Tuesday, March 07, 2006

892 Flavours of Venezuelan Ice Cream

Spaghetti Bolognaise, Germany, Black Bean, http://www.andes.net/, Titanic, Power Rangers, Jurassic Park, Swiss Cake, Tuna - these are all flavours available in an ice cream shop in Merida, Venezuela. For 15 years the Guinness Book of Records has awarded it as having the most flavours, currently 892 but always increasing. I tried 9 different flavours (although not all on one visit!) and all of them, except Cheese, tasted good. An old Portuguese guy invents these flavours and hobbles around the shop, proudly showing honorary diplomas and photos of him with what I assume are famous Venezuelans who visit his shop.

Merida is a touristy town in the Andes, and I've been here for a couple of days. Other than the ice cream shop, the major attraction is the world's longest, highest - and probably most expensive - cable car. It starts in humid heat at 1500 metres and ends up beyond the clouds amongst patchy snow at 4700 metres. Getting up to the top and back again took me four hours. I don't have much faith in Latin American engineering feats, so I was glad to find it was French-built.

Before coming to Merida, I visited a large part of Venezuela near Brazil called La Gran Sabana. I looked up Gran in my phrase book - it means "big". And Sabana means "bedsheet". I'm not sure how it earned that name. This big bedsheet is an elevated plain some 1500 metres high, bordering the Brazil's Amazon region. It's mostly scrub land, but punctuated irregularly by isolated table top mountains that are cut off from the surrounding land and have therefore each developed their own species of plants and animals. Plenty of rivers plunge off these table top mountains, creating a smorgasbord of spectacular waterfalls, around which small areas of lush forest abound. The most famous of these waterfalls is Angel Falls, which drops almost 1000 metres, the highest waterfall in the world. I didn't see Angel Falls, because it is only accessible by an expensive plane flight, and the promotional photos I saw of it didn't look very impressive, just a thin stream of water disappearing into spray half way down. But I saw enough waterfalls to satiate my desire for several years.

The most interesting waterfall I saw was only some 30 metres high, but with some guidance over the slippery rocks I was able to walk _through_ the curtain of water into a cave that runs behind the waterfall, then after following the cave for a bit, walk back through the curtain in the middle of the river, with the strong current and the force of the falling water trying to knock me off my feet.

I'm not sure if overall I like Venezuela. Despite the scenery and the friendly people, some of the cities have a palpable sense of danger, with plenty of petty and not-so-petty crime. Rumour has it that corrupt policemen like to plant cocaine on tourists and then demand a bribe to not arrest them, and hearing about this has caused me think twice before going out at night. Which is a pity, because Venezuela has contributed more Miss World and Miss Universe winners than any other countries, and going out to night clubs is supposed to be a good way to see evidence of future potential winners.

And finally, for those of you who often complain about how expensive petrol is...you should definitely consider moving to Venezuela. It's one of the world's biggest producers of oil. At 4 cents a litre for petrol, you can fill up your tank with whatever loose change you have in your pocket. Despite this, the driver who took me and others in his Landcruiser on the Gran Sabana tour _still_ managed to run out of petrol 15 km short of a petrol station. For the sake of some 10 cents of petrol and a bit of forethought, we got stranded on the highway while our driver hitched a ride to the station and back.

1 comment:

castorpollux said...

just a small note: Sabana (without a stress in the first a) means Savannah (like the african savannah,)this is how the name Gran Sabana would translate: The great savannah or the big plains... and Sábana (with the stress on the first a) means bedsheet. Spanish is tricky that way!.