We had decided to leave for Merida via overnight bus so Dan and I set off in search of the bus station to buy tickets. We had been advised to choose a bus-cama, a double decker bus that offered comfortable lay-back seats that made the overnight trip more pleasant and more or less guaranteed a reasonable sleep.
After another quick trip to the CD market, we boarded a bus to the nearby suburb of El Hatillo, known for its brightly coloured buildings, narrow, winding streets and abundant restaurants and boutiques. We arrived mid-afternoon, with everyone starving. Not knowing the layout and without a map, we settled on the first affordable restaurant we found (we soon discovered that El Hatillo is an upscale little place with fancy shopping malls and gourmet restaurants) which turned out to be a roast chicken restaurant and horse betting bar. Nevertheless, the food was decent and we got to watch a bunch of horse races on tv to the cheers and groans of the crowd. Another cultural experience!
We quickly found the town centre and were absorbed in poking around in little shops and craft cooperatives. In the town square, a story teller held a group of toddlers enthralled with her tales that had them alternately slack-jawed and jumping up to participate. We felt compelled to sample some of the pastries from the coffee shop attached to one of the largest craft stores and deemed them very delicious! Adrian found a beautiful art piece made from soldered iron in one of the craft cooperative shops which they have agreed to hold for him until our return.
The narrow winding streets were clogged with cars as Caracaquenos started to head home, moving at a snail´s pace! We found our carrito (local bus) and watched Michael Jackson videos on the bus´s tv set all the way home, videos I had never seen for songs I had never heard. Sad.
We arrived at Cachaito subway station in Caracas. It was dark and the food vendors were out in full force. While no-one wanted a sit-down dinner, the idea of a hot dog appealed, so we stopped at a hot dog vendor who turned out to be quite a showman. His every move was punctuated with a flourish of his tongs, cheese was laid out just so on each dog and he beat a rhythm on the metal food containers with this tongs as he gyrated around his stand. Adrian´s hot dog was perhaps the biggest hot dog we have ever seen which Dan´s hamburger was almost too big to hold with two hands. We picked up fruit for the bus trip and headed back to the hotel to grab our bags and a taxi to the bus station.
Our guide book had provided warning that the bus-cama´s can be overly generous with the air conditioning and therefore to dress warmly. Some of us heeded this warning more effectively than others but it was clear very early on that this bus – while having very confortable reclining seats – was going to be frigid. We hunkered down and covered any exposed flash as best we could but ultimately, it was a very very cold 13 hour trip to Merida. Dan attempted to cover his bare legs with the seat covers that are meant to protect the upholstery from passengers´ heads but was roughly awakened in the middle of the night by the bus driver who demanded that he return them to their rightful place! No mercy! I ended up wrapping one of my long cotton scarves around my head, ears and neck to protect them from the icy breeze that blew on us all night. Brrrrrrr.