Environment: Vamos a las Montanas!
To the mountains I went to explore easily the most important part of Mérida: the Andes Mountains! One of the key reasons why I picked Mérida to study abroad was my ability to go camping and hiking- but as of a couple of weeks ago I hadn’t been able to go camping. But a bunch of my friends decided we needed to go and go hike Pan de Azucar which means “sweet bread” one of the most famous peaks in Mérida.
Mérida is defined by the mountains. As you know, Mérida is a small, long strip of land in between two mountain ranges of the Andes Mountains. Well I headed south to go to La Culata, a part of the Mérida mountain range where the environment: el Paramo exists. El Paramo, like I’ve told you is a dry, cold type of ecosystem and we decided to go backpacking for three days and stay there two nights!
While driving through the mountains on our way down to the beginning of La Culata I saw that the majority of the land was used for agriculture. A good amount of Venezuela’s potatoes are grown in the mountains of Mérida as well as the carrots and the mora, which means blackberry (a fruit that Mérida is known for). Not like in the Rocky Mountains in the US, the Andes mountains are covered by shrubbery but as you go farther up in altitude the shrubbery becomes much less thick (not as many forests) and starts to become land perfect for growing crops. Especially because it is almost certain that it will rain every night and it gets amazing sunlight every day, it’s perfect for growing crops.
But if you go too high up in altitude it becomes too cold to grow crops. When I was up in the mountains it would be 75 degrees with the sun shining, but right as the clouds came it got down to 55 degrees and then by nightfall it would easily get down to 30 degrees! How was I suppose to pack for all of these different temperatures? In one backpack. That I would have to hike up mountains with. It was ridiculously difficult, mind you!
Yet, la Culata is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in my entire life. You might, in one day see five people hiking, but that’s about it! You can look for miles around you and you’re surrounded by mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers and sometimes you might be the only people for miles!
But when you’re looking from the peak of Pan de Azucar you see this disgusting haze that hangs over the city of Mérida. It’s absolutely horrible because you have such clean air in la Culata, but you can see the damage that all the cars and traffic have caused on the environment and it’s only about 20 miles away from where you stand. It’s especially difficult because the people who live in the mountains depend so much on growing their own crops they depend on the soil and water being clean and fit to grow crops. But if the smog is filling the air then when it rains all the pollution goes into the water and then the soil. So the crops are affected by this and thus affect the community as well as all of Venezuela.
People have adapted to this by calling for their government to raise the standard of cars and how clean their exhaust has to be. Also, they have called for an increase in the gas prices, because to fill up a tank of a full size van it costs 100 Bolivares (which is $2!), so people don’t use so much gas. In our minds, we don’t just go around driving and keep the car running, because gas is so expensive. But here people drive around for fun, because gas is so cheap. So if they can increase the price of gas then people will not use it as much. Lastly, people are calling for the use of electric energy so that there is no pollution released in the air in Mérida.
Overall, I feel like I learned about how interconnected communities are and how fragile they can be. Even in a community that’s only 20 miles away from a city, the way the city acts affects how the mountain townspeople have to live. I realized that we can’t live only thinking about the consequences to ourselves but also to the people who don’t live in my city! For example one of the most polluted places in Wisconsin is Door County (the peninsula in Lake Michigan) and it is filled with parks and wildlife. But it’s polluted from Milwaukee and Chicago pollution being pushed north by the wind! So my pollution doesn’t just affect me, but people who aren’t even making any of the pollution!
Remember that you don’t only affect yourself, but the people near you and even the people who live far away!
The sunrise at 6:30AM over our campsite- we had frost on top of our tent after a night of rain!