los nevados

Yesterday, Shay and I took the Teleférico up the mountain for a second attempt to reach Los Nevados. (As you may recall from an earlier dispatch, we tried last Sunday but learned we couldn’t return because the Teleférico doesn’t run on Monday or Tuesday.)

This time Tyler and Jeanne accompanied us up the mountain. We went all of the way up to Pico Espejo, ritually played in the snow, and then returned to the next station down, Loma Redonda. We said goodbye to Jeanne and Tyler and headed down the trail.

The trail from Loma Redonda skirts the side of the mountain high above a hanging valley containing two lakes. The trail climbs for two kilometers to Alto de La Cruz pass at 4200 meters, or 13,776 feet. On the way, you pass through a tiny forest of very twisted trees. Though way above the tree line, this clump has found a sheltered niche just below the pass.

praying for our vans to arrive

The pass itself is windy and cold. Clouds stream through from the next valley, and someone has erected a cross. Just above us are jagged peaks dusted with fresh snow. Shay and I spend a few minutes here catching our breath before starting down the steep switchbacks towards Los Nevados.

The trails here are brutal. They descend steeply across rough and rocky terrain. The rocks are often loose, and all of our concentration was on our next step. (I wore dress shoes, as my hiking boots are safely in my car, still in Miami. This is not recommended.)

Occasionally, we’d stop moving for a moment to gape at the world around us.The Andes are spectacular. The hillsides are covered with moss and wildflowers. Huge numbers of wildflowers, in bright purples, reds, blues, and and yellows. I recognized wild iris and gladiola (!), butthere were many other types I’d never seen before.

Shay on the trail to Los Nevados

Water cascaded from the slopes around us, forming dozens of beautiful waterfalls. The cascades joined into a stream, which followed us down. We passed in and out of layers of cloud as we descended, and occasionally the sun would light up a hillside or a snowy peak.

After about 3 hours on the trail, it started to rain. Not a deluge, but a steady soft rain that lasted only a half hour. It didn’t bother us. We continued walking. We each found a burro shoe, and I told Shay to keep the ends pointed up so that the luck wouldn’t run out.

At one point Shay said “Jesus!” in the way only a bible-belt boy from Texas can call out to the Lord. I turned around, surprised by this exclamation after hours of silence. “What?” I asked. “It’s so purty!”. And it was.

Four hours into our trek we rounded a corner and saw the outlying farms of Los Nevados below us. From below we heard bizarre calls and howls. Ouuooooo! Ouoooooo! Oyyyiiiiiiii! I thought it was a wild fiesta, and later learned that it was merely the way the locals said ‘Hello’ across distances.

While walking through the farms we came across a man leading a horse. He asked us where we were heading, and I told him that we were going to a posada in Los Nevados. He asked us if we needed mules to return, and I told him that we did. We negotiated a price (15,000 Bs.) for two mules and a guide, and he said that he would meet us at the posada at 8:30 the next morning. (The conversation was entirely in Spanish, and I was quite pleased with myself at being able to keep up my end of things.)

Almost immediately I started worrying. Was I paying too much? Was this guy going to try to rip us off? And then I decided that it didn’t matter. 15,000 Bs. is about US$20, and seems incredibly cheap at that price.

After another hour’s walking we were looking down at Los Nevados. It’s a tiny town, and can’t have more than a few hundred residents. The center of town is the Plaza Simon Bolivar (of course), surrounded by a church and some homes. The entire town would fit on a single block in San Francisco. Los Nevados is perched at the edge of a canyon and has a million-dollar view.

Los Nevados

I immediately started thinking of moving there.

I can think of worse places to live. Granted, the water is probably polluted, and the nearest movie theatre is a day’s walk. But there is probably little crime, and almost zero air pollution, the temperature is nicely cool, and I can’t imagine a more tranquil place. I’ve OD’ed on cities for a while. Small-town quiet appeals to me.

We descended to the town. We wanted to stay at the Posada Bella Vista, perched on the precipice just behind the church. Unfortunately, there was a town meeting going on, and the señora of the posada was attending the meeting. We waited while representatives from the Chavez government made promises to the townspeople that probably would not be kept.

Busy Downtown Los Novados

While we were waiting, a young girl came into the garden of the posada and told us that we could stay at her mother’s posada instead. “This posada is 6,000 Bs. per night, and ours is 4,000!” she insisted, and seemed amazed when I declined her offer. It is the low season in Los Nevados, and competition is fierce.

The only other people staying at the Posada were sitting looking out over the valley. Zorn Ingeborg is a marketing manager from Cofasa Pharmaceuticals. She was born in Croatia, and had lived in Caracas for 40 years. She’d always wanted to go to Los Nevados and had finally made it on a burro from the Teleférico. She spoke perfect English. She was there with Losano and Luis Dekson. Losano lives in Mérida and works for the same company, and Luis is (I think) his son.

At around 7pm, the señora finally arrived and we were given rooms. She told us that dinner would be served at the only restaurant in town, just above the plaza, at 7:30. We show up at 7:15, but there is no one in the restaurant. We sit outside and watch the street life.

We’re finally asked to come into the restaurant at 8:00. It is a single room about 10 feet square. There’s a table in the room, with a bench to one side and three chairs on the other. We sit for a while, but nothing happens. We go out to the street and watch the kids play.

There are about a dozen kids playing in the plaza. They’re running around, yelling, chasing one another. A kid with Down’s Syndrome has been chosen as ‘the monster’, and gamely lunges after the other kids growling. They scream and run around in circles. Later, the game switches to cops and robbers. The robbers always manage to escape just as they’re being hauled away to jail.

At 8:30 Zorn, Losano, and Luis come up the road from the posada. They obviously understand something about Venezuelan time that I don’t, because we all go into the restaurant just as dinner is ready.

The first course is a bowl of chicken soup with rice and potatoes. It’s delicious. This is followed by a plate of fried chicken, tejadas (fried plantains), and rice. I eat slowly since I’m having a conversation with the others in Spanish. Shay doesn’t say a word and finishes his plate in about half the time I take.

The most amazing part of the meal was a glass of a deep red juice. “Raspberries” translates Zorn. A glass of pureed sweet sweet raspberry. I’m not a huge raspberry fan, but this stuff was good.

We return to our rooms and prepare for bed. My room is small, with a moist concrete floor. When I go to turn on the light, my hand brushes against one of the screws on the switch and current flows through me. I spend the rest of my stay switching the light on and off very carefully.

I make up the bed, and find a small brown spider living between the sheets. I flick it away, hoping it’s not a brown recluse. I go to brush my teeth. The water in the sink starts out brown and quickly becomes black. I forsake dental hygiene for the night.

The room has a single window with wooden bars and shutters. I leave the shutters open all night, and wind flows around the room. Outside it’s raining and thunder rumbles occasionally. When the lightning flashes, the entire room lights up. I cuddle under a couple of thick blankets. It’s amazingly romantic and I wish I wasn’t alone.

Breakfast the next morning was supposed to be served at 8 sharp. At 8:10, one of our burros walked by. At 8:20, the señora arrived looking flustered. She started shouting orders, and a small army of children began hauling things into the kitchen. Soon sounds of whisking could be heard from the kitchen.

While we were waiting the muchacho (young man) who ran the store next to the restaurant was standing in the doorway, talking with two kids. He lifted his shirt, reached into his pants, and pulled out a huge handgun. While I watched, he aimed and shot one of the boys in thearm. The boy seemed delighted by this, and extracted a plastic pellet from his shirt.

Then breakfast was served… omelets with cheese, arepas, and jam. We each got a cup of coffee with milk, sweet and rich. From outside, the sound of a yelping dog and kids laughing told us that the pellet gun had found another target.

Our mule guide showed up promptly at 8:30, and waited patiently while we finished our breakfast. His name was ‘Abundio’. He had a very nice smile, and I wondered in which ways he was abundant. He had brought a mule for me and a horse for Shay. He walked alongside, urging the animals on with kissing sounds and cries of ‘Hoy, Mulaaaa!’

Abundio, Shay, mula, and caballo

The ride back went fairly well. I almost fell off the mule on a particularly nasty downhill turn, but Abundio tightened my stirrup and things went better after that.

Walking and riding use different muscles, and as a result my entire lower body is in a state of considerable pain. I’m writing this in my room at the posada in Mérida. Outside it’s raining hard, and has been for hours. I try to imagine the sound of rain on the fiberglass roof of my van, and hope that soon we’ll be sleeping in our own beds once again. I’ve had a great time in Mérida, but it’s time to move on.


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