Teleferico to Pico Espejo from Merida
18. May: The alarm clock rings and I reach to window and to look outside. It is great weather, there are no clouds! Great, so today we can take the cable-car to Pico Espejo at last!! We walk to the Teleferico base station at Calle 24. We get some bread and cakes to take along at the local Panaderia: they were absolutely marvelous! The first ride's supposed to start at 7:00, but the person at the ticket booth says we'd need to wait till there were at least 25 people. We do, and luckily, eventually, there are enough people to go.
The tickets are quite affordable at 7500 Bs for the first three stations and 500 for the last (the ticket for the final leg must be bought at the 3rd station. Actually, the price is a bargain, because the Merida Teleferico is unique: it is the longest and highest cable-car in the world!! It's about 16 kilometers long, spilt up into four separate sections and takes you from 1600m to 4800m!!
Official link of the Merida Teleferico: http://www.telefericodemerida.com
We sit on the front seats of the cable-car, the view is beautiful! There are some patches of strange white trees to be seen. All the time there's music and a recording of a professional-sounding commentator recounting the story cable-car and explaining the sights around us. We ascend rapidly. At the first stop (second station) we pause for about 15 minutes, then continue up on the second leg. At the second stop there is no pause at all. At the third stop we're required to buy tickets for the fourth leg. At the third and fourth stops there are first-aid offices, since it's quite easy to get altitude sickness at these heights! At the fourth we can walk out of the cable-car station straight to Pico Humboldt which is the highest point and from where there is the view over to Pico Bolivar, which is free of clouds! What great scenery and feeling to be on the "top of the world"! On the other side of the mountain we see clouds forming and it seems that it wouldn't be long for our area to be enveloped with them. It's none to easy to walk in the thin air and every step is an effort. I'm careful to walk slowly and to take my time. It is cold as well and I wear my fleece pullover and, for the first time on this trip, my jacket.
At the peak is a white Madonna statue and a lot of the locals are taking pictures of each other around it. Some young English tourists who came up with us on the cable-car even brought along their own folding chairs with them! I decide to take a bit of a walk in a flat region below the peak, but soon after Annewien calls to say that the cable-car is leaving soon. I would rather stay on the peak a while longer to enjoy the unique experience and we discuss whether we should stay an hour longer and take the next trip down. In the end, we decide not to wait. Unfortunately, the next leg of the trip is delayed due to some unknown reasons and we have to wait for almost an hour at the station before we can continue.
At soon as we reach the 2nd station (from the base), we set off on foot in the direction of Laguna La Fria. Exiting from the station, take the direction under the cables of the cable car passing some old cable car hardware and continue straight on. We're not quite sure we're correct so when we pass by a small building after about 50m we ask a person inside, who tells us we're alright (soon after, there is a sign to be seen, see the picture above). Actually the path cannot be missed as there IS just one leading there. Judging by the hoof prints and 'leftovers', I reckoned that a lot of horses came this way as well, though we didn't see any.
All along the way, there were the unique Frailejñn plants to be seen, first just a few, then hundreds or even thousands! What a special sight! It guessed that their hairy, fleshy leaves would periodically dry out (perhaps once a year?) and new ones would appear above them, giving the plant it's 'collar' at the base. There were some specimens having a huge stack of such old leaves, indicating their significant age.
It was a nice walk, and there we didn't meet anyone on the way, being completely by ourselves! We were in a bit of a hurry, since the last cable-car going back down would leave at 14:00, and we were in absolutely no mood to be stuck on the mountain for the night. It was a walk of almost an hour till we reached the Laguna at last, and just as we saw it, the first drops of rain fell on us. The Laguna's in a type of shelter surrounded by mountain cliffs on three sides. The mountains had clouds at their tops and there was no doubt that they were releasing rain. We didn't stay at the Laguna any longer because of the rain but decided to walk back immediately. I'd bought some 'pocket ponchos' in Zurich, but had forgotten to take them along today - darn! Walking back quickly, I constantly hoped that the rain would stop soon, but no such luck. It seemed to get stronger all the time and we were getting seriously wet! There were no trees or other shelter we could stand underneath.
Looking down, we'd occasionally catch glimpses Merida bathed in total sunlight! What injustice! Here we were, getting soaked down to the skin in cold, miserable rain, and there was Merida, dry, warm but unreachable. It seemed like eternity till we arrived at the Teleferico station. I headed straight into the toilet, attempting to dry myself using wads of toilet paper. I'd hanged my jacket on a chair, and although it was quite thin, there were several puddles of water forming on the floor from water dripping from it!
At last we can take the cable-car down, and the lower we get, the warmer it gets. What a relief! As soon as we are in Merida again, we head straight to our room. It's warm and sunny, I have a headache and am really tired. We have a hot shower and rest immediately.
We're up late evening for dinner. We land up at 'Pizzeria Mama', which seems to be a student hangout. Prices are steep and the Pizzas small. A birthday party is in full swing in the room next to us and they hang a large decorated paper bag to the ceiling with a string. It's quite a hassle to hang it up, with a ladder having to be brought and someone shakily affixing it while some others stool below, holding the ladder steady. Eventually, the guy whose Birthday was being celebrated is blindfolded and gets a stick to pull down the bag from the ceiling. I had seen this procedure at some other place before and I knew that the bag contained sweets which would rain down on the crowd below as soon as the bag broke open. He manages to get it down, but it doesn't open but instead just falls to the floor because the string tore!
One of the girls there (perhaps the constructress of the bag?) immediately grabs the bag and rips it open with her hands and lo and behold, loads of sweets fall out, which are immediately snapped up by the eager crowd. The waiter even brings us a sweet each to our table.
We have several beers. Does Venezuela have a beer shortage? All beer is served in 2 dl glasses, and ours weren't even full! It's good stuff though, the standard brew is called 'Polar'.