The posada we stayed at in Los Nevados deserves a post of its own (if only because I have so many photos of beautiful little details!) We liked the Guamanchi Posada in Merida so much that we decided to stick with the same mob while we were in the Andes.
John Peña, the founder of Guimanche Expeditions, was a passionate mountaineer. Before “adventure tourism” came to Venezuela, John worked for the mountain rescue services of Merida. But he longed for more adventure, so for a couple of years he went to work as a mountain guide for tour companies in Baños, Ecuador, and learned the ins and outs of how to run a small outdoor adventure company. He went home, and opened Guimanche Expeditions, which very quickly grew from a one-man tour company into the passionate team of mountain and outdoor adventure guides that it is today. (Tragically, John died in a car accident a few years ago. His wife, children, and loyal team of dedicated mountaineers and sportsmen, keep the business going, in the same nature-loving and passionate spirit.)
However, we hadn’t come to do white-water rafting, bungee jumping, or rock-climbing. We just wanted to stay in a lovely bed & breakfast, and go for long exploratory walks, so we were grateful that John and his team had lavished as much love and care on their posadas, as on their adventure packages.
Guimanche Expeditions’ Los Nevados posada was built around the core of an original Andean house…you can see the difference when you look down on the buildings from above, where the old, lichen-covered roof tiles of the former sit in the center, surrounded by a more recently constructed roof.
Thick adobe mud-brick walls have been rendered smooth (but not perfectly flat…a beautiful, handmade finish) over the years by numerous coats of thick white lime.
Wooden rafters hold up sturdy terracotta tiles, set into a thick layer of squishy mud. Tiled floors are endearingly uneven, and the stone walls of the back courtyard have been fit together without mortar.
When John built his extensions, he stuck to the traditional building materials, rather than switch to modern alternatives (like “gluing” the roof tiles onto a sheet of galvanised steel with globs of concrete…things we’ve seen on other “restored” houses). Old and new blend together seamlessly, and there wasn’t a corner of the posada that I didn’t exult in for its rough, unpretentious beauty. I loved every crack in the plaster, every crooked beam, every mossy tile.
The place had also been decorated with a loving and judicious eye. Hanging from rafters, the walls, or sitting on ledges and in the corners, were antiques from the pueblo’s 400-year-old farming history: mule trappings, wooden ploughs, aluminum water flasks, sheaves of wheat, old iron shovels, and ancient stone mill wheels.
Little objects of folk art added colour and whimsy.
I was especially taken with the painted terracotta plates by Mérida artist Lucretia Chavez, whose characters were a little bit Miro, a little bit Matisse, and also reminded me a bit of Marita Alber’s happy, colourful paintings.
(N.B. Incidentally, Marita has just opened a brick and mortar art shop, The Salty Mermaid, in Queensland! It looks amazing, though I’m scared that if I ever visit it, I’ll start foaming at the mouth and have a fit on the floor, overwhelmed by gorgeousness!)
Run by a friendly, indefatigable couple, Jorge & Zoraida. Jorge is a wealth of information about the area (when you can catch him! It was potato harvest time in October, and Jorge often drove quietly out to his fields at 3 in the morning, and we wouldn’t see him again till late in the evening!) and I always found it so comforting to sit and write in the dining room while Zoraida bustled around in her large kitchen (which was pretty much all day). This laughing woman, mother of two university kids, is a legend. She made everything from scratch…down to grinding her own wheat to make flour for arepas andinas! I once helped her make an atol de churri…pumpkin pudding, thickened with corn, sweetened by slabs of crude unrefined sugar, and spiced with cloves and cinnamon. It took several hours. I turned the crank on an old grinder for ages, arms aching, as the soaked kernels were ground into meal. I commented on what a lot of work she must do to prepare 3 meals a day for so many people (she also cooked the meals for 10 farmhands, and two young mountain guides who were doubling as carpenters, doing repairs in some of the rooms) and she pulled her pink sleeve up to reveal really well-defined biceps! I gasped at the sight of that maternal little woman, her head in a floral kerchief, sporting Popeye’s arms!
These last four photos are taken by Guimanche Expeditions. The first two show Jorge & Zoraida (standing together) and Zoraida in her kitchen.
John Peña was also a good photographer, and Guimanche Expeditions’ Los Nevados Album on Flickr is a great gallery of images from around this pueblo. I couldn’t resist posting a couple more of Guimanche Expeditions’ photos: the verandah, with all the hamacas up…
and this one, of two men climbing the steep, steep road past the posada, in the bright morning sunlight. Looking at these makes me wish I could be back there, and wonder whether I’ll ever see the place again.