Andes Hike, Venezuela:  October 11 - October 16, 2008

Click on the above thumbnail for a map of Venezuela

On October 11 we took a bus from Mérida to the village of Barinas, where we were picked up and taken by jeep to the first posada of our hike through a portion of the Venezuelan Andes Mountains.  

Waiting at the bus station in Barinas for our jeep to take us to the first posada.

There are a number of routes available from a number of tour companies in Mérida.  We chose to use Andes Tropicales (, primarily because of the their participation in Caminos Posaderos Andinos (Andean Inn Routes), a network of excursion routes that, in conjunction with the Association of Páramo Guides and Innkeepers (ASOBAP) offers support for a wide variety of excursions.   "Posada" is the Spanish word for "inn".    "Mucu" means "place of" in the old local native language.   ASOBAP reconditioned traditional houses along the routes in order to offer excursionists food and lodging services, and calls these shelters "mucoposadas".   Small enterprises, the mucoposadas provide welcome income to the local families that manage them.   We were happy to learn that 75% of our fee to Andes Tropicales went to these families and the guides that accompanied us with pack mules and horses.

We hiked for four days, staying in a different location each night.   Four nights in mucoposadas, and one night in tents pitched next to an abandoned stone house.   All told, we hiked for 60 kilometers, starting at a height of 600 meters above sea level and ending up at a height of over 3300 meters.   Barb did a combination of riding and walking; Hunter, Devi (Arctic Tern) and I walked the entire route.  We each had a small day pack -- mine included some water, some snacks, some rain gear, and of course my beloved Nikon -- but the pack animals carried our bags of extra clothing, our sleeping bags, our sleeping pads, etc.

Mucoposada Los Samanes

Unloading our jeep at the posada

Each mucoposada had a nice sign

Very common to have a roofed area with no walls

Every mucoposada had a number of hammocks

Pasture next to the mucoposada

Lots of fruit trees -- here one of the sons enjoys a snack in a tangerine tree

The young wife had 8 children and was pregnant

Two of the youngest

Every mucoposada had a wood-burning cooking stove

Roofing of the covered open area

Closeup of the roofing material

The appearance of the roof from the outside

Interesting resident in the morning light

This oropendula flew into a wall (pursued by another bird) and fell stunned to the ground. Broken neck? Moments later, it flew off

Devi signs the guest book before we depart in the morning

Hunter helping the guides load up the pack animals.

Day 1 -- October 12

On our first day we went from 600 meters to 1400 meters, through agricultural ecosystems in the middle of forests.  Barb discovered that she much preferred to ride a sure-footed mule to a horse.

The guides insisted on leading the horse or mule regardless of the rider's experience

By 11 AM we had gotten high enough for this view.

Devi developed an early blister on her foot

It's 12:30 -- anyone hungry yet?

Nope. Not here. Keep going

1 PM we stop at a small home for lunch. Our guide's son shows us a sugar cane grinder...

... and a coffee grinder

The problem w/ going down to the river to cross is climbing back up the next ridge ...

... and some climbs were too steep for anyone to ride

Mucoposada San Jose

We arrived at our second mucoposada at about 3 PM.   Later we had a delicious dinner of shredded beef, corn, cooked green banana, carrot slaw, and rice.  Guest sleeping quarters consisted of two relatively large rooms, each equipped with one double bed (called "matrimonial" in Spanish) and many bunk beds.   The guides took one room and we took the other.   A generator provided electricity for a few hours in the evening, but by shortly after 7 PM it was off with the generator and "lights out".   Around 6 AM we were awakened by the sound of wood being chopped.   About 8 AM we were given small cups of very strong sweetened coffee, followed by a breakfast of arepas, shredded salty cheese, scrambled eggs, and hot chocolate.

The mucoposada sign

Our second mucoposada

All tucked in for the night

Our mucoposada in the morning light

Our hostess making arepas for breakfast

... which the daughter cooks on the stove ...

... by "baking" on the grill

Dining/cooking area

Devi prepares her feet for another day of hiking ...

... and the family poses for a group picture

Day 2 -- October 13

On the second day we went up and down, starting at 1400 meters, and ending at 1500 meters.   Crossed rivers bunches of times, including four swing bridges, and got rained on a little.   Had lunch under a temporary shelter than had been erected to protect materials for a new suspension bridge.   The bridge had just been finished and we were among the first to use it.

The scenery (and smell) was better if we walked AHEAD of the pack animals.

The horses had to be led. The mules followed the way on their own.

A family of locals gathering some firewood.

One doesn't ride across a bridge.

Anyone have a kayak?

Look at his colorful body

Some parts of the trail were narrow and overgrown. (Almost all were steep.)

So many bridges. So many valleys to climb back out of!

Lunch under the shelter just before the new bridge

Devi on the shiny new (red) bridge - playing Mary Poppins :-)

Mucuposada El Carrizal

We arrived at El Carrizal at about 2:30 PM.   The posada had solar panels, batteries, and an inverter, so lights were not an issue.   Hunter and Devi had brought along their "pass the pigs" set, and the game was vastly enjoyed by our guide and several youths, as well as Barb and Hunter.   Our dinner was much the same as the previous night, but was accompanied by a delicious lemon grass tea.  Breakfast the next morning consisted of delicious fried trout, chunks of cheese, arepas, and freshly squeezed fruit juice.

Mucoposada sign

What a setting for a home

Girls doing some of our very dirty laundry by hand (like the locals)

Our guide, his son, a local kid, Hunter, and Barb all playing "pass the pigs", much to their collective enjoyment

Barb was the scorekeeper

Our bedroom

Hunter, Devi, and our hostess after breakfast

Day 3 -- October 14

On the third day the trip began to take its toll as we climbed from 1500 meters to 3150 meters with bodies that had already walked for two days.  We hiked through the pristine Selvas Nublados (cloudy forests) that are so often shrouded in fog.

Small stream makes a waterfall as it heads toward the river that we paralleled for much of our day

One of our many short rests on this tough day

The "cloudy forest" is a dense rain forest

It has begun to rain, and there is no place to sit as we grab a quick lunch

Our guides drank from the rivers -- we avoided that but drank water that our hosts said came from springs

Most of the pics this day were taken by Barb -- I was too tired to dig out the camera, and conditions were too wet for most of the walk anyway

Los Morritos

The Los Morritos camp site is situated just at the beginning of the páramos, a high, cold, and relatively bare zone just above the tree line.  We arrived in drizzle, but were able to take some photos that afternoon and more the next morning, when the clouds had not yet moved in.   We were met there by two new guides with new pack animals.  Our two former guides continued on up the route to lodging for the night; we would meet them the next day as they headed back to their home where we had had lunch on day 2.   Our new guides were not chefs.   In their defense, their "kitchen" was just a low board in the abandoned stone house adjacent to our tents.   Dinner consisted of a very runny soup in which if one were diligent one could find a small piece of a potato or, if one were really lucky, a small piece of chicken.  Of course we were also served arepas and salty cheese.  The soup had to boil on the camping stove for a very long time in order to cook the potato chunks; water boils at a low temperature at that altitude.  (We had noticed earlier at the posadas that most had pressure cookers.)

It was dark by the time we ate, and we retired right after supper, crawling into our sleeping bags still dressed in many layers of warm clothing.  Yes, the páramos do get cold at night, but we were adequately prepared and slept well. 

Breakfast the next morning made supper seem like a banquet.  Corn flakes served with hot milk.  White store-bought bread and jam.   And some left-over arepas and cheese.

But the views in and around the camp were spectacular.

Our camp at Los Morritos. The guides slept on the ground in the stone house.

Behind Devi and Hunter, on the left of the picture, is the path we arrived on

There is a fine mist, but we all try to grab a few pics

The object of Barb's attention

Devi and our new guides, waiting for the potato soup to finish cooking

The makeshift "kitchen"

Chuck focusing on ...

... the many interesting ...

... views around our little clearing

Collectively, we must have taken at least 20 photos of this view

Day 4 -- October 15

On our last day of hiking we walked through the páramo, starting at 3150 meters, going up to a pass at 3640 meters and then arriving at our last posada at 3300 meters.  We began in balmy sunlight, were soon enveloped in fog, and after about 10 AM spent much of the hike in cold rain. During the "fog" phase, we lost the path.   We had gone ahead while the guides broke camp.  Ironically, at all other times on this day and every other day, the path was obvious.   But the first time we ventured off on our own, we lost the path as we passed an abandoned stone house.   We had to double back a ways and then sit, waiting until the guides caught up with us.   Turned out the path went straight up the mountain instead of following the tempting boggy plateau.  Shortly thereafter, it began to rain.  Our wettest day by far, and so we have no photos of the high pass area.  The last few miles were on a road -- the first road of our 60 km. hike.  At about the same time that the road appeared, the steep walls of the valley were suddenly cultivated.  Fields of garlic and carrots and potatoes.

Looking back at Los Morritos

Another view of Los Morritos from further away

And yet a third view, with Hunter in the forground fiddling with his gear

Waiting for the guides to catch up with us and show us the path!

The fog moves in and softens the universe

An empty house -- the owner was said to live now in Mérida

Typical flora of the páramo

The view from the back of a mule

Working the soil on a steep slope with a wooden plow and a team of oxen

Suddenly we have a road -- and a paved one at that!

Descending down toward our last posada and the village of Gavidia.

Bridge created with the frame of a truck

Hunter and Devi and a guide arrive in Gavidia ...

... as does Chuck

Mucuposada Michicaba (and the village of Gavidia)

By the time we got to Gavidia, we were all cold.  But especially Barb, since she was expending less energy.  After we changed into dry clothes and had a delicious lunch of soup, shredded beef, rice and a cucumber/tomato/onion salad, Barb went to bed.  She must have contracted some kind of bug, because she was subsequently under the weather for three or four days.   The next day we had a bit of a wait for the our small bus, so we all went on walks/photo expeditions.

Mucoposada Michicaba from afar

The mucoposada from anear

Very welcome warm lunch in the posada

Downstairs guest sleeping area

The upstairs of the sleeping lodge

Next morning we went for a walk while waiting for our bus back to Mérida

Pack animal loaded with potatoes

Children we met on our walk

Packing produce up the road to yet higher markets

Waiting for the small bus to take us to Mucuchíes, where we would catch a larger bus to Mérida