Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mérida (and much more)

Since we had already been through Venezuela once, we got through most of the country pretty quickly.  There don't seem to be a whole lot of roads that cross the country, and we had already driven on the northern ones, so we took the southernmost route through Los Llanos, or the Plains.  Overall, we found the landscape to be pretty boring, with the added unpleasantness of lots of trucks on the small two lane road.  At the end of the day our faces were covered with the black soot from the diesel trucks.  We ended up staying in El Sombrero, the Hat, for the night, which turned out to be a fine small town to spend an evening.

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(in the Hat)

(elections are approaching, with Capriles running against Chavez. Most people we speak to are not fans of Chavez, but there is a lot of Chavez support shown in the poorer rural areas)

Once we got further west, the road turned into a highway and it started to rain pretty good.  At Guanare we decided to get off the highway and try to find some smaller roads.  We were really happy with our decision.  Not far outside of the city we found some beautiful mountain roads going through really nice small towns.  This was our first view of the mountains after spending the past 9 months or so in the jungle, so we were really excited to have such a change of scenery.

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(lots of toll booths in Venezuela...no tolls, though)

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We stayed at a unique posada in Mosquey, just outside of Boconó on our way towards Niquitao.  The owner of the place, Luis, was a really nice guy who had come to visit the region 20 years ago and fell in love with the town, he has now written two tour guides about the area.  He was a great guy to talk to about our upcoming route to Mérida.

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(a view over the town from the top of the slides at the Estancia Masquey. Yes, those are slides. The place is unique)

We had couchsurfing lined up in Mérida, a town that most Venezuelans rave about.  From Boconó, we had another long day of beautiful views and small mountain towns, although it definitely got more and more touristy the closer we got to Mérida.

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(we stopped for a tasty breakfast of empanadas and chocolate milk...)

(...made with socialism)

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We got up to over 4,000 meters or over 13,000 feet, going over Condor Pass.  It was pretty cold, but we did meet some other Venezuelan motorcyclists at the top.

(stands at the top of the pass. We took advantage of some coffee and sweets to warm up)

(us with the other motistas from Maracay, on late model BMW's mostly)

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(there were lots of spectators as we passed through these small mountain towns)

(lunch stop on the way down)

(on the way into town, we passed this party on horses, then got stuck for an hour waiting for a relatively minor accident to get cleared)

Once we finally got into town, we called our host Jesus to meet up.  He lived in a really nice place about a 20 minute walk from downtown.  The first night he took us with him to a bar where he was trying to get a job.  They ended up hiring him on the spot and he started working that night, so after we had a few beers he gave us the keys and we crashed at his place.  He has a really nice wife and the happiest 3 month old baby daughter.  Plus, he had a huge flatscreen TV and DirectTV, which had a channel where you could watch 6 Olympic stations at once!  The first day we just sat around his house all day watching TV and catching up on the Internet.  He probably thought we were bums (which isn't that far from the mark), but it was just perfect for us.

(us with Isabela, Virginia, and Jesus)

After a full day of rest, we finally got out to see the town for a couple of days.  Mérida is a nice university town, with a pretty small historic downtown that makes for some decent wandering.

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(the omnipresent Simon Bolivar statue)

(a truck handing out food staples. It made me wonder how often this happened when an election wasn't fast approaching)

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(We found a different food source, which was good and cheap, as always)

(some Chavez supporters...)

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(...some not so much. It seems like a lot of the student population is not happy with Chavez. Their faculty, clases and schedules are extremely unpredictable, often adding years to their expected length of study)

(...more Chavez support. But maybe not the same person who painted the equality message at center...)

(...and some not so much.)

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