Los Nevados

Los Nevados

Founded in 1591, and named for the glaciers on the encircling peaks León, Toro and Espejo—now permanently melted, thanks to climate change—that could be seen from the town, the 400-year-old pueblo of Los Nevados is located within the Sierra Nevada National Park in Mérida, Venezuela.

At 2,710 metres (8,891 feet) above sea level, the mountain views are awe-inspiring; the squat adobe houses—with terracotta tile roofs, rough-hewn doors, and other quaint medieval details—huddle together along the cobbled streets, which are so steep that I experienced vertigo, and inched up them fearfully, like I was clinging to a mountain side (and I guess that’s exactly what I was doing…) A picture perfect pueblo.
Los Nevados
But, ¡mierda!, it was cold! To someone from the topics, it was almost insufferable: something between 10°C-14°C…ugh, really too much, especially at night! No trees (after 500 years of logging, farming, and house building, I guess) and I really missed a crackling log fire, in a fireplace (like we have in Sagada, The Philippines, the only other high-altitude, low-tech mountain town I have spent some time.) I slept in: leggings and jeans, with a T-shirt, then a sweater, and then a jacket, inside a sleeping bag, under a heavy blanket, with gloves and a scarf over my face! That’s the sort of cold-climate wuss I am.
Los Nevados

Kris arrived the next day, having bought nothing in Mérida but a good sleeping bag, and a pair of drugstore reading glasses. He also brought more local currency. In the meantime I had developed a full-blown cold; I was also suffering from mal de páramo, which is what they call altitude sickness or soroche, here. The jump from 1,700 mts. to nearly 3,000 mts. in a day was too much for the body to assimilate. I would walk 5 metres, up the steep main road in the pueblo, and feel like I was about to die. Hard to describe, but besides breathing in huge gulps, as though I had just run 10 kms. uphill, my guts felt like gravity was trying to pull them out through my bellybutton. And like I wanted to just pee the whole time, non-stop. Weird feeling. I found that the best way to deal with it was to stop very, very often, sit down on someone’s doorstep, and wait till the horrible feeling had passed before getting up and going on. In this way I made it all the way to the top of the mountain behind the town, and took the photo at the top of this post.
Los Nevados
By the third day, however, the altitude sickness had gone (though not the cold, which I ended up carrying all the way back to Puerto La Cruz), and Kris and I went for longer walks, up steep paths (or sometimes, no paths…just heading off across a grassy slope, clinging to saplings and bushes for dear life, and me trying to photograph the lupines growing wild everywhere, with my heart in my throat).

Los Nevados

I envied the locals their surefooted and unworried progress up and down sheer mountainsides. Little children, especially, flew down hills and streets, alike, running as hard as they could and twittering like birds. No pictures, sorry, I don’t have the nerve to photograph children people!
The Andes
donkey on the edgeDonkeys, cows, mules and horses perched at the edge of their near-vertical pastures, munching unconcernedly…little details that, perhaps because I felt as though I’d nearly died to reach the vantage point, delighted me even when they were mundane and, let’s face it, not quite Nat’l Geographic material! LOL
The Andes
The Andes
But the miracle of this place really impressed itself upon me when I took my eyes off my feet, and turned to gaze up and out, at the possessive way the clouds slid over the surfaces of the mountains, which were felted in shifting hues of green and sunlight, and patchworked with squares of wheat and potatoes, criss-crossed with the tenuous, 400-year-old ant roads and snail trails of humans…and then the huge, vast, old, and seemingly endless sierras of earth, expanding in all directions, yearning to touch the sky.

The Andes

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10 thoughts on “Los Nevados

    1. Most of the houses on the main street are now tourist lodges, though tourism around these parts is very minimal. The real residents are farmers, and live in houses on their farms, surrounding the main village.
      It is isolated, very much so, 1000 people, terrible roads from Merida…it’s WONDERFUL. No tourism. No restaurants. No internet. No cars save for three or four pickup trucks working the farms. Locals still walk or ride mules/horses. A quiet corner of the world, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope for the people their lives aren’t too hard. It’s too easy for us to romanticize folks who live simply. If they have a long lifespan (meaning past 70-80 yrs.), then we know it’s good. If not a long lifespan, then their lives are too hard/isolated from good medical care.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. All medical care in Venezuela is free, and of very high standards, and the friends I made up there all loved their homes, their lifestyle…some chose not to have electricity put in, even when it was made available to the area. Merida is a 4 hour trip away, all-terrain trucks go back and forth everyday, those who wanted to leave simply left. I never said they were poor people, they own land, farms, their own homes, and most of them come from families that have been here for at least two hundred years. There are old people, though I’m not sure that lifespan alone means you’re living a good life, there are a lot of vegetable-people in the world, only alive thanks to advances in medicine and technology, that can’t really be said to be ‘living’ at all. More importantly, Venezuelans are happy people, whatever age they die at.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. wonderful pics and beautiful evocative writing- Im so excited when theres a new post, so exciting following your journey! Feels like I can vicariously enjoy a little bit too. In my dreams I go to these places, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez – and you -opened my eyes to love these ancient vistas and places. safe travelsx

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh! What stunning pictures! As a person who has spent her entire life on flat land, I am amazed at the angles, and completely relate to your sense of vertigo. I laughed at your description of your sleep attire. It sounds very much like the way I dress for sleep up here in the middle of Lake Michigan on cold winter nights: first the long underwear and light socks; sweats over that and heavy soft socks; sometimes I top that outfit with a big flowery flannel nightgown, just to make me feel “pretty”; for walking around – before I get under many layers of blankets – fingerless gloves, a wool cap, a heavy white robe decorated with gray sheep, and very large, fuzzy mallard duck slippers. No wonder I’m single, right?! Thanks for the beautiful scenes!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. *Laughing out loud* That’s a fabulous image, I would have done the same, if I had all that warm clothing! Why I will never live in a cold or temperate climate…no one would ever find me underneath all that laundry! Maybe they just don’t realise you’re inside? You could hang some direction-giving signs? 🙂
      Thank you for the laugh this morning!

      Liked by 1 person

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