Tuesday 15 October

I am woken by the carillon on the church next door at 6 am playing what I take to be the Venezuelan National Anthem. The sound is slightly incongruous given the small scale of the church, until I realise that it is courtesy of an electronic speaker horn on the top of the tower.

There is no hot water for a shower, only a mere dribble that dries up entirely just as I have covered myself with soap. Breakfast is omelette and sausage.

We have a short drive to the Laguna de Mucubaji from where we begin our walk to the Laguna Negra (Black Lake). The ground is covered with Frailejon plants – yellow flowers on tall stalks and long felt-like (but softer) light green leaves with silvery-yellow fur. We pause at the lake, and then Patricia, Diane, Sim, Debbie, Nik, Liz, and I set off around the edge of the lake. It is tricky-going, climbing around trees and branches and scrambling over rocks. At the far end below the waterfall we cross a bog before resuming our journey back to the starting point on slightly easier ground. Back with the others, we eat a picnic lunch of salami and cheese.

Another short drive takes us to the condor sanctuary. They have two condors in captivity here. Neither could be released; one is a female with a severely broken wing, and the other a male that was born in captivity and is not capable of looking after itself. We hope in vain to see any visiting wild condors, but Mr Condor performs for the cameras satisfactorily.

We drive from there down to Estancia Mucunuy, near Mérida, where we are to spend the night at the beautiful Hacienda “El Salado”. There is a central courtyard with the rooms looking on, overlooked by tropical vegetation. We are somewhat lower down here and it is much warmer and very humid. We order drinks (the passion fruit is excellent) and Richard tells us of his hope to try paragliding tomorrow, despite our warnings of incurring the wrath of the local condors.