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The Andes Unadulterated: Venezuela’s Los Nevados

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Tourism tends to corrupt, and a positive mention in Lonely Planet corrupts absolutely. I guess that’s how Lord Acton may have put it if he’d ever seen what backpacker hordes can do to even the most pristine, humble backwater.

Maybe you hear about it on the road, or read the glowing review. In either case, you learn about some idyllic hamlet just off the beaten track. But when you finally get there, it seems like you arrived a decade too late. Instead of finding the land time forgot, you get a face full of cheesy hostels, backpacker bars and souvenir shops. Don’t blame the locals, blame yourself. This is what happens when cashed up jerks looking for a few cheap thrills, a faux hamburger and discount beer descend on some humble farming (or fishing, or whatever) community. Damn, that tourist dough can corrode even the most rustic retreat.

The half a dozen posadas lining the main street of Los Nevados certainly made me gulp. After a four hour jeep ride from Merida, I’d arrived in this tiny mountain village with a twinkle of hope. For a moment, that hope was dashed, and I groaned. “Not again,” I thought.

However, over the next few days I changed my mind. I can’t comment on high season, but it seems that during low season Los Nevados is one of those rare treasures that has remained sincere despite falling into backpacker cross-hairs. At 2700 metres, the terracotta roofed houses of this small Andean village are huddled on a vertigo inducing slope deep in Merida state’s rugged mountain wilderness. Along with growing wheat, potato and garlic, tourism is an increasingly significant part of this farming community’s economy. However, the people here are incredibly polite, relaxed and just all round welcoming.

Apart from checking out the cute church near the village square, there isn’t much to do in the town itself, which has a population of less than 2000. When I visited, besides a street sweeper and a few dreadlocked dogs, the only signs of life on the streets was a herd of knee high school children being marched to class.

The real action here is out in the hills, where there are plenty of great trails to take you through the virgin wilderness. Look out for the strange array of high altitude plants, and don’t miss sunrise. The weather was also a bit temperamental, with some chilly winds late in the afternoon. Bring warm clothes for the chilly nights.

Overall, Los Nevados makes for a refreshing few days out, and well worth the four hours of windy dirt roads from Merida city. Friendly town, stunning mountain views and some decent walks make this one of the best little spots I’ve discovered in years.

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