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Gioia is a resource known mainly to cruisers and we learn about her by word of mouth.  She is an official guide, very knowledgeable about the city and surrounding countryside.  She speaks excellent English and opens her home to cruising visitors, especially those studying Spanish.  She lives with her mother and daughter in a building built by her father who was an engineer.  Her father's sister Tata lives on the first floor below but visits for lunch and dinner.  Gioia's mother Sonry is a delightful person and wonderful cook.  She shared some of her recipes and showed me sugar flowers she made professionally for cakes.  The flowers pictured are two years old!  Sonry loves plants and has been caring for these ferns for about thirty years!  Bob spent two weeks there and I remained a third week to continue studying espaņol

Sonry above
Gioia, to left, at coffee plantation
To right, ferns and dining room table
Below, picture of wedding cake and flowers TWO YEARS OLD!

Merida is the capital city of the State of Merida with a population of 715,268.  The town is situated between two mountain ranges.  Planes fly into Merida through a  canyon at an altitude lower than the mountain tops on each side.  You feel as if you could reach out and touch the jagged mountainsides.  If the pilot were to take a direct right or left hand turn, he would certainly crash. 

The town is narrow and can only grow long, up or down the canyon, but not wide since the mountainsides are so steep. Two rivers flow along each side of the narrow valley. The Chama is the longest river in the state of Merida, starting high in the mountains and flowing all the way past the city  to Lake Maracaibo.  This tourist map gives a general sense of the mountains, rivers, and location of the town.  Lake Maracaibo is about four hours away from Merida by car.