Crossing the Andes by Foot

27th November 2010

There was a light dusting of snow on Pico Bolívar (5000 meters) towering above Mérida [7] when we arrived from Coro [6].  Mérida lies at an altitude 1600 meters in a valley of the northern Andes.  We met our guide Carlos from Natoura and organised a 5 day trek crossing the Andes beginning the next day.


After driving to the end of the road at 3200 metres, we began climbing to 3500 metres, before descending down an old Spanish mule path, leaving the modern world behind.  We spent our first night camped outside an abandoned house at 3000 metres where Carlos cooked a delicious meal of smoked pork chops.  It was cold but there was a full moon and no rain. 


Day 2 we descended steeply down to 1600 metres through cloud forest on a slippery, but beautiful rocky path.  All along the way were birds, butterflies, flowers, numerous waterfalls and river crossings sometimes via suspended bridges, sometimes hopping from rock to rock.  Our reward at the end of the day was a welcoming posada in the small, isolated village of Carrizal – population 30 and 10 hours walk from the nearest road.  Once the wet boots came off, we were served mountain coffee grown and processed right there.  The rain was beating down on the tin roof as we sat and watched the oro pendula birds coming and going from their long hanging nests high in a nearby tree.  Dinner was salted meat and delicious cheese smoked over a wood fire in the posada kitchen.


Thankfully the walking was easier the next day although the path was overgrown.  We stopped at a lone house after a few hours where we shared more mountain coffee and freshly prepared sugar cane juice with the family.  Continuing on, we climbed steeply up a path of pre-Hispanic, moss covered steps to overnight in the posada at San José, glad that we were warm and dry and not in a tent in the downpour.  Mules carried in everything needed to build the house.  How does a mule carries a toilet on its back?


Gradually we emerged from the jungle to the Andean foothills, to spend a last night at a posada in Santa Maria de Canaguá (400 meters) where we enjoyed cold beers with Carlos and Eliesar, the mule handler.  The next day we travelled by 4×4 to the highway and by car back to Mérida via a lovely mountain road through 400 year old villages crossing a pass at 3500 meters.


From Merida we leave Venezuela and head to Colombia via Maracaibo [8].


The end of the road at the start of the trek

The abandoned house where we camped

The frailejon plant is only found here in the mountains

Eliesar with the mule that carried our supplies

The beginning of the cloud forest

Carlos waiting for us at the first bridge

One of many rivers to cross

Many many butterflies

Two butterflies take a drink

White leaf trees stand out in the high forest

Clouds rolling in

Blue butterfly on the path

Old man´s beard covers the trees

Just one of many waterfalls

Every house has a coffee drying area

Chickens scratch around in the drying coffee looking for worms

Listening to the rain on the tin roof at Posada Carrizal

Church at Carrizal

Falcon out on a limb

Two little birds in the rain

Strange hanging plant

Crossing a bridge in the jungle

Here comes the rain

Cock on the rocks

Scorpian about to get into our pack

Oro Pendula birds with their nests

Jungle path

Spotted a tucan!

Ancient pre-Hispanic steps


Pam - ¨If the mule can cross it, I can¨

Out of the jungle and into the foothills

Dusk on our last evening