|New Year's day was quiet in Venezuela. We spent part of the day traveling from caracas to Merida. The Caracas airport was actually quite friendlier to navigate than I expected, but Giovanna suggested that we arrive early as Jan. 1 could be a big travel day. In fact all days around Christmas and New Year's are big travel days in Venezuela so if you are planning a trip, book your flights early (like several months early). We were glad we had tickets - it definitely eliminated stress.
Thus far, we have run into nobody but kind people in Venezuela. At the airport, the lady sitting next to me kindly informed me when our gate had moved. The man we sat beside on the plane had previously lived in NY and Miami, but returned to Venezuela for his mom and now drives cars back from Columbia. I guess gas is cheap in Venezuela (currently 17 cents a gallon - yes your read that correctly), but cars are expensive. I think the job is a little dangerous and might have involved some illegal trafficking of vehicles, but I didn't ask too many questions. We arrived in El Vigia which is 1.5 hours from Merida unsure of how we were going to transport ourselves. An employee of the airline approached Chris and asked if he needed a ride. We graciously accepted since $15 seemed to be a very reasonable price for this journey. We then picked up another traveling companion for the ride - a lawyer from Caracas who was going trekking in Sierra Nevada National park. He saw our backpacks and asked us if we were going backpacking. The ride to Merida was beautiful - we went from lush green jungle to high mountain peaks - it was really spectacular. Once we arrived in Merida, we walked around and spoke with the various tourist agencies to arrange trips for the week.
Today we went Mountain Biking and road biking PN Sierra La Culata. We rode a trail up a steep track for about 2 miles. We could really feel the altitude so maybe it was better that we didn't get the hardcore trip we had originally planned, but it was really beautiful. We then descended back down the same road for a fun mountain bike downhill that took a fraction of the climb. The descent then continued for another 25 km down a mountain rode with steep switchbacks. It was a fun trip and definitely wore us down a little- I was ready for my afternoon siesta. One thing if you are reading this because you are serious about mountain biking in Venezuela which appears to have great mountain biking. We had a hard time finding real mountain biking trips with the major tour companies. I think if you are going on a real mountain biking trip, you are looking to pay $100 a day pp for a guided tour. We found out after the fact that our guide could have done more had we hired him seperately (for a fraction of the cost - about $40 pp per a day) - but how would we have known this before we got there. I guess the point is that we should have shopped around more and been more specific about what we were looking for. The only reason we got to go on the trail is because I talked with my guide about it and he added it into the trip after the fact (which I gratefully tipped him for), but the point is that it is important to be specific about what you want if you really want to go mountain biking. The other thing we learned from our guide is that there are a lot of illegal mountain biking trails in the national parks, but the official tours are unlikely to take you on these.
One thing that was apparent was that the National Parks were plenty safe to hike in. Our guide gave us information on where to hike in the National Parks the following day and we are planning a trip to the cloud forest tomorrow. We decided to pass on another day of mountain biking because the bikes aren't the greatest and we didn't bring pedals and shoes which makes it interesting and challenging (and easy to wreck) on the downhill. So I suggest if you are coming to mountain bike for a couple days packing these items - it will make your biking experience better.