Pico Aguilar, Andes around Merida
20. May: It's Sunday today and we get up early for our tour to Pico Aguilar (Eagle Peak) which is scheduled to start at 8:00. The breakfast shop at our Posada is closed since it is too early, and we are recommended another a few streets away. Breakfast there is ok but expensive. We walk back and discover that our tour guide for the day, Diane, is already waiting. It is actually just the two of us taking the trip, and she has arrived in her private car and would be driving us and explaining. Annewien and myself are a bit taken aback by her appearance, most notable of which was her generous application of a brownish lipstick, which was overly smeared on her lips. She had no eyebrows, rather marking them with the same substance she had used on her lips. She wore a cowboy hat, was partly (or whole?) American and thus spoke English very well.
We get into get Hyundai car; initially, I get into the front seat next to her and Annewien sits on the back. Sometime later we swap, which is much better for me since I can concentrate on looking at the outside scenery and taking some pictures and also not having to talk to much with Diane, which I was not really too keen upon.
Diane starts talking al about Merida, it's history and Santo Isidor, who is usually celebrated on the 15th, but some villages celebrate on the following Sunday, i.e. today. We would be in luck, hopefully, to see some of the colourful decorations and people. She drives through several towns, including her hometown, and by chance also meets her husband on the street.
We first drive to the lake region, but there are clouds there, so she backs up and drives to the 'Condor Farm' instead. It consists of a house for the ranger and a huge dome made out of wire mesh and separated in the middle with another curtain of wire mesh. Inside, there are two large Condors, a male and female. They are really impressive birds, with huge wings, fierce beaks and ferocious claws. We learn that Condors belong to the vulture family, but they look much nicer due to their colours and the white fluffy collar around their necks.
We now drive back to Pico de Aguilar pass and it has freed itself up somewhat from clouds, although there are still more than enough to be seen. It is cold and misty up here, and there is a whole troupe of motorbike riders looking quite like Hells Angels who have stopped here as well. They've all entered the cafñ to get something warm to drink. We get some coffee and hot chocolate to warm us up.
We then head off to Lago Mucaimba, where we could also see Laguna Negra, which was supposedly so dark that it was hardly possible to distinguish the images of the surrounding mountains from their reflections in the lake. I love dark and mysterious things and I was really looking forward to seeing the Laguna. It's not possible to drive directly to the Laguna, there is a path leading to it on which only horses and humans walking were allowed. There was a lot of mist around us, but we started off on our way. It being Sunday, there were many Venezuelans doing the same trip, either by foot or in the saddle.
The path goes down quite steeply at times and mostly we were walking in the mist. I was always hoping that the mist would suddenly clear up and we would see the lake magically appear before our eyes but it was not to be. Eventually we decided that we would turn back. There was so much moisture in the air that dew formed on everything, especially on our hair, which were completely wet after a while!
Back at the car we hear the stereo of another car playing great 'Andean' music, actually it turned out to Venezuelan music, and I cajoled Annewien into asking the lady in the car who the artist was. It turned out that his name was 'Dio Mendez', and I made a mental note to try to find some of his music.
On the way back to Merida we stop at a handicrafts shop and they have unique painted wood figures, many of them which are very long and are even more grotesque than figures painted by the Spanish/Greek painter El Greco. Unfortunately the figures are very expensive, upwards of 15'000Bs, and I decide not to buy any, even though I would have dearly liked to have one. In hindsight I should have bought something there. I eventually do buy one some days later at Caracas airport for 30$.
When we are back in our Posada, Luis is on the phone, rather excited and he says he'll be over right away after shutting down his shop since he has something important to say to us. He doesn't want to be more specific over the phone. he arrives, saying that the flight to Ciudad Bolivar is full and we would need to change to the route to El Vigia -> Caracas -> Puerto Ordaz (the same as Ciudad Guyana). This would involve significantly more time, since we would first have to drive to El Vigia by bus from Merida and then we'd have to take another bus ride from Puerto Ordaz to Ciudad Bolivar. The price is 71'000 Bs, cheaper than the original flight. We agree, seeing that this was the only option left to us. I had been running low on Video Film, and I had stupidly left my only spare film in our backpacks in Caracas, assuming that we return there within two days or so. This was not to be and I was very upset that we were actually going to be visiting Angel Falls, one of the world's wonders, and I would have no film to capture it! This new travel route of Luis dashed my hopes of having some time to try to buy a film and this irritated me greatly!
Luis had previously promised that he would take over the task of reconfirming our flights from Caracas to Paris and now we went with him to a copy store where he would make copies of our tickets to fax to Air France. We then go and have dinner at Pizzeria El Sabor de Quesos, which Diane had recommended as the best pizzeria in town. There are so many people there and we have to wait for ages. the service is bad and while I'm already on edge because of our sudden rebooking (but actually that I wouldn't have my film), this bad service and waiting causes me to boil over. I'm mad at myself and at everything else and Annewien and I hardly talk the whole evening.