Merida Travel Blog

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My taxi into Merida from the bus stop an hour away took me to my hotel that our tour leader Nat had told me we were staying at. I tried to explain to the reception that I was with the Tucan Travel group but they couldn't understand me so they called up someone to translate for me. They got the message and found me a room to stay in.

I crashed in my room after an exhausting night and not long after I got a knock on the door from Nat. I filled her in on what had happened with me, and she said that I had just missed the group by 30 minutes who were off with the driver Suze in the truck to go to a spot called Catatumbo, which has the most lightning strikes of anywhere in the world. It was fairly disappointing to have missed them by so little after such a long drive from Caracas, but it was done so I just had to wait a bit longer to be back with the group.

I had a shower and got changed and then I went with Nat to check out some big markets in Merida. The city is quite big but it is a lot cleaner and nicer than Caracas. We walked a good 45 minutes to the markets where we had lunch and checked out all the things to buy. We got a lot of different foods for a brunch that Nat was putting together for Christmas in two days time. After the markets we went to a nearby Internet cafe and just as we were getting settled the power dropped out. The guy running the place explained that the city is divided into sections, and each section gets their power cut off for 2 hours a day during peak usage, and it isn't predictable when it will be. Considering Venezuela is abundant in energy reserves, or at least money from that to build decent infrastructure, it was yet another example of the madness of the Chavez regime.

We went to a supermarket out of the blacked out section to buy more food. I saw a chemist nearby so I went and found some hair wax. For some unknown reason the woman at the cash register refused to sell it to me unless I gave her my passport number. This silly exercise repeated itself a few more times through Venezuela. I didn't have to show my passport so I could have made up any old number.

To further confuse me about the ways of Chavez's Venezuela, the taxi driver back from the supermarket to the hotel explained that to buy a car in the country so you can't just go to a car yard. You have to put in a form to the government with your preference and they ring you up a few months later and tell you a car is available to buy, maybe not even anything like the one you asked for. Epic fail.

At the hotel I was exhausted and slept a few hours through the afternoon. I got a burger from a small joint across the road, watched three episodes back to back of 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here', and went back to sleep for the night.

The next day was Christmas Eve. I slept in until about 11am, so I was now fully caught up with sleep and ready to get back to normal hours. I had to change into a room with more beds for when the group came back. I went down the street with Nat to buy some more food for the brunch the next day and had lunch. On the way back on my own a guy on the street stopped me and welcomed me to Venezuela. There really were no other tourists around in Merida that I had seen, so I think I would have been standing out a lot to the locals.

Back near the hotel I went to a phone centre where they have these tiny booths set up with phones where you can make calls. I called back home to Australia where it was now Christmas morning.

Not long after I got back to the hotel the group came back from their trip. They had stayed up most of the night watching the lightning show, it all sounded quite amazing. The group also said that they had seen a petrol tanker explode on the side of the road only about 50m from where they were and ended up getting held up for about 5 hours as a result.

We went downstairs and I met Alan who guided their trip and was also going to take us out to Los Llanos in a couple of days. He was originally from Barbados but now lives in Merida. Not only was he taking us to these places but he had also invited us to his family's home for Christmas dinner that night.

We took taxis to Alan's house in a nice neighbourhood and had a traditional Venezuelan Christmas dinner with their family. It was good fun and afterwards there were heaps of houses in the area that were setting off quite big fireworks overhead. Some were enormous, on the scale of a professional fireworks show. As midnight ticked over into Christmas there were fireworks going off all around us.

The next day we were off to do a canyoning trip for the day. Before we left Suze found that all along the side of the truck had been spray painted with tags. It wasn't the worst that could have happened but it would be tough to get off.

We took vans out to the canyoning trip out of Merida. We got instructed much as I did in La Fortuna about how to go about it all. The water was a lot colder there so we were given wet suits to stay warm. It started out easy and got progressively harder. This canyoning trip was a lot more full on than in La Fortuna. The rocks were much slipperier and the waterfalls were crashing down a lot harder. One of the main descents was down into a waterfall that was so forceful with the speed and volume that it was somewhat hurting on my head even with a strong helmet on. I have never had so much water rushing on to me before. I was very disorientated at the bottom but so was everyone else so there was a guy there to basically drag you out into the calmer water. It was amusing at the bottom to watch the other people go through the same thing.

Along the way there were a couple of spots where we had to either jump or slide down the water path to get over an obstacle. These spots were the most dangerous part of the canyoning trip because you were doing it on your own without safety supports. Some were just tame 1-2 metre pin drops off an edge. There was one where you slid down it like a water slide, which looked dangerous but everyone was fine. The toughest one by far was a short jump 2-3 metres down into a tiny gap that was front to bottom only about 1 metre. If you went too short or too far then you would basically crash into the rock and bounce down into the water. You would be OK but it would definitely hurt. It was disnerving staring down into the tiny gap and trying to gauge how far to jump to fit into it. I hesitated for a bit but managed to time it perfectly and got in without hitting the sides. A couple of people bumped the sides not too hard, and a couple of others took a lot of convincing to do the leap.

After we finished all the falls we walked down the river and back out into the open. It was now mid afternoon and they gave us a token lunch of a small roll and we headed back to Merida. We got changed back at the hotel and had the Christmas brunch that Nat had prepared. Dave told the group that he had a cow suit costume in his pack from when he was in Bolivia, so most of us decided that between then and Rio we would pull out a name from a hat on agreed days and then the next day that person had to wear the cow suit for the day, in public and everything. Andrea was drawn as the first cow of the trip.

The next day we had a bad start as the front of the truck had been broken into overnight. The passenger side window was smashed and a bunch of clothes and documents had been stolen. After the window was pulled out and the glass cleaned up we had to get going.

We headed to a cloud forest that was buzzing with Venezuelans. On the way we stopped at a small church where there were kids doing the local tradition of selling puppies on the street. I asked how much they were and I was told they were only 30 Bolivars (about $6). We had an early lunch at the cafe near the entrance of various empanadas and then went out for a four hour hike around the forest. The place reminded me a lot of Cajas National Park in Ecuador because it was also at high altitude so there was similar vegetation and rock formation.

The walk was to a high up lake and then down the valley to another one at the end. Getting to the first one was along a dirt road and it wasn't hard at all. Still, all the locals going there were taking horses and we were the only ones on foot. Most of them either stared or laughed as Andrea walked along in her full cow suit. It was very funny.

The first lake was called Laguna Negra (Black Lake) because funnily enough of it's dark water. We were at 3400m altitude so the clouds were low and with the mountains around it there was a cool enclosed feeling to the place.

We walked on from there through a hiking trail that nobody else was on. Some parts were a bit hairy with slippery rocks but not too bad. We came down into the stunning valley below and walked along the river. We saw some cows on the way and Andrea tried to get close enough for a funny photo shot but they bolted off. At the end there was another lake which looked fantastic with the valley and mountains in the background.

On the other side of the lake were a bunch of Venezuelans who had come from the road just nearby. They thought Andrea's cow suit was hilarious so they took a bunch of group photos with her. Alan told them where we were from and they were being really friendly to us. They seemed quite sorry about hearing that our truck had been broken into the night before.

We met up with the truck at the road and continued on to a home stay. We had two basic dorm rooms out the back to stay in. A few of us went with Alan to a local town to get alcohol and use the internet but there was no internet cafes open in town. We drove to another town where Alan said was notorious for its inbreeding. Just as he said that we stopped at an intersection where a guy was walking past with jutting teeth.

We drove back to the home stay and had an awesome fish for dinner, and then went out the back and set up a small wood fire and sat around for a couple of hours before heading to bed.
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photo by: AndySD