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Lake Guri, in the Guiana Highlands region of Bolivar Province, Venezuela, is the dream fishing destination for many a fisher folk. Guri Dam provides water to the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Power Station, generating upwards of 50% of Venezuela's electricity. The dam impounds the Caroni River within the Necuima Canyon, approximately 62 miles above the mouth of the Caroni River in the Orinoco Delta. Venezuela desires to produce as much hydro power as possible to free up oil reserves for profitable export and Guri Dam helps the country reach its goal of producing 82% of it's electrical needs via renewable resources, saving 300,000 barrels of oil a day.
The development of Lake Guri for power production has been fraught with contention due to displacement of both indigenous tribes and wildlife. Built in two stages, the first stage was completed in 1974 and drowned thousands of square miles of forest formerly renowned for its biodiversity. It also submerged under 350 feet of water the only place where the recently-discovered Carrizal Seedeater Tanager had ever been seen. Local tribes worked round the clock to try to rescue as many animals as possible from the rising waters by boat but are quick to tell visitors some animals haven't been seen since the flooding.
The second stage flooding at Guri Lake was a slower process and far more wildlife escaped. However, National Geographic has been studying the effects of the overpopulation of certain types of primates. Some of the mountaintops-turned-islands have no large predators left in their new home to keep them in check. This has been a case where the search for renewable energy for economic reasons caused much environmental damage. The lesson learned is that progress, even with good intentions, often comes at great cost and should be undertaken with great care.
There is little development along the shores of Lake Guri. The shoreline, composed of inlets, wetlands, coves, islands and submerged forests, makes for ideal fish habitat. Several resort-like fishing camps provide guided fishing packages for two varieties of peacock bass or pavon, South American silver croaker, payara (alternately called dog tooth characin, sabre-tooth tetra or vampire tetra), alumassee and catfish, along with other varieties of edible fish hunted by the local peoples. For the most part, the lake has not yet been exploited for its charter capacity, either by powerboat or sail. One reason may be that Lake Guri is serviced by few roads, all in poor condition. Travel warnings from the United Sates State Department discourage foreign visitors from striking out on their own due to the danger of narco-terrorism. The wise visitor will arrange their visit through a reputable travel agent or the fish camp they intend to visit to assure an enjoyable and safe visit.
There are limited lodgings available in the vicinity of the dam at Lake Guri. Vacation rentals are available along the lakeshore in the form of fishing resorts, often with private air conditioned lodgings, pools and dining halls. Some have facilities for golf and hiking. Visitors wishing for more luxurious accommodations may wish to look for vacation rentals in Cuidad Guayana or Cuidad Bolivar. These medium-sized cities have air transportation, shopping, entertainment and fine dining. From here, the adventurous visitor can arrange to visit Canaima National Park to the south. Established in 1962, the seven-and-a-half million acre park is a World Heritage Site. The park protects five endangered mammal species: jaguars, giant anteaters, giant river otters, ocelots and giant armadillos. Canaima contains more than 9,000 plant species that occur nowhere else. Nearly half of the neotropical migratory birds that winter in South America are found here; many are protected species including the osprey, American swallow-tailed kite and broad-winged hawk. The park's highlands provide habitat for nearly 100 bird species, including species found nowhere else.
The trip from Lake Guri is worth a visit if for no other reason than Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world. Angel Falls drops 3,212 feet from the top of a tapui, or flat-top mesa, and can only be seen optimally by air. Many small aircraft charters ferry visitors to the area to see the falls for a nominal fee. And Angel Falls is not the only spectacular waterfall in Canaima National Park; the geology of the park contains many tapuis that are considered sacred to the indigenous Pemon who have lived in the area for over a thousand years. The mesas themselves are old sandstone formed before South America separated from the African continent. Many tapuis contain varieties of plant and animal species native only to that particular mesa due to their long separation from encroachment. Some vacation rentals are available in the area of Canaima National Park and the easiest method to access the area is to fly. Hiking is available to some tapuis but excellent physical condition and proper gear is needed. Guides are available.
Around the edges of the park, bordering Brazil and Guyana, illegal mining for gold is going on. Few licenses to mine in the area have been issued but the mining continues with much damage to the environment. Lake Guri already shows evidence of mercury contamination from the byproducts of such mining in the watershed. Again, economic considerations will likely win out over ecology as the Venezuelan government appears to be cooperating in the building of transport roads to facilitate mining in the region. The hope of making a fortune in gold will likely drive real estate pressures in the area, making it more difficult to protect this unique environment.
The Lake Guri region of Venezuela is beautiful. It, and the wonders of Canaima National Park make the trip worthwhile. Make arrangements today to visit Lake Guri. It will be the trip of a lifetime.
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