The next morning, we grabbed our bags and prepared for the trip back to Mérida. Our vehicle, an open-backed pickup, was waiting outside. We loaded our bags into it and climbed in ourselves. Most of us had to ride in the back, of course, but I rode standing up, as did my dad. Once all our gear was stowed, our driver started up the engine and we started down the windy road towards Mérida.
Standing in the back of a moving pickup is definitely exciting, especially for somebody as tall as I am (about six foot three.) The road had branches that hung down in front of my face, and even power or telephone lines sometimes came close to my head. On the other hand, the view was wonderful. I could see quite far along the valley and into many of the ravines. The slopes were usually very steep, and composed of hard red dirt that was largely clay. It was hard while dry, but it eroded quickly in water, creating an amazing panorama of high hills and steep valleys that looked almost like they were cut with a knife.
As we descended, we left the red hills behind and entered cloud forest. Cloud forest is not really like rainforest. For one thing, it is high altitude, only a little below the snow line. For another, it gets almost no actual rain. Instead, clouds make a constant mist and the plants extract their moisture directly from the air. The result is a forest that hugs a small range of altitude and tends to grow in the shadows of cliffs or mountains. The plant life tends to be wide, seeking maximum surface area, but not particularly tall. We saw some cloud forest from the Teleférico, and the tops of the trees were flat and broad. Under the canopy, mosses and ferns grow thickly, seeking to absorb all available water.
When we came out of the cloud forest, we were just on the other side of a valley from Mérida. Although Mérida is mostly up on a level plateau high above this valley, there are small towns, like suburbs, that are around this plateau. The Teleférico goes right over this valley on its first leg, but the very first part of the Teleférico actually goes down from the initial station. Similarly, although we could see over the roofs and down to the streets of Mérida from our road, we had to descend to the valley before we could climb up into the city.
The rest of our drive passed without any real note. We arrived back in Mérida a little before noon, and our driver dropped us off right at our posada. We checked back in and retrieved our bags. After that, several of us decided to go explore some of the town on foot. We ate lunch at a little arepa place and continued walking around. In the afternoon, we found a place called Gravity Tours, and the advertisements outside looked very interesting. Inside the little shop, we were offered a drink and told about the various tours they offered. One that sounded very interesting was the Los Llanos tour. A four-day trip, it included horseback riding and whitewater rafting, but focused on a boat trip in the low wetlands. The trip sounded great, the price was good, and we were told that there was an excellent guide available for the next few days. Just before we went to dinner that evening, we decided to go on the trip the very next day.
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