When taking a trip into the mountains outside Caracas, the assumption is you will see some gorgeous forest, probably some fantastic tropical birds, and maybe some fertile farmland as you get beyond the borders of the city. You would not be wrong on any of these fronts. However, the prospect of lederhosen and greased pole climbing and polka dancing probably would not show up on that same travel checklist.
Sometimes travel is all about timing and you never know when you might stumble across a hidden gem on the road. This last weekend was a long one so we decided to use it as a chance to get out of Caracas and see a bit more of the country. (It is hard here. I have never lived in a country for so long and seen so little of it. Usually, by three-months in, we have been all over the place, but for multiple reasons, getting out and about in Venezuela is a challenge.) We planned to go to a town that is a favorite of embassy folks- Colonia Tovar. This little oddity is about two hours outside of the city (only about 30 miles on the map, so that tells you what the road up the mountainside is like!) so it makes a nice overnight stay. Colonia Tovar is a “German town” and it is a well-deserved moniker. Visitors who make it up the winding (and pitted) road to the top of the mountain are greeted with a picturesque view that looks straight out of Bavaria. Everything from the buildings to the main church square to the menus full of bratwurst scream that you have accidentally crossed the Atlantic and ended up not only in a different country, but a different continent!
Colonia Tovar is small. We walked the downtown circuit in half an hour or so, but just the fact that I walked the downtown circuit (and would have felt comfortable doing so solo) was a nice respite in and of itself. We get to stroll very little in Caracas (again, for a variety of safety and security related reasons) and it felt good to just set out from our cute little bungalow and wander town. Of course, as a tourist destination, (I think “destination” might be a bit grandiose at the point, but there was a time in Venezuela’s heyday where this little town was THE place to go on the weekend for a resort spa and change of scenery), the main streets had lots of little “stuff” stores on them and no one loves “stuff store” wandering more than I do! I often feel no real need to buy souvenirs or trinkets when we travel (I have this blog and Thad’s photos to jog my memory), but I do love to look. If there are six stores along a street, all selling the same sets of wooden wall hangings, ceramic coffee sets, and slightly creepy rag dolls, I will still go in EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. You just never know when there might be a treasure lurking behind the kitschy home décor, kitchen non-essentials, and nightmare-inducing toys. And while I didn’t find anything that I had any desire to take home with me, I did enjoy just having the opportunity to potentially spend money! (We actually did buy a hammock that Thad carried around town bindle-style, but it was as a favor for another embassy family. That one purchase- made in dollars, not bolivares- was the extent of our weekend shopping, other than food.)
Speaking of taking things home, I actually did find one thing that I very briefly contemplated taking home: a little (okay, big) friendly street dog. Now, don’t get me wrong. As much as I love animals, there is no way I am going to touch a mangy dog eating trash on the side of the road, but this guy was clean and obviously living the high life on leftover German sausages. He was reddish-brown, longhaired, and quite well behaved. Not able to pass him by, I spent some time petting him and chatting him up as Thad paid our breakfast arepa bill on Monday morning. Knowing that it was time to part ways, I said goodbye to my new buddy and headed up the road to check out the couple of street vendors selling fresh fruits and veggies before we loaded up to head back to Caracas. (We were hoping to find some chicken or eggs, both of which have once again become quite scarce in the city, but that was a no-go. We walked away with two containers of berries and a bag of salchichas.) A few minutes up the road, Thad tapped me on the shoulder and gestured over his own.
Guess who was on our hook?
Yup! My new friend Fido.
Apparently, a couple of pets and a few kind words have the same power as a formal pet adoption. This poor dog followed us all over town and almost back to our cabanas before we were able to shake him. I felt terrible; I am pretty sure he thought he had found his forever home! What he did not realize was that adding a pet to our nomadic family would cost me thousands of dollars each move and as much as I love them, that kind of money to ship an animal is just crazy-talk. (Lots of Foreign Service officers and families to just this every two to three years and I do not fault them for it one bit. But, for us, I can’t justify those kinds of dollars every move cycle. Although, throw a corgi into the mix and you would probably have me sold.)
Unfortunately, I do not get to write about Venezuela travel as much as I would like but hopefully those posts will increase in number once our car arrives and gets plated by the MFA. This country has some spectacular places to visit and we want to see them all before our two years here are up. (It is amazing how quickly two years at a post flies by when you are trying to book trips to all the highlights of that country. The same thing happened to us in China and Malaysia. There are just not enough vacation days to see an entire region in a mere twenty-four months!) Until we have wheels and achieve maximum (limited) mobility, I will have to be content with what I can get in the area and keep an eye to future travel opportunities, both inside and outside Venezuela’s borders.
Photo credit: T.Ross