Hola from Venezuela,
Sometimes it’s better not to know what danger you might have just avoided. Who wants to know that a shark just brushed their surfboard? Or, that a train derailment occurred on the track you just came from? Bush walks don’t normally entail danger but in Venezuela, it’s apparently not a common practice.
Caracas is built in a steep valley which must have been beautiful before the city was built. Paintings from pre-development times support the contention.
Above the city is a brooding mountain known locally as El Ávila. When I expressed an interest in climbing El Ávila, I was met with doubtful silence, which seemed a bit strange. Perhaps they were thinking it was easier to catch the massive cable car to the top. Perhaps they thought it was too hot. I didn’t consider the possibility that there could be some danger there.
The intrigue deepened after I crossed the busy camino to reach the foot of the mountain. A group of roadworkers couldn’t really help with directions but one motioned to a track which looked promising. The intrigue deepened when he ominously motioned a rifle being fired. This seemed a bit incongruous: the undeveloped bush; nature; national park; beautiful sunny day. What’s with the unmistakable gun action?
At the foot of the track there was a guard and the guard had a substantial gun. We looked me up and down (shorts, T-shirt, joggers, no bag, no guns) and waved me up the hill with a nonchalance you might think beckoned an excuse for action.
I ascended gradually and every now and then turned to note the improved vantage over the city below. There were some spectacular butterflies in places: two-tone blue with big wings. Remembering the advice about the cable car, I decided to head in the direction of the peak where it must be heading. After several wrong turns and reversals, it became clear this track didn’t lead to the peak – not that one anyway. When the track petered out I decided it was not such a brilliant idea, after all.
Heading back down hill, I was eventually able to follow a concrete road, completing a big U on the walk. When I came to the bottom, there was another guard who was just as surprised by the sight. He seemed relieved that I was unarmed as well as unharmed and didn’t check my progress at all. Apart from the two taciturn guards, I hadn’t seen a single person even though I’d been up on the mountain for over four hours.
Crossing the busy road again (remember: petrol is extraordinarily cheap in Venezuela, so everyone has a car – even if it is held together by tape) I trudged into a city suburb. It was great to see a woman selling orange juice on the street. Never has juice tasted so good.
After negotiating the train back to a familiar station and back to the group’s headquarters, some expressed amazement that I was unscathed. But, still no explanation for the doubts, so the mountain walk up El Ávila remains a mystery. Perhaps it’s better not to know.
Por ahora from Caracas