Merida, Venezuela
In October, '07 we decided to make a trek over to the Venezuelan Andes to visit Merida, a large university city,
and the surrounding areas.  What a blast.  Such a beautiful, varied area and very easy to get to by either air or by
bus.  We chose the bus and had a lengthy 20 hour ride.  The buses are very nice, with "executive" style
amenities including comfy seats that recline and a leg-rest that lets you get pretty comfortable.  There were TV's
throughout, and usually the DVD's being played were action-oriented.  After dark it was quiet however, _BUT_
very, very cold!  We really had to bundle-up with hooded sweatshirts, long pants and blankets to stay warm.  
The price was approximately $30 roundtrip.  We treated the whole experience just like an "overnighter" on the
boat.  We had our snacks, books and beverages and enjoyed just resting and sightseeing out the large windows.
Ed gets hooked-up with Jose, owner of Fanny Tours, for some tandem paragliding action at Tierra Negra, a box
canyon west of Merida. It was late afternoon and there were quite a few others out and about.
The plant with the yellow flowers above, (frailejon espeletia) live at high altitudes and for 50 years or more.  The plant
fronds are very soft like velvet.  As we hiked up to the lakeside view point we were enveloped in a cloud.  A view of a
local village from afar.  After this, we headed up to the Condor Station where there are 3 captive condors.  Condors were
almost eliminated in Venezuela due to the local farmer's ignorance of it's feeding habits.  It's a carrion eater and doesn't
kill livestock as was thought.  The condors here are part of a breeding program.  The station itself had a beautiful
garden as seen below.  The whole area is fabulously fertile!  Agriculture is the main business here, with huge fields of
potatoes everywhere.
The cathedral on the city square
After a few days, our friends from S/V 'Y Not', Ute and Gunther joined us at Gioia's house.  Gioia is a wonderful
Venezuelan lady who lives in a large 2nd story house she shares with her mother and her dogs.  The house is lovely, the
rooms she lets are very nice, each with it's own bath facilities, and it's just 3 blocks from the square.  Gioia spent 6 years
in the USA so her English is terrific.  She has a 4WD SUV and offers tours of the area.  We really enjoyed her company
(and her mom's) and highly recommend her to our other cruising friends.
Ed, Gioia and I plus shots from our tour northeast of
Merida, what is sometimes known as the lake country.
A stone church built in San Raphael is a real treat to see, especially with the blue salvia in front
A visit to the local museum offers pre-columbian artifacts and such
A peacock in the neighborhood, plus a coffee bush
We stopped for a bite to eat with 'Y Not' at La Abadia in downtown Merida.
Another cool thing to do is to take the Teleferico (cable car) up to the top of the mountain - about 4800 meters!  It's
usually foggy up top and chilly too.  We stopped at the 3rd station where Ute and Gunther got started on their 4-5
hour hike over to Los Nevados for an overnight.  It was rainy and cool, but that's OK.  After summiting we head back
down and stop at the 2nd stop for an impromtu picnic lunch.  We had picked up sandwichs and beer at the panaderia
before our ascent.
Merida recedes into the distance
Looking at Los Nevados, in the  next valley
Hibernation required!
Hit the large mercado which has all the various fruits and veggies and also tons of local crafts such as
pottery and baskets.  Great fun.  The Sunday activity at the square was a concert by some pan pipers in full
Native American regalia.