As mentioned in the last 2 posts HERE, & HERE, I’m traveling around South America for a month right now. I’m currently writing this on my iPad while flying down the Venezuelan 2 lane highways at 120km in the back of an adventure jeep, en route to go whitewater rafting.
I’m with my friend Kate, also from Iowa. She had just finished teaching in Brazil, so she flew up and met me at the airport in Caracas, Venezuela for this trip.
First Part of My Trip…
So far the trip has been great! I’ve traveled to Latin America over a dozen separate times now between vacations and tours with the band. Venezuela hasn’t really been much different, but I like it. I love Latin American culture, Spanish, and most of the things that come along with it.
I arrived in the Caracas airport at 5am on Monday after a red eye flight out of Houston. Needless to say I was a shot zombie when I arrived! The flight was fine, and I fell asleep literally before take-off. Yes, I flew economy… I like to preserve my miles and travel more, what can I say?!
My flight was a one way from Omaha, NE to Caracas, Venezuela for 20,000 United miles and $5 in taxes. Great deal, as that flight is over $1,500 regularly!
I had to wait in the airport for 10 hours before Kate would arrive later on her flight from Southern Brazil. I had a light breakfast and some freshly squeezed orange juice, and just waited it out in the airport food court. I wasn’t too excited to guard my large backpacking backpack, and my smaller backpack with electronics all morning, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do! After awhile of meditating in the Bible, listening to music, etc. I just got SUPER tired. I was sitting in a booth against the wall, so I just put both backpacks against the wall behind me, and fell asleep with my hands in my pocket. I probably woke up 10 times to check my pockets and make sure I hadn’t been robbed, on top of being pretty uncomfortable. I did manage to get about 5 hours of random sleep though. I’ll take it!
I met Kate around 2pm, we exchanged some money on the Black Market in the airport (see previous post), and we grabbed a taxi to the bus terminal.
We were heading to Merida, Venezuela, a city about 14 hours South by bus. You’ll hear this everywhere else that generally overnight busses in South America are nice, BUT they keep the air conditioning pretty much blasting on max all night, so it gets super cold – no matter the temperature outside! I recommend a couple blankets and/or wearing pants/sleeves and a jacket/coat. If you have a beanie, that would probably be nice. I was wearing shorts, a tshirt, and a thin zip-up hoodie. Definitely froze, but I sleep pretty hard so it wasn’t much of an issue for me.
We had a couple stops and road stoppages for awhile (when in Venezuela!), so our bus ended up taking about 17 hours. We arrived in Merida, Venezuela around 1:30pm and caught a taxi to the Plaza Las Heroinas where we had read most of the posadas (hostels) and travel agencies were for adventure tours. Sure enough, right when we got to the little park, there was one behind us called Guamanchi Tours & Posada. Pretty popular according to the WikiTravel page for Merida.
Merida is known for having the highest cable car in the world that will take you to the top of the Andes Mountains. The only problem is that it’s been closed for a few years now so they can re-build it to hold double the amt of people that it used to hold. Apparently that has all but crushed the amount of tourists coming through the area now as it’s pretty remote and far away from everything.
The area was beautiful with green Andes mountains in both directions including 2 National Parks. The Andes are a very mystical mountain chain, and there always seems to be some sort of eerie fog or cloud lingering on the mountains. Very cool.
We checked into a private room with a bathroom/shower, bunk bed, and double bed. I took a bunk and gave Kate the big bed for herself. We were quoted about $16 USD a night each but told we would get a discount for booking tours with them.
We ended up booking Canyoning for the next day, Paragliding the day after, and a 2 day whitewater rafting trip all weekend for which he dropped the room price to $10 USD a night each. Very cheap, good location, and great value.
If you’re a light sleeper, then the construction on the cable cars could be annoying in the morning if you’re trying to sleep in.
Day 2 in Merida – CANYONING…
I’ve been canyoning a few times in my travels now in Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Colombia, & Switzerland, as well as several DIY (do it yourself) canyoning trips with my friends in Puerto Rico without ropes or guides. Canyoning involves taking ropes/gear and scaling down a narrow river canyon by whatever means necessary. These are the kind of canyons that waterfalls fall off of. It generally involves some natural waterslides, rappelling down waterfalls, hiking, some swimming (sometimes), and some cliff jumps. What more could you want for adventure, seriously?! SO FUN!
This was a great trip and for about $71 USD, a great value. There were 3 waterfalls that we would rappel down in some way or another at heights of 18 feet, 50 feet, and 100 feet. In that order too. The trip started with a drive straight to the top of a mountain in the back of a jeep, where we got dropped off with gear at a trail. The trail was a 25 minute hike in the hot forest to the top of the river/creek. We trekked down the stream, hopping over large boulders, and doing small 3-8 foot little jumps and slides.
The biggest slide was probably a solid 20 feet long, very steep, and very fast. It was awesome! Our guide was a local with medium sized dreadlocks. His name was hard to say, so he said we could just call him Rasta. He was great at explaining in Spanish slowly, and helping us when the traverses were hard or when there were currents.
The 1st waterfall that we rappelled, about 1/3 of the way down you were enveloped in the water falling off the rocks, and it just made you want to rappel that much faster so you could breathe and get out of the water. Flew down to the bottom and patted my head to signal to Rasta that I was fine. Then Kate went – easy!
2nd waterfall we were told that we would rappel with the rope over our shoulders, siting against the rock, instead of a normal rappel where you walk down the cliff face while leaning backwards. When we arrived at the 2nd falls, we discovered a large tree had falling into the waterfall the night before, and it was deemed unsafe to rappel down the water part of the falls. We would have definitely gotten stuck in the tree, which could be pretty dangerous.
We just did a normal rappel down the rock face on the right side of the falls. Afterward our guide moved most of the trunk out of the waterfall in hopes that if it rains heavy in the evenings, that the rest will flush out.
The 3rd waterfall wasn’t the highest waterfall I’d ever rappelled, but it was still really high (100 feet). At the bottom of the falls you had to swim around the roaring pool of water and wait for the guide.
Later we had a VERY narrow cliff jump to continue our scaling down the canyon. So narrow that Kate had a little moment of panic! Basically we were jumping about 10 feet off of rock into a tiny pool about 3 ft wide. I kid you not, no wider than 3 feet! We both made the jump no problem.
Good times, here’s some pictures:
PARAGLIDING IN THE ANDES MOUNTAINS…
The next day we had signed up for a tandem paragliding trip in the Sierra Nevadas section of the Andes Mountains. Took a jeep ride for about an hour out of the city and up to the top of a beautiful dry mountain range.
The scenery was unbelievable from the top, and there were mountain goats and cows roaming freely. This was my 3rd paragliding trip. I’ve gone before in Peru & Colombia, and wasn’t too thrilled with my last flight in Colombia, so I had low expectations today. Paragliding is a pretty chill activity. You’re sitting in the seat of a parachute while getting great views of the mountains and valley below.
This flight was GREAT though! The scenery was better than the Colombia flight I took, and we flew all the way down to the bottom, a descent of 3,000 feet. At the end, my pilot named Will asked me if I wanted to do “three, six, zero”, which I translated as a “360″, haha. Obviously I said yes, and away we went doing more like a 5,400 as we spun rapidly around over and over and over again. SO FUN!
We also opted to pay the extra $12 to have them bring along a HD camera with an extendable tripod to get cool angled photos & videos of our flight. Here’s a few: