What was supposed to be a birthday adventure did not happen until a few days beyond. Looking at the mountain from below, there had been a thick haze circling the top. Each day we hoped for better conditions, but then our time was running short. Venturing forth, we set out for the mountain base.
Now Rolando had told us to follow the tree-lined street, which leads directly to the base where either a funicular or cable car is available to glide effortlessly up the steep mountain. What he had forgotten to mention was that getting to the base was a steep, but exhausting hill. We took turns threatening to hail a taxi, but step-by-step, little-by-little, we reached the top.
As directed by the tourism office where we pre-purchased our tickets, we showed them to the guard, who in turn handed over four tickets. The funicular and cable car have alternating hours, but at that moment, we could have done either. I chose the cable car thinking we could do the funicular on the way down.
Standing in line for the cable car, there are signs warning people of the altitude, 3,150 meters above sea level. What could have distracted some from the warning were rather hideous plastic decorations on the grass that overlooks the platform. This was just the beginning. All along the ride up, we could see an abundance of dreadful flowers, birds, bees, and other unsightly adornments. They must have had mountain goats put these up; the mountain is so steep, I cannot figure out how a human could stay upright.
Monserrate dominates the city due to the church at the top that is visible from the ground. I had thought we were heading to where the Jesus statue is located, but apparently, he moved to a different mountain. This one was probably too touristy for his liking. The church built in the 17th century is much simpler than I would have expected. This is a pilgrimage location, which could rationalize glitz and gold. Stained glass in the chapel did impress me with the bright colors and modern design.
Somewhere on the mountain, there is a shrine devoted to El Señor Caído (Fallen Lord). I could very well have seen it or even fallen over it, but I was so taken aback by the kitschy giant birds, flowers and other things, that I did not notice it. In addition to the church, there is one extensive souvenir hall where vendors sell the identical items we have seen in Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and the list goes on. There truly is nothing new under the sun in South American crafts.
Here and there are a few food stands or restaurants. We wanted a real sit down and be waited on restaurant. As suggested by the tourism office on the hill, we were on our way to Casa Santa Clara. An English speaker, who was with his family, started chatting asking if we were planning to eat here. When we said we were, he informed us there was a huge tour group in there now. The service was slow and the food was mediocre. Thanking him, we turned around and went to the more expensive Casa San Isidro.
Once seated, looking at the menu was a bit of a shock. There was nothing under 40,000 pesos; even the soups and salads had extra-large numbers. Deciding to suck it up, we ordered. The meals were wonderful and worth the cost. Fortunately, I had my Visa card, because I certainly did not have enough cash on me. The bill came to 111,226 pesos, which included a 10% gratuity. When I looked at my credit card statement online, this bill came to $34.74, by far the most expensive meal we have had here. It was certainly worthwhile.
Once we were done with our late lunch, the mountain no longer offered any appeal. The tacky decorations were getting more annoying than laughable. The funicular was not working at the time and would not be for another two hours, leaving us with the cable car yet again.
After reaching the ground and a little closer to sea level, Ron decided we should take a bus ride. We had put 20,000 pesos ($6.12) on a bus card, only using 1,500 each (.46 cents) for very trip. He wanted to use some of it up before we leave on Sunday. We decided to ride out to the area of three malls, where Hard Rock Café is located. This time we would investigate the other choices.
What never factors in is the fact that our mall tolerance lasts about 30 minutes on a really good day. This day, we did last longer only because the Christmas ornaments were still up. Most of them in various sections of the mall are children’s play areas with a Christmas theme. We were captivated making this mall visit longer and more pleasant than usual.
When it was time to return home, the thought of walking 10 blocks back to the bus was more than we could handle. We trekked over to the Atlantis mall, where there is a Juan Valdez coffee shop. They are located near the entrance to the Hard Rock and have open Wi-Fi. Standing near the coffee shop, we ordered an Uber taxi. We put in our destination as Hard Rock creating a clear marker for where we were. Ten minutes passed and no car. Each time we left the mall, the Wi-Fi signal gave out. I went back in and ordered another taxi. This time the ETA was one minute. Ten minutes later, no taxi. We finally took a regular taxi, which due to traffic took over 30 minutes getting us here.
Of course, Uber charged for the ‘cancelled’ taxis. I wrote them a complaint asking how hard is it to find someone at Hard Rock where there is only one door? Our pictures are in our respective profiles too. They sent a refund.