Lost in Venezuela

One G&T and two Tamazapam later and I arrived in Venezuela feeling shaken and poured over ice. I met the usual Gryphon crew at the airport in Caracas and it was all bro-hugs and excited banter, exchanging stores and catching up before we piled into a tiny egg-beater of a plane bound for the small Pemon Indian village of Kavac.

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I stared out through my small plane window as the tangled concrete city peeled off the landscape, a hot sticker from the windscreen of a car. Less and less urban residue clung to the surface until there was nothing left, but rainforest.

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Clouds hugged the torso of Auyan tepui, its temporary clothing – more a ceremonious gown than for practicality. It was stunning.

That there, is ‘House of the Devil’, Said Juan Carlos, our guide. His voice belted powerfully over the roar of the Cessna props.

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     It wasn’t the only time over the ten-day trip that I just sat and stared at Auyan tepui. The way it constantly changed was charismatic. It loomed in morning light, and danced with the clouds in the afternoon. I watched it disappear entirely in a storm. Water erupted from its crevasses afterwards, fierce and stunning in its housekeeping.Rain

Home for the next ten days was nothing more than a handful of round mud brick huts and a dirt runway that separated the village from the Venezuelan Savannah like a seam. It stitched the village to the foothills of the tepui. I looked at the five guys standing there on the dirt runway of a small Indian village in the jungle of Venezuela. ‘For the next 10 days, these guys are my life.’ I thought to myself.

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Our first few days in the forest were spectacular. We set the premise for the show; shot the opening sequences, abseiled the face of a waterfall with the host, and swam a flooding gorge to another hidden mountain waterfall.

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Crevass

The rainforest was our playground, and I found myself embellishing in it. I felt the tranquility that comes with the exclusivity of somewhere so remote. I lost myself in the adventure of it all.

Flip Drenched

But on day five, it started to rain.

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Poor light ended the day, and home was an hour away in the back of a rusted out Range Rover with a shattered windscreen and no brakes. We bumped along in a muddy semicircle around the edge of the tray, cameras dormant in our laps. Immature banter and white knuckles kept me from nodding off and falling out of the tray.

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We could all see the storm building efficiently over the Savannah beside us. Alex, our Pemon Indian guide started to chatter to himself as he began to unfold a large black sheet of plastic that I knew was only for us because of our gear.

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The tepui, though still a few miles away, loomed above us in what only seemed like amusement, its skirt of clouds bubbled with excitement at the thrill of the chase unfolding below.

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The temperature dropped and the wind flexed. The storm marched into the side of us with authority, careless of our insignificance. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear sat wrapped in a black sheet of plastic in the tray at our feet. My teeth chattered as water found its way into places that hadn’t seen water for a few days. Todd (our director) looked over and a smile cracked in the corner of his mouth. With the water and his scruffy drenched hair whipping against his Amazonian sun-kissed face, he looked wild and alive.

http://youtu.be/4PsrADht2W8 (See Video)

     ‘I might take a photo of this and send it to anyone that wants to get into wildlife documentaries.’ He boomed, the crack in his mouth shattering into a hearty laugh.

His eyes sparked, the discomfort and power of the wilderness – a flint striking his eyes, and I knew he intrinsically loved every second of it. They all did; I scanned their faces, Niall our host, Andy our key grip, Pete the sound recordist, and Juan-Carlos our guide all had the same structure of light in their eyes.

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They wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world, and being a part of such a talented and disheveled party in the middle of a tropical storm is not disorientation or friendship I take for granted.crew

Photo Credits and many thanks: Andy Dittrich + Juan Carlos

Biggest and Baddest show teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t50JXg7w96o

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Lost in Bilbao

_MG_0061dog-lazy

I’m tempted to not write anything about Bilbao; I can’t do it justice. For the first time in a long time I’ve felt lost lost. No one in Bilbao speaks English, and no one cares for it. Prague felt foreign, but Bilbao is rural. It has that small town glue that binds the locals together.dog-spring
Nursing one of the sorest heads I’ve ever had, I crawled out of bed with vague recollections of my first night in Bilbao. I remember pinchos, oversized gins, cobbled streets packed full of eating and drinking Spaniards, dancing with a blow up elmo doll, and a disjointed georgraphy conversation with two helpful foreign students on a bridge.Let’s just say itwas Bilbao 1 Lostboys 0 when I went to bed.stairs

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Avoiding the main city I just walked up. Bilbao is a bowl, with the center of town at the bottom. It was mid-afternoon, and I walked slowly, with no intention of stopping. I twisted and turned on mesmerizing backstreets for a while. Hundreds of people stood in the street and ate, so I did the same. I stood and ate a prosciutto roll in the Saturday afternoon sun, it was better than any KFC remedy I’ve had. It was like a saline drip.

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With a newfound exuberance I left the bottom of the basin and climbed a set of stairs off a side street. Old town Bilbao transformed into suburban Bilbao and the people stared at me and my camera. A drugged up teen chased me through a park, chanting Spanish at me and pointing to my camera. ‘Amigo…. Something… Amigo, amigo.’ I ran – no brainer. *The bag of smack and dark glasses were a dead giveaway. (NB: Pretty quick on the old pins, so no real danger) By the time my heart rate returned to a respectable pace I was lost, so I kept walking. But I couldn’t stop. Every time I decided I’d had enough and I’d take on one more block, I’d round a corner and the camera would be back in my face. It was an ancient looking church balanced dangerously on a cliff’s edge or an old stone archway, or a scampering set of stairs that drove the cogs in my legs to keep walking. By the time I finally gave in the light was gone, and I just let myself trickle down the side streets and back into the city.

Gug-stairs

My time in Bilbao is definitely the highlight of my trip. The food is to die for, the people I met are already close friends, and the city is intoxicating. It sucks you in, and traps you in small, stunning pools of activity, but then changes and traps you again before you’re even aware you’d moved.

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It’s definitely the most fun place to get lost with a camera, and should be noted in remedial books as a great hangover cure.

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