Semana ocho is upon us! A mere nine weeks and some change and I’ll be back in the warm embrace of los Estados Unidos. Until then: CAMPING!
So, Merida’s in the mountains, right? Meaning we’re already pretty high up, so when I heard we were going camping “in the mountains” and there would be some hiking, I somewhat innocently thought it would be more of a lateral move. I mean, we’re already up so high. How much higher could we go?
Answer: super high.
So my roommate and two other gringa girls went with a group of Venezuelans up the mountain to go camping. Fun fact: about half of them were boy scouts. Boy scouts are big here, and the cool thing is it’s for girls and boys. So one of the boy scouts is a girl. Even cooler: it is not inaccurate to say that boy scouts are super prepared. They had these huge backpacks and all the tents and equipment and serious hiking shoes, and I had a pair of slip-on tennies and my backpack from seventh grade. Clearly not a hiker.
We took a two-hour bus to…somewhere…then an hour jeep ride to…somewhere else…and were dropped off at the base of some mountain. Honestly, I’m sorry I have no idea about any details. I just kind of followed the group, like a tourist, and let the boy scouts make the tough decisions. And carry most of the heavy stuff.
Wait! I remember our destination, at least: la laguna de los parches. That was the lake where we eventually camped. But not yet! Read on! For the adventure part!
So we get to the mountain, and it’s immediately uphill. The group of about fourteen of us began to stretch out and separate, with some stragglers in between.
At one point, I swear to god we were scaling a sheer cliff face. The boy scouts were all, “No, there’s a path!” but then that line began to change to, “Don’t worry, this way’s faster!” to “We’re making our own path!” Whatever, guys. I’m wise to your game now. I mean, we made it up, but that cliff was no joke.
There was another path that circled up and around, but it was also pretty rocky, so I’m on the fence about which I would prefer, now that I know the difference. But then again, I plan to never climb that mountain ever again, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.
So, hiking continued to happen for another seven hundred hours or so. Morale was low.
Ultimately, though, we made it to the top and it was gorgeous. I myself am not overly familiar with the tops of mountains, but the ones in Merida are pretty interesting. There are barely any trees and everything’s kind of rocky and brushy. There are these fuzzy plants called freilejones that are soft like fuzz and they’re everywhere.
Got super sunburnt, because we were practically in the sky, and I am very white. I’m pretty sure I shook hands with the sun.
I’m also pretty well versed in the art of the nature pee at this point. It’s all in the knees.
After the boy scouts assembled the tents and the girls lounged, we all sat around, had some snacks and learned some goofy Spanish campfire songs, of which I recall absolutely nothing now.
Then night fell, and things took a turn for the freezing. Before we left Merida, all the gringas were told repeatedly that it would be very cold in the mountains. The phrase my friend Grace used to describe what her host family had said was, “They cannot emphasize enough how cold it is going to be.” But we’re all from Chicago and Minnesota, and we were feeling a little foolhardy. These Merideñas are the same people who wear sweaters everyday in 75-degree weather! Come on! Needless to say, the gringas were a little skeptical. How cold could it be, really?
Answer: unbearably, unbelievably cold. Like, sucking out your will to live cold.
After things wound down following a few words games (it was a pretty wholesome group) we moseyed on over to our tents. The four gringas snuggled in, and then proceeded to tremble like small dogs for the entire night.
Seriously, it’s hard for me to describe exactly how uncomfortable that night was, mostly because I’m getting Vietnam-style PTSD flashbacks every time I try. But know this: Remember that scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker is on the ice planet and he has to cut open the stomach of the furry llama he’s been riding on so he can dive into the entrails to stay warm? That night, I envied Luke his llama-entrails.
But, despite it all, we made it through the night. And discovered we were the only tent that was so unbearably cold, so I have no idea what we were doing wrong that the boy scouts were doing right, unless boy scouts just naturally run several degrees warmer than the average human. Which is a very real possibility.
Then, we packed up camp (again, boy scouts packed, the girls lounged) and started back down the mountain. The hike downhill took us just shy of an hour to complete. For reference: the hike uphill took us over four hours. Gravity ain’t no joke.
It was a super fun weekend, and looking back on the intense hiking I’m really proud of myself, because I’m definitely not in the best shape of my life and I managed to not combust from fatigue. That weekend, and that particular camping destination, was definitely a one-time treat, however. I wouldn’t want to ruin the experience of hiking up a freaking mountain by letting it get too familiar, right? Right.
What’s that? Oh right, it’s time for everyone’s favorite segment, Adventures in Merida!
I bought a pair of high heels here. All the women wear these insane tacones and I wanted in on the local fashion and they were super cute and cheap. It may have been ill advised? I felt like Godzilla and Merida was Tokyo. I’m not short to begin with, and with the heels and the platforms, I was an easy 6-and-a-half feet tall. There was one point in the bar where I noticed the air actually felt cooler on my face because I was so far above everyone. The men aren’t noticeably shorter here, but the women seem to be, and I kept getting jabbed by elbows to the hip as this goblin-sized women tried to move past me.
But I think I’m going to wear them again. They made me feel powerful, like a giant monster.
In a similar vein, man do I love salsa, of the music and dancing variety (as well as the food variety, but that’s a story for a different time). I sometimes feel I’m more suited to dancing salsa by myself, but even with a partner whose knees I’m constantly bumping into, I just love it. That, and all the reggaeton. I could listen to reggaeton everyday for the rest of my life, although, weird phenomenon: reggaeton singers are almost uniformly weird looking. Once you see a music video, it totally changes your perception of this artist who previously was nothing more than a sexy voice. So, pro tip, steer clear of the music videos. The clubs here could chill with the meringue, though. Too much spinning, and I’m already prone to falling down, so meringue feels like tempting fate.
Que mas? Oh yes. The comida.
I don’t know if I’ve touched on the food situation here yet, but it’s pretty dire. I’m really sorry Venezuela, but you’re killing me with the food here. I love you so very much, and you have so many wonderful qualities, but food just isn’t one of them. Please don’t cry, Venezuela. You’re making a scene.
Like, you know how people make fun of England for having bland food? Venezuela, or at least Merida, is the England of Latin America. It’s a little bit like their taste buds are broken. I’ve started to realize that for people from the United States, Mexican food is so familiar to us it becomes what we expect, and think all Latin food is so spicy and flavorful. You need to know, though, that Venezuelan food is the opposite of Mexican. It is the anti-Mexican. It absorbs spice and flavor and reassembles them into molecules of bland.
Arepas are kind of the staple food here. They’re usually made with corn meal, although sometimes with flour. It’s essentially like eating a hockey puck. Man, are those suckers dense. Sometimes they’re served with meat, sometimes with cheese, sometimes with butter or marmalade. The flour ones are alright and taste kind of like naan, but I just cannot get the hang of arepas de maiz. Moral of the story: yikes.
Also, my semana santa plans have finally shaken out, and they are awesome. Semana santa is kind of like spring break for all of Venezuela. Almost everyone gets the whole week off, and me and my friend Grace and her friend who is visiting from home are going to los roques.
What are los roques, you ask? Oh, only this:
Our original plans were to go to Margarita, another beautiful island, but those plans fell through and we’ve been scrambling to enact Plan B. We actually had a list of alternate plans that stretched to Plan F if I’m not mistaken, so yeah, we were prepared for any eventualities. But, those are worries for the past, because we are going to los roques, to relax on the beach and swim and nap and get mega-sunburnt. Huzzah!
Next time you hear from me, I shall be sunburnt and having just returned from maxing and relaxing on the beach.
Hasta luego, guys!