by Niall Doherty


We’re fifty miles south of Manaus at a place called Lago Juma. We sit in a boat and watch river dolphins hide and peek, then swim in warm water as the sun sets. After dark we venture out and witness our guide catch a caiman with bare hands. Back at the lodge we’re encouraged to hold him and take photos, but I’m not feeling it. Let the wild be free.


We sleep in the wilderness tonight, hammocks wrapped in mosquito nets. It took us two hours to get here by boat. The jungle breathes heavy after dark, imagination the enemy, fear rising with the sound of something significant circling the camp, some creature after our chicken bones. At dawn we’ll awake to the distant rumble of howler monkeys.


The evening winds down with a show in Teatro Amazonas, a copy of the Grand Opera de Paris, a jewel in the heart of the rainforest. Over the stage you’ll see the original curtain from 1896, depicting the parting of the waters. Directly above you’re looking up the skirt of the Eiffel Tower, painted on the ceiling, surrounded by scenes of dance, tragedy, comedy, music.


Lazy day today, one I would have beaten myself up about in the past. I wasted time online, lay in my hostel bunk and watched a couple of movies, procrastinated on a bunch of projects… but at the end of it all, when it came time to answer the question, “How could I have made today better?”, nothing came to mind. Today was perfect.


Do you know anyone personally who has all three areas well covered: health, wealth and relationships? I can name plenty of friends or acquaintances with one or two, but three is rare. And methinks that to thrive in any of those areas, it helps immensely to befriend and socialize with others a few steps ahead. Business-wise, I’ve been doing a woeful job of that.


At the dock for 5:30, but no sign of the fast boat to Tabatinga. One lady tells us it crashed on the way downstream. I’m tired from dragging my bags across town, feeling woozy for reasons unknown. This place smells of piss and rotten fish. I make myself throw up on a trash patch floating in the river, spewing liquid green. Okay… feeling better… new plan.


We cross the border easy then spend six hours at the station in Santa Elena, eating questionable sandwiches and watching miserable dogs. Now we’re finally on the move again. Our bus is ghetto and we’re stopped by police for the second time in a ten mile stretch. “Estrangeiro?” asks the fat officer. I nod, and he motions me out into the dark.


Another day, another several hours waiting at a Venezuelan bus station. In walks an old man with a smile rugged and hopeful, wearing a black cape, orange sunglasses, and a floppy hat with red sequins. He proceeds to pour a jug of water in and out of a rolled up newspaper, undo the snipping of a string, and perform mildly impressive card tricks. I’d like to know more of this man’s life.


70-odd hours since we left Manaus, plus a few since I last showered, eleven vehicles, twelve times pulled aside by police, some of them mere kids with automatic weapons, streams of garbage, car-shaped rust-buckets clogging the calles, lazy fat men and beautiful women with scars on their cheeks. There must be more to Venezuela, but this is what I see, and I’m glad to get out.


I should have trusted my first impression two days back in Puerto La Cruz. My bag seemed different when I retrieved it from the lock-up at the station, the straps shifted. I shrugged it off at the time, but today it makes sense. My shaver and hard drive are missing. Fuck it, I had a good run. Three years on the road before I got robbed.

First look at Venezuela (see more pics from my trip on Facebook)

First look at Venezuela (see more pics from my trip on Facebook)


Today I bought a new shaver, from an electronics shop that was ripe for a haggle. But I didn’t haggle. It didn’t even occur to me. I was in some kind of daze, preoccupied with the newness of my surroundings, and thoughts of other errands still ahead. To be able to recognize when you’re in a fog, and take a step back… that’s a skill worth cultivating.


It’s an hour in a jeep up a rocky mountain road before setting off through the jungle on foot. We’re assaulted for the first hour by thunder and lightening and rain, feet slipping and sinking in the steep muddy trail, practicing Spanish all the while. When the storm lets up we’re treated to spectacular views of mist-kissed hills and waterfalls in the distance.


A little after 5 a.m. and I stand alone on a small bridge above a sleepy stream deep in a dale, surrounded by lush green and bright flowers and tropical birdsong, sunlight yet to touch the treetops. And I think to myself, as I take a sip of hot coffee and feel it flow straight into my veins… I think to myself, this is one of those moments right here.


A twenty-minute trek, one river crossing, and 1,250 stone steps is all that separates breakfast from La Ciudad Perdida. And it doesn’t disappoint. Built more than a millennium ago, they say some two thousand people once lived here. You squint and among the stone circles catch glimpses of ceremonies and dances and kids playing games long forgotten.


In a haze all evening, drowsy from the marathon hike these past few days. I watch a movie with eyes half closed, then head to the dorm to call it a night. But fuck: five of the ten beds are up and about with drinks in hand, taking turns cutting and snorting from the bunk below mine. This could get messy.

Spectacular views on the way to La Ciudad Perdida (see more pics from the trek on Facebook)

Spectacular views on the way to La Ciudad Perdida (see more pics from the trek on Facebook)

In the comments below, let me know which of the above Momentos is your favorite. Which can you relate to?

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