Panama City en route to Venezuela; December 18-20, 2014

Always on the lookout for new places to explore, we stumbled upon the Roraima area of Venezuela. It's a remote trekking region of unusual geography and exotic formations and flora, best known as the subject of both Conan Doyal's Lost World and Pixar's Up. Not far away is Angel Falls (world's highest), more mainstream on the tourist trail but still requiring many hours of river travel and an overnight in hammocks. Our kind of places! We planned the trip a few months ago, giving quite a bit of thought to Venezuela's precarious economy and political situation. With falling oil prices further crippling the country, and the recent spread of the Chikungunya virus in the tropical Americas, we reconsidered again just a couple of weeks ago. After a great deal of research, we decided to stick with the plan.

Our December 2012 travelogue mentioned that we embarked on our winter vacation in high spirits, in part because Tim had just been accepted early to his first-choice college, where he's now a sophomore. Emily received her good news a few days before this trip, and pressed the Accept button in the San Francisco airport. We're adjusting to the fact that come next fall she will be considerably further from home.

In Venezuela's Roraima region we'll be embarking on a six-day guided trek. Despite nearly guaranteed mist and rain, we expect the highlight to be a full day exploring the summit plateau of Mount Roraima itself, which happens to lie at the triple border of Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil. Visiting Angel Falls involves a three-day expedition in Canaima National Park. We planned our trip to avoid Caracas completely (other than changing planes), but we do have overnights in a handful of other cities and towns as we get from here to there.

We're passing through Panama in both directions, with convenient flights on Copa Airlines, the Panamanian carrier. We just finished up a full day of tourism in Panama City (photo 1, quite the metropolis!). Activities included walking the Amador Causeway and admiring a Frank Gehry designed museum near the Panama Canal entrance (photo 2), watching a huge boat being lowered out of dry-dock (photo 3), wandering the streets of the beautifully restored Casco Viejo colonial district (photo 4), a splurge dinner out, and repeated rip-offs by taxi drivers despite our best efforts. On our way back through Panama at the end of the trip we'll rent an SUV, drive to the small Pacific beach town of Santa Catalina, and take a three-day excursion to remote Coiba Island for its wildlife and reportedly excellent scuba diving.

It's hard to know whether we'll have much internet in Venezuela, so it's anyone's guess when the next travelogue will be posted. Happy holidays to all!

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