Ciudád Mérida

Ciudad Merida
We dropped out for two weeks to go traveling again. With two large backpacks and all of the warm clothing we own (which isn’t very much), we set off for Ciudád Mérida, one of the most important cities in the Venezuelan Andes.

N.B. I found out, too late, that only one of my two camera batteries was charged, and as I only have a 12-volt DC car charger for my Nikon (no plug-into-the-wall AC charger) I had to be very sparing with my shots…so I didn’t take many of Mérida city, itself, and have used a couple of other people’s Creative Commons photos in this post…

After a 6 hour bus ride to Caracas, a 7-hour wait at the bust terminal, a 7-hour bus ride to Barinas, and another 8-hour bus ride to Mérida, we crashed out in a clean and pleasant bedroom at the Posada Guamanchi, a few metres away from the large fountains and crowds of young people and families strolling in the Plaza de Las Heroinas, a smattering of cafés and restaurants, a high-quality craft centre, the longest and highest teleferrico (cable car) station (under maintenance and not running…a shame!), and a lookout point at the edge of the mesa, from where we could gaze up at the peaks of the Andean mountains.
Ciudad Merida
We paid $3.50 for our room, per night. The posada is run by young university students—all of them passionate about mountaineering, trekking, outdoor adventure—and the feeling in the place is warm, friendly, and informed.

Ciudad MeridaThe city’s full name is Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida, and it is also called Ciudad de los Caballeros (City of Gentlemen). At an altitude of 1,600 metres (5,249 ft.), the climate is a very pleasant 18°-24°C (64°-75°F) and the city’s horizon is a stunning panorama of the surrounding mountain ranges: the Sierra Nevada de Mérida to the southeast, and the Sierra La Culata to the northwest. The country’s highest peak, Pico Bolivar, rising 4,981 meters (16,338 ft) on the other side of the narrow Chama River valley, was gloriously visible from the street outside our posada.

PicoBolivar2” by Gerardo Sánchez (gerardoant)http://www.flickr.com/photos/gerardoant/2331644875/sizes/o/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

But Mérida is not only beautiful and noble in landscape…we found the people to be completely different from lowland city folk, as well. Like Canaima, with its Pemon indian population, Ciudád Mérida made us feel, for a blissful two weeks, like we were in another country. No signs, here, of the crippling shortages and the thousand-people-queues waiting to buy rice, or flour, or toilet paper! If they lack things, Merideños certainly bear up under the difficulties with more dignity and self-composure. Also, they are hard-working people, who grow or raise most of the vegetables, fruit, and animals that they need—find wonderful fresh produce at the clean, three-storey Mercado Principal—and this self-sufficiency has endowed them with serenity, pride, and poise. Every taxi driver wears smart black pants, a neatly-pressed long-sleeved shirt, and a tie! The city certainly wasn’t nicknamed Ciudad de los Caballeros for nothing!

Groups of young people (in their fashionista best) roamed the plaza near our inn, singing rowdy folk songs accompanied by a small guitar. Skateboarders, frisbee-players, BMX stuntmen, dog-walkers, joggers, living statues, hippie kids in graffiti-covered campervans come all the way from Argentina, and the ubiquitous groups of tourists and girls taking selfies, brought the streets to life in the evenings.
Ciudad Merida
Mérida is “…a university with a city inside it” (Mariano Picón Salas) The biggest university town in the country, as well as a favorite tourist destination, we loved the place for its youthful vibrance, its coffee and pastry shops, its 500-year-old houses, and its luxurious malteadas (large malted shakes made with real fruit, a scoop of ice-cream on top, and a decadent quantity of chocolate syrup drizzled all over, for 50 US cents…) and, typical of this town, massive servings of locally-grown strawberries with freshly whipped cream…
Ciudad Merida
Despite such decadent desserts, locals in Mérida are very health conscious…every public park is equipped with simple exercise equipment, and they are constantly in use! We saw almost no obese people in Mérida (whereas, in the lowlands, obesity is more of the norm, and a serious problem for the rest of the country, in general.)

“Transición urbana. Mérida.” by Jorge Andrés Paparoni Bruzual – Flickr: Transición urbana. Mérida.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Transici%C3%B3n_urbana._M%C3%A9rida..jpg#/media/File:Transici%C3%B3n_urbana._M%C3%A9rida..jpg

We hadn’t come to Mérida to stay, though…instead, we used it as our “home base”, spending two nights in the posada near the Plaza de las Heroinas before heading up to Los Nevados, a small pueblo high in the Andean mountains, 4 hours’ drive away.

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10 thoughts on “Ciudád Mérida

  1. I have a question which is how is it that you afford, both money and time, to get away from work from 2 weeks at a time? I am a university student right now, I have not had a job yet, but once I do start a job I know that I would definitely want to travel. Any tips? Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I want to say a ton of things, but also realise that so much of traveling depends on the individual, and I have no idea what you’re like or what sort of travel you have in mind. I recommend this book https://smallestforest.net/2015/06/30/song-of-the-open-road/ because Potts answers every one of your questions much better than I could. That said, don’t start buying all sorts of books about “how to travel”…I think this one is all you’ll ever need, if you take it to heart. Save your money for when you’re in the country, itself (for example, for the price of a Lonely Planet guide to South America you could pay for 10 nights in a posada in Venezuela, or 6 cute little dresses in Guyana, or 16 eat-all-you-can rodizio lunches in Brazil. That’s almost your two weeks’ vacation expenses, minus plane flights, right there.)

      About our own travels, we didn’t just take off for two weeks, I left my home a year ago, and will probably be traveling another year and half, so I simply quit my job, and will worry about getting another one when I get home.
      We saved money for about two years…about 40K, altogether, and we will continue to travel until it runs out.
      There’s a huge misconception that travel takes some phenomenal amount of money. It CAN but it doesn’t HAVE to. It’s actually more expensive to live, from day to day, in Australia, than it is to live in many of the countries we’ve visited. Of course, Venezuela is particularly cheap…the cheapest country in the world, right now, to be precise. If you just wanted to travel for two weeks, all you’d need are the airfares to and from this country (we don’t fly, we have a boat) plus something like $400 for the two weeks…this would cover everything, from posada rooms (as I wrote, we paid 3 dollars per night, for two people) to eating all your meals in restaurants, having lots of coffees and pastries and milkshakes, shopping for postcards and presents and souvenirs, paying for mule rides and jars of homemade jams and beaded jewelry…I mean, on 200 bucks a week, HERE, you don’t really have to even keep track of what you’re spending…we actually have to make an effort to spend $100 a week.

      So pick a country where you can live well for less than you do at home, do your research beforehand, get on travelers forums and ask questions about rates and living expenses and such. Avoid hotels, don’t do fancy 10-day package tours run by agencies over there, and don’t spend your “preparation” year buying hundreds of dollars of travel-related stuff you won’t really need, and don’t want to have to carry around in huge backpack. Most places are like everywhere else, you can buy the clothes, toiletries, etcetera, as you need them, in the places where you are. And they’ll cost a fraction of what they would at home.
      Sorry for this HUGE reply, it’s a huge topic, I recommend getting the book. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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