Wednesday, November 27, 2002
Through the Llanos and into the Andes
By now, we've caught on. The heavy, doughy
pastries are just the way the Venezuelans like them. So we
decided just to get used to it. This morning, we sat in a
little coffee shop and ate while watching a shopkeeper across
the street put together his fake Christmas tress for sale.
Today we saw the most dramatic changes in
landscape and, I believe, what makes this country so beautiful.
The morning began as we drove through Los Llanos, or- the
plains. They stretch for as far as the eye can see: the color
of butter, with clusters of green trees and even palms poking
up like goal posts all alone in the end zone. The cattle here
are white- and against the soft backdrop, they appear painted
there as if on a flat theatre set. As we sped along the highway,
mountains started to burgeon to one side, covered in lush
green. And then, before we knew it- we were climbing steeply
into the Andes.
The road was narrow and wet, and wound tightly
against the mountainside. Though as I write that word to describe
it, "mountains" it doesn't seem to fit at all. For
one thing, I think of mountains as sloping. This seemed more
like sheer wall. But not with dirt and shrubs as I think of
it. They were covered in vines, and ferns, and vegetation
so dense I don't know how one could walk through it. And all
along the road, houses clung precariously to the cliffs. Children
ran freely out of their brightly painted doors. I couldn't
help but wonder how their mothers don't go mad with worry.
One false step, and your baby would be gone in the blink of
And finally, it seemed we reached some level
of plateau, where the landscape became more flat and dry.
Wildflowers grew along rolling hills of shrubs. Little towns
were sprinkled about. We stopped for lunch and the air had
grown brisk enough for jeans. While we ate, men were in a
patio next door: one chopping calabash gourds with a machete,
and the other scooping out the seeds. It was a treat to have
delicious smoked cheese soup, arepas, and coffee.
We arrived in Merida to find it a relatively
big city, even by our standards. The streets were busy and
traffic was at a standstill. The buildings had that packed-in,
close-together feeling like San Francisco. We found the posada
another cruiser had recommended- Posada Montana- and as luck
would have it they had space two rooms available for the equivalent
of $14US dollars a night. The facilities themselves were charming,
with ceramic tile floors, wrought iron rails, and ferns filtering
sunlight into the middle atrium. Our rooms were on the second
floor overlooking the reception desk, situated across the
hall from each other. Next door to us, we had a reading room,
or more of a sun porch really. Large windows stood open to
the bustling street below, and to one side- the Andes rose
above the city. We could see the Teleferico gondola wires
disappearing over the peaks. After getting settled in, we
met Pam and Steve on the little porch for a glass of wine
before hitting the streets to look for a spot for dinner.
We settled on a Mexican restaurant just
two blocks away. The food was absolutely excellent. All four
of us are native Californians, and so we'd been dying for
a Mexican food fix for ages. We stuffed ourselves to our heart's
content. The meal ended up costing us about $12US each- for
appetizers, our main course, desert, and drinks.