Visible on the horizon from almost any point, Mount Avila looms on the Caracas skyline. In the area I have been staying in for the last month, it is particularly close, a giant brother that watches you everywhere you go. It seems to be a source of energy for the city; a point of reference if you ever got lost, or something to look up at to forget your troubles. Ever since travelling to Venezuela, I have wanted to make my way up Avila. I don’t know what it is about mountains here. Perhaps, as the dissident lyricist Ali Primera once sung:
“La verdad de Venezuela / no se ve en el Country club / la verdad se ve en los cerros / con su gente y su inquietud”
“The truth of Venezuela / one does not see in the Country club / the truth is seen in the hills / with the people and their unrest”
This particular hill is not home to the barrios of others surrounding Caracas – we have visited La Ceiba, El Valle, 23 de enero, La Vega – but it is cherished by caraquenos all the same. Once inaccessible to the majority of people through high prices, and then closed for a number of years, the teleferrico, a huge cable car that sweeps over the majestic forest on the Caracas side of the mountain, is now open to all for only a few pounds. In fact, it is unusual in that aspect; all the museums, parks, landmarks and cable cars to the barrios, are free for members of the public. On the way up Mount Avila, too, and in stark contrast to similar attractions in other Latin American countries I have visited (Machu Picchu in Peru comes to mind) it seemed as if we were the only foreigners amongst Venezuelan families and couples making their way for a day out.
It was some trip to the top. Behind us, the entire city was laid out; once so intimidating, but now so insignificant compared to Avila. The forest twists and hangs from the face of the mountain, at times far away, but moments later with tree branches brushing against the side of your seat.
We explored the top, with hot chocolate for sale at every turn, but soon decided that we wanted to find somewhere quieter. Even there, though, was a feeling of relaxation and calm. At the top of Mount Avila, you are literally standing in the clouds, and patches of white mist floated conspicuously in the air around us.
Walking away from the stalls and ‘socialist areparias’ (even at the top of a mountain, they have not forgotten that people might want a cheap, tasty meal to fill their stomach) we took one of the covered pick-up trucks that were heading off to the town of Galipan. It was only a short ride, clinging onto the railings next to our heads and trying to ensure that the wheelchair in the middle of us did not fall either out of the pick-up truck, or onto one of the other passengers.
Again, once we arrived in Galipan, we went in search of the road less travelled. It did not take us long to discover what we were looking for. Next to a small, deserted building, with planks and bricks from which we fashioned a small table, and another plank of wood which served as a bench, we sat down to take in the views of the valley below.
Later, we walked much further into the hills. I have to pay tribute to my younger brother, who must have exerted a significant amount of energy pushing my wheelchair up and down the various paths we came across. I am sure he will agree that it was worth it.
Eventually, we arrived at what seemed to be the summit of the route we had taken, finding ourselves outside a school which was closed, presumably for the week-end. I cannot imagine a more perfect place to receive an education. We sat down to read outside for a few hours. I wouldn’t have minded if it had been for a few days.
In Venezuela, the political situation continues to develop. The focus has now shifted to regional elections in December, and there are some feelings that the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) who hold the majority of seats in the government, should be doing more to include people in the way their candidates are chosen for various areas. For the opposition, failed Presidential candidate Capriles has chosen to stand for re-election in the state of Miranda. Politics continues to be a part of people’s lives here in a major way, thanks to a political process that has changed their lives. There is still much to be achieved, and criticisms to be made, but the fact that this internal debate is taking place shows how far Venezuelan democracy and, even more importantly, participation has come.
For now, however, my thoughts are in the mountains.