• Michelle Laporte enjoying the flavours of Venezuela


    The flavour of Venezuela: mountain air, green pastures, velvety finish COLUMN

    Posted By Michelle Laporte/For The Sault Star

    Down a crowed street, near the center of Merida, Venezuela I am indulging in one of my favourite pastimes: eating ice cream.

    However, what I am eating is far from any old, commonplace flavour - mushrooms with wine ice cream! Here in Heladeria Coromoto, a Guinness World Record ice-cream parlor, there are more than 800 flavors!

    Among the wacky varieties you can try are tuna, Guinness beer, chicken and pasta or even one titled Canada, although I'm not too sure what Canada is suppose to taste like.

    Merida is an energetic town, seated in the valley of the surrounding Andes.

    As a major centre for outdoor enthusiasts, Merida attracts tourists and Venezuelans from near and far to its friendly, tranquil environment.

    My boyfriend and I are enjoying day-trips to the neighboring towns where old villages sprinkle the mountain side.

    San Rafael de Mucuchies is my favorite because of its artistic history and peaceful atmosphere. There you will find a striking stone chapel built by Juan Felix Sanchez (1900-97), one of the most famous artists of Venezuela. Sanchez, an artist, philosopher, and architect, became famous for constructing sacred places where he utilized rocks to form his artwork.

    After a sunny picnic lunch near the chapel, we discovered that our money had been misplaced.

    Without the funds to take the local bus we found ourselves sticking out our thumbs near the exit of town. I have hitchhiked frequently in developing countries, but it is always a nerve racking experience the first time in an unfamiliar place.

    Luckily, after 15 minutes, we landed ourselves a ride.

    Every time a thoughtful driver extends their kindness I vow to help hitchhikers when and if I own a car in the future.

    It is a horrible feeling to be stranded, to be dependent on someone else's charity. Nonetheless, throughout my travels I have always found people who, even when they have nothing to give, extend to me their compassion.

    Our friendly driver, Omar, a cardiovascular surgeon, was born and raised in the surrounding mountain towns and had numerous stories to color our two hour drive back to Merida.

    Meandering down the windy mountain road I caught snippets of village life.

    I saw farmers pushing their ox and yoke over green fields, naked children tottering after farmyard animals and women snapping damp laundry to dry in the sun.

    This lively, spirited way of life enveloped me while the amazing generosity of Omar warmed my soul.

    Despite the fact that the big cities of Venezuela were impressive it will be the small, eclectic villages that I will remember most.

    If I were to imagine Venezuela as an ice cream flavor it would have to encompass the fresh mountain air with a hint of the green pastures, complete with a sun-drenched, velvety finish.

    Michelle Laporte, a born and raised Saultite, is backpacking for the next six months to explore the historical trails, colorful cultures and disappearing rainforests of Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, starting in Venezuela.