Venezuela

Cable Car in the Clouds

by Luisa Avilés
Grand Prairie, TX, United States

When I was 15, I made the most beautiful trip into the Sierra Nevada mountains of Venezuela. To get to the summit overlooking the town of Mérida, my family and I took a cable car. It is named Mukumbarí, which comes from indigenous words meaning the place where the sun sleeps. It hold two world records for longest and highest cable car in the world, as it extends for 12.5 kilometers and reaches an altitude of 4,765 meters above sea level (MSL).

If you go on this journey, you’ll ride in one of eight cabins, each with room for 60 passengers. During the hour-long trip from the base to the summit, you’ll pass through five different waystations.

The Journey Begins

The entrance to the teleferico (cable car) is at the Barinitas station. Everything here is very modern with shops, a cafeteria and other amenities. It is located at 1,577 MSL.

The next station, La Montaña (the Mountain), is located at 2,422 MSL. It gets its name from the strange mountain across the valley that is shaped like an enormous human profile. The locals call it El Gigante Dormido (the Sleeping Giant). From this height, the view of the entire city of Mérida is just breathtaking.

The next stations are La Aguada (3,452 MSL), Loma Redonda (4,045 MSL), and the final station is the spectacular Pico Espejo, located at 4,765 MSL. This last section is amazing because you can see all the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada, as well as two lagoons nestled among them.

Mountain Flora

By this point, the ecosystem has changed entirely due to the elevation you’ve reached. Trees can no longer survive. Vegetation vanishes to almost nothing.

Frailejones of the Sierra Nevada mountains

But a rare plant known as the frailejón has evolved to withstand its chilly, rocky surroundings. This unusual species looks like someone stuck a yellow daisy on top of a spindly cactus. It has light green, fuzzy leaves that feel like wool. Each single plant can have as many as 40 flowers. On our trip, we were able to count about 200 frailejones, all blooming!

Summit Scenery

As you finish your ascent into the clouds, two statues will greet you at the final station. One carved out of white marble is called the Virgen de las Nieves (Virgin of the Snow) because, you guessed it, there’s often snow on the ground at this altitude. The other statue is of Francisco de Miranda, a native Venezuelan who fought for independence of the Spanish American colonies over two hundred years ago.

On a clear day, from Pico Espejo you can see in the distance Pico Bolívar, the highest peak in Venezuela, located at 4,980 MSL. Even though it looks close, to get there you would need special climbing equipment and several hours. You can also see Pico Bonpland at 4,942 MSL, Pico Humboldt at 4,290 MSL, and Pico La Concha at 4,920 MSL.

This is an unforgettable trip that you should take at some point in your life. You will always remember its astonishing beauty.

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Math Questions

  1. How many yards are 12.5 kilometers? How about miles?
  2. What is the difference between the altitude of Pico Bonpland and Pico Humboldt?
  3. If each cabin of the cable car can carry 60 people, how many people can 8 cabins carry?
  4. If I saw about 200 frailejones plants, each with 40 flowers, how many flowers did I see in total?

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Social Justice Questions

Since the collapse of the oil market, Venezuela has fallen on hard economic times. Its government has been criticized for spending money rebuilding the Mukumbarí cable car when the country’s poor are unable to find food. Officials argue that the increase in tourism will benefit the entire country’s financial status. What do you think?

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Resources

  1. Informational article on the Mukumbarí cable car including pictures
  2. Webpage on the cable car’s 2016 reopening including a short video
  3. Four-minute video of the climb, stations and summit

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