Week 11: What. A. Week.May 21, 2017 in Venezuela ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C
What a week! After meeting my friend Maycon and getting smashed in the town at the weekend, we headed out of Merida on Monday morning to climb one of the tallest mountains in Venezuela. It was to be a normal 1 hour bus-ride followed by a 3 day hike, but that didn't happen thanks to protests.
After walking to the very edge of the city and not seeing any buses (or many cars), we realised the one and only road North must be closed. Nevertheless, we continued to walk with our heavy backpacks along the incredible twisting valley road, trying desperately to hitchhike some of the 50km road ahead. Several armed 'motorbike special-forces' flew past, followed by an armoured truck and some other military cars. They were about the only vehicles who passed us, so we knew to expect something up ahead.
We got lucky and hitched a few short rides in the back of pick-up trucks, before we came to the first of several street-blockades. Some were peaceful demonstrations; people chanting with signs, but others were not.. Someone had fallen an enormous tree across the road almost destroying a petrol station, and another protest further was like a scene from a film. There was a sharp bend in the road blocked by trees and cars on fire, and above stood hundreds of people atop a 50ft cliff. Me and Maycon came round the bend on foot and were greeted by a roar of chanting, molotov cocktails and beer bottles smashing on the ground in front of us. Luckily we were too far to be hit, and there was another route around by foot, but the military police would be in for a shock when they finally cleared the other protests and turned that corner. Surely enough, after 30 minutes more walking (and through more protests) we heard distant gunshots and explosions, and could only assume a war had broken out on that corner...
It was getting late and after hours of walking and hitchhiking we were less than a quarter of the way to our destination. We came to a village where we jumped onto motorbike-taxis and began an incredible short journey through what looked like a battlefield. Us, 2 obvious tourists with large backpacks on the backs of motorbikes sped through and around the aftermath of several more violent protests; glass and debris, fires, fallen trees, burnt cars, an ambulance, military police and more; it felt like a war-zone. The journey was short as we couldn't get round a fallen tree in the next town. There was chaos everywhere, with cars and people stuck, all waiting for a man with a hand-axe trying to cut the enormous tree into two. We climbed over it and continued down the road until it became dark. We had only made it half way to the 'start' of our mountain hike, and we were knackered. After climbing a random side road up a hill we found a place to camp and began setting up out tents in the now rainy dark.
Within a few minutes, a confused man with a machete came down the hill and told us we couldn't camp here. We explained our day to him and after realising we were backpackers, he showed us to a safer spot up the hill near his farm. He turned out to be a really nice guy and invited us into his home for coffee! We dried off and spent the next few hours chatting with him and his family. In the end we slept in his house in a spare bedroom and he kindly gave us a lift for free to our destination early the next morning! I offered some money which he refused, and we started our hike to 'La musuy', a famous thermal pool on route to the mountains.
After only a couple hours hike into the sierra, and we couldn't believe what we discovered. After the highs of an incredible day before, we arrived at the natural hot-spring tucked into a beautiful valley 3,200m up in the mountains. Of course we stripped off and jumped in. Because of the altitude and crap weather, the morning was cold, so the hot water felt incredible. We would end up spending 4 hours chilling in nature's finest hot tub listening to music and eating food, along with 4 wild dogs for company. When we finally left to continue into the mountains, the rain got worse and we got soaked. After taking 2 hours to climb only a kilometer or so with the dogs leading the way, we were so cold, wet and exhausted that we couldn't carry on. We found a great spot and set up camp before falling asleep almost straight away.
The next morning we descended down the beautiful valley in sunny weather, heading back for the main road. Thankfully there were no protests so we caught a bus back, and we're in Merida by the afternoon. We had failed the hike by a long way, our stuff was wet, and I got diarrhea, but it was an awesome and eventful trip from start to finish...
On Thursday we went on a trip with crazy tour-guide Tony to the largest lake in South America: Lago Maracaibo. We went with 2 other backpackers; Miguel (spanish) and Hiromoto (Japanese) in a large 4x4 through the mountains and towards the lake. After, we took an awesome boatride in the afternoon sun down a jungle river that resembled the Orinoco. We saw hundreds of tropical birds, falcons, eagles, monkeys, and even a bright green iguana swimming accross the river and diving under our boat. The river opened up into what looked like the ocean, and we arrived at our home for the night: a huge open lodge built above the shallow lake, probably a kilometer from the shore. Here we were going to see to famous 'Catatumbo Lightning', an atmospheric phenomenon that originates from a mass of storm clouds and occurs during 260 nights a year and up to 280 times per hour for 10 hours.
First, we did some fishing (for dinner) and between us caught over 30 catfish and bass which we later cooked. After food, swimming and an awesome sunset, it was time for the show. Well, not quite. The sky was perfectly clear, the water still, and the stars incredible. Instead, we slept in our hammocks and awoke around 3am to completely overcast skies, strong winds and heavy rain. The storm had begun, and we certainly saw a lot of lightning, but unfortunately it wasn't quite the show we expected as it was too far away and behind a lot of cloud. It was still an incredible experience to be so exposed in the middle of a dark lake to only see the water illuminated every few seconds by the flashes of an enormous tropical storm.
The next day we returned to Merida, and what a day it was. I woke up to an incredible sunrise over the now calm lake, and we caught a boat back through the rivers to our jeep. On the drive back we were stopped by national guard. who checked our passports, and they were confused to say the least... In a country where tourists are rare, we were one English, one Brazilian, one French, one Japanese, one Spanish, and 2 Venezuelans. After some 30 minutes interrogation and amusement, we paid a small bribe and continued up into the Andes, where I realised I had diarrhoea.
We stopped for a great Lunch in a mountain town a couple of hours outside of Merida, before taking one of the the most memorable and worst car journeys of my life. This mountain 'road' was fucking rough, and even in a huge 4x4 it hurt like hell. I felt very ill, and the road made it even worse, but just when I thought I was going to explode, we pulled up to an awesome waterfall, the sun came out, and we refreshed in natures cold shower. After, we bought some fresh coconut to eat and tony got some cacao from a random farm to use for making chocolate. Another horrendous hour passed and we finally reached tarmac, but also an enormous protest.
We were less that 30 minutes from Merida (and a toilet) but the only road into the city was blocked by mayhem. A group of people stood around large fires and debris purposely blocking the road, and there were queues of cars on both sides for as far as you could see. Police and special forces were getting involved and It u in the baking sun to luckily get past the protests, but I left the jeep several times to vomit and shit at the side of the road as my stomach got worse (I also had to wipe my arse with banknotes as I had no toilet paper). However, the day was far from over, as we pulled up to a paragliding place. After a long drive and a long day feeling like shit, me and Maycon jumped off a mountaintop and paraglided high above the river valley while the sun set over the mountains. It was an awesome end to the trip and the views were incredible.
On Saturday we went to a small zoo set in a steep mountain valley with waterfalls and big trees . In the evening we discovered a lively reggae bar with pizza and stayed all night drinking beer. Sunday morning at 11am there was a Football match in the city's stadium; Merida vs Caracas. Me, Maycon and our Japanese friend went to the game with Isobel, a cool local we met the night before. The match was good, a 1-1 draw, and after we walked around the city lazily and met another friend before going for food and more drinks at the reggae bar. What a week.Read more