Sunday, November 27, 2011

Venezuela -Operation Smile

I’ve returned from another Operation Smile Medical Mission – this time to Maturin, Venezuela. Four days was all the time I had to prepare for this trip, as I was asked to fill in for an Operating Room Nurse who had signed on with this mission, but had to cancel at the last minute.   I flew down there from Honolulu, via LAX and Houston, to Caracas, then had to wait 11 hours in the Caracas domestic terminal to get a flight south to Maturin.  We operated on 159 kids to repair their cleft lips and cleft palates at the local hospital.  Some days I worked up to 14 hours to get the cases done.  But it was all very much worth it to know what a change had happened in their lives.  The people were very kind and happy to have us there.  One day we were treated to an outing to see people of an outlying village doing their folk dances and songs.  We also visited a “people-run” tomato ketchup processing plant.  It was once owned by the Heinz company I’m told.  The governor of the state hosted our farewell party.
Screening the children before the days of surgery
At the tomato ketchup processing plant

In the Operating Room

  After the completion of the mission, I stayed a few days with four others and we traveled to the Orinoco River Delta to experience a bit of the swamp.  There was a pet capybara at the camp, I think it’s about the largest rodent there is.  At any rate, it was a baby, and cute, about the size of a medium dog.   We ventured out for a walk in the swamp (with guide), that is, until both of my feet got stuck deep in the muck and I needed help to get out.  Kind of eerie as the swamp water poured into my knee-high boots.    I wouldn’t like to be a long-term swamp dweller, but it was interesting for two days.  We stayed above the swampy ground on wooden planks in rooms with mosquito nets around the beds.  We paddled around the river and saw the piranha others had caught nearby.  Not a good place for swimming, or falling overboard from the dugout canoe.  
Our lodge for the night in the Orinoco Swamp
Local natives in dugout canoe

Pouring out swamp water from my boot
From the Orinoco we traveled more hours by boat and car to the airport at Ciudad Bolivar to get an 8-seat plane to Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There was a beautiful lagoon at the base of several small wide waterfalls.  The first thing we did is walk underneath, or behind, a long pounding waterfall, kind of like a small Niagara Falls (in my mind).  It was very wet and at one point a big scary.  Once we made it across, we had to return the same way.      

The falls at Canaima

Heading under the Canaima falls
Donna looking and feeling like a drowned rat!
The next day we made our way four hours by motorized dugout canoe up the river, through rapids to a camp near the base of Angel Falls.  It was a wet ride through the rapids and a bit scary at times, but the scenery was amazing as the clouds lifted to be able to see the high flat mountains.  The highest around is from where Angel Falls drops 3,300 feet. Supposed to be the highest free falling waterfall in the world.   This is the region that the creators of the animated movie “Up” visited to get an idea as the background for the movie.

At our base camp

We walked over an hour and a half to get a real view of the whole falls.  There some of the group decided to swim in the cold pool at the bottom.  Since it was getting late and a mist was falling, I started walking back to the river.  I had been very careful not to get my sneakers very wet because I was to wear them on the plane going home the next couple days.  But on the way down it started raining harder and harder.  The sun set and it was getting darker and darker.  I threw all caution to the wind and was grabbing every tree and hanging vine to steady myself as I high-tailed it down the rocky, root crossed trail.  I was splashing through deep pools of standing water on the trail and not even thinking about snakes and spiders and other jungle animals.  At the river our little group had to wait for the guide because we were already unsure of our route.  Eventually everyone made it down and we took the boat downriver to our camp.  It was Halloween night and we sat around the fire and told ghost stories!  Our native guide told us a few of his ancestor stories.  We retired to a set of hammocks strung under a roof.  I slept with a mosquito-net hat on, and it wasn’t too bad, but the comfort of a hammock is highly overrated, as far as I’m concerned. 
   We made it back to the airport the next day and flew back to the city then by car another four hours to Maturin. The next day I flew to Caracas and got an afternoon tour of the city.  The city has a reputation for crime, and there were places the driver wouldn’t go, but there was an impressive view from the top of a gondola ride to the see the panorama of Caracas.  It was a long flight back home, but I was very happy to have had the opportunity to see such an interesting country, and meet the hospitable people in Venezuela.

1 comment:

Michelle Goodrum said...

What an interesting trip. I'm glad you were able to help so many people and combine it with some "sightseeing". I don't know about the piranhas though. Ick.