Woke up in the 2 storey log cabin, a smell of wood and pine in the air, with a hint of petrol on the finish, which I had sloshed about the log fire last night to make it roar – the flames nearly licked the roof and got me panicking a little – not recommended.
Checked out and drove down to a lovely little restaurant for breakfast on their sun-drenched patio, views of the Andes in the background, and of the colourful frangipani in front. I tried cachapas with pork. The cachapa was good, slightly sweet, like a pancake, but the pork was old and tasted like a trucker’s leather boots. Veronica chose wisely – a traditional breakfast of, of course, arepas, with cheese and ham, and black beans. Over breakfast we decided that, before we left Merida that day, we would like to try and make it to the highest road pass in Venezuela – Paso del Condor, 4007 metres high, and there you can find Pico el Aguila, 4118m and with commanding views of the mountains and highlands below.
The drive up to the pass was nothing short of absolutely spectacular. Vivid greens giving the place a majestic, lush quality, that the freezing cold couldn’t take anything away from. The little red and orange roof houses dotted on the plains seemed defiant against the cold with their bright and cheerful colours. The panoramic views as we weaved up and around the hills were incredible, and as we climbed higher and higher we began to experience the shortening of breath associated with being at such an altitude. It was a fabulous experience, the drive alone, and when we did get to the top, all we saw was mist. Disappointed, we found a cafe and had some food and a hot chocolate, and when we reemerged the mist had cleared, creating wonderful photo opportuntities. Simon Bolivar was here once, and a statue of a condor was built here in his honour. There were no real condors, unfortunately.
We began our descent, our heads full to the brim of the amazing sights we’d seen in the last few days. We began the long long drive back to Caracas. Of course, such a drive – a good 12 hours – can’t be done in one stretch, and so as night fell, Vero agreed that we should stop in Barinas. Not in the farmhouse, this time, but in the bad old city centre itself.
Barinas is a dark, dark place, and the atmosphere just didn’t seem right. We found the square, and a hotel that looked half-decent, the imaginatively named ‘City Hotel’. The receptionist threw us some keys and we checked out the room. Terrible, and outside was a huge group of people drinking and shouting – it was hardly a place we’d want to stay in. The surrounding area had an air of menace, and I had a bad feeling about the place. But I had seen one place just as we were coming into the centre – the Phoenix Hotel. It was obvious from outside it was a love hotel – but I’d never tried a love hotel in Venezuela, so I thought it might be a good experience. Vero agreed too. And so off we went. Just before we turned in to the hotel I noticed a car completely written off and on it’s roof, and another car beyond it, smashed to smithereens – an accident that had happened no more than 30 seconds before. People were rushing out of their cars to help. It didn’t look good. We’d driven down that road 10 minutes ago. Then I noticed that the crash had happened right in front of the Barinas Fire Station – a ray of light in the darkness of this foreboding city which Hugo Chavez calls home.
We drove through a big curtain, and to a large steel door. A guard came out to take our particulars. Then the steel door slid open. I expected a place full of busty Venezuelan beauties leaning over ferraris dousing themselves with water from a hosepipe. Instead, just a mundane parking area, in a quiet and secure compound. We’d picked a safe place, and I immediately felt at ease. A man showed us a couple of rooms. Nice big bed in one, and mirrors, mirrors, mirrors. Mirrors on the ceiling, on the walls, all over the bathroom too. A narcissists paradise. Oh, and a bondage chair. In another room, the same deal, this time with