We play tourist, some more...
A trip to La Colonia Tovar
and the Offshore Islands
After several months of marina life with assorted repairs and maintenance, and a successful yacht race, it was time to explore another attraction of Venezuela before heading up island. Once upon a time about 1843, a group of German immigrant farmers from the Black Forest area, escaping religious persecution, arrived on the shores of Venezuela. I am not sure if that was their intended location but they soon found an area to settle about 40 miles southwest of Caracas in a beautiful, hilly mountain area.
Towers and Gates
Today, the descendants of those immigrants still live in La Colonia Tovar and a few day visit to this cool, pristine mountain village is a refreshing excursion. In the 1960s, Spanish was finally made the official language and only recently was a road constructed to the outside world. The first part of our adventure involved a six-hour bus ride to Caracas from our marina in Puerto la Cruz. Venezuela cruise buses vary in age, size, and condition but you can be assured the trip will be made with the curtains drawn, to include an old B&W western movie or some Schwarzenegger rerun, and icy cold from the high-powered air conditioning. With a 30-minute stop at a true Star Wars truck/bus stop, our trip was without incident, accident or breakdown. We arrived at the bus station in Caracas at night in a driving rainstorm, and of course we hadn't planned on needing a hotel reservation. Our lodging for the night left a little to be desired; small windowless room, reeking of cigarettes with minimal air conditioning. But...the price was right! The next morning (up bright and early) we had the option of a taxi or a local bus to Colonia Tovar. This time we opted for the taxi. With my survival Spanish negotiations, it was a little pricey, but it all averaged out with our cheap room. As soon as we left the crowded squalor of outer Caracas, the road started to climb and the temperature started to drop from 90 degrees to low 70's. Boy, what a delight. Caracas definitely looks better from the air and the last half of the drive wound through some beautiful national forest lands. After a leisurely 2-hour drive we arrived at the gates of Colonia Tovar and as advertised, it was like stepping into a German Alpine village, clean and green with flowers everywhere.
Hotel Bergland with the decore of an old hunting lodge
The town is located in a steep mountain valley and the green hills are dotted with little chalet-type houses and farms, complete with cows and bells. This time we lucked out with a room at the beautiful Hotel Bergland, owned by a descendant German woman with the decor of an old hunting lodge. Our hotel also had the added advantage of the best restaurant in town. The menu was mostly German food and Marie, the owner would help with the suggestions. I hadn't had a good wienerschnitzel in a long time and theirs was excellent. It was amusing to see the Venezuelan waitresses all decked out in their pigtails, alpine dresses and long wool stockings, the only thing missing was the yodeling. Our room at $30.00 a night was quite modern, squeaky clean (of course) with a panoramic view of the entire valley. In fact it was hard to find a scrap of paper or trash in the entire village.
They said to expect rain almost every day, but it was refreshingly cool and only lasts a short time. Transportation is by foot, and at 6,000 ft. elevation, it provided some exhilarating walks up the hills.
Once you caught your breath, there were many points of interests, always a great view and flowers at every turn. Just bring good walking shoes!
original church plaza
The main street (Haupstrasse) with all the little souvenir shops was the only level street in town (of course). Unfortunately, shopping was a disappointment as the shops carried mostly pseudo Venezuelan artisan wares. Not a beer stein in sight! On our second day, we opted for one of the two-hour local tours in the back of an ancient German troop carrier.
What else? The tour winds through all the hills with stops at the local German brewery (Tovar Cerveceria)...
...and the little old sausage factory.
The area is famous for their fresh strawberries and almost every home had a patch around their house. The tour was quite interesting, even though it was conducted all in Spanish; not much German spoken anymore. We shared our little troop carrier with a very nice young newlywed couple from Peru. Besides Spanish, they were speaking together in another language, and Pam was sure they had to be Incan descendants. With a name like Dan and Miichi Fukuhara, I don't think so! You decide.
Pam and Steve with "Incan" friends
With the weekend arriving, it was time to leave, as the little village is inundated with locals from Caracas. Unfortunately, we just missed a three-day music festival, sponsored in part by our hotel. It consisted of various brass bands, string groups and folk music from Venezuela, Germany and Austria. Maybe next year. All in all, Colonia Tovar made for a cool, refreshing break from the heat and humidity of the coast. For our return to Caracas, the hotel negotiated a taxi at half the original price. So much for my Spanish. Upon our return to Caracas, we were determined to find a more upscale area, and just like LA or any big city, you have to know the turf. We conquered the local subway system and were able to upgrade our hotel, which by pure chance was located in the middle of a restaurant district. We picked a nice seafood place and luckily entered at the start of Friday night Happy Hour. Within minutes, the bar was standing room only, the drinks were cheap and included all sorts of soups and seafood appetizers right at our barstool. We stayed for a great fish dinner, complete with roving musicians and lots of local color. We even found our way back to the bus station and so ended our latest inland adventure; one we hope to repeat next year.
After five years aboard VIVA we are still enjoying our nomadic lifestyle and so far haven't run out of adventures or places to sail. With Christmas and New Years just around the corner we have returned to Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela after three weeks exploring the offshore islands and neighboring coastal anchorages. After two months in the marina and our trip to La Colonia Tovar, we were ready for some clear water, pristine beaches and deserted anchorages. We spent the first week at Isla Tortuga about 50 miles offshore and for the most part we were by ourselves with an occasional cruiser; but of course we had the daily fishermen to supply us with fish and lobster.
the "lunch truck" arrives...
...our kind of diving into the wallet!
Next it was up the Gulf of Cariaco to some beautiful anchorages, reminiscent of the Baja coastline, except for the bright red hills. We got our share of snorkeling in 80 degree water and wonderful BBQ dinners with those delightful tradewinds to cool things down.
Laguna Grande, Gulf of Cariaco
We just returned to the marina this morning to find it completely full, so I guess there will be plenty of holiday festivities. But first we need to sort through a 100 e-mails, turn in the laundry and finish a few maintenance projects. We will probably stay in Venezuela until we start heading up island in January. Our plans afterwards are the Classic Regatta in Antigua, then up to the Virgin Islands until June, returning to Trinidad and Venezuela in July. We hope you are all getting into the swing of holiday festivities, and of course at this time of the year you are all in our thoughts. We have been somewhat remiss with the personal correspondence but you can always check out the latest adventures here, on our website.
We will close by wishing you all a great Christmas and a Happy New Year.
All the best,
Steve & Pam
Healthy and Happy.....Life is Good!