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August 1st 2009
Published: August 14th 2009
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What a nightmare journey! After the two hours to Maracay, we then awaited the overnight bus to Merida, all was going well, we had brought more clothes this time to stay warm and at about 6 in the morning we stopped, and didnt move for a good few hours, we saw people outside starting to make their way on foot. We were unsure what was going on, a nice girl tried to explain in Spanish something to us but I wasnt picking up much of what she was saying, one man on the bus was able to speak english. He told us that there was a protest ahead and the road had been blocked since the previous day. After much tooing and froing in Spanish it was explained that the people on the bus had decided that they wanted the bus driver to turn around and go to a town called Valera which was the next major transport hub a good few hours back. We just joined them and off we went. A few hours later once again we pile off the bus with all the gear and to our dissapointment a por puesto says no to us because of gear, we eventually find an old bus and as we board we find most of the passengers are disgruntled members of our former bus. The trip then was another 5 hours through steep mountain roads, we were sitting back and middle so didn´t see much out and after another few hours of load spanish music we were getting a little tired of it until out of the blue a couple of english 80´s tunes and Kylie "I should be so Lucky" come to save the day.
Exhausted after I lost count how many hours we crashed in Posada Los Bucares.
A lovely town Merida, different to the chaos we had seen elsewhere, a quieter relaxed pace, a studenty feel and set beautifully between two mountain ranges (with a couple of peaks above 5000m). Unfotunately the cable car here is still closed and not open till September so that is a shame. Deb was happy with the weather here, pleasantly sunny and warm in the morning till mid afternoon when it would cool down and often rain as the clouds set in.
We had changed all the USD we had brought in cash and as getting the official rate at the ATM was out of the question we were limited to our budget of what remained. This ruled out the Los Llanos tour I really would have liked to do, but not to mind, there is plenty more ahead in store I´m sure. We had enough to do a day tour of the Paramo (high altitude plains) which was great to take in the scenery at high altitude. Our tour was completely in Spanish and the other four tourists Venezuelans also, so it was tough with the language but they all managed to make it a fun and enjoyable trip and always wanted to include us. We went through various towns including Mucuchies and Apartaderos (3.3km above sea level). We went up to Collado del Condor at 4,100m altitude. Our first time up this high and as I climbed a small but steep hill for the views I could feel the shortness of breath, just feels really strange as your mind is kind of thinking how is this so hard I walk up things this small with no problems normally. One thing that Deb and I did misjudge was the temperature up here. I heard it was cool but it was freezing. Of course we weren´t prepared. The Venezuelans had the scarfs, beanies, jackets etc. Deb in her jeans and thin jumper spent this part of the tour looking for a hot drink and sitting in the van. I had shorts on and a jumper which allowed me short bursts outside. We went on to a couple of high altitude lakes with plenty of trout (which I was later to eat). It really was like being up with the clouds, they move so quickly up there and pretty much just pass straight through you. As we descended you notice the plants coming to life again as the temperature warms. The Paramo was much more populated than I had imagined. Plenty of small villages, many still working the land with ox and plough.
We ate at a nice resteraunt where I tried the national dish of Pabellon Criollo, a plate with a mixture of things fried egg, rice, beans, a beef concoction and fried bananas all placed seperately on your plate. Not bad and washed down with a lovely Polar Ice.
Another day we took a por puesto (looked like the A-Team van) to the beautiful small village of Jaji set in the mountains, strolled around and had a great lunch "trucha a la plancha" or "grilled trout". First time I have had trout and it was delicious.
We have been taking it easy in the evenings and not venturing out much, never sure how safe things are so find it better to get a few drinks in and watch some TV. We took a couple local buses which is always fun, to the bus station to book tickets to Maricaibo but as we were to find out, the road was still blocked at the same place as previously. As our Bolivars were running out we knew we couldn´t get stuck here so we decided on maybe heading to another town 5 hours away and coming down the other side of Lake Maricaibo, luckily enough when we turned to go to Jaji the day prior the road had been cleared and we were relieved.
Deb is having a fantastic time here at the Panaderias (bakeries). She kind of looks like a stork in the long grass, head down against the glass, head moving around as she studies every piece of cake through the glass, trying to work out what it is. I find it quite amusing and just watch her. She loved the Coquitos here, just like a coconut macaroon.
Sadly saying goodbye to Merida (would be a great place to come and study Spanish, plenty of things to keep you busy outside of study) we were on the Colombia. We left on an overnight bus (again the only gringos), felt like the coldest one yet for me, jeans, shirt, jumper, fleece, scarf and somehow I still felt cold. We were stopped twice in the night (Deb woken twice) for passport checks, but this was only a sign of things to come. I got a good view of the Catacambo lightning which is almost constant, every few seconds, lighting up the sky and the thing that makes it remarkable is the fact that there is no accompanying thunder. Nothing has been proven but they think it has something to do with a large body of water (Lake Maricaibo) at sea level and its proximity to 5000m high peaks and the air meeting (I´ll leave it to them) but made for an eerie show out the window.
Once in Maracaibo it was a quick change to por puesto to Maico in Colombia. The por puesto was a big old car, bucket seats front and back, with 5 passengers and luggage tied in with boot open. Was a surprisingly comfortable ride. The driver passed some papers over, quite graphic photos on the papers, of people shot dead in the street. And a story about a bus from Caracas to Maracaibo that was held up at gunpoint overnight and all the passengers relieved of their valuables. Thankful that we had not had any trouble we headed for the border, the scenery now came to flat sandy ground, with coconut palms allong the sides, even cactus at some points, and always interspaced with litter. Our entry in to Colombia went something like this on the road leading to the border passport check, passport check, passport check, passport check, passport check hop out pay leaving tax, hop out get exit stamp, queue for Colombian stamp, a medical check up because of H1N1 and finally back on board our car for the final half hour to Maico. Colombia here we come!

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