons: dry and rainy. We are just entering the rainy season now. Cattle like you see in Minnesota, or the mountains of Venezuela can't survive in the rainy season when all the grasses are flooded for months on end, so these cows from India are what are raised and eaten in this region. I didn't see any gross huge ranches like those in the US: all cattle were roaming free and totally grass-fed. Our guide said the cows will have six calves before they are "old" and sold for meat. It's a good life these cows have.


Our guides saw an anteater way far off in the grass, so they ran off and chased it towards us so we could get a better look. They probably ran a mile for the next photo-op.

Anteaters have long nails they have to keep protected, so they step on their knuckles and run very ungracefully. This is the strangest animal I have ever seen, I think.

Capivara! The biggest rodent in the world. They live in families with one male and several females who take care of the babies and can have up to 6 or 8 babies a litter, but only 2-3 survive because of how many predators are in the area.

Our hooks and rods for piranha fishing!

To catch a piranha, you need raw meat for bait. when you run out of raw chicken, use the small piranhas you've already caught. They don't discriminate meat types.

This is how you start.

And this is how you finish.

While we were piranha fishing, some of the guides went out and got us some anacondas from the marshes. One was male and the other female. They took the male back to the camp since they had too many females in the area and needed him around. I rode in the car with him, meaning he was tied up in one of the guides empty pants in the backseat of the car I rode in.

Oh yeah, he was constricting.

Capivara! Once upon a time, a pope said that during Lent it was OK for Venezuelans to eat Capivara on Fridays when Catholics are not supposed to eat meat, because these mammals are so much like fish and spend so much time in the water it was as good as the same. This was possibly also because piranha have hardly any meat on them and when you work on a ranch, you need some real sustenance, even during Lent. That's only my theory though. I don't know if popes are that thoughtful for any particular regional group of Catholics.

This parrot was so old... he would just take the crackers from our hands and eat them slowly. It was adorable.

The boat ride, before the rains started.

Getting cloudy...

And after jumping into the river and getting rained on for a good twenty minutes afterwards.

Horseback riding early in the morning.

Back at camp. I got a nasty scrape I'm showing off when the horse ran through some trees, but all in all it was a fantastic ride and there is nothing ikky or unhealthy growing in there.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Traveling through the Andes

Photos from last weekend when the whole group traveled into the Andes together a couple of times. It was cloudy and a little rainy, but beautiful nonetheless.

St Brenards are very very common here, and you can buy these purebred puppies for about $60. If only they didn't get so big... I'd be tempted...

This is a Venezuelan cafe "Grande". oof.

Trout is apparently one of the best things you can eat in Merida. All of the trout, that is.

Strawberries and cream. Soo good!!

 At a trout farm.

This sign says "This trout farm is for everyone. Unitary socialist production. A territory free from the exploitation of capitalism."