Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. ~ John Lubbock
This past Sunday I did something I’ve never done before in my life. I hiked a mountain from bottom to top! No, not the Canaima like in the animation UP, but the Avila. It’s a beautifully lush mountain range that divides the city from the sea.
I’m not sure why we accepted the invitation except to say that it was something to do on a Sunday. We went with Juan’s sister and a few of her friends. At the beginning of the hike we were told that it had some steep parts, but the overall hike was smooth. Note to self, consider the source. The women who told us this are quite experienced hikers. Having hiked all over the world, this would seem like nothing but a stroll. One thing I learned is this, what one person considers a smooth easy hike, another person considers a small private hell. Now not all of it was challenging, but man, there were some parts that I didn’t think I could climb.
We started our journey at around 8 am, and although the start of the hike was laborious I was excited to be surrounded by the trees and the cool damp air. I love being in the woods, smelling the earth, listening to the quietude, and admiring the various colors of brown and green. It shouldn’t have surprised me that there were a lot of people on the trail, but there were. Young and old alike took to the sky.
There were viewpoints, such as the one above, that made me stop and gape with my mouth wide open at the size of Caracas. This is just a small part of this immense city. It’s quite pretty from above, wouldn’t you agree?
One hour quickly turned into two. I wasn’t really complaining at this point. I still had a lot of energy and my childlike curiosity kept me well occupied. A couple of things that I saw, but was unable to get pictures of, were butterflies and parrots. It seemed like every time I took my phone out to snap a picture, they flitted or flew away. Sigh
At one point we came across a hill so steep I thought it would have been more effective if I crawled up it. The hiker beside me was just as discouraged. Somehow that made me feel better. At least I wasn’t the only one in pain.
After three hours, I was at the point where I dearly wanted to sleep. Fortunately for me, we came upon a resting point with a shack. Thank god!! I would have walked right past this shack because the window was tightly closed and the door slightly ajar. Had there not been anyone milling about I would have lost the opportunity to try something delicious. On the menu (a piece of paper with three things written on it) was jugo de tomate y mora (tomato and blackberry juice). I confirmed this with a fellow hiker (Juan was further behind me so I couldn’t question him). Really? Tomato and blackberry? I needed to try it! To say it was refreshingly divine is an understatement!! Man, oh man, that was surprisingly good. Nope, no picture. I was too tired to take my phone out of my bag. But trust me, it’s worth experimenting with. I think you need to remove the seeds and skin of the tomato and then puree it with the blackberries and some ice. Super simple!
The other thing I had there was frozen passion fruit juice (one of my favs)! It was kind of like a freezy in a cup. I wanted to lay there and eat this all day. The promise of the upcoming view was hardly tempting. I was already in my own little heaven.
Although my rest was well deserved, I knew better than to stop for a long period of time. I was actually afraid that my bones and muscles would seize and I wouldn’t make it up or down. I was promised just one more hour and then I would be rewarded with the most spectacular view. This last hour was killer. There were parts on this path that were so narrow that there was yellow “Peligroso” (danger) tape stretched across two thin bamboo trees. One little misstep and I was going down, way down. I grabbed a few gnarled roots and push myself ahead. The last leg of the hike was a bit cruel. It was tough and I was tired. There were no more resting places. If I stopped, I line of people behind me had to stop because no one would have been able to pass. Ah, the pressure!
Finally, I made it to the summit. I wanted to collapse. My legs were like jelly. I had such a sense of pride and the feeling of accomplishment. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to turn back at certain points. And as cliché as it is, I kept seeing the hike as a metaphor for life. You know, the ups and downs, the struggles and the triumphs.
The irony of all of this was that I had seen the spectacular view three years earlier when Juan and I were here last. The joke was on me! Ha ha. We took the cable car up. But this time around it was more special, somehow I felt like I was more deserving.
There was a woman who came up right after our group. To say she was inspiring is an understatement. Her name is Teresa and she’s 81 years old. YES, 81!!! Apparently she’s a regular. Every weekend she does the hike in under 3 hours. She put me to shame.
After lunch we all decided it was time to head down. We took the cable car. Good thing because I would have had to have been carried. Heights kind of freak me out. I’m not sure when I developed this, but it’s a bit unnerving when I’m swinging around in a little car high above the ground. I had to look way ahead to take the picture.
When I look at the picture above I really can gauge how far I came. It was a fantastic day. As much as I struggled, I know I want to go back and do it again.
Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week. ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Something strange happens here on Sundays, people slow down. It’s like they take a deep breath before the start of a new week or perhaps they have no energy from the week that has passed and just decide to go with it and relax. This doesn’t mean they stay at home and don’t do anything, on the contrary. It appears that everyone heads outdoors to spend time with family and friends.
Two fantastic places to do this are Parque El Este and the Avila National Park. Both, conveniently enough, are located in the city. Because everyone has the same idea, there are some serious lines to get into and out of Parque El Este. It’s a super crowded place on the weekend. Every group imaginable is there from yoga, tai chi, some sword fighting group, I even saw a wellness group where people were laughing so hard it was contagious. There are, of course, the walkers, the joggers, and basketball, volleyball and baseball players along with kids in strollers. Everyone is trying to get the most of the fresh air and their one truly free day.
There are kiosks of toys for kids, people pressing fresh orange juice, or serving chicha ( a semi-thick rice drink, not to my liking), there are even canteens selling empanadas and taquenos (I’ll write more about those when I have pictures of the good stuff!).
Parque EL Este is not a zoo even though it has some crocs, lots of turtles, a couple of monkeys, a few otters, and the odd large iguana running around. I particularly like watching the monkeys, but I love watching other people react, or not, to animals, especially children. People connect to nature differently than how they connect with people. In some ways it gives me hope.
I’m all about stopping and smelling the roses. Seriously, I think Juan gets tired of me picking up random things like seeds, or fruit from a tree, or feeling the texture of bark on a tree.
Take the Hura Crepitan seed for example. It stopped me in my tracks. It’s a big, hard seed which, when whole, kind of looks like a small brown pumpkin. Juan told me that people here make jewelry, key chains, or even art with them.
The tree is also referred to as the Dolphin tree because when you turn one part of the seed a certain way it looks like a dolphin. I think I’m going to try and make something out of mine. By the way, the trunk has thorns like a rose. Crazy, right?
Anyway, I like details; I like that I can think about shapes, forms, the how and the why of things. It gets my mind working and it calms me down. Nature is awesome!
After visiting Parque El Este we headed over to the Avila National Park for a little hike. The Avila is the mountain range that dominates all of Caracas. It’s a large dark green curtain of a mountain. It’s beautiful.
The beginning of our hike was, you guessed it, crowded. People with dogs, bikes and kids crammed the entrance. A few minutes later we were in our own little world. We went off of the beaten track onto a small trail.
The silence was most welcoming. It was hard to believe that solitude could be had in such a noisy city. I love this mountain for this reason. The air was pure, so clean. Caracas, unfortunately has no real air quality control, so cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles pollute in such a careless way that it breaks my heart. Huge black clouds of exhaust are everywhere.
Whenever we walk around for any length of time my nose and throat burn. It’s that bad. So the Avila really is the lung of the city. All I can say is thank god trees turn carbon dioxide into oxygen! If not, we’d all be dead from poisoning.
Walking through the Avila provided me with a great experience to discover new Nature. I saw trees and leaves that I had never seen before.
It gave me a chance to unwind, be at peace and reconnect with the most basic of things: silence, light, shadows, chirping birds and the sound of water pushing its way through rocks.
All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday. So if you ever find yourself in Caracas and need a break, head to the parks!