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South America » Venezuela » Andean » Mérida
August 20th 2010
Published: August 20th 2010
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El Paseo del CondorEl Paseo del CondorEl Paseo del Condor

Venezuela´s highest road pass, at 4007m
Dear All

Greetings from the mountains of Venezuela. Here I am in the touristy town of Mérida, high up in the Andes of Western Venezuela, and what lovely weather up here - less of the hot and humid, more of the cloudy and cold. Never thought I´d miss the latter! And the bonus is my hostel has hot water! I haven´t seen this since Caracas, and it really is a treat. To be honest, in the hot zones of the tropical coast a cold shower is fantastic. But since Bogotá, taking showers has been more of an ordeal than a pleasure (counting to 3 before jumping in, quickly scrubbing, and wrapping up in a cosy towel again...!), and the further you go up in altitude, the more the water seems to come direct from an Andean glacial spring somewhere.

Anyways, things are going well, but not a great deal to report since last time. I´m writing this blog though, as it may be sometime before I get to write the next one. Tomorrow I head towards the proper jungle areas of Eastern Venezuela, and as far as I understand, Internet cafes are few and far between there. So catching up with this message, and hopefully will upload a few photos too, just to relate the last few days, before perhaps a lengthened time of non-communication.

I believe I last wrote having just arrived in the not-so-lovely town of San Cristobal. After a nice sleep in a beautiful hotel there, shared with mostly Cuban doctors who seem to have been invited by Chavez to assist in the local hospitals, caught most likely to be my last experience of long-distance public transport in the form of a 6-hour bus trip up Andean valleys towards Mérida. Except instead of being too hot, this one was freeeezing. I´d heard on some buses, the driver turns up the air conditioning full blast and there´s nowt you can do about it. Everyone else had blankets and jackets and looked like they were expecting this, and to be honest on most other trips I´d done the same, but found out this wasn´t necessary as most other trips involved more sweating than shivering as the driver seemed to prefer stuffier environments. The only time where I left my blanket and jacket in my backpack, the driver turned temperatures towards the polar extremes… Brrr…. 6 hours later arrived in a rather congealed state in this rather nice city, which is actually one of the more relaxed and tranquil places I´ve been so far, and certainly very tourist friendly.

Unfortunately I did get a bit of food poisoning here on my first evening from a dodgy piece of undercooked chicken, which I only realised was undercooked after I´d already eaten half of it, but the amazing thing is this only seemed to last around 12 hours, and I feel so much better now - thank goodness! I was really worried this was going to affect the last week of my travel, but alas it has not, and I´m extremely grateful for this.

Yesterday caught a tiny minibus squashing about 16 passengers in up to a local Andean village called Jají (pronounced ha-hee), which was nice enough, but the journey up the mountainside and cloud forest and back down again was more amazing, past a few waterfalls and at a couple of points going through actual rivers which ran across the road itself. And today took an excursion up to an area called “El Páramo”, which is a high up kind of moorland, wilderness area, with very unusual plantlife. Highest point reached was slightly above 4,000m, and a walk around did induce a spell of dizziness. Unfortunately though, Mérida´s most famous attraction, “El Teleférico”, is currently closed for repairs and has been so for a couple of years. This was a real shame, as I was certainly looking forward to a ride on the world´s highest and longest cable car system (running 12.5 km, from 1577m above sea level to 4765m) right up to nearly the summit of Venezuela´s highest mountain, Pico Bolívar, 5007m. But this was not to be, and instead was only able to catch a glimpse of the cable without the car from the conveniently located hammock right outside my room in a posada very close to the initial station (with a spectacular view of the mountain scenery behind). I will hopefully at least be visiting record-breaking sights by shortly taking a trip to a local ice cream parlour, “Heladería Coromoto”, which apparently figures in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest number of ice-cream flavours, including avocado, and onion! The question is, which one do I choose…!!

Tomorrow the journey continues by plane (not 16-hour night bus as originally planned, thank goodness - I don´t think my old age can take these any more…!) to Caracas, to change to another plane for Ciudad Bolivar, in the country´s jungly east. From here, a 3-day, 2-night trip by light aircraft, canoe and trekking should take me right up to the Angel Falls bang in the middle of the tropical rainforest of the Orinoco Basin, I think the sight on this trip I´ve been looking forward to the most. Following this, a return to Caracas for a couple more nights of hiding in my hotel room (still not got any better impression of this city from talking to people around here, even a worse impression after speaking to a guy from Caracas today who told me of his experience being “express-kidnapped” for 2 hours and forced to take out and hand over all the money from his bank account, and this was by a policeman…!!!) before flying back once more to European lands.

One more week, and then back to reality!!

Ah well, still looking forward very much to coming back and catching up with people, and hopefully to apply the fantastic experiences and knowledge gained from this trip back to my everyday life back in the UK.

Hopefully gonna upload some photos now, and will catch up again soon after my jungle trip mid next week(so excited….!!)

¡Hasta pronto!

Alex



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