The morning we were to go up the teleférico dawned sunny and warm, but I knew, looking up at the cloud-covered hills above us, that for us, it wasn’t going to stay that way. I traced the route of the cables with my eyes, sighing when clouds below the third stop covered it. I hoped it would clear up soon – not only would we not get a view at the top of the mountain, the trip down to Los Nevados would be shrouded in clouds as well.
The taxi ride to the base of the cable car was short. We could have walked there, except that we had our breakfast, pastries from a bakery down the street from the posada, and we were each carrying a backpack – gear for a night or two in Los Nevados, on the other side of the range. The trail to the small village started at the fourth station, and you could pay for mules and guides there. I hoped they had horses to ride.
We had our little breakfast at the base, or first station, and then headed up on just the second car of the day. To get to Los Nevados, we would have to leave before lunch. As it was, we were cutting it pretty close. We knew there were some members of our eleven-person group who would rather walk than ride, and it would take at least four hours to get over the pass and then down – and down and down – to the town. We wanted to arrive in daylight, so we could see the view and have dinner at a reasonable time.
The view from the first ride wasn’t all that out-of-the-ordinary, simply lots of houses and a small river in a deep gully. Looking back towards where we had come from, I saw a moderately sized city. Ahead of us… I itched to get up higher, to see more.
The second ride was colder than the first, because windows in the front and back of the car had been opened, allowing a steady breeze to come through. I pulled out my fleece jacket, newly bought in Margarita, and zipped it on. I was already wearing my jeans, something I did rarely in the States and never on the boat. It was getting chilly fast!
I looked out a window, amazed to see so many trees of exactly the same color. Only in a few little patches was it different, and those were the single-color lighter patches that I had seen from the airplane. I wondered how those different trees could live there, and why clumped all together, not spread all throughout the forest. My mom had said something about trees that flipped their leaves over to show the lighter underside, but that didn’t make much sense to me.
At the third station, there was a bit of a break, so we were able to walk around a little. By this time, the sun was high above the mountains, shining into the forest, and the small paths tempted me. I remembered walking through forests back home, with little sun-speckles coming through. This forest was a lot thicker than I was used to, but it still looked really nice.
Our third ride was over steep, barren rock with a winding path that zigzagged back and forth beneath the cable. “We walked down that path with baby Christopher in 1986,” Mom said, and I was impressed. We had taken an acclimatization tour the day before, but already pain was starting to gather in my forehead. I ignored it, but moved away from the chill breeze as I looked down at the narrow trail. I would not have enjoyed walking down that steep path, at this temperature and elevation.
The fourth station was the biggest, with jewelry stands and a café. Only one car was running from there to the top, so the group before us was still going up. Nat, Kat, and I sat down to write in our journals and stare out the window as we waited, and some of the adults went down to reserve mules and horses for our trip to Los Nevados. The building was heated, so I unzipped my fleece jacket and waited for the car to come back. Looking out the window to the west, I could see a small mule trail zigzagging up and over a small pass. That must be the trail to Los Nevados, I thought. I looked further to the left, where the cable car was heading down towards us. Past and above the deep ravine over which the cables ran, sun glinted on something I hadn’t seen for over a year – snow! We were so close, and yet I had to wait for other people to get up there before me. It was a selfish thought, I knew, but I couldn’t help it. It looked so hot outside but I knew it was extremely cold, just like when I used to go day skiing. There wasn’t enough snow up there to go skiing, but just touching it, feeling it below my feet, would be enough.
Finally the slow-moving car reached the building, and we all piled in. As we started moving I closed my sweater once more and moved away from the open window. What had seemed like hours watching the car come down from the top of the peak was like minutes when we were in it. It felt as if the doors had just closed before we were at the bottom of the parabola of the cable, staring at the cliff straight in front of us.
“Well,” I said to no one in particular. “That’s an interesting view.”
“Shall I tell my skiing cable-car story now?” my mom asked. I laughed, remembering her tell it before to someone else.
“I think maybe you should wait until we are well off the teleférico, and on our way to Los Nevados, before you tell that story, Mom. Otherwise I think some people might just stay up at the top instead of riding back down in one of these crazy things.”
She laughed, too. “Probably.”
As we got closer to the top, I saw two statues, one on either side of the station. The one on the right looked odd, as there were modern sneakers hanging around his neck and he was barefoot. I shivered. My feet, even with two pairs of socks and sneakers, were cold, and I couldn’t imagine going barefoot.
The doors opened at the top station, and I had to wait patiently until almost everyone was out before picking up my pack and walking out. Everyone was heading towards big double doors leading to the outside, so I followed, shoving my hands into gloves. I would have put my ‘merida’ hat on, too, but my hair was up, and got in the way. It looked too windy outside to have it down, unless I wanted to spend an hour or two brushing it out. I fairly leapt out those doors, the rest of out party behind me.
There were steps down to the ground, and then a cement ramp up to a platform with the other statue in the middle. Looking up at it from partway up the ramp, it looked like Bolivar, Venezuela’s liberator. I took another step, and my foot slid out from under me. I ended up on all fours, sliding down to the bottom. I started laughing, and turned around to face my friends.
“Meant to do that,” I said, and they joined in giggling. “Watch out for the ice,” I called out to the other people in the group. “It’s invisible!”
We finally managed to get up to the platform, and dropped our packs by the statue. Looking around, all I could see were snow-covered peaks and glaciers, and cloud-filled valleys. It took me a while to realize I was grinning like an idiot, and stop. Everyone stood up in front of the mountains, and several pictures were taken. Finally we were allowed to go our own ways and explore a bit, and almost everyone had gone down on the snow. I stood at the top of the packed-down trail and raised my arms above my head.
“I’m on top of the world!” I yelled, and then my feet slipped and I ended up sitting down.
“Perhaps,” my brother said, stepping past me. “But I’m on top of the snow, not sitting around in it. Enjoy yourself.” He walked off, and I just sat there laughing.
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