Those of you who read my last blog will be aware that after muchos hours in airports, muchos missed flights and muchos muchos miscommunication I FINALLY found myself in sunny Venezuela for 10 days of travel and investigation of volunteer projects on behalf of gap year company The Leap.

Here’s another peak at my diary:

Day 3: What a difference a day makes! Having spent my first full day and night in Playa Colorada (definitely in my top 3 best beaches du monde) things are definately looking up. Already my travel companion Alice and I have experienced some great Latin American/Caribbean food including fresh fried grouper, shellfish cerviche, buttery arapas and gorgeous empanadas, watched a stunning sunset on the village’s beach cerveza in hand, paddled kayaks out to the nearby Caribbean island to see where Leap volunteers will be doing their beach conservation, snorkelled in the coral reefs, joined local kids leaping off rocks into a freezing river and even abseiled down a 30m waterfall….all in a days work for a Leap employee!

The trip out to Arapo island to see the Leaper’s (our volunteers) beach was fantastic, if slightly sweaty. I think we’ve pretty much ruled out kayaking as a main mode of transport for Leapers on this phase- yes it may be the most environmentally friendly way to travel but in 32 degrees the motor boats are so much more appealing! It took about an hour each way to paddle out and boy was it worth the effort. Arapo Islands are the closest to Playa Colorada and are made up of 2 small islands with a cluster of fishing families living on each, a sandy spit called “La Piscina” (because of the swimming pool-like turqouise waters that surround it- duh!) and a cluster of rocks covered in marine birds called “El Gato” and “Raton”. Absolutely stunning. They are part of the Mochima National Park, a collection of about 160 islands and a beautiful stretch of the rainforest covered mainland. It’s a marine environment in desperate need of conservation.

Mochima National Park is visited by a large number of Venezuelan tourists each weekend who whilst enjoying the natural beauty of the area leave a huge amount of litter and damage coral with the anchors from their boats. The park rangers receive very little funding from the government to manage this issue and there is next to no education of the local population about conservation issues and the impact of their behavior on the environment. We plan to raise awareness of these issues and hopefully (though it’ll be a long hard slog) affect a change in attitudes, however small, in Playa Colorada. The grand plan is for Leapers to spend 3 weeks of their 10 week placement renovating a beautiful beach on Arapo Island called Playa Melisa, restoring existing shelters, building bins – and controlling them, clearing garbage and tidying up the beach including near-by reefs, creating a public footpath up the hill to a view point, and focusing largely on educating the general public, local school kids and promotion of the environmental issues in question. Phew!

The plan is for Playa Melisa to become a model for the development of other beaches in the Mochima National Park and to get local people and visitors taking some pride in their environment. All this plus volunteering at the Jakera Club- an after school centre for local kids- will make the first 5 weeks of Leapers Venezuelan experience truly unforgettable.

As for us, two days of intense activity in the Tropical heat has been a bit of a shock to the system. Thank goodness for cold beer, picturesque sunsets and the promise of a change in both scenery and climate tomorrow. We’re trading in the swetering beaches for the cool highlands and coffee haciendas as we are off to Caripe in the morn…watch this space!