In 1843 a group of immigrants numbering 145 men, 96 women, and 117 children from the towns in Germany like Wyhl, Edingen and Oberbergen of Kaiserstuhl, came across the Atlantic Ocean to Venezuela as part of a colonization plan that was set up by an Italian cartographer Agustín Codazzi. At the request of the Venezuelan government the plan was to have the immigrants work the land, fill the labor gap that had been created by Venezuela's war for independence, and revitalize the country's economy. In addition to their seeds, seedlings, and equipment the Germans brought with them smallpox which killed 70 of them on the trip across the Atlantic. The news of their disease pleased the Venezuelans so much that they were held in quarantine aboard their boat for 40 days after their arrival in La Guaira, and then turned loose with no support. This pleased the Germans so much that they made their way into the mountains to land that Codazzi had selected and re-created their home land in the process sealing themselves off from the rest of the country as much as possible both by geography and by rules which prohibited marriage outside of the colony. For 100 years they were able to keep many of their ancestral traditions like their language, their food, their dress and their dances. The town was named after Martín Tovar y Ponte who donated the land.
After winding along a road called highway 4 about 30 kilometers north and 1300 meters up in elevation from La Victoria you come to Colonia Tovar or La Colonia. Because the elevation of the town is about 2000 meters the annual average daytime temperature are only about 16 Celsius. A nice relief from the warmer places in Venezuela. The nighttime temperatures are around 5 Celsius. The food and local beers are understandably German-like, and the cool climate made yummy foods like strawberries with cream popular.
We were there -- twice -- during the week, so there were very few tourists and it was quite pleasant. On holidays and weekends the place becomes a bit more crowded with people from Caracas known as caraqueños. Caracas is only about 50 kilometers from Colonia Tovar.
Eat here! The food and the local beer at the Restaurant Bierstube were excellent. It was in the same building as the Café Muhstall, which seemed to have more signs around town. It was right across the street from the church.
Below is a shot of the church's bell tower that was taken from our table at the restaurant.
For some reason on this trip I had nothing but trouble using my various ATM and credit cards to get cash from cash machines. I don't think the machines worked very well for any of us. We almost always had to go into the bank and get cash advances on our credit cards wherever we were, which usually took a long time.
Shopping shopping. There were a lot of small shops around town selling everything you could think of in the way of local curios, clothing and blankets. Some items made from items like seashells were even "imported" from coastal towns.
The Catholic church and the town square.
The cemetery. It was pretty full. The graves of the first German immigrants were marked with blue ceramic tiles.
The road to Colonia Tovar as late as 1945 required mules to traverse. That kept the town isolated. In the 1940's Spanish was introduced as the official language, and the rules about outside marriage were abandoned. Now all of the descendants speak Spanish and are completely incorporated into the country. The road was not paved until 1963. It is a pretty fun drive and you only had to dodge the occasional truck that insisted on taking up all 1-1/2 lanes.
Until this road was improved life was quite hard for the inhabitants. Even though they were able to more than provide for themselves it was nearly impossible for them to get their wares to markets in La Victoria and Caracas.
Once the road was improved things changed dramatically. Tourism and"exports" boomed. In 1963 the population was 1300. Now it is over 6000. The town enjoys the highest per capita income in Venezuela. Below is the road winding toward La Victoria.
Back in La Victoria. I was in Venezuela a couple of weeks before and up to and including the big vote on whether to oust President Chavez. They decided to keep him. With gasoline at about 25 cents per gallon, which was a huge drop in price from the last time I was in Venezuela, even I would have voted to have kept him.
DIRECT LINKS TO PAGES:
RETURN TO THE JUNGLE
LA VICTORIA/SAN MATEO
BACK TO CARACAS
DRIVING WITH EAGLES
ON THE ROAD