My main reason for visiting Mérida was to see the Catatumbo Lightning near Lago De Maracaibo but as it turns out the town as a whole is a pretty pleasant place to be and I liked it from the minute I stepped off the bus and wasn’t descended on by men shouting repetitive place names at me. This little Venezuelan town ranks as many people’s favourite, it’s so pretty, nestled at the foot of the Andes, minding its own business, being quiet and unassuming. Other stuff and things to do here involve parting with more cash than I was comfortable with but you kinda have to give paragliding a go here ay, it’s meant to be one of the top 10 parapente sites in the world or something equally impressive and I hadn’t put my life in the hands of a stranger for a while so why not?
Paragliding, for those not in the know, is where a man called Paulo (the man may not actually be called Paulo, and in fact may not even be a man) straps an already open parachute to his back and straps you to his front in a chair-like thing then you run off the edge of a hill. There may be other technical stuff involving filling the ‘chute with air first and waiting for the right gust of wind, but from my point of view, I was just told to run at the appropriate moment and sit down when told to. It took a while for my legs to realise what I was about to do. They were quite happy in their ignorant bliss, holding my weight, until I was told to run in both English by Paulo and in Spanish by the guy helping get the parachute up and my legs went, “Run? What? Why?” and started to liquefy. I wasn’t given any time to think too much as Paulo started to run and the other fella started to pull me then the ground fell away and we were gliding smoothly over the hillside. Sweeeeeet!
It’s not an adrenaline sport by any means, once you’re up in the air it’s a peaceful, chilled out ride with a few spins thrown in. Not many, just enough to make me glad I took my anti-throw-up pill before I left the posada. After about half an hour in the air you land a lot more gracefully than you thought you would (I had images of losing my footing, taking Paulo down with me and skidding to a halt on my arse) and there’s just about enough time for a quick beer before they take you home. I really enjoyed it, I’m so glad I did it but just the once is fine. It’s too tame to do repeatedly… unless I can find a tandem guy who’ll throw in a few death-defying aerobatics at no extra cost.
Another worthy mention in Mérida is the Heladería Coromoto which is in the Guinness Book Of Records for having the most ice cream flavours in the world. Not all of them are available at the same time though, they only have a small selection to choose from at any given time but I gave the carne (meat) and the queso (cheese) flavours a go because there’s no point in coming here just to have chocolate and vanilla. It was… iiiiinteresting… Not actually unpleasant… but certainly different.
Anyways. So begins the trip down the Andes, or some of it at least. I’ve actually run out of money and have had to take a loan out with my parents to carry on so the new plan is to just glance at Colombia and Ecuador because I figure I can always come back to see them properly and just head to Peru and Bolivia, the two cheaper countries, and focus on them. Venezuela has been fun. Bus journeys have been quite stressful with all the police stops and checkpoints. During one trip we were all ushered off the bus whilst the police searched it but nothing seemed to come of it. I’d heard some proper horror stories from other travellers of the cops stealing their money and their medication, and making them empty all of their belongings along the road for a search. None of this happened to me, thank fuck, but I won’t be sad to be out of here. It is, however, such a beautiful country. Maybe one day in the future, if they manage to sort their shit out, I’ll be able to come back and enjoy more of it. In the meantime, here’s some random nuggets of information about Venezuela.
Air conditioning on Venezuelan buses has two settings; Off and Siberia. At least I assume there’s an “off” function anyway, logic dictates it has one but I don’t think anyone has actually experienced this phenomenon. Buses here are cold. They transcend cold. They’re fucking really cold. It’s like they have all this excess fuel to burn so they just leave all their buses running all the time with the A/C on full blast and to hell with the extremities of the passengers. Ah yes. The petrol. It’s so cheap here ay, it’s sickening. You could take the biggest gas guzzling V8 hummer beast of a car you could get your mitts on, punch a hole in the gas tank and drive it up every hill you could find in the lowest gear possible with a camel on the roof and it’d still probably be cheaper than taking a 1.1 litre Ford Fiesta once around the M25.
Traffic lights are merely a suggestion and where there’s no traffic control system in place at a junction, right of way is merely a battle of wills. Every intersection is a game of chicken, everyone just keeps on going and its a case of whoever bottles out first gives way, usually the smaller vehicle. Or maybe the least intoxicated driver. It’s actually kinda fun to watch although I’m not entirely sure my insurance will cover me for crossing roads in Venezuela and when I’m in a por puesto (shared taxi) I do tend to pine for working seat belts.
The street foods that you find everywhere in Venezuela are arepas, corn dough pocket things stuffed with pretty much whatever you want. Ham, cheese, meat, the usual. Now I’m all for showing my arteries who’s boss every now and then but fuck me, arepas seem to take your entire digestive system and turn it into lead. They’re so fucking heavy, I can’t believe how a snack so tiny can make you feel like you’ve just eaten a small elephant. I also dislike that fact that the dough itself tastes of nothing an all. Yeah nah, I’m not the humble arepas biggest fan ay. I miss coxinhas. I also miss beer that comes in a decent sized vessel. Cans of Venezuelan beer (of which there seem to be three varieties; Polar, Solera and Regional) are noticeably smaller than their Brazilian Brahma counterparts. Oh, and a couple of the beer companies make a non-alcoholic beverage called malta. Hmm. I can’t really describe the taste… I dunno. Imagine mixing coca-cola with slurry. That should give you a fair idea.
Venezuela according to some maps here in Venezuela differ greatly from those we know in the rest of the world. See that random bit on the right tacked onto the side? That’d be a large portion of Guyana then with the words “Zona Reclamacion” stamped through it. So that confused me. Did Venezuela want Guyana? Since when? And had anyone mentioned this to Guyana? I consulted the bible that is Wikipedia and apparently it was Venezuela’s to begin with until the British rocked up and settled it. Didn’t even bother trying to conquer it, they just rocked up and moved in, hung new drapes, installed the garden gnomes and wallpapered over grandma’s old room. When Venezuela contested it in the late 1800s they were thrown out of the room while the grown ups (UK, USA and Russia) discussed it before declaring it British. Y’know the more I travel, the more ashamed I become of my nation’s history. And the fact that we don’t seem to be taught these things in school.
In December 2007, Chávez, Venezuela’s socialist leader changed the clocks from GMT-4 to GMT-4:30 and no one seems to know why although being as different as possible from the USA has been cited as one reason. Chávez was quoted as saying he didn’t see why the world had to follow hourly time divisions “dictated by the imperial United States.” A valid point well made… You scary, strange man you… *backs quickly out of country without making eye contact* Anyway, it’s not like time is relevant here anyway, if someone says 7pm you can safely rock up at 8pm and still be early.
And finally, the mannequins here have massive tits! It’s hilarious, seriously! These huge, plastic boobies all but bursting out of the display clothing, it’s all you can do not to stick your face in between them and make raspberry noises.
Um… just me then…?
And that wraps it up. I’m off to Colombia. See you on the other side.
Stayed at: Posada Alemania