Saturday, September 28, 2013

La Azulita

Merida, Venezuela (Dec 21, 2004)

--- Originally published on December 19, 2004 ---

No post for yesterday, since we really didn't do much. All I can remember now is that we changed the tires of Mayli’s mother car, which is a quite old Century Chevrolet, not exactly in perfect shape. Apart for the tires waiting to explode (one in fact did explode a few days before we arrived), it also has a problem with the automatic shift: the forward shifts do not engage until the car is warm, so one typically needs to start the car 15 minutes before using it. So we decided to rent a car for ourselves for a couple of days.

This morning we picked up the rental car at the airport. We got a Fiat Uno (it’s been many years since I drove one of those) with a manual shift. The idea was to drive on some off-the-touristic-path secondary roads on the mountains around Merida. Since we only had only the free afternoon, we decided to go to La Azulita, a relatively small village north of Merida, towards the Lake of Maracaibo (of pirate’s fame). La Azulita is about the same height (on the sea level) as Merida, but to go there one has to climb to Jaji and then follow a mountain road crossing the mountains. We drove along this road a few years ago, and I remember it was passing through an imposing mountain rainforest. As you can see from the photo below (taken along the road), the landscape is one of tree-covered mountains, each of them home of a full ecosystem of parasitic ferns and lichens (like the “barba de palo” hanging from the huge tree on the right).

What we didn't know was the damage that a few years of rain and lack of service have done to the road. Once passed Jaji, the road started to climb, with the pavement getting thinner at each turn, until it disappeared altogether in a mixture of gravel and mud. Fortunately it was a few days since the last rain, so the mud was still passable with our Uno, but a couple of times we had our suspicions of been utterly lost. At a particularly bad point the road ended abruptly in a grassy meadow: we didn't notice the detour the curve before. There we found a couple of kids, pretending to “fix the road” shoveling fresh mud in the numerous potholes. After giving them a tip for the service, we had some thoughts of returning on our way, but then decided that probably the worst was over.

When we were again thinking that we were lost, surrounded by the forest and the occasional cow grazing on the side of the road, we found a little construction with the big sign “Mercal”, one of the government subsidized stores for basic goods. Well, if the Bolivarian Revolution arrived there, then we were probably on the right way to La Azulita.

Once in La Azulita we decided that we had enough of mountain roads for the day, and drove towards El Vigia, a town in the plains at the bottom of the valley of Merida, from which a highway brought us back to Merida. This highway is very good for venezuelan standards, and connects Merida with the airport of “El Vigia” at the bottom of the valley. This airport was supposed to replace the one insanely built in the center of Merida, that can only being served by small planes because of the shortness of its runway and the proximity of high peaks surrounding the city. Merida’s people however still prefer to land in the old airport and the new one is not very much used. The highway however is quite nice and well maintained: a big difference with respect to other “highways I saw in the country (a few years ago I saw the signs ”beginning highway“ and ”end highway" a few meters apart at the two ends of a bridge connecting two ill-maintained roads).

Of course we arrived much later than we promised to Mayli’s mother, but the trip was well worth for the beautiful scenery.

--- Updates (September 28, 2013) ---

I am back from Germany (a 25 hours trip, which doesn't make any sense as it is about the same times that it takes for me to go to Japan). I didn't come back alone: I caught the flu during my trip. RURU ATTAKKU at the rescue.

When Mayli's mother read this post in 2004, she didn't like my dissing of her car: I retroactively apologize. That car didn't last much longer: at some point it spontaneously got fire and now she has a nice newer car.

The road to Azulita is now completely gone: we looked for it a couple of years ago, and we could not find it. It has been swallowed by the rain and lack of maintenance. As I mentioned a few posts ago, the airport in Merida has now been closed, and all flights land in El Vigia. The highway from El Vigia to Merida is now the only access to Merida from the airport. Its conditions have however significantly deteriorated: heavy rains has caused severe landslides and there are tracts that have to be closed every times it rains, which means that Merida is periodically isolated during the rainy season.

Merida, Venezuela (Dec 21, 2004)

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