We departed Merida at 7a.m., getting into one of the Toyota 4WD vehicles that ply this popular tourist route, along with a pleasant young family on holidays from Caracas. The driver roped our backpacks to the roof-rack, and off we went.
For the first 3 hours, the roads were quite good—so narrow that when we met an oncoming vehicle, one of the drivers had to run his side up the steep rocky embankment—but cemented and well-drained.
Gradually the road got worse…we left the sealed concrete behind, and started to rumble and bounce along rocky dirt roads. Then the roads dwindled to something more like donkey trails…deeply furrowed, with portions washed away and the abyss yawning ominously beyond. The number of small capillas—little “spirit houses” between 1-3 ft. high, imitating the forms of churches and bearing names and dates—that locals place at the spot of a death on the road, increased.
We clung to our seats, using our legs to wedge ourselves, as the vehicle tried to throw us from side to side like rag dolls. The red dust blew in through the windows on a cold wind, although the sun was shining gloriously, and the ancient vistas were endless and soul-compelling.
In Mosnanda, with just an hour left to Los Nevados, we stopped for breakfast at Cafetin Criollo, a little place famous for its pasties (pasteles andinos), its chicha andina (fermented corn drink), and its caraota (black bean) stew. They all tasted wonderful. Especially the chicha, which tastes exactly like a thick, rich applesauce, with cinnamon and a splash of something bitey and fizzy, like soda water.
It was here that we noticed that there was only one backpack on the roof. Mine. Kris’ red and grey backpack was gone. Our hearts sank, for a moment, because things had been going so well, so far, and this hurt a bit. A local gent on a motorcycle was sent to look for it, back along the road we came, to El Morro, a pueblo 10 kms. behind, when we last had a rest-stop and saw the bags together. We sat and waited.
The motorcyclist came back empty-handed. The bag had either been hurled off the roof and down the mountain side, or somebody had found it. We could not blame anyone who may have found it for keeping it. It was a very good, expedition-grade bag. There was a fantastic jacket inside, a sleeping bag, all of Kris’ clothes, and what amounts to three months of monthly minimum wages (just $30), in local currency. Also, good books Kris had bought in Merida, a big bundle of pretty postcards, our dictionary, and Kris’ leather-bound travel diary, with notes and drawings dating as far back as 2006, when we were in Timor. Merry Christmas, whoever-you-are!
A shame to lose it all in one bundle, and a big inconvenience (the keys to the boat were gone, too), but we were relieved that our passports and dollars had been in the pouch that Kris always wears on his body. Honestly, we got away lightly…it could have been so much worse! We found out later that this was the second time that driver had lost something from the roof of his Toyota…the last time, it had been a pig that went flying over the edge. But we blamed ourselves, really…we should have checked the ropes on the bags, ourselves. A good lesson, relatively cheap.
Kris decided to walk the 10 km. road to El Morro, himself, scouring the mountainsides, and I continued to Los Nevados with the family. If he didn’t find the bag, he would wait in El Morro to catch a ride back to Merida, change more money, and buy something warm for Los Nevados. I watched as he disappeared around the bend, dwarfed by the landscape, along narrow ribbons of road that seemed to go on forever—up, down, and along the contours of windswept, impassive mountains. So much of our life together has been about watching him head off, alone, into vast, swallowing panoramas of land or sea.
I arrived in Los Nevados, comforted and taken under-wing, like a sad spinster aunt, by the young Venezuelan family (I wasn’t actually troubled, but they seemed to expect me to be depressed and forlorn without my man, and it was too hard to explain the nature of my relationship with Kris to them). We’d all booked in advance, with the Guimanche Posada in Merida, to stay at their Los Nevados posada of the same name, and it was nice to have the couple, and their bright little boy, for company during meals or short walks through the town…though I drew the line at joining them for a mule ride! I told them I wanted to wait for Kris before I climbed on a mule for the first time in my life!