Episode I – The Fantastic Mesa
Tuesday October 1st to Friday, October 11th, 2002
We survived Caracas without being robbed or kidnapped although we were a little concerned when our taxi driver warned us that our hotel was in a dangerous place. This mainly applied to night time so we didn’t venture out much after dark. Caracas is actually quite a nice city and very easy to get around. We saw a lot more than we anticipated -- museums, Bolivar’s ("The Liberator") birth place, cathedral etc. And we even had time to suss out the bus stations for our onward trips. The metro (tube/subway) was clean, efficient and had nice cold air conditioning (much needed as it was pretty hot an humid). London Underground could take a few tips from these guys. We also used the local buses known as "carritos" or "por puestos" (“per place”) where you get on but have to wait until the bus is full before the driver departs.
A few observations about Caracas:
- Really bad traffic and air pollution.
- Market stalls everywhere offering anything you can imagine but, to our eyes, not selling very much. Almost every street was clogged with stalls, making walking along the sidewalk difficult.
- Tons of shoe shops - don’t know why.
- Jackie bought a couple of "minimiser bras" (boys, don’t ask) for this trip so a not to attract unwanted attention. However, in Caracas, all the women seem to go for the "up, out and in your face" option so Jackie need not have bothered. Also, the women wear really tight fitting clothes regardless of their shape or size. (Peter’s happy).
- Baseball is the number one sport here so they are all watching the World Series.
After two days in Caracas we got an overnight bus to Merida. This took 12 hours but we splashed out for the buscama, which literally means "bus bed" so we could pretty much lie stretched out and did manage to get a couple of hours sleep. We were also prepared for the extra cold air conditioning and crappy, loud gangster style videos that are usually played on the long distance buses in South America. Thank goodness for down jackets, ear plugs and eye masks.
We found a cute little posada (guesthouse/inn) in Merida. Merida is a mountain, university town in the west of the country at the start of the Andes. It lies on the flat top of a mesa surrounded by deep gorges and high mountains. The scenery is stunning. We enrolled at the “Iowa Institute” and have been doing Spanish classes all week. We also got hooked up with a couple of Venezuelan guys so we could practice our Spanish and they could practice their English. They were too polite to laugh at our poor Spanish. We also went up the teleferico (cable car). This is the longest and highest in the world. It goes from Merida at 1577m up to Pico Espejo at 4765m in four sections. So we had t-shirts on at the bottom but at the top we needed down jackets, hats and gloves. We walked down part of the way for about an hour and a half – our first walk in the Andes – it was fantastic.
- Beer is very cheap – 24 cans for less than 5 pounds. (We know this because we bought a case for a school get together.)
- The internet is also cheap, about 30p for an hour and there are internet cafes everywhere. (We are actually typing this in McDonald’s “McInternet”.)
- Is a major gringo hangout so they’re used to us foreigners.
Tomorrow we are going to attempt to climb Pico Humboldt (4942m) and Pico Bolivar (5007m – the highest mountain in Venezuela). We’ve hired a guide and a porter so it will just be the four of us for six days. This will be our first experience with ice axes and crampons. Hopefully, if we take it slowly, we should be OK with the altitude and our out of condition legs.
When we get back from the climb we will be going with a group to Los Llanos. Los Llanos are the plains of Venezuela, which is an area that covers about 30% of the country and is probably bigger than the whole of the UK. It is a good area for wildlife so we are going on a kind of safari. We’ll be fishing for piranhas, chasing anteaters, caymen (alligators) and anacondas (BIG snakes). There’s also horse riding and other stuff. We will sleep in hammocks under mossie nets. It is going to be hot and humid, the opposite of the climb, and should be good fun.