I met my fellow trekkers for the first time the night before we set off to scale Mount Roraima on a seven night expedition up this breathtaking tepui. We were mostly solo travellers from different parts of the world and I quickly bonded with two guys, a South African and an American.
The truly spectacular tabletop mountain hosts the borders for three countries; Brazil, Guyana and, where we were, Venezuela. This was in 2007 when Chavez was still very much alive and lording it over the people. It was an interesting time to be there as El Presidente had announced intentions to nationalise oil projects in the country, souring relations with America whose companies based in Venezuela refused to play ball.
I found being a Western tourist there quite tricky in this period – and I was just a regular inquisitive Brit. Imagine then, what it was like for my new-found American pal, Oscar, who was an academic specialising in anthropology. Oscar had been invited to Caracas by a friend of his from back home in the States who had been working there on fairly sensitive projects with indigenous peoples. With Venezuela and America now sulking, people such as Oscar’s friend had started to be sent home, seemingly having outstayed Chavez’s welcome. Despite Oscar’s national and professional credentials, he was just doing as I was and having a lovely time travelling round the country.
Our time on the mountain was incredible; amazing views and climbs challenging enough to make the physical exertion rewarding. Two nights are spent on the summit where no camping is allowed, so you hole up in what is charmingly referred to as ‘The Hotel’; a cave with an entrance big enough to open out a handful of tents – clearly, your accommodation does not come with an en suite. So strict is the maintenance of the mountain top, and protection of its flora and fauna, that you have to prove you haven’t contaminated it by dumping your faeces with gay abandon. You do this by collecting two days worth of the fruits of your backside in a bag, retaining it and submitting it for inspection on your return.
The same rangers who counted you in on that first morning are responsible for carefully examining the contents of these bags to ensure it is indeed human waste (no cheating by throwing in any rodent business) and also to calculate by weighing it that you’ve provided a sufficient amount for your two days on the summit and not left a big pile of it somewhere behind a bush. (Spare a thought for these poor sods the next time you complain about your own job).
The descent starts on the penultimate day and the final night is spent back in the relative comforts of a camp site, complete with facilities (well, a bush, but that was an improvement already). It was during our last evening together that Oscar decided to come clean and tell us that we were in dangerous company any time we were seen with him. The reason being that since leaving Caracas a couple of weeks’ back he had been followed by a member of the security services. Because of his connections the authorities identified him as needing to be observed for the remainder of his time in the country.
It didn’t take long for the penny to drop that the shadowy figure we had all imagined we saw behind us during our trek up Roraima wasn’t a spirit (as our guide would have us believe) but Oscar’s less than subtle stalker.
Not having anticipated Oscar’s week long trek, he had come totally unprepared and ended up scaling the mountain in the suit and slip-on shoes he was wearing when he left Caracas. Utterly fed up, he made little effort now to conceal himself – Oscar actually gave his groupie a little wave at one point, but it was met with nothing more than a scowl.
The following morning we made it back to where we’d started at the foot of the mountain and Oscar very kindly offered to be the person to hand over our collective waste. By now nicely cooked after so long in the sun, it was all emptied into one large bag and he hotfooted across to have it checked and weighed, hoping to deposit it as soon as he possibly could.
Misinterpreting this sudden haste as some sort of escape bid, Oscar’s ‘super fan’ broke into a trot, doing his utmost not to lose him.
Gaining on him, but still totally unbeknownst to Oscar, the guard began to make his move to take him down and when he was within arm’s reach, he struck.
Sadly, what he actually struck was the bag that Oscar was holding – also at arm’s length – which had now been wrested from his grasp.
Usually things like this unfold in painful slow motion, but this was mercifully fast.
We did, however, all shudder as the inevitable happened and the actual shit hit the proverbial fan.