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Date: 07 Oct 2007 20:30:49
Title: Relief from the heat at 10000 feet!

Position 10:12.5N 64:39.8W

 

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. Hrmmph!

 

Merida’s a 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 one.

 

 

Here’s David, 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…

 

Los Nevados 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…

 

We’d travelled 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 ‘em.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

 

 

After spending 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 interesting…

 

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 boat…

 

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!


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