Up The Teleférico: The Search For El Dorado


Forty five years after Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a Spanish conquistador and explorer named Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada travelled to what is now known as Colombia and made contact with the Muisca, a nation of the Chibcha people. Dr. Bob Curran's book "Lost Lands, Forgotten Realms" explained that the Chibha told de Quesada "of a tribe high up in the mountains, whose great chieftans covered themselves in gold dust before leaping into a freezing-cold water mountain lake as an offering to the gods." The Spaniards referred to one of these chieftans as "el indio dorado" - the gilded Indian. The legend evolved through many retellings and in the centuries that followed, countless European explorers travelled to South America in search of a legendary city of gold... El Dorado.

In the late eighteenth century, a Prussian naturalist and explorer named Alexander von Humboldt travelled throughout South America, determined to once and for all prove whether or not a city of gold ever existed. After extensive study, he returned to Europe to dispel the tale as a myth. Two centuries later, Venezuelan dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez decided to create his own El Dorado - an ostentatious fourteen story hotel atop the atop El Ávila Mountain in Caracas. He named it after Humboldt.


The Humboldt Hotel opened December 29, 1956 and played host to everyone from Juan Perón and Fidel Castro to Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. There were two ways to get there. You either climbed the mountain or ascended on the Teleférico de Caracas funicular: small suspended cable cars that glided three thousand feet above the city. When the Humboldt opened, the three point five kilometer ride cost a mere two dollars and forty cents in American money. What made the Humboldt Hotel so unique wasn't its opulent furnishings, heated pools or impressive menu. The hotel's claim to fame was its own almost unbelievable treasure: an ice skating rink.


Mentions of the almost mythical sounding Venezuelan mountain ice rink began to pop up in American newspapers in the late fifties and continued sporadically through the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties: long after the hotel's business had fallen into a sharp decline.


When a ninety million dollar renovation of the hotel was made by Caracas Tourism Investment in 2002, the area on which the Humboldt Hotel was situated was turned into a national park: the Parque Nacional El Ávila. The four hundred and seventy square foot Pista De Gelo ice rink became its main attraction. And thus, the legend of the "freezing-cold water mountain lake" in the mountains of South America was again reinvented, this time reclaimed as a little-known part of skating history.

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