Eight men, five women and three bottles of water

Trip Start Dec 03, 2005
Trip End Jul 19, 2007

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Flag of Venezuela  ,
Saturday, February 4, 2006

Well, what an eventful time it has been! Pat finally arrived in Merida with a story big enough to deserve an entry of it's own with a long flight from Buenos Aires to Caracas via Bogota followed next night by an overnight bus from Caracas to Merida. He thought it would be an easy time, but I didn't let him stop long enough to catch his breath before we were on the longest and highest teleferique in the world on our way to the small village of Los Nevados.

Unfortunately we'd left it a bit too late and the clouds had already rolled in so the view wasn't that great. Nevertheless, we headed to the top station, Pijo Espejo, which stands at 4765m. I had been chatting to one of the locals in Merida who was kind enough to let us stay in his house up in the mountain about an hour away from Los Nevados. It was the first house we would find on the trail and we had to look for a Senora Francisca who had the keys to the house. The walk to the village was, in theory, 5 hours from the teleferique station which means we should have taken 4 hours. Somehow, we managed to extend it a bit to five and a half hours! By the time we reached the house, it was getting dark and Pat was getting nervous what with all the stories about Pedro the Bandito and his pack of thieves that he'd heard.

We'd been to the house that Jorge described but there was no-one to be seen. So we called down by another house and asked if Sra Francisca was around. Yup, in the house we had just called in on. So we headed back up to the same place only to get the same response - nada! It was getting darker. Off we went back down again and this time asked if someone would accompany us as we huffed and puffed our way back up again. The thin air didn't really help with all this climbing that we had to do!!! Jose was kind enough to take us along some dark and covered path where you could easily imagine Pedro hiding out with his stash of gold (or ammunition or drugs, take your pick!). Thankfully, that didn't happen and he finally located Sra Francisca for us. We had caught her just as she was about to serve dinner (coincidence? - I think not ;-) ) so she invited us to join in! After all that time walking with no food, how could we refuse?

After our long day, we headed to bed. But before putting my head down to study the inside of my eyelids I couldn't help being amazed by the number of stars you could see in the sky! Here, there was no light pollution to drown out the brilliance and even the Milky Way was as clear as crystal. And not a sound of a car, plane, lawnmower or even a cockrel to ruin the beautiful silence surrounding us! I've decided I'm moving over here!

Our hard work was rewarded next day with a spectacular 4 hour cliff-edge jeep ride back down to Merida. Somehow we managed to pick the right (ie left) side and there were some scary moments where we seemed on the verge of seeing these cliff edges in closer detail! We even had a moment coming to a 90 degree turn where the engine went over the edge with just a few centimetres to spare before the wheels would have followed! Obviously, this was done with full control by the driver to make the journey even more impressive!!!! I think not!

It was going to be a busy week as we planned to head out to the Los Llanos region the next day, Saturday. Los Llanos is an amazing wildlife area in Venezuela where the number of birds and animals sighted increases as the dry season approaches due to the falling levels of water where all the animals congregate together at the same watering hole.

The hato we stayed at was right on what is normally a river in the wet season. This was now a oxygen starved, stagnant lake with fish flapping their tails trying their hardest to increase the level of oxygen to stay alive. Some were not so fortunate as in their attempt to get more oxygen they headed straight for the mouth of a hungry crocodile. The sheer number of crocodiles was amazing, especially when I shone my headtorch into the lake at night. During the day, they could hide themselves under the weed but at night, the light reflecting in their eyes gave everything away. It was like seeing the stars in the sky but down below me!

Copying their tactics we headed out for a bit of fishing in the local river. Yup, I know, I've never held a fishing rod in my life and nothing changed here. Instead we had the fishing line by itself with a hook attached to the end of it. We took along some meat, attached it to the hook and let it sink. It didn't take too long before I caught my first fish, a piranha! And then a second one wanted to see what was happening above water and followed! We took our winnings of the day back to the hato and had them for dinner. Piranha actually tastes quite delicious and I think I'll be looking to see if there's any in the local shop next place I stop! Luckily I didn't have to descale it or I may have ended up with 5 fingers less as they were all still alive and biting!

We were fortunate to see quite a lot of wildlife, the highlight of which for me was seeing the scarlet ibis, capybara, anaconda and anteater. To name even half of what we saw would take forever. With a sighting of an anaconda, our local Llanero captured it and asked if anyone wanted to hold it. Always wanting to overcome my fears, I foolishly said 'yes'. (Sorry to all you out there who were hoping for a good ending to this, but I am still alive and kicking!!!). Why foolish? Because the beast stinks of rotten debris and passes that smell on to anything that touches it! I could still smell it on me 3 days later. So next time you think someone smells of something bad, maybe ask them if they've been around an anaconda lately!

So after our final night sleeping in a hammock, we were on our way to Barinas to catch the night bus to Ciudad Bolivar to follow the trail of Jimmie Angel and his intrepid explorers. All was going well until Daniel quickly brought the van to a hault. We all went out to have a look and oh yes, the luck of Irish (or should I way, the lack of luck that seems to follow me around in Venezuela) showed it's face again. The spring had broken after thirty minutes into a 5 hour journey!

We weighed up all the possibilities and Pedro went on a run back to the nearest house in the searing heat, after gulping down half a litre of the remaining 3 litres of water. The rest of us remained with the van trying to bring the A-Team back into action, brainstorming for ideas on how to use the material that was around us. Pat proved to be the hero of the day and his idea of wood between the coils seemed to work but when a pickup passed by that was on it's way to the nearest village we all decided to hop on as we weren't sure this would support the weight of eight men and five women.

As they say, it always happens in three's so I'm now waiting for the third one to happen...

Unusual implements used on Swiss Army Knife so far :

Italy : Fish descaler
Venezuela : Saw
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