once you reach the top of El Ávila, activity options are somewhat limited. apart from the somewhat kitchy, boardwalk-arcade-like attractions in the teleférico station, options include walking up to the Hotel Humboldt (named for Alexander von Humboldt, a naturalist who explored and described Venezuelan fauna at the turn of the 19th century) and hiking or taking a “shuttle” down the northern face of the mountain to the village of Galipán.
after walking up to the Hotel Humboldt, which was mostly obscured by the cloud that sat atop the mountain through the duration of my visit, I decided to take advantage of the vehicular transportation down to Galipán (as I did not yet have my fabulous Keen hiking boots…).
the road down to Galipán is a rugged dirt track, rutted by rainwater streaming down the mountain and the trucks that drive you down the often steep incline are retrofitted flatbeds — two benches along each side, some with covering, some with more secure protection from the elements, all readily providing you with a sense of a true off-road adventure. eight other people and I squished into one of these vehicles for the 15 minute descent down the coastal side of the mountain, passing those more intrepid than us who’d elected to hike down the path to Galipán.
the town of Galipán has been around more than 200 years, when settlers from the Canary Islands established the town on the slope facing the ocean. it’s largely touristy now, with shops full of tourist trinkets and treats, like honey harvested from local bees or preserved limes. the reason I decided to visit Galipán, in fact, was because of some such limes. one of the people staying in the same apartment as I during the first part of my trip was an American who’d spent a lot of time in Caracas over several years, as a tourist and as a student. before we headed out to a dance club one night, she made wonderful rum & cokes for us, the magic ingredient to which was candied limes and nectar from Galipán. the drink was fantastic and, in addition to giving me an affinity to rum, I knew I wanted some of those special limes for myself. thus, up and over El Ávila to find some. I even still have a few left, and I suspect that I’ll never want to put them into a drink and use the last of them!
one thing that amazed me about Caracas was how close it is to the coast. from the top of El Ávila you can see the incredible blue-green waters of the Caribbean. (no wonder, since the peak rises in the midst of the “Cordillera de la Costa”.) the airport sits right on the water and coming in for the landing was rather unsettling. I’d never made an approach that brought me so close to the surface of the water before and in the last few moments it seemed as though the wheels were inches from dragging through the water. but we landed without incident, I disembarked in my second not-yet-visited country in as many weeks, and found my ride over the mountains and into the city.
(more on the harrowing adventure that is vehicular travel in Caracas later.)
one afternoon when my eyes had begun to cross from browsing microfilm in the Biblioteca Nacional, I set off to scale El Ávila. looking back at my pictures, I began to wonder why the mountainside remains undeveloped — after living in San Diego I know there are few places building developers won’t go if given the opportunity, especially with prime mountain or coastal land. turns out that El Ávila became part of a national park in 1958 and is now a well-used recreational area. there’s a teleférico that goes from the base of the hill up to the mountaintop and offers spectacular views of the whole city (as seen above), the first incarnation of which was inaugurated in 1952. the original not only ran from the city to the mountaintop, but also down the other side to the coast and along the length of the peak to the (now-derelict) Hotel Humboldt. the teleférico ran until the late 1970s when it was abandoned. riding up we saw the wreckage of the original structures, rusted and abandoned beside the newer line.
despite successfully getting the teleférico up and running again, the private corporation responsible for it lost their concession to the state in 2008. according to a government statement, the company ran up a debt of some 19 billion bolivares which prompted the state to take over the tourist operations. since taking over, the state has promised to expand the teleférico service once again to include some of the old routes. whether anything comes of the state’s grand plans remains to be seen, but somehow I imagine that the rusted skeletons of the original system will rest where they lie.