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Saturday, November 30, 2002
Death Defying Ride Back to Merida

Breakfast the next morning was just as good, and as filling, as dinner the night before. We were all enjoying the beautiful mountains and solitude, and talked about extending our stay. In the end, we opted to stay just a few hours in the morning and head back. But it sparked an idea in Curt and I that maybe we'll return to Los Nevados next year and stay for a few months. It's a perfect place to paint, and write, and do the things you never have time to at home. We couldn't' help thinking that his brother Jeff, an artist, would love to spend some time here.

We meandered around town some and took pictures. Steve was in the square, in front of their police station, taking pictures with his digital camera and got to talking with the two policemen- one of whom is an avid amateur photographer. He was fascinated by Steve's camera, and his son kept asking for him to take his picture while he'd pose. Pam was sitting on a sunny bench among the flowers, while Steve was in the police station rapping out in Spanish with his new buddies. They became fast friends! Leave it to Steve, by the time we left, we had been offered to stay in their homes if we return, and Steve was walking with them arm and arm! He had promised to email them his pictures when they get back.

We had made arrangements to return by jeep with Francisco Jerez (he lives on the corner between our posada and the police station). I was so glad not to have to go back down on the gondola, and had I known that we could have come by jeep- I would have come up that way. That is- until we actually got on the road!

Heaven help us. It's a toss up if I would prefer this jeep ride to an airplane. This was Curt's turn to enjoy one of his favorite pastimes on our adventure: four wheeling. The road- if that's what you could call it- was barely, barely, wide enough for the jeep. There was a wall of mountain to our direct right, and to the left, a drop off of thousands of feet. The "road" was mostly dirt, sometimes shale rocks. Rarely flat, but usually tilting us steeply to one side or the other as the tires climbed over boulders and through ditches. At points, it would be so steep as we'd creep our way down, and around a hairpin turn, that Francisco was going slower than if we were walking. And all along we saw the little shrines that we'd since learned were actually monuments to people that had died there! He seemed to know the stories of several- how many people were in the car and when it happened. Not that I really needed to hear any of this by the way.

Again, our guide found us a funny little spot for a cold beer (though not for him! He had a soda). The arrangement was similar to the last, but this time there was a big group of kids. Steve's camera once again charmed the strangers. As soon as he took a picture of one and showed it to them in the viewfinder, they all became hams- dog-piling one another and posing for him so they could see the picture afterwards.

We continued on in search of a place for lunch, and came across another town. In this spot however, the locals didn't seem the least bit pleased to see us. Francisco found a small spot selling empanadas and arepas, but when we sat down- no one would serve us. He ended up tracking them down in back and ordering for us. Matter of fact- I think he even served us our food while the owner hid in back. It was odd indeed.

From here, the road back was homefree. For one thing, it was actually paved. A few hours later and we were back in Merida, walking towards the posada that felt like home. They greeted us warmly and went in search of our bags while inquiring of our trip. We settled in, and opted for another great meal in their restaurant that night before heading off for another great night's sleep.

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