Wednesday 16 October

An excellent night’s sleep and good breakfast. Our bus drives us to Mérida for today’s cable-car trip up a total of 3200 m to the top of Pico Espejo at 4765 m.

The cable car journey is in four stages, and Patricia, though she has done this trip many times before, stands in the middle of the cabin, carefully avoiding looking too far down. There are splendid views of Mérida as we climb away. Towards the top of the third stage it is getting decidedly chilly and clouds are blowing past. The Mantovani-style music playing over the intercom gradually becomes more dramatic as we climb higher. I feel distinctly light-headed as I alight at the top of the final stage, and my senses are immediately assaulted by the sharp smell of floor-polish.

Avoiding skidding or keeling over, we emerge from the building into a cold misty drizzle. We take the obligatory photos of the Virgin Mary statue, and then just as we are about to leave, the fog lifts and there is a grand view of the surrounding mountains.

Donna, Sue, and Richard are waiting for us at the bottom. We continue to Mérida’s indoor market – a large three-storey building with fruit, vegetables, salted fish, pottery coffee sets, herbs and spices, and many other things. It is somewhat reminiscent of the market at Hanoi, Vietnam.

Lunch is an excellent toasted ham and cheese sandwich at a nearby café, and then Richard goes off (after signing the necessary disclaimer form) to try his hand at paragliding, to make his own way by taxi back to the guesthouse at Apartaderos (where we are returning tonight).

The rest of us have an hour and a half left in the centre of Mérida to explore the Plaza Bolívar. There isn’t a great deal to see. A service seems to be in progress in the Cathedral – a colonial style building with bright stained-glass windows. I walk with Diane across to a building where we are told we can get an upstairs view over the plaza, but it turns out to be a school with classes in progress so we don’t disturb them.

Coming to a quiet side street just off the square, we sit down at a pavement café where the coffee is excellent and painters sit painting nearby. Debbie appears shortly, followed by Patricia and Donna, who have been in the internet café opposite.