June, 2016: Our final Venezuelan adventure saw us take a day-long drive into the untamed wilderness of Los Llanos (the plains). Flood plains teemed with all manner of exotic animals while bare footed cowboys tended huge herds of hump backed cattle. Once again I was blown away by the diversity of Venezuela’s landscape. We drove from the stark and desolate beauty of the Andean highlands, down through cloud forest and steaming jungle until we crossed the Apure river. Suddenly we were greeted by the dead flat, never-ending flood plains of Los Llanos.
While sharing some similarities with the Pantanal in Brazil, Los Llanos resonated much more deeply. Somehow it felt more raw, more untamed and more authentic. For me staying on a working cattle station reminded me of growing up while the abundance of wildlife was amazing. When driving past a lily pad filled lagoon, we saw a family of giant otters pop out of the water to bark a menacing challenge; we saw the elusive giant anteater getting a final feed in the early morning air; and we watched the sunset over plains teaming with life while our bare feet dangled happily from the roof of our Toyota. Our guide Tony also added to the experience as he had grown up in the area. He hadn’t been back for a while and it was obvious how much he loved the place. His enthusiasm for it was infectious.
One evening after a day of piranha fishing Tony offered us the choice of piranha for dinner or a BBQ. His friends on Finca Yopito hadn’t seen him in a while, had killed a young steer and were going to roast it if we were keen. For us this seemed a bit of a silly question because OF COURSE WE WERE KEEN. That evening was one of my favourite during our time in Venezuela. We sat under a corrugated iron shed next to the farm’s cattle yards while the coals of a blazing fire pit roasted the delicious looking beef. They had threaded a whole fillet onto a stake of wood with two more stakes going through the rib cage. All were rested on an a-frame set above the coals of the fire. They had also taken part of the gizzards and wrapped this around slivers of liver and kidneys and were slow roasting this to the side of the coals on the more gentle heat. Obviously all this would not be for everyone but for me it was heaven.
The sun gradually dipped below the tree line while the birds and the nearby cattle quietened down for the night. Squadrons of fire flies seemed to drag down the night sky and spread the stars across the surrounding plains. After a while all we could hear was the crackle of the fire, the buzzing of the cicadas and the raucous conversation of farm hands enjoying a beer after a hard days work. As we watched watched the succulent slabs of beef ribs get carved and served with a simple coleslaw and potato salad I was reminded of family BBQ’s growing up in western Queensland, Australia. It was brilliant.
Los Llanos wasn’t all fun and games though. Each night as the sun went down clouds of insects rose. They got in our face and invaded our breath, not to mention stinging us through our clothes. One morning we went horse back anaconda hunting. On the way home, my (un)trusty steed stumbled from full gallop sending me flying over its neck. I landed face first, rolled onto my head and neck before sliding to a stop, upside down in the mud up against a fence post. The young farm lad with whom I’d stupidly been racing couldn’t figure out whether to laugh or be worried. After tentatively disentangling myself from said fence I was just glad not to have broken my neck. Unfortunately it took nearly 2 months before my neck and back were fully recovered. I don’t think I’ll be racing any bare footed mini cowboys for a little while to come.
We left Finca Yopito and Los Llanos riddled with bug bits and for me somewhat broken. Still, as we headed back to Merida we were elated with our experience of this beautiful, isolated corner of Venezuela. Our tour of Venezuela was nearly complete. We had one final stop to make in the town of El Tigre to stay with my new found family. That will have wait for the next instalment though…
Los Llanos travel tips:
- We booked our 4D/3N Los Llanos trip through Tony Martin at Xtreme Adventours (8-45 Calle 24 con Parque Las Heroinas, Merida). The tour cost USD210 for the two of us which included transport, all meals, activities and accommodation
- Tony Martin reviews: We have read a few negative reviews about going on tour to Los Llanos with Tony but in general we had an amazing time. There were only five of us plus Tony and a legendary driver. Tony had his own Toyota troop carrier so getting around the back roads of the area was easy. Tony grew up in the Los Llanos. He knew ALOT about the place, the people and the animals and went to great length to share that knowledge with us. Our experience was slightly dampened by me falling off the horse and Tony’s lack of sympathy. Obviously you accept certain risks when you go hunting anaconda on horse back. But, given I could have easily broken my neck I would have expected a little more concern. Still, I honestly think that we wouldn’t have had nearly the same awesome experience if we hadn’t gone with Tony.