Friday, November 29
The Best Part of Trip- the Adventure to Los Nevados
Posada Montana was gracious enough to hold
the majority of our luggage for us while we spent an evening
away. We packed only what we'd need for the night into backpacks,
and headed off by foot for the few short blocks to the Teleferico
tram. It's reputed to be the highest and longest tram in the
world (4,765 meters above sea level and 12.5 kilometers in
length). Anyone who knows me and knows my fear of heights
and flying knows I was not happy about this, but I wasn't
going to let it stop me.
We were there early, since we needed to
be on one of the first gondolas leaving to allow time for
the burro ride to the town. As we stood in line, we got to
talking with some people around us. The couple in front was
heading the same place we were, but they were making the trek
on foot, and then onward to other little villages on their
way back to Merida. She was a Venezuelan, and he, surprisingly
enough was from San Francisco. Behind us was a really nice
guy from the US- he was just going up and returning on the
tram the same morning. He too wasn't crazy about the heights,
but didn't want to miss the sites.
The ride wasn't too bad actually. I mean-
granted, I kept my eyes closed behind my sunglasses most of
the way (Curt kept calling me Helen Keller), but the operators
seemed to take care to make the ride nice and smooth, so it
wasn't like a ski lift when you swing drastically over each
tower you pass. Andean music plays in the background, and
a gentleman's voice shares information in Spanish about the
trip: I assume things like what types of vegetation you're
passing, and awful things like how high you are now and how
it was built- so I was quite happy not to be able to understand
what he was saying. There are four gondola stations, and at
each one, you get out of the car and walk forward to the next.
Part of this is apparently to give you time to acclimatize
to the higher altitude. At the third station, the landscape
changed dramatically. The vegetation was no longer lush and
green, but rocky, gray and dry. There were beautiful flowering,
low lying shrubs, and the temperature had dropped so that
the air was cool and crisp enough to require a sweatshirt.
After seven months of sweating in the Caribbean, I was loving
Pam, Steve, and Curt bought a tickets to
go up to the highest, fifth, level and I took the opportunity
to skip going any further so I could talk to the guides with
the horses that take you to Los Nevados. We were told there
would be plenty of guides there waiting, but when I arrived,
there were only two guides with one horse and one burro each-
perfect for the four of us
but what if anyone else was
going to the town?
When they got back from the top, the guides
put Pam and Steve on the burros, and Curt and I on the horses.
They walked. I felt a little silly- after riding horses all
my life, I was used to galloping along on big thoroughbreds,
not walking along a trail on a pony. But it was fun nonetheless.
And it was hilarious to see Steve on a burro! But poor guy-
his knees were killing him because they couldn't quite wrap
around properly since his burro was so small. And of course,
then there's the poor burro! And so we were off, further up
into the mountains still.
Pam is no big fan of heights either by the
way, but on the gondola ride up, she didn't seem to flinch.
Now on the burro however (who seemed to favor the very edge
of the trail along the cliffs) she wasn't such a happy camper.
I'm not sure why it doesn't unnerve me- maybe because I was
just so happy to be back in the saddle? Or perhaps after being
around horses so much, I trust them more, knowing they don't
want to fall anymore than you do.
Having said that- it was really thrilling.
We climbed up further and further up to the mountain peaks,
so high the clouds were curling over the tips around us, and
down into the valley. The trail was sometimes quite narrow,
and sometimes so rocky were walking over boulders, not dirt-
but always, there was a steep mountainside to oneside. The
animals seemed to know their way well though and I just tried
to stay out of the way and let my horse do his job.
But then Pam's worst fear happened- her
burro slipped and tumbled over onto his shoulder and on top
of Pam! I was above and behind her as we came around a corner
and saw the whole thing as if it were in slow motion. Her
knee took the brunt of the fall, but after both she and the
burro had scrambled back up and caught their breath- it didn't
seem like anything was broken. It was one of those moments
when you fret for your friend- is she okay? And then think
oh no, what about the little burro? And at the same time you
see the guide who feels terrible about both. With my limited
Spanish I was able to ask if he thought the burro was okay,
and he seemed to think he was. And Pam was so brave, she got
back on without a peep. This time however, the guide walked
directly alongside her and steadied her anytime she got a
We stopped to give the horses some water
and rest (and the guides too I'm sure), and when Steve got
off, his knee was shot. He could barely put any weight on
it at all. Not to mention the fact that the altitude had completely
erased any little bit of hearing he had left as well. To speak
a few octaves louder than normal as we'd grown accustomed
to with Steve was no longer even close to loud enough. We
had to yell for him to catch any of what we were saying. The
two guides, who didn't speak even one word of English, must
have really gotten a kick out of us screaming at him. But
Steve was such a good sport about it- he merely laughed and
joked about it himself with them in Spanish. He was telling
them he was an old man, but had a young heart- which is absolutely
true by the way.
The ride was quite long and I was happy
to see Curt seemed to be having a good time and acclimating
well to the horse thing. Secretly, I was checking him out
to see how he did. I've always gotten a kick out of taking
friends horseback riding to see how they handle it. At it's
best, guys that can ride are so fun to watch and ride with.
At it's worst, for men that can't- I can't think of anything
that would be more emasculating. Anyway, Curt was doing great
and seemed to really like it. It made me think that perhaps
our next adventure after sailing should be living on a cattle
ranch in Montana.
Pam and Steve however, rode well, but you
could see they would have preferred for this experience to
be over about three hours ago. We had hiked over the peaks
of the Andes, and then carefully picked our way down a narrow
and rocky trail into a never ending valley. Tough going even
with the stunning landscape to lure you along.
Eventually we entered a magical valley that
was nothing short of a fairy tale. It took my breath away
and I've never seen anything like it. Flocks of white doves
glided through the pass and there was grass here and there
now, and soft leafy trees. As we rounded the corner from afar,
the steep mountains were wrapped in patchwork quilt fields,
each with a little white house with a red tiled roof. Lines
of drying laundry flapping in the breeze were splatters of
bright colors among the golden hillside. Along the road we
were walking, a creek followed alongside- perhaps a foot and
a half deep and two wide
our guides told us it carried
drinking water to the farms and town. The younger of the two,
whom I had by now been able to exchange some simple conversation
with, asked if up ahead we could stop for a cold beer. I wasn't
sure that I had understood him correctly, because I couldn't
imagine that there would be a Stop and Shop or bar anywhere
nearby- but I said, si anyway.
We turned off the road, down a little drive
where we passed some cows sleeping in a little pasture. A
short distance ahead was a little clay house with a sliver
of porch providing a little protection from the now blazing
heat. We were greeted by an absolutely beaming toothless woman.
I don't know if I've ever seen someone so purely gushing with
sheer joy. We fairly collapsed onto a rickety bench along
one wall and bought beers for all. She passed ice cold Polar
beer through a window in the side of the building, her toothless
grin framed like the Mona Lisa. A little boy and girl appeared
from one of the doorways and played with a ping pong ball
in the dirt where we all sat. They seemed enchanted by us
as we exchanged small talk. You could see that the older one-
the girl, seemed to think it was funny we didn't speak her
As good as the cold beer was, we wanted
to get to our final destination and rest. It was only another
hour or so ahead, and by the time we got there, we were happy
to be done with the ride. The only way to reach this little
village is by foot, horseback, or serious four by four (and
I don't mean Explorer). We were later to find that the taxis
for hire actually have to go through an aggressive certification
process due to the difficulty of getting in and out. Absolutely
everything on the vehicle must be checked out, and the driver's
themselves have to pass a health test. As we saw firsthand
on our way back down- a few inches off the road, and you'd
tumble thousands of feet before there'd be so much as boulder
to hit on your way down. Anyway, I think this has kept the
Los Nevados pure from outside influence. If not for the jeeps,
you would have no idea what century it is.
The cobblestone streets were almost barren
of people. A few here and there walked from one place to the
next. One led his donkey and cart up the road. Another boy
trotted by smartly on his shiny black horse with a long mane.
Steve's knee was really bad, and it was going to take awhile
for him to walk down the hill to the posada we had been referred
to. Never one to pass up a photo opp (he's a professional
photographer), Steve took it slow and shot pictures on the
way down while I went ahead to reserve rooms at Posada Bella
Vista as we'd heard it was by far the nicest one in town.
Almost immediately I was approached by a woman offering us
another posada. Sometimes it pays to be a foreigner, as I
was able to feign not speaking Spanish.
At the bottom of the hill, next to the church,
an iron gate led to Posada Bella Vista. As I passed through
and walked down the steps to the courtyard, I was afforded
a spellbinding view of the valley beyond. The posada itself
is a few well kept buildings with hand painted names on the
walls. Flowers are everywhere and a patio with hammocks overlooking
the mountains invites you to have a nap. It's quiet and tranquil:
the only sound is the wind in my ears as I look around for
life. I find a girl who directs me to two very simple rooms:
cement floors and basic beds with blankets stacked high at
their foot. The bathroom has a shower head coming from the
ceiling and a drain in the floor. She says there's hot water,
but I'm skeptical. For our $14US here, we receive lodging,
as well as breakfast and dinner- which will be served at 6
or 6:30. We can pay in the morning.
The posada owner was kind enough to dig
around and come up with a walking stick for Steve, and it
helped a great deal for the rest of his trip down the hill.
By now however, Pam, Curt and I were exchanging worried looks
about Steve's ears. He was almost entirely deaf it seemed
to us. It was both frustrating to try to talk to him- and
moreover scary. It had happened in a matter of hours. Neither
Curt and I have ever given Pam and Steve's age a second thought,
and so it seemed so odd to see him walking with a cane and
not able to hear any of what we were saying. As ever, he was
unbelievably good natured about it, though it must have been
killing him not to be in the middle of the action. He's one
of the laughiest, talkiest, jokiest guys I know- and all of
a sudden he was cut off from our conversations completely.
And here we are in a quiet little Venezuelan town- where no
one even speaks English, and we're putting our mouths to Steve's
ear and yelling to communicate. We felt so bad for him. And
Pam too, since it puts a burden on her as well. She swore
she'd get him to an ear doctor when we get back to Margarita.
After relaxing in the hammocks, we met in
the main hall area for dinner. There was another couple there
with their guide- headed the opposite direction as we were.
They'd be doing the mule ride tomorrow. We had a bottle of
wine with dinner, and sat eating as course after course appeared
before us. The meal was simple food- bread, soup, chicken,
rice, boiled potatoes, fresh squeezed juice, but absolutely
delicious! I ate so much I got a bellyache. Curt even left
the table early and went to bed. That night, our room was
cold, and I was in heaven snuggling under heaps of blankets
for the first time since San Francisco! Bed felt good after
our long travels.