September 14, 2006 GMT
(4) Venezuela: Little Germany

Yesterday I had only half a plan, so I stayed up late studying and came up with three quarters of a plan. I wanted to get on the west side of Caracas without going through Caracas and yet not spend the entire day doing it.

I took the fast road and when I was 60 km away from Caracas, I stopped and assessed my options. I could avoid the crush if I went south and west of here to Santa Teresa and then north to La Victoria. Little did I know what lay in store.

The small 2 lane road was well travelled but not overburdened. However, the wet season had caused a few slides and washouts which had not been repaired and maybe never would be...not impassible but requiring care and time to negotiate.

In spite of the slower pace my destination seemed achievable. The rain forest environment created a natural canopy for the road with the trees merging overhead to create a green tunnel. It was a wonderful experience combined with sawtoothed ridges that were crossed and followed as the road meandered every which way, travelling five miles to advance one.

I arrived in Santa Teresa just after noon. On the way out of town I spotted the "Golden Arches". Macdonald's is well franchised throughout Venezuela. Little did I expect to find one here in this small, out of the way place. Normally I don't give them a second thought. Maybe it was 6 months of travel without a hamburger, maybe it was the familiar sign and the need for something "Western" or maybe I was just hungry. Whatever it was, the last few days I had been supplementing my diet with a Big Mac, Large Fries and Medium Coke...a No. 1 on the menu list.

The young, bronze skinned, black eyed and black haired beauty took my order and I paid up. Then in perfect english she said "Thank You Sir". "You're Welcome", I returned my face creasing into a broad smile. I finished lunch and then went back and presented her with a CANADA pin. She was the envy of all of her friends. Later, out at the bike she presented my with a Macdonald's Happy Face. It's funny how a simple gesture can put a whole new shine on the day. Suddenly I was no longer alone.

I had a big day riding...I burned up 85 cents worth of fuel and 425 kilometers worth of road.

These roads are still slippery, even when they are dry. I was humming along enjoying the ride. Yesterday's events were behind me and quickly fading into the past. The road snaked this way and that and I enjoyed the relaxed, fun pace. Suddenly in the middle of a corner the back tire broke loose and swung out. I opened up on the radius and went wide on the curve to recover. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic to complicate my life even further.

I am really going to have to watch these roads. Aggressive riding cannot be part of the menu. I must be on guard at all times.

I checked my coordinates and adjusted my plan. Colonia Tovar was perched in a northern branch of the Andes at 7,000 ft. I was at sea level. I headed up the mountain. It sounded like a good place to chill out for a couple of days.

Colonia Tovar.JPG

Colonia Tovar rose out of the high altitude mists that wafted across her streets and buildings, like ghosts shrouded in a feathery white blanket and then magically reappearing as if a curtain had been withdrawn to reveal a stage. Founded in 1843 by German peasant settlers from the Black Forest, their arrival was in direct response to a Venezuelan appeal for European migrants to assist in colonizing the new country. After the first group arrived the edict was cancelled.

Led by Augustin Codazzi, an Italian cartographer who was fundamental in preparing the first detailed maps of the newly formed Republic of Venezuela (1830), they were brought to this Andean cordillera, to a site specifically chosen by him. With the cancellation of the edict, Codazzi withdrew from the colony and returned to his mapping efforts, leaving the 376 immigrants to fend for themselves.

Left largely on their own in a new land, isolated from the outer world by a lack of roads they became self governing, following the mother culture, language and architecture for nearly a century. Effectively self contained, internal rules forbade marriage outside of the community. It was only in the 1940s that Spanish was introduced as the official language and the marriage ban lifted. Still isolated by a lack of roads the population was barely 1300 by the early 60s when a sealed road finally conncected it with Caracas.

Today, it still retains its charm and culture as it endures the hordes of tourists that arrive on weekends, from Caracas, to taste and experience a little piece of Germany and purchase the strawberries, apples, peaches and blackberries that the temperate climate nourishes.

Colonia Tovar.JPG

The church is a curious, if not unique 'L' shaped construction with one nave for the women and the other for the men. The altar is positioned at 45 degrees, at the crotch of the 'L', so as to be visible to both groups, perhaps, but not likely, symbolizing the union of the two sexes in this world and beyond.

Colonia Tovar.JPG

Up here in the misty, mountain realm it is hard to imagine that only 70 kms away the country is shimmering in 35 C heat. Tomorow I would prove it as I descended back to sea level. I had given my over-taxed sweat glands a much deserved rest even if it was for only a day.

One thing about these Germans...they may not know much but they sure do know how to make Stroganoff. Sandy should be here to capture the moment and the recipe. The Brasilians had made such a mess of the dish I was almost afraid to try it for fear of forever destroying my liking for it. Now, full to capacity I silently wondered if I would be able to carry my over-loaded frame up the hill to my Cabana.

As I rode through La Victoria a teenager and his girlfriend pulled up beside me on a scooter. He raised the question "Where are you from?" The answer "CANADA", astounded them. They asked again to be sure they had heard correctly. They had. The traffic separated us and they stopped to share their discovery with a friend in a passing car. It was too unbelievable to comprehend. At the next light they were both beside me...the car and the bike. He beckoned..."Tell my friend where you are from." "CANADA", I repeated. Now she believed him, but not before.

Posted by Robert Bielesch at September 14, 2006 05:55 PM GMT

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