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December 13, 1999
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When I staggered out of bed and into the other part of the house, I found my patrons in the kitchen, working together to make breakfast for 30 people, they said. Thirty people? Who? I couldn't believe it. For the police in the barracks, they told me. They were working hard together to do it. The wife was cutting slices off the compacted sausage-shaped dough and toasting each piece on a flat burner to make arepas. With each thrust of rolling the dough, she gave out a sexy gasp. Now I knew where she got her callouses. Onions and tomatoes were being cut up for the heuvos. Coffee was being strained and I was offered a cup. Eventually, a plate was set for me at the tables outside the kitchen where later the 30 police officers would be sitting, wolfing it down.
The music in the square had since stopped. The police officers must have regained control of the sound system on their way to breakfast, either that or they were indifferent but the perpetrator had passed out before he could put on another. It was quiet now, but there was no time for napping. I shouldered my pack and wandered down to the square. It as dry now but still I had to be careful on the sloping cobblestones.
It was a beautiful day, sunny and clear, the best I would see in the Andes on this trip. Ironic that it would be the one day I would not be walking. The driver appeared only to postpone the trip for half an hour on account of some chica who, it developed, never appeared. I went back to the posada to await the new departure in the hammocks there. Returning to the square at 9:30, I found four other tourists there who would be sharing the ride with me. I had seen the girl and guy two days ago at Bum Bum where they had been using the Internet. They had walked the same route I had, but left it to later in the day, and got soaked on the hike down. As a result, they had not felt like coming down to the party the evening before. I didn't see how they could have slept through it.
The jeep ride down the mountain took several hours. It reminded me of driving in Oman, with similar arid mountainscapes unfolding below. Towns along the way were colorful with bouganvilla. Now I was reminded of driving through the mountains of Ethiopia and Eritrea around Ismara.
On arrival in Merida, we were let out near the teleferique and I returned the two blocks to La Montaigne. But it seemed less appealing than it had before. A lady was at reception now with a radio playing. Surely this could be heard in the rooms. There were not single rooms, only the matrimonial ones as I had had before. These were 15,000, while the single rooms were 11,000 when available, all a bit overpriced. I decided to have a look around the block. I soon found a room at the equally noisy but equally clean, and cheaper, Hotel Altamira. Here the rooms were just 10,000 for a matrimonial. A factor in the decision was that the restaurant with its tv and radio was only open to 6, while the one at the La Montagne had remained noisy to midnight. I took a room on a noisy corridor and returned to La Montagne to retrieve my things.
Once I'd got my bags in my room I set about trying to find my Lonely Planet guide. It hadn't been with me on the trail, so I just assumed I'd left it at La Montagne. But it was nowhere to be found. Where could I have left it? In my room at La Montagne, perhaps? It was definitely not in any bag I had on me at the moment. Its loss was frustrating, but not crucial. I had already read up on the places I planned to visit, and I'd be out of the country in a few days. So I would just travel as I always had before LP had come on the scene.
I needed to change money. I asked at my hotel where to do it, and was told either a bank or the airport. I went over to Bum Bum to maybe use the Internet and get travel information on my trip the next day, and to try and use the phone to reconfirm my BWIA flight to Trinidad a few days hence. There was no one there who could help me with travel information and the BWIA lines were repeatedly busy. Where to change money then? The airport, I was told. Later I saw that the travel agency just next door changed money, and on my way to the airport, I passed a change agency. But I ended up at the airport, 1500 by taxi, and had to stand in a long line to change money at the one Italcambio window there. It was a hassle.
Later I wondered if I should have arranged a flight back to Caracas from there while I was at the airport. Flights were advertised for as little as 33,000. Still later, I wondered if it would have done me any good, since the morning I would have flown to connect to my flight to Port of Spain, Caracas airport was closed. In that case, I'd have been stuck in Merida instead of Caracas. Caracas was not a comfortable place to be stuck, but it was a lot easier to get from there to Valencia and fly out as I did eventually. From Merida where would I have gone? Perhaps Columbia.
With $150 worth of bolivars jingling in my pockets, I took the bus back into town and got out near the Plaza Bolivar. I had a walk around Merida, as far as the University. The town was lively in the dusk, and seemed fairly safe, though I was ever-watchful of my surroundings. I had popcorn in the main square and visited the cathedral with its colonial opulance and indifferently tiny congregation. I wandered traffic choked streets loud with the ubiquitous sound of music from shops and passing cars, and I stopped for a beer in a bar with swinging saloon doors where inside it was decorated with memorabilia from the running of the bulls at the ring right there in the town, but there were no bullfights on at present I was told. Only at fiestas. Eventually I wound up in a small restaurant with simple tables where the mamacita recommended the biftek with green sauce topped with liberal sprinklings of her purple homemade salsa. I left there in the pouring rain. Fortunately, it was only a few blocks to my hotel.
What to do? It was a juncture in my trip, complicated by the loss of my Lonely Planet. (not the first one I've lost; Budapest phone booth - more serious that one, but easily replaced in a bookstore, within the hour of its loss). But I had only two more days in Venezuela, so my options were pretty clear, and I wouldn't need to replace the Lonely Planet.
I had a couple of cervezas brought up to my room and chilled out tapping on the computer. It was extremely noisy in my hotel. Street noises shook the whole building, rattling the windows to my corridor. Now and then a car with a radio full blast would pass. I could hear the tvs in the other rooms and from the baseball game downstairs. People were practically yelling in what could have been normal conversation, something Spaniards have in common with Arabs. I wonder who gave it to whom. Around 11:30 the baseball game had at least gone off and the traffic noise was dying down, and the beers were having the desired effect, so I popped a pillow on my head and gave it a go. I dropped off despite people heading up the stairs I could see from my bathroom window. Next thing I heard was banging on someone's door and someone yelling at someone. Startled awake, I put two and two together. One star hotel, matrimonial beds, noisy altercations all hours of the night. Or maybe it was a raid. My door could be next. What if they caught me masterbating. Wait, I was only dreaming that. (Actually, I dreamed it up just now).
The next part of the story ...
Day 4: Hiking in Mucubaji Park between 3400 and 3800 meters
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