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This is written by Will of The Broke Backpacker. The jungle floor rushed up to meet me as I stumbled forwards, sheets of rain lashing down through the canopy, my pack heavy on my back, every step a battle with the oozing, sucking mud.
I love mountains, I have always loved mountains. This was, however, my first attempt ever at summiting a tropical summit. Mt. Roraima, the highest table top mountain in the world, clad in jungle and hidden in cloud, a harsh and unforgiving land of twisted vegetation and windswept rock, of freezing nights and scorched mornings.
I swatted in vain at a mosquito, looking upwards, the mountain disappearing into the clouds.
Backpacking in Venezuela is a truly unique experience, for starters, everybody on the backpacker trail through Central and South America will tell you that you are nuts for even considering going. This is the kidnap-capital of the world and Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, has the highest murder rate out of any of other city…
Civil unrest and rapid inflation have bought the country to it’s knees and yet, backpackers still have a place here. Some argue that visiting a country in the middle of a financial meltdown is irresponsible, unethical even, but the fact of the matter is that backpackers in Venezuela are one of the very few sources of foreign investment still trickling into the country.
For a five day trek consisting of permits, food, camping equipment and an experienced local guide, I paid just eighty dollars. A similar trek in, for example, Brazil would have cost ten times this.
Even more appealing than the low prices, Venezuela is an adventure backpackers’ playground; with the world’s highest waterfalls, uncontacted jungle tribes, isolated beaches, beautiful women, the startling wetland plains of Los Llanos and, of course, very cheap beer; Venezuela offers incredible opportunities for real adventures.
When it comes to getting off the beaten track, to hitting the road and going on a real adventure, I strongly believe that this is something that every backpacker should try at least once.
You learn the most when you are out of your comfort zone and by visiting countries like Venezuela, Iran and Pakistan, you have a truly unparalleled opportunity to get back to basics, to get away from Facebook, and to connect with local people.
Recently, I hitchhiked across Iran and Pakistan and I was, in all honesty, somewhat concerned that I might get grabbed by a bunch of bearded fellows and taken to a cave for a summary execution.
Now that I have actually been to those countries, I can tell you, the reality could not be further from the sorry state of affairs often portrayed in the international media.
I had no idea that in Pakistan I would find myself couchsurfing across the country with ease, hitchhiking through remote mountain towns and befriending an ancient police officer, Baba, assigned to me for my protection.
Do you have to go to far-flung lands to have a real adventure?
Hell no. Simply turn off your phone, get out of flashpacker hostels and make an effort to see the real side of a country.
In The Philippines, a popular stop on the backpacker circuit, I heard tales of a ninety seven year old tattoo artist, the legendary Whang Od. I trekked into the jungle in search of her and, although she spoke no English, she honoured me with a traditional Kalinga tattoo. Whang Od is the last mambabatok, or Kalinga tattoo master, and is the only person left alive who has the skill left to do these particular types of tattoo, if you find yourself in The Philippines, go find her…
So how exactly do I hear of these awesome adventure opportunities and how do I plan my trips?
Usually, I try to make friends with the locals. These are the guys who know their country best and they often know of some truly stunning places that are simply not in guidebooks or online.
Recently, I attended a sufi dance ceremony in Lahore, The Paris of Pakistan. I was invited along by a couple of guys who had reached out to me over Couchsurfing, an online hospitality website.
It was a wacky yet totally unforgettable experience.
Countries which receive the worst press often have the most friendly locals; in both Pakistan and Iran I was totally blown away by the hospitality of the people I met. In Pakistan in particular people are so keen to shed the negative connotations of the geographically nearby Taliban that the local people go out of their way to make you feel welcome, safe and to ensure you are always well fed!
And so, budding adventurers, there you have it; if you are keen for a unique experience unlike any others, maybe it is time to unplug from your phone, to hit the open road and to visit a country which does not receive twenty million tourists every year. In my opinion, the countries which are the most interesting are often the ones I know the least about.
Happy travels and see you on the road!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is currently hitchhiking from England to Papua New Guinea, a journey which will take over three years. Will blogs over at The Broke Backpacker about his adventures in some of the world’s least visited countries, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.