We headed west out of Caracas on the Autopista Francisco Fajardo. On the outskirts of the city I turned right onto a much smaller road that immediately started to wind and ascend. We had not gone very far when my Venezuelan friend asked me to pull over at a roadside stand. That was my introduction to cachapas, a thick pancake made of corn dough, lumpy from the corn kernels, and wrapped around queso de mano, a hand-made cheese, similar to mozzarella. I found them to be delicious, but very filling.
Once more on the winding road, we soon encountered mist and then quite thick fog. There was little traffic, but I drove very conservatively. After about 45 minutes we arrived in Colonia Tovar.
And what a contrast in the temperature. We had left Caracas in a typical balmy spring-like morning, to find ourselves in a quite cold, damp and overcast midday. We set off briskly to walk around the small town, but soon retreated to a warm and welcoming coffee shop.
Colonia Tovar is about 65 km west of Caracas and at an altitude of 2200m, some 1300m higher than Caracas. It currently has a population of about 20,000.
The town was first settled in 1843 by a group of immigrants, mainly from Endingen in the Grand Duchy of Baden, in the south-western corner of what today is Germany. The colonizing company consisted of 240 men and 151 women and included scientists, naturalists, writers and painters.
They sailed down the Rhine and eventually from Le Havre to La Guaira in Venezuela. They had some cases of smallpox on board and were forced to quarantine at Choroní.
Eventually they were permitted to travel overland to Maracay and on to La Victoria, where they were welcomed by the president Carlos Soublette. From there they made their way up to the present site of Colonia Tovar, travelling by rarely travelled paths.
For more almost 120 years Colonia Tovar was in almost total isolation, the first access road not being built until 1963. Today the area is one of the most prosperous in Venezuela, producing a wide variety of vegetables and fruits and catering to the steady inflow of tourists.
Although the official language today is castellano, most of the inhabitants still speak alemanisch, a variant of German. The houses, buildings, shops and the church are based on the architecture of Baden. And the traditional dress and the foods are everywhere to be seen.
In the coffee shop I was sorely tempted by one of their traditional German sausages and a Tovar beer, but reluctantly settled for a schwartzwälder kirschtorte and a coffee. I did have to drive back down through the thick cloud.
I went back to Colonia Tovar a second time, a year later, but the climate was even less inviting on that occasion, rain, rain and more rain. I did not even stop for a schwartzwälder kirschtorte, but headed to the north on another winding road passing through the villages Petaquire and Catayaca to the welcoming heat of Catia La Mar on the Caribbean and eventually back up to Caracas.