We leave San Felipe on Highway One and head southwest along good roads. Soon after passing through the modern city of Barquisimeto, capital of Lara State, the lush woods give way to more arid browns and gnarled bushes. In the distance low hills border the flat plain we are driving across. Patricia receives a text message on her mobile phone – Michael has forgotten to give our key back to the hotel reception.
We make a mid-morning stop at a rather brutal concrete service station refreshment mall. Soon after, we turn off the dual carriageway and begin to head up into the Andes. As the terrain becomes more hilly again, the trees and the green return. We stop for lunch at Valera for a light snack, which turns out to be anything but.
After lunch, the road becomes steeper, more winding, and narrower. The air-con is switched off and the windows are opened. It is getting much cooler now. We toil uphill all afternoon around countless hairpin bends, through villages, always climbing – until at around 5.30 pm we reach Eagle’s Pass at 4200 m.
There is a tiny chapel right at the top, looking out over jagged peaks. Wisps of cloud blow up from the valley, and it is noticeably chilly. Patricia is well wrapped up with woollen gloves and a hat. For the rest of us, it is a welcome relief from the sweltering heat of the lowlands. After admiring the view, we cross over the road to the café for hot chocolate.
It’s not far to the guest-house now at Apartaderos, just short of Mérida, the “Posada Terrazas del Sol”. It is a typical Andean house – bamboo and tile roof, courtyards, and terracotta tiled floors. The owners are friendly and speak good English, and they have three large and slobbery dogs and a mangy but affectionate cat. Patricia brought out the thermals long ago, but even we are now feeling the cold and are glad of the open fire in the dining room.