Well look at that, we’ve
managed to do another blog within just a few weeks of the last one. Incredible.
The more astute among you will have noticed that our position above is exactly
the same as on our last entry so you can figure out that we’re back on the boat
in Puerto La Cruz (I only agreed to come here in the first place because I
thought we were going to stay with Penelope Cruz – must get my ears
syringed). But we have been elsewhere in the meantime, in fact we’ve been up the
Andes. A mere 22hrs on a bus gets you from here to Merida, in the west of
Venezuela, not too far from the Colombian border, and what a contrast! The
scenery is spectacular, as you might imagine, the climate is lovely – sunny and
warm but so much more comfortable than the coast, and the city of Merida
is a pleasure to wander around. There’s a university there so the city has a
young and vibrant feel to it, and we certainly never felt that we had to be on
our guard too much as we do here. One of the major attractions there is the
world’s longest, highest cable car, which goes up to (I think) 4800m over
12.5km. Impressive eh? And not to be missed. With impeccable timing we arrived
just days after it closed for two weeks of maintenance.
major tourist destination, for Venezuelans as well as us foreign johnnies, so
there’s plenty to do in the way of trips and sightseeing, as well as the more
exciting mountain pursuits like canyoning and paragliding. We met up with David
from “Somerset Cat” and did a jeep tour for a day, up and down the mountains,
walking to a hot spring for a dip, looking at some condors (in cages – they’re
extinct in Venezuela although not in Peru / Argentina etc). The condor, of
course, is the largest winged bird (what’s an non-winged bird? A mouse?) with a
wingspan of 3 metres, and they look a bit like turkeys although they’re actually
a type of vulture. I wouldn’t want to try stuffing
myself and our driver/guide “Carlos the Silent”, so called because the bugger
didn’t say much. Note the fleeces and boots – mmmm, lovely and cold!
David left to go
back to Puerto La Cruz on Saturday so Tracy and myself joined a trip up to Los
Nevados, a small village at 2700m, 75km from Merida. Doesn’t sound too far but
it takes four hours to get there as at least half of the journey is on a single
track dirt road that winds it’s way around the mountains. Stunning views,
especially when you look out of the window of the Landcruiser at the precipitous
drop to the valley below. Gulp.
Look at that
lovely twisty track going up, and indeed down, the mountain. It’s just crying
out for a motorbike…
itself is a very pretty little village of 300 or so people with the Venezuelan
essentials of a church and a Plaza Bolivar as well as numerous “Posadas”, i.e.
guesthouses. We stayed at the Bella Vista, which of course it had, and it was
great. After lunch we headed out for a walk “around the village” according to
the guide, Toto. Around the village? It would have been more accurate if he’d
have said “Out of the village, turn
left, up a bloody great hill, go behind the village, up a bit more, down a bit
and back to the village three and a half hours later”. Not that we’re
complaining you understand, we like a walk! Nice view from above too…
The whole thing
was, as is so much else here, stupidly cheap. The night in the posada cost us
£12.00. And if that sounds expensive bear in mind it included dinner. And
breakfast. For both of us. By the by, the food was lovely, real hearty mountain
grub, right up our street. The trip up in a 4.5 litre long wheelbase Landcruiser
was less than a fiver each (and there were only four of us plus the driver and
guide). Mind you, petrol costs are not a consideration as depending on the
exchange rate you use it’s only around 1p, yes, that’s right, 1p per litre.
Obviously diesel doesn’t cost that much, as only in the UK is it more expensive
than petrol. It’s about 1/2p per litre here. While in Margarita we filled our
tanks, and we paid a massive premium for having it delivered out to the boat on
anchor and pumped in. 300 litres of diesel and 25 litres of petrol cost us about
£12.00! Anyway, back to the story…
up with a Swiss couple, Yurg & Marianne, who coincidentally had their boat
in the same marina as us, and they left on Sunday morning to ride mules along
and down the mountains back towards Merida. We’d decided against that and were
waiting for a Landcruiser to take us back down, and meanwhile were chatting with
Philip, another Swiss (must be the mountains that attract them?) who was hanging
around for another day or so up there. He said he’d be going for a walk for a
few hours, keeping himself amused with a good book and his mountain horn.
Pardon? A mountain horn? Isn’t that one of those long things that men in
leiderhosen stand on mountainsides and trumpet away on? Yes indeed it is. Now
aside from the obvious question along the lines of “how the hell did you get one of those
up here you nutter”, it transpired that Philip also lived on a yacht (actually a
catamaran so perhaps not a nutter after all…), not the ideal storage solution
for massive musical instruments you might think.
But behold, when he opened up what seemed to be a
way-too-small bag, he unveiled a telescopic mountain horn, beautifully
made of carbon fibre! He picked it up, and plainly demonstrating his
well-practised party piece, with a flick of the wrist extended it out to it’s
full 4 metres. Being carbon fibre it only weighs 1.5kg which is remarkable given
it’s size, but also being carbon fibre it cost $2500. Naturally he could play it
too, and gave us a brief concert. God knows what the Venezuelans made of it.
Incredible, and utterly bonkers.
Not to be
outdone, we’ve commissioned an inflatable grand piano. We’ll show
And so back to
Merida in another Landcruiser. This one wasn’t in as good condition as the one
we came up in, to be more truthful it was falling to bits. And it was a small
one, a short wheelbase model from the late seventies at a guess. Still, plenty
of room for us we thought, as there didn’t seem to be anyone else waiting.
Wrong! By the time we set off there was the driver in what remained of the
driver’s seat, a woman & her husband & their kid in what remained of the
front passenger seat, Tracy, me, and two other blokes in the back. Snug. Half a
dozen empty gas bottles and a few crates of empty beer bottles on the roof and
we were off! Fortunately the driver must do this trip at least every day so knew
the “road” very well but it was still a bit nerve racking. On the way up we
hadn’t seen any other vehicles, needless to say on the way down we met perhaps
15 on their way up. Squeezing past each other with a very long drop on our side
(why always our side?) was great fun…I particularly liked the fact that the
return spring on the accelerator pedal had obviously broken some time ago and
been replaced with a bit of old knicker elastic. Not even new knicker elastic
you understand. Still, no disasters and we got back to Merida in one piece.
Here’s Tracy and Chitty at the
Little Chef halfway down:
Monday mooching around town, it was decided that Tracy would quite like to do a
bit of shopping, see a museum or two, and generally enjoy being able to wander
around Merida for another day on Tuesday. Me, I fancied something a bit more
Hands up, who’s
ridden an enduro bike up the Andes then?
Sorry about the gap there, I couldn’t type as I had my hands in the air.
Just me then? Thought so. Through one of the tourism agencies I was put in touch
with Goyo, a Venezuelan chap whose brother had a spare bike so off we went. He
had a Yamaha TT600, and I got a Honda XR650 – some of you will know that’s just
my kind of bike. This one was a bit knackered sadly, but most of it worked. It
had a nice new knobbly (off-road) rear tyre, but this was offset by the fact
that the front tyre was once a knobbly but not recently. Never fear, off we went
for the day. What great fun, riding up dirt tracks, up mountains, across
streams, although as protective clothing was a bit lacking we didn’t go too
mental. Yes mother, I did have a helmet! At one of our first stops in a village
called la Trampa, Goyo was looking a bit perplexed. It turned out that he
usually stopped here around 12.00pm, but his whole schedule went out the window
when we got there at 10.30am as I’d kept up with him better than he’d expected.
Ha! There’s life in the old dog yet!
The only trouble
is it reminded me how much more I enjoy riding a bike than I do sailing a
One more night
in Merida and it was back to Puerto La Cruz after another 22hrs on a bus…Sorry
to harp on about the cost here, but when we settled our bill at the posada in
Merida (en-suite, cable TV etc) the total for both of us for six nights
including breakfast, a few beers and the car to Los Nevados came to around
£80.00. Might have to go back!