Tuesday, November 19, 1996

Merida is the closest thing to a tourist-oriented town I saw in Venezuela. Actually, it is a big university town, and most of the tourists are Venezuelans. The setting is beautiful, surrounded by the Andes mountains. At an elevation of about 5,000 feet, the weather was perfect -- 80's in the day, 60's at night.

I didn't stick out in the crowd like I thought I would. Venezuelans take on any number of appearances. Most people here are of mixed race, but the best way to distinguish a foreigner is by the way they dress, and not their skin color. My companion had been encouraging me to not dress like a sloppy American, so I fit in pretty well. People here often approached me and started yammering away in Spanish as if I were a native.

Merida is the site of the world's longest teleferico (cable car), which ascends the mountain in four sections to an altitude of 16,000 ft. Only the first three sections were operational at the time, and we had heard rumors that the cables were often vandalized, so we opted not to go up.

Instead, we headed for 'La Venezuela De Antier' (Old Venezuela), which is the country's attempt to bring samples of each state to a single site. The food and music exhibits were pretty good, and there was a car museum, craft exhibits, cockfights, etc. It's a good idea, but it needs some work. The tour would have been a total waste if I didn't have a translator.

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View of the Andes from
La Venezuela De Antier

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Merida, from La Venezuela De Antier

The 30-minute cab ride back to Merida cost $4.

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