I am in Merida, Venezuela, after two long days of traveling. Getting here is always an adventure! Day one is the flight from Phoenix to Atlanta, then a three-hour layover until the flight to Caracas. We left our house at 5 a.m. and got to Atlanta at about 2 p.m. local time. We embarked again at about 5 p.m. and arrived in Caracas at about 9 p.m. By the time you get your bags (a very slow process), go through customs, find the guy who is to drive you to your hotel and actually drive to the hotel, you've spent about another hour and a half. I think we finally got to our rooms at about 11 p.m.--some 15 hours after we left home once you account for all the time changes.
Then the next day, you get up and do it all again. Though the flight from Caracas to El Vigia, the nearest town to Merida with a functioning airport, is only about an hour, you have to go the airport well ahead. It took nearly an hour to check my bags and go through security--although I really shouldn't complain, because it took that long in Phoenix, too. I got to the airport at about 2:30 for a 5:30 flight.
The flight itself was uneventful, except for a long wait on the tarmac in a very warm plane. The real adventure began on the drive from El Vigia to Merida, which should take maybe 90 minutes. It has been raining in Venezuela since November. You read that correctly: it's been raining for six months, due to La Niña. Sections of the mountainous road between the two towns are closed because of mudslides, rock slides, and sink holes. For one stretch of about 10 miles, traffic can only go in one direction. Because there are so many obstacles, it's like driving on a slalom course--in the direction we were headed, you keep having to weave into the oncoming lane to avoid the stuff that's fallen from the mountain and then back the other way avoid the sink holes on the other side.
We waited at a checkpoint for about an hour while the traffic passed in the opposite direction, and then we were allowed through. This would have been trying under any circumstances, but it was made the more challenging by the fact that my Spanish is still very elementary, and I couldn't understand the explanations of what was going on. It wasn't until I saw the condition of the road that I realized what had happened.
So to make a one-hour flight and a 90-minute drive took about 8 hours in all.
But now I am in lovely (though wet) Merida. The cloud-covered Andes are in view from the back windows of the house where I'm staying, and I'm going in a little while to have lunch with my good friend Noa. Being here in this beautiful place with the kindest people I know is worth the trouble it takes to get here.
I like keeping travel journals, so I'll probably post some notes here from time to time.