RBV. VE. - Los Llanos de Venezuela plains cover an area of nearly a quarter of a million square miles, extending from south to Bolivia in the Orinoco Delta in the north. Wide, flat and empty except for 12 million head of cattle and abundant wildlife,the rainy season in the Llanos flood and become a giant swamp. And among the many freshwater fish perfectly adapted to this unique environment is the piranha.
However, it is a fascinating journey. In the fields stood around all results capybaras. These furry brown animal, found only in Central and South America are the largest rodents in the world - and yet,that could be confused with some giants and extraordinarily tender version of a guinea pig. Which stood at the side of the road - or quite often that - seeing the car, raised their soft noses to sniff the air,big eyes flashing. Committee pleasant welcome after the long journey was formed.
Hato El Cedral is a 55,000 acre ranch. A dozen or so comfortable bungalows were grouped under the trees around a central pool and the ranch house. The only other residents were jeans (jeans) - most cattle grazing elsewhere - and the kitchen staff. Los Llanos is the least visited Venezuela and Llaneros,people elsewhere in Venezuela will tell you, the rates are somewhat austere.
There is nothing on the austere life in Hato El Cedral. At dinner attacked local radio music out Joropo harps and guitars. Solid foods country - not as often as industrial sized slabs of beef - appeared on the table. A black-clad fussed cook and serve your chivvied girls entered jeans, gave polite goodnightremove their hats and sat at another table. Slightly cracked, but the good Juanito, someone middle aged relative, fought with his corkscrew and generally managed to open the bottle of wine asked moments before the end of the meal. At 9.30 the tables were cleared and turned into the ranch at night.
In the days, we explored by boat, skimming through the flood plains in aluminum skiff. The bird life on the river was awesome,with more than 300 species. In one night stay I spotted red-breasted fly-eaters among the reeds, an eagle hovering over his head, and herons and egrets in the trees.
Was also fishing for piranhas. This is not as difficult as it seems: piranhas will take almost anything out of a hook. We are pieces of meat bait, dangled on the side lines,and suddenly the water swirls with movement. Piranha fierce reputation is not exaggerated. They are quite possibly the most cruel creatures on the planet. We removed the locked its jaws about anything you could even if we are not careful, your fingers. Children who went back instantly devoured by his former colleagues.
Piranha meat, by the way, is full of bones,making soup the best way to eat it.
In this idyllic way three days passed. On the last night we brought the boat back to the sunset accompanied by bird calls and cries, I wispy a sunset orange,and rays behind the clouds branching eastward. That night became the earlier than usual for the next day trip - from the bottom to the top of the world.
The first stage took a taxi to the city of Barinas, a few hours away. The taxi was an old Ford imitation plush seating and velvet armchairs and a surround sound system so that the deafening Mrs. Mansfield, in the back seat,did not have a set of earplugs to prevent hearing damage. The driver adjusted his sunglasses, grunted, and walked down the empty road, like a bullet. By now the sun had broken and could feel the warmth of the building. Soon inside the cab was like an oven.
Barinas is a cattle town, a flat screen scorching streets, prosperous, modern and functional. At the airportmiddle-aged ladies with heavy makeup and heavy gold jewelry were catching flights back to Caracas, while their husbands remained at work at the ranch.
We picked up our rental car and headed out of town, where the purple irregular outline of the Andes rises as a set. From here,the only way was to go up.
The way steadily through a tropical rainforest. Wild orchids stood at the edge of the road and a disturbing number of wooden crosses marking the scenes of fatal accidents. By now it has extended to us with the car air conditioning and the windows wound. The valleys filled with mist, which gradually became more simple,until they resemble a part of Wales or Scotland, including the dry-stone walls.
Now run around the edge of a deep ravine, in emerald green with a waterfall on one side and a river winds through the valley below. We have reached a plateau, where potatoes and wheat were being exploited in strips. A rider came clattering down the street, pick-ups overladen crawled slowly up the hill drop the exhaust. Time,to close the windows and turn on the heater.
Finally, the level in the road near 10,000 feet opinion of all was dazzling. This was the Moor, or the steppes of the high Andes, a place of denuded brown rock, picking snow and lined the tops of the mountains, with a clear,safe air and dazzling sunlight. Wildflowers and mountain heather color added to the bare landscape. Have reached sweltering Savannah this high place in the space of a few hours seemed impossible.
The mood of unreality is exacerbated in the Hotel Los Frailes. This simple white building with timber verandahs and high bell tower,was once a monastery - a plaque on the wall is inscribed with the date 1643. It is now one of the most remote and atmospheric hotels in the world.
First, however, you have to check in. We've come up the stairs to the reception of breath and sweating. At this point, slow moving and deep breathing are vital. Inside a courtyard with green tilesstone fountains and rooms with terracotta roofs.
Ours has stone floors, a double bed with brass bed accessories dark and rich with the smell of wood polish. The old central heating system and entered the pipes creaked and chugged all night.
There were about a dozen guests at this lovely little hotel, most of them weekending Caracas. I met a shy young honeymoon hand and, in fact,there can be few more romantic to stay anywhere in the world places. At night fell to freezing temperatures dropped, and to repair the leather sofas and fireplace in the bar. The Friars had a hybrid feel particularly pleasant: a cross between a ski resort in the Alps, hotel lodge,inn Latin America and the hunting lodge. The bartender brought cannelitas - an aperitif wine laced with cinnamon - adding logs to the fire.
In the dining room, waiters hovered formally dressed tables. It is immediately apparent that dinner in Los Frailes was going to be a lengthy affair - and that most of the time the order was passed. We studied the long menu, made our choice, the waiter duly established,laboriously checking every detail. He then returned minutes later to report that several items were not available.
The whole process is repeated. Was repeated again. . .
But what with the smell of woodsmoke and the warm fireplace, the view of the mountains outside, interior and brightness for a second cannel is impossible to grow impatient. At the end we have eaten well in soup,chicken and fresh fish. This time the fish was fresh stream running through the yard: and not a bit ugly piranha, but a delicious, bone-free, easy to use trout fillets.
Merida sit perched at 5,000 feet on a semi-tropical plateau flanked by two rivers. The airport is at the center of the city, a postage stamp track surrounded by roads and houses. Outside,the air was fresh and sweet mountain, a world away from the sweltering temperatures of the coast.
Two mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada and the Sierra La Head, shoulder blades as running north through this range of the Andes. While maintaining their beaks in the snow, her skirts are carpeted with rain forest and fields dotted with coffee, wheat and potatoes. Merida, the highest in the world and longest cable car runs until Pico Espejo,just under 15,650 feet Venezuela is present, however, only three of the four sections of work.
Pick up my rental car turned out to be a complicated affair. A young woman made a phone call to the capital to confirm my reservation. Is there a problem? No, no problem - but I have to wait. Meanwhile, the car from scratches and dents are verified,carefully checking them off on a clipboard. Then I made another phone call. I have to wait still. But there was no problem, she assured me.
Finally, the car took center caps and popped the trunk to save - before making another phone call. It was about this time that I realized I had no authority,but his training in Latin America and forced to save face courtesy. Good manners in the face of bureaucratic impotence: a common sight in Latin America.
Merida is a modern university town, with a few colonial buildings and cathedral began in 1800. In the dusty streets,fast food cafes whose struggle with old Gaggia machines dispensed cups of coffee known as high-octane small. -For minibuses beaten Rank pumped out clouds of exhaust gas door thumped music. Elections were banners hanging from the windows, and cars with loudspeakers playing tinny campaign songs.
In the field is another story. My basic set up 15 miles outside of the city of La Mesa de los Indios,an Amerindian village of dusty streets and whitewashed houses in the sun, silent in the afternoon heat, untroubled by banners or campaign rhetoric. In the center is a square with a white sheet painted the church and the inevitable statue of Bolivar, several old American cars were parked in the shade.
Outside the Pope Miguel Posada, an old Indian with a white man squinting expression sat at the door. The inn owner, Arminda,was an Indian woman with dark tight curls, a nice smile and three daughters, Dew, and Rocimar Rocire, which was organized in descending order, as a welcoming committee of angels. They showed me to my room, overlooking a courtyard with hanging flowers.
Arminda cooked food Andean Pisco soup flavored with coriander and anise Mono glasses poured,a drink licorice extending from the stomach in a warm glow. We gossiped about village life and politics.
Arminda will vote in the presidential election, but doubt that many villagers to join her. Only two things matter Andean peasant traditionally Arminda insisted religion and alcohol. Politics, as the capital itself, belonged to another world.
Next morning I went to the National Park of Sierra Nevada,neat little donkeys going with the Indian people in the fields and the tangy smell of woodsmoke acre increase in bursts. Pick-ups rumbled over the men in the back waving lazily as exceeded. At about 8,000 feet the vegetation began to clear and the landscape loses its look,and became increasingly barren time.
This was the p? Branch upland moorland that separates the tropical rainforest of the high Andean peaks. It is an undulating expanse of green and brown hills dotted with wildflowers. Lupines, red chicory and "Spanish flag" that little splash of color to the denuded landscape.
By the time I reached the door of the national park of 11,000 feet,I felt the altitude. The air and the harsh sunlight of the Andes that wear quickly. I set off on the walk to Laguna Negra - The Black Lake - breathing deeply and taking small steps. It took an hour to reach the lake, in Punchbowl against the black hills cloudswept. I looked around in awe.
The Caracas trip took me from the modern city of traditional villageto a place on the roof of the world where the presence of humans is largely irrelevant. Pass the P? Arm, literally "crossing the P? Branch" is also a local expression to die.
Already in Mérida was Friday night, and the city was buzzing. At a local restaurant had chicken with garlicky mashed potatoes, and fell with a group of students who heard me speak English to the owner and invited me over. We set off on a tour of the bars,to finish in the tavern, a place bustling with walls covered in graffiti and three TVs showing three different channels.
Students were drinking beer solar ron hunter, and shouting to be heard. Venezuelans are loud, extravagant talk, given to extravagant gestures. And - another paradox - your national pride is self irony. Stephen, a student of politics in his 20s, said in a typical joke: when God created Venezuela,I blessed with its beautiful mountains, gold and oil. When other country in Latin America opposed these unfair advantages, God objected. "Huh," I said, "You must have seen people there ..."
Stephen, who took me to see along the presidential candidates, the next day. "Irene" as it is known to all, it is not unlikely politician to Venezuela. In a country that sets such store images,Beauty pageants are a legitimate step in the race. Caracas has many beauty academies for aspiring applicants. It is also a cosmetic surgery center - on which Stephen had another joke. When I die beauty queens from Venezuela, he said, to return their bodies to medical science.
Irene herself is at its best. His appeal is to youth and idealism,and noise as his private jet landed was deafening. As the candidate emerged in sunlight several teenagers were close to me in tears of joy. I caught sight of the girl from the car rental officewaving and smiling. There was something very exciting about the passion of Venezuelans bring to public life. Even the superficialities of the policy is based on the real emotion.
This rubs off strangers. As the candidate pressed through the crowd, whipped, and that in this way, but still smiling,suddenly became important part to take instead of just looking. With a jerk I pushed my way past a security guard and leaned forward. Whoever wins the election tomorrow, Irene knows it was in competition with the good wishes of the visitors firmly behind her.
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