After bussing from Ciudad Bolivar we opted to try and venture into Merida, a small university town that sits at 1600m in the Andes, It has been awhile since we have been in or seen any real mountains and with Venezuelan buses not being great for bikes, especially the buses that would take us into Merida, we decided to try and find our mountain legs. We had 160km to climb to Merida, easy! What we didn’t realise was that between ourselves and Merida stood a 3600m pass. The first day was a mix of long gradual climbs with some short downhill’s to rest the legs, we even rode a stretch with some local cyclists, this went a long way to assuring us that we were now much safer and had gotten away from the dangers we had been warned about. No longer did everyone tell us horror stories, in fact everyone seemed to think it was a great idea what we were doing, they did keep mentioning 'montaña' i only wish they had made it a bit clearer just how big the 'moñtana' was!
We managed 78km the first day and we had already reached 1600m, must be pretty much flat tomorrow… We managed 30km the next day. The road kicked up and never relented. We climbed into the clouds and for most of the day couldn’t see more than 10m. Every small village we passed had us convinced we were at the top yet the road never gave in. We found ourselves short of breath, we were limited to riding no more than 400m before we hung over our handle bars gasping for breath, the only thing that kept us going was the knowledge of a certain downhill that couldn’t be too far away. At a lofty 3600m, the highest we have ridden this trip we crested the hill, cold and wet we started our decent. Now the problem wasn’t lack of oxygen but lack of warmth, we were not dressed for high altitude riding in the rain so opted to take the first hotel we found to try and warm up!
A warm shower and a long time under a thick layer of blankets and we had re-heated, our legs wouldn’t be re-fuelled for another few days though. The next day we awoke to clear skies but donned long sleeves and waterproofs non-the-less, memories of our time in Patagonia where we rode everyday wrapped up came flooding back. The next 50km was every cyclists dream, small mountain villages all passing us by in a blur as we free wheeled all the way. The weather was warming and we had surpassed yesterday’s distance in a blink of an eye.
It wasn’t all down hill into Merida, we had a last 8km climb that was tough on depleted legs but we knew we would have a few days at least to recover before we had to ride out of here.
Merida is a cool little university city nestled at the foot of a range of 5000m peaks, one of which we were hoping to climb however the weather dictated that we would instead go on a trip to Los Llanos to try and see an anaconda as well as countless other crazy animals they have down there.
We climbed aboard an awesome Toyota land cruiser and retraced our steps back over the mountain, it was a hell of a lot easier this time round though, our driver even recognised us, he had seen us a few days earlier crawling up the pass as he drove back from a tour.
We had an amazing trip and got lucky in seeing every animal we came to see, from an anteater to the legendary anaconda. We were even lucky enough to see an anaconda wrestle a crocodile.
It was on this trip we learnt how cheap Merida is and taking this into consideration we have decided that we are going to take a month off the bikes here and take some time to try and improve our Spanish. Our original plan was to do this in Colombia but for the cost of one person to have group lessons in Colombia we are both able to learn and pay for accommodation here. So that’s it, for the next month we are going to be students again. We have got ourselves a room for 2 dollars a night and we have found ourselves a teacher. Who knows, maybe the next post will be in Spanish…
Danny and Jessica living the nomadic dream.