Published: May 30th 2009May 30th 2009
Bolivar Plaza in Caracas
In every single town, no matter how small, there is a Bolivar Plaza
I HAVE DELETED PEOPLE I AM SENDING TO BECAUSE I DIDN´T HEAR FROM THEM. IF YOU HEAR OF SOMEONE WHO WANTS IT, HAVE THEM WRITE ME AT MILLS.CHARLENE@GMAIL.COM. THERE MAY BE A FEW ON THIS ADDRESS THAT NEVER DID GET ON THE CHINA BLOG. IF SO, YOU CAN GET IT UNDER CharM. BELIEVE IT OR NOT I DID NOT REALIZE THIS SPELLED ''CHARM'WHEN I STARTED USING IT. DAH!.
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REMEMBER 2 THINGS: THE PICTURES CAN BE ENLARGED BY CLICKING ON THEM AND THERE ARE SEVERAL PAGES TO THE BLOG, MORE PICTURES ON THE OTHER PAGES. YOU CAN SEE THIS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE. JUST GO TO THE NEXT PAGE. HOPE YOU ENJOY. CHARLENE
Bolivar Plaza Caracas
In every single town in Venezuela, no matter the size, there is Bolivar Plaza
Hi all, my journey began with a flight from Goa to London March 16. Two nights and one full day in the city then on to SA. I stayed in Notting Hill and wandered through Hyde and Kinnsington Parks in the morning before I joined up with a free walking tour group. We went to all the usual places, Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard, parliament, Big Ben, The Thames. I hadn’t been to London for at least 30 years, but this part of London seemed exactly the same. I am sure if I were to have stayed and ventured into the ‘real’ London, I just might have seen differences, but this part seems caught in time. Nice to know some things are still as you remembered them. Can’t say that about many. There was one huge difference, the costs. Wow, talk about ‘sticker shock’, especially after India. I was there less than 36 hours, I think I spent almost $250 and I did nothing extravagant, even took the Tube for transportation, breakfast was free, I found Starbucks so I had coffee and some sort of bun for lunch and a hamburger back at the airport for dinner.
Orinoco River in the background
That’s about it. Any plans for spending time in Britain will have to wait until the dollar is stronger or the pound is a whole lot weaker.
Yes, night at the airport. Since my flight was leaving at 6:40 a.m., I decided the smartest thing to do was to stay at one of those ‘Yotel’ hotels at the airport. You ought to have seen the room, only in Bombay have I ever had a smaller room. It had a bed perched high, about 2 feet of floor space and a table that flipped down at the opposite end as the door for your luggage or whatever, and then a glassed in shower/sink/potty. All for a measly $75 for 8 hours. Yes, they rent it out by the hour, but the purpose is definitely sleep and ease of departure. Actually, this is something I would recommend to all my family and friends, definitely minimizes the fuss with early departures.
First stop, Caracas. It isn’t much. Plus, it is expensive. I stayed in one of the poorest parts of acceptable areas and paid $50 for the night. Not only that, it was a love hotel. Remember those, PJ? My friend,
PJ, and I spent a week in a love hotel when we first arrived in Taiwan and never figured it out what it was until after we had left. And, I don’t think we ‘figured it out’, some of our new Chinese friends informed us, with a bit of a chuckle. Such sophisticates!
They gave me a room by the street. I heard lots of street noise that night but better than other ‘noises’ I might have had to endure. I was out in the hall a couple of times going and coming from dinner and all I can say is think “When Harry meets Sally” and the scene in the restaurant. My San Fran friend, Jeff, had given me a double silk sheet set and I thought that night on that bed was a good time to initiate it. Next day, I got up early (for me) and went to the bus station and waited two hours because the computers were down to get a night bus to Ciudad Bolivar, the city closest to my first intended destination, Canaima National Park and Angel Falls. Spent the day on my own walking/metro tour of Caracas and left. It’s strange
how big a city like Portland or Seattle looks compared to cities in other areas of the world. Caracas is a city of 5 million, yet it looks and feels smaller than Portland. I think this is mainly because of poor zoning. All over Asia, and now here, you have huge cities that don’t feel that way to a tourist because there is no big central downtown business/ commercial center. The cities are just all spread out and grow higgely piggely, a skyscraper here and a residential neighborhood next to it.
Ciudad Bolivar has a population near Portland, 350,000, without any suburbs. Again, it looks like a town. It is kind of the eastern frontier area, on the Orinoco River, hot and steamy, and this was the dry season. I asked the posada owner (that is what pensions, guest houses are called here) what season it was and he said ‘the dry season’. They have two here, dry and wet. With the temperature about the same for both. That day it was 29C, which is in the 80s, but it felt like in the 100s. Goa is a temperate paradise in comparison. Of course, I haven’t lived through the really
Sapo and six others
Right at Canaima there is a series of 7 low-but -gorgeous falls right below where we board the boat to travel upstream
humid months there, but this is not their humid season either. Here’s is a good example of the heat. The people drink beer on the streets, throw their bottle caps into the streets and the tar is soft enough to let the caps settle right in. The streets are covered with these bottle caps encased in tar. Who knows, it might even be good for the streets, strengthens them, maybe.
Before I continue, let me back track a bit. I ran into a huge problem the minute I hit Caracas. Because Chavez has arbitrarily set the exchange rate at 2.15 bolivars to the dollar, two things have happened. One, there is a booming black market where you can exchange your dollars for 5:1. Two, everything in the tourist industry is pegged to this black market rate. What did this mean to me? Well, I didn’t have lots of discussions with travelers in India about travel in Venezuela so I didn’t know about this. I had $500 US with me, money I had had since leaving the US. This meant, if I couldn’t find a way to get a better exchange rate, I would be stuck using ATMs that would
Top of Falls
Young guys enjoying the thrill of wading out close towhere the falls fall!
give me 2.15:1. Immediately and until I left, this was the biggest frustration in Venezuela. I did finally do a little better when I got to Merida where the owner of the posada had an account in Spain and I got my bank to transfer some dollars there. But, it took two weeks to do this and by the time I paid my bank’s transfer fees and all the charges and exchange rate fees from dollars to euros to bolivars, I still took a killing. Not as bad as the ATMs but nothing to make one happy. This problem hit home immediately when I went to pay for my trip to Canaima in US $$ and has somewhat colored my whole Venezuelan experience.
But, of course, I did -take the tour,that is. I had come all that way to see Angel Falls, the highest falls in the world, about 3000 feet high, deep in the jungles of what is part of the huge Amazonia region. I wasn’t about to miss it. It is available only by boat from Canaima ‘town.’ A metropolis of a few hundred souls who run the resorts , which is 50km down river from the falls
Another view from on top
Notice the Tapui, flat toped mountain, in the background
and is available only by air. So, off we flew to Canaima, me and two other tourists. Canaima has some beautiful falls, itself and a lovely lagoon area. The falls are spread out, really a series of falls, and we could walk under them and to the top of the falls, where the guys walked out into the water that was part of the top of the falls. I was not so brave.
The resort was rudimentary, but my two fellow plane travelers stayed at nicer accommodations in front of the lagoon, so there was more upscale lodging for those with more money. We stayed there one night and the next day we started on our boat trip to Angel Falls. The ones with the more expensive accommodations too, so I was back with my two fellow flight buddies. It was only 4 hours, but, the trip on the river was rigorous. We were in a motorized canoe, couldn’t stretch our legs out and were soaked all the way. I mean down to my bloomers. (My passport, even though I have it in a plastic bag, is now moldy from being so close to my sweaty skin and these types
On the Rio Carrao
Our canoe trip to Angel Falls
of excursions). Plus, we went through scores of rapids, not huge ones, but in that little boat, it sure wasn’t smooth. I was exhausted by the time we got to the falls. The falls is beautiful, so high. and here you are hundreds of miles from hardly any civilization. For many years Westerners didn’t know it existed. After we arrived the big thing was that everyone was going to climb this treacherous trail with lots of roots and very steep incline up to a place where you could feel the water of the falls and be in the mist. After thinking this over the day before I decided, I wouldn’t climb with the others to a closer viewing point. Good decision. They said it was a not easy going at all. By the time they were coming back it was dark. One good stumble could have caused serious trouble for me. So, instead, the boat took me to the other side of the river with an unobstructed view of the falls, where our camp was. It was a big outdoor area with a roof and hammocks for sleeping. I put up my hammock and lay there with my binoculars and
This is the dry season, so you can imagine what it looks like after the rains.
could view the falls in quiet and peace…while those silly intrepid travelers thought they were having fun, huffing and puffing up a huge hill. Now, I ask you, who was the smartest?
They cooked these chickens over a fire and we had a grand dinner and then we all went to sleep in our hammocks…or, all but two of us tried to, I think. The hammocks were all tied to the same beams and those beams began to ‘rattle and shake’ a bit after lights out. Now, what could that have been? I guess I can’t even imagine an ‘urge’ big enough to make me try that one. By the way, hammock sleeping is most comfortable and my back didn’t hurt at all. This was good news as on all these boat trips and even some pensions hammocks are your bed. If I take the trip I am now planning on from Peru to Colombia to Manaus and down to Belem, I’ll be in hammocks close to a couple of weeks.
Up early the next morning , breakfast and off we went. I was not looking forward to this trip back since the one up had been a
From our camp across the river
bit longish. But, going downstream cut more than an hour off our time and hitting the rapids when we were going the same way as they were wasn’t as hard on the body. About 1:00 I was back at the little airport waiting for my plane. That was supposed to be the end of the trip. By chance I was traveling with the same two guys and the same pilot. Totally unexpectedly, he took us up the river and to the falls so we could see it by air. Magnificient. All you could see were hundreds of miles of jungle with rivers running through it and these ‘tapuy’, flat topped mountains sprinkled here and there. Some of which had falls running down them - reminded me of the after- rain falls that the mountains in Kauai always had. And, the falls from the air was an unforgettable site. I told my posada owner, who had also booked the tour for me, about this side trip when I got back and he was very surprised, hadn’t heard of it happening before. Great end to the trip.
Because of the huge drain on my budget, I’d decided not to go to the
Orinoco Delta. Spending more days on a river, seeing indigenous people can wait until I am down in the tributaries of the Amazon. That night it was off on another all night bus ride to Merida.
Just a few enlightening comments on this long distance bus transportation. The bus system in this country (and continent, I’ve been told) is quite spiffy. Since the Brits weren’t here during colonial times to build all the railroads they did other places, this continent doesn’t have a system of railways. Thus, the roads are the only way around. These long haul buses are quite nice. Even the best Indian bus doesn’t have a toilet. These do, plus they have an upper and a lower. When I found out I was going to be on the upper, I got very worried because I could envision myself trying to climb to an upper berth. Acted quite the worry wart about it. Then I found out it wasn’t that at all. It’s like another story. You just climb steps to the top deck.
I’m having a bit of a problem getting myself organized for these trips. I think I am going to have to come
Sapo and other falls from the air
up with a better system. I had to replace that REI day pack bag I lost in Goa. The one I now have is about 1/3 bigger and has more pockets and it is driving me crazy. Jerry would love it, but I can never remember which pocket something is in, even when I concentrate on it like I did before leaving Ciudad Bolivar. The other two bags are checked in the luggage compartment, so I have to be careful to take everything I need in this one. They keep the buses very cool - make that cold, so one has to take stuff to keep warm. I take a pair of socks, my tights, my black linen shirt, a hat and scarf (the wind comes from above), Jeff Oakes rain jacket and the silk sheet I got from him. Then, I have to have my medicine, water, tp, sleeping mask, earplugs, a little food, cup to make cold coffee in the morning, my neck pillow, sleeping medicine, reading material, LP, and other stuff I am probably forgetting. Then, when I get into the bus, I have to start trying to figure out in which part of the bag each
Angel Falls from plane
It falls from a tapui. The top is shrouded in the clouds.
is. Even though I decide ahead of time that clothes will go here, books there, medicine another place, it just never works out to be easy. I have done this three times now (first one from Caracas) and both times I fussed and fretted for the better part of an hour trying to get myself organized. The first time there was a man beside me. He probably was thinking that this was going to be ‘the trip from hell’. But, once I settled down, I was okay. Just need more ‘training’ on how best to do this. Need my sis, Jerri, here to train on how to organize my travel bag. She used to just stand and laugh watching me hunting for my keys, so she knows the problem. I am convinced I am genetically deficient in this area. The buses, though, are really great and the roads, so far, have been safe and well maintained.
So, now I am in Merida. I am sitting up in my little room at a desk that the senora dragged in for me when I asked for one. I have a big window that looks out at the mountains and the most
Rio Carrao from air
What a nice addition this scenic plane tour provided us.
unusual, quirky little cemetery. The nice thing is, from this view it’s all rural and I walk out the front door on the other side and I am in the city. The city sits sort of in a valley, with mountains all around. I am kind of down at one end of downtown, close to everything. Down here is a famous cable car. It is the world’s highest and longest. Unfortunately, it isn’t working. In my publication, 2007, of the LP it wasn’t working either. Too bad, it sounds fun, runs about 7 miles. Starts here, which is about 4500 ft above sea level (which slowed me down a bit the first couple of days) to over 12,000 feet, which is about the height at Mt. Hood’s summit. Makes one realize that the Andes are here!
I have a Spanish teacher, Natassjja (her father is a socialist and likes Russian names, gave them to all his kids). The women are a lot more attractive here than in the east. Although, they are no skinny-minnies (Natasjja is one of the few who looks like an American model), they are a lot closer to normal. In Ciudad Bolivar the people were
Typical Venezuelan woman
I couldnÂ´t help myself. My camera was out and she wasnÂ´t looking. How awful. But, actually, she is nearly as badly 'revealed'as many who wear tighter shirts that donÂ´t cover all their stomachs.
so fat, I was Twiggy. Here I fit more into the mold of Queen Latifa!. One thing about these Venezuelan women, they are all big breasted….and they show them. Everything is décolletage…and tight jeans, pants, shirts, tight, tight, tight. So tight that if I don’t see one zipper give up the effort while I am here, I’d recommend to manufacturers worldwide that they buy zippers from Venezuela….the hardest working, strongest in the world. Natasjja says that Venezuelan women are obsessed with their looks, but they have a unique way of showing it, tight tops and bottoms, with all their rolls of fat showing and lots of times the stretch tops aren’t big enough to cover their huge bellies…the end result is that you get lots of flesh on the top and many times at the waistline too. The only ones who don’t show off their stomachs are pregnant. It is a fashion that must be special to this area but it sure is not very attractive. And, probably won’t catch on in too many other places.
Merida is a nice city. Good tempo. Very laid back and welcoming. It is a big university town in the foothills of the Andes.
The weather is nice nine months of the year with a rainy season coming up soon, I think. I have enjoyed my stay here, not done much but Spanish lessons and movies. I found a way I can watch American movies. I rent them from one place, take them to another place that has a computer with a DVD set. So far I have been able to catch up on a lot of last years biggies - ‘The Reader’, ‘Revolutionary Road’, ‘The Traitor’, Vicky, Christina Barcelona and ‘Milk.’. That is one thing I really miss about the US, the movies. This has been great. No popcorn, none of the gals I used to go with, no before movie drinks and food, plus the game parlor where I watch them can be pretty loud, but it is great just to see them.
From Merida I have made a couple of excursions, just back from the last. The first was to Los Llanos, which was great. I have never been any place where I saw so many kinds of bird. Not jungle bird, marsh birds. For you bird watchers, tiger heron, scarlet ibis, pink spoonbills, storks, turkey vultures, black oriels, kites,
etc. Los Llanos is a huge flat savannah area, rather low, quite hot, that hasn't much on it
but brown and green grass, a few bushes and lots of little ponds and at least one small river. The first morning we went hunting for caiman, which are little alligators and all over South America. Saw lots of their little eyes looking at us just above the water and plenty going into the water, There were of families of capybaras...big rodents, funny looking, that live in and around the water. And, we ended the morning finding a 20 foot anaconda that weighed about 250 pounds. I have pictures of me holding it, along with all my companions, and pulling its tail trying to keep it from going back in the water. This didn’t stop the anaconda at all. I don’t think it traumatized it either. I'll include one in the blog. That afternoon, after an hour's nap, we went for a boat ride and saw pink river dolphins. They were so cute and so much fun to watch. The next morning we went fishing for piranas. We didn't have much luck. Caught a few and I caught another fish that was
Sunday hike at Macuy Park
Natasjja and I. She was my Spanish teacher. I went with her and some of her friends to the park.
only good for using as bait for the piranas. Later in the day, one of the guides went out fishing by himself and caught us enough piranhas for us to have for dinner. They were tasty...light white non-fishy tasting meat - but, very bony. Then, after another nice after-lunch nap, we went horseback riding. At first I wasn't going to do it, but I finally went for an hour with the second group. It was fun; I had the absolute 'old gray mare' of the bunch. I said something to the guide about him not doing anything that would make Russian (my horse's name) gallop. Albierto just laughed and said that Russian never galloped, ever. So, it was perfect, an old nag...for an old nag.
We had simple but great food and I slept 3 nights in a hammock and loved it. That was the good part. The bad part was that it was a 12 hour trip there and the same coming back. We had a really comfortable van and stopped often enough. One of the guys even bought a DVD of Nicholas Cage movies(here you can buy - all pirated I am sure - DVDs with 5 or
Natasjja and her friend Javier
At the bakery-classroom where my Spanish lessons took place. IsnÂ´t she a beauty? But, from my limited exposure, totally atypical. Javier has a stupid look on his face. HeÂ´s actually very cute.
6 movies on them) and we watched ConAir and Lord of War (or something like that, where he is a arms trader, gun runner, merchant of death, whatever you call them)
Now for a story on how things can go awry when you are tired and not thinking straight. You wouldn't believe what a stupid thing I did. I have trouble believing it, myself. As I have mentioned, one of the main problems for me here in Venezuela has been the exchange rate and lack of access to the black market because I don't have any more US dollars.
So, I had looked at all the numbers and decided that it was best to leave. I went to tell the senora who owns the posada. She already knew I was struggling with money problems. She was talking with one of the people who stay here, a young French Canadian artist, Remy, who is here painting. I told him first because he speaks English and Spanish (so he could tell her). He asked if I had 'considered going to Colombia and getting Colombian pesos from the ATM there and changing them for Bolivars. A very long and tiring one
day trip. He had done it just the month before and the exchange rate was over 5 bolivars to $1 US (in pesos). I had researched leaving Colombia this way (although have since decided on another route) and so I knew how to do this, more or less, but was concerned about exiting Venezuela (which costs money). He said if I was only going as far as Cucuta, Colombia (the first city) that you didn't need to exit Venezuela officially, sort of like Tijuana used to be...a free zone. I have to say this made me a bit nervous but he assured me that I would not be stopped or get into any trouble with border police. Since I am enjoying my stay in Merida and like my Spanish teacher a lot, I figured it was worth it. So, off I went.
Here is the itinerary. I had to get a taxi, which I had scheduled for 2:00 a.m., to the bus terminal. First problem, the taxi didn't show. I ended up walking/trotting down dark streets to a main street and up to a main interesection to find a taxi. In my opinion, although, others would might disagree, this
is the one truly unwise and dangerous thing I have done on my travels. I had even been warned by several not to be out at night alone and la senora had been robbed early one morning when she was out walking. But, it was that or not go and so I did it. I made it okay, but there were some guys across the street walking in the same direction as me that gave me extra spurts of energy, let me tell you and I was sweating like crazy -in chilly weather - when I finally crawled into a taxi. Got to the bus terminal and it is all closed up. The taxi driver didn't know what to do with me. There was one man sleeping on the cement in the terminal entrance and another young man just sitting there up against the door looking at us. He was frustrated because he didn't want to leave me, but he was also very responsible and was not going to abandon me to what we saw. Luckily, soon two people arrived who were obviously passengers. So, he could go and I felt safe (and the guy sitting next to the door
Capaybera, I think the worldÂ´s largest rodent
turned out not to be a vagrant but another passenger). Then, at 2:30 they unlocked the door. We got on the bus and it left at 3:00 A.M.
I do think I have mentioned how cold Venezuelan buses are. Well, this one was even worse than the other two I had been on. It was freezing with an artic air blowing directly on me from above. I have since asked why all the air-con. The reply I got was that there is only one air-con setting. The drivers can do nothing but turn it on and off and this is all over SA. Makes sense, since nothing else does. Anyway, I finally resorted to getting between the window and the curtain to prevent the air-con from freezing me solid. I don't think I endeared myself much to my seatmate as she was pretty snarly when we got off. Probably I deflected the air to her. Oh, well. Nevertheless, I didn't sleep at all. Plus, I hadn't slept before going. This bus went only as far as San Cristobal, Venezuela. From there I caught a bus to Cucuta and slept for 2 hours as soon as we got going and
I am not sure this is Ã¨co-friendly'tourism...picking up the animals.
I warmed up. We went through the border crossing without even stopping and we were in Colombia when I awoke and in Cucuta by 10:30.
Okay, got to Cucuta. Now, before continuing, let me say that the LP had scared me about this place. Lots of 'bad' people who might rob me and the bus terminal was not safe, nor the area around it at night. So, I started out a little paranoid about my safety. I went to the city center to the ATM and withdrew what I thought was $400 US. The ATM asked Espanol or English, and I punched English. There the amounts showed up $100, $200, $300, max. Well, the Colombian money is called 'pesos', so I figured since this was in English that it was US $$ and got $300 and (the second time) $100. Now, this ATM was in a little enclosed room (like many in India, so you are alone and no one is supposed to come in). But, I had taken so much time getting my Visa card out of my money belt around my waist and doing the transaction and there were people outside waiting, so I got the money,
Somehow I donÂ´t think reptiles get as scared as capaybara, but I may be fooling myself
stuffed it inside my money belt and got out of there. This is where I made my major mistake. Went back to the bus station and went to exchange it for bolviars. I told the guy I wanted $300 worth of bolivars. He took my money and counted it, and gave me the other $100. (I had never looked at this money, too afraid to take it out because I felt unsafe...no place where I could be alone). He told me how many bolivars he would give me for my $300 - $178 worth, I was 'losing' $122 in the deal. I went balistic (well, I was a 'tad' bit upset, not at him but at the whole idea that I had made this exhausting journey and it was almost the same exchange rate I could get in Merida. So, I said 'no', I would keep the money and use it when I got back to Colombia, and left. Got a bus to the border, checked the exchange rates at the border and they were worse, so I got two more buses and was home by 7:30 pm. My Spanish teacher had told me she thought I might be wrong
about the exchange rates, so I just figured 'Remy is an artist and not a financial expert, so he didn't understand what he was getting.
I got two things out of it, a peek of that part of the country and Colombia. The area in eastern Colombia and western Venezuela is beautiful, from rich tropical greenery and flowers (beautiful big trees that are totally covered with yellow blossoms this time of year, no leaves), grasslands with cattle, horses and cowboys. But, the cows were mighty skinny. Later I got the story on this. In the flat areas they raise the cattle and the grazing is not quite good enough. So, they spend their days growing to adult hood hungry. Then, they are bought by ranchers that have ranches that lie right up next to the mountains, which has lovely rich grass and, suddenly, they are living la vida dolce. But, this story doesn’t have a happy ending for them. As soon as they are fattened up, they are sold and end up on our plates as bifstek. But, at least they get one good year before the ‘axe’ falls.
In Venezuela, after an hour or so, we left
Beating the 'bushes'for the Anaconda
This should have preceeded the last picture. I have a feeling this same anacondo gets dragged out for photo-ops for each tour group
the beautiful green grassland and we started over a high pass, after a while we went through some long tunnels- 5 km? and entered into a new world, one that was barren with cacti . The mountains there have no vegetation and it is always dry. The country around Merida has some varied micro climates, more or which I heard about and more I saw a little later.
My food that day was a cupcake for breakfast, a piece of cake and coffee for lunch and another piece of cake on the way home. The second good thing is that third piece of cake may well have been the most delicious cake I ever ate. Probably I exaggerate, but it was made with brown sugar, very moist, and still warm. While I might not travel back for the cake alone, I'd sure insist on a stop if I were ever in the vicinity and will fondly remember it as one of the best things I have eaten in years.
Now, the good part of the story. I got back. Told 'senora' that it was a fool's errand and told several others too so that they would never
send anyone. Didn't see Remy until the next afternoon. When I told him what happened, he said that this couldn't be. I said, let's look at the money. So, we got it out. This is the first time I had actually looked at it. Well, guess what. I didn't have $400 US, I had 400,000 pesos. Which is about $170 US. And, the rate the exchange guy had offered me was 5.50 bolivars to the $. Remy said that even though they are called pesos sometimes they are denoted with the dollar sign. Talk about a whole bunch of little things coming together to end in a really stupid error. Had I not been so worried that I was going to be mugged, I would have counted the money and connected the fact that it 400,000 pesos was not $400 (2300 pesos for $1). Then, while I was talking dollars (US) the exchange guy was probably not fluent in English and probably thought I meant dollars pesos. He even gave me a little conversion slip that showed, 300,000 times the exchange rate .41 (410 pesos for a bolivar), the slip was printed very lightly though and all I saw was
ArenÂ´'t they cute
Up a little 'late'for owls, but maybe these are daytime owls.
$300 and the number of bolivars I would get and was so busy getting upset that I never took time to think. Plus, I was probably running pretty well on empty with only two hours of sleep Add to that the input from my Spanish teacher sitting in the back of my mind and finally, my 'presumption' that Remy was an artist and maybe didn't know anything about finance. They all played into a really stupid mistake on my part...and a good lesson. Next time I might stop, cool down, and think through what I see more carefully...let's hope. What this meant to me was probably not too much since all I really wanted to do was one more tour and then I could leave.
Now, a little about my last tour. There is a phenomenon on the southwestern side of Lake Maricaibo I was most interested in seeing. No one knows why, but the hot air rising from the lake meets the colder air and there is a spectacular light show of silent lightening. Many of my friends know I love fireworks and this seemed to be a case of nature’s fireworks. I couldn’t miss it. This is
Dinner for the night
the slow season and I had a devil of a time getting a tour. Had one cancel on me after I had bought my bus ticket out of here and had lost my flexibility. But, at the last minute one other guy showed up and we got a tour. Well, I cannot believe this, but there was no lightening the night we were there. The other guy and the boat driver were awake most of the night and…nothing! I still can’t believe I missed this. Had we gone when the tour that cancelled on me was scheduled, I would have seen it because the boatman who lives up there said he had seen it that night. But, it was a beautiful trip and we saw one really interesting thing. Let me tell you a little story first. When the Spanish first came here they saw that the natives had communities on the water in stilted houses. They likened this to Venice…….and that is why this place is called Venezuela!! Well, some of the fishermen up on Lake Maricaibo still live like this and we visited their village. It was so interesting. Even the church, school and Bolivar Plaza (every single
Only fish I ever caught
Dinner for the piranhas who became our dinner
town, no matter how small, has a Bolivar Plaza. The man is a god here). Little kids were rowing big boats and making little boats by cutting big petrol cans in two. But, this community doesn’t support Chavez. In fact, the governor of that state had to ask for political asylum in Peru just recently because he opposes Chavez and Chavez was going to arrest him for ‘fiscal improprieties’….which he is probably guilty of but, hey, that’s a given down here. Public officials steal. So, probably Chavez could arrest any official in Venezuela on that charge. As a result of this community’s lack of support for Chavez, they now have one teacher for a school of 80 (this is a community of around 1,000). They have no sewer. Everything goes directly into the water…everything! There is no doctor, no nurse, no clinic. Sad, but not so different, when you think about it, of Democratic New Orleans treatment by a Republican administration. Seeing the place was so special though that I actually was okay about not seeing the lights. Disappointed, and really quite surprised. The lights happen about 90% of the time. It never occurred to me I would be in
that other 10%.
We had a beautiful boat trip through three different rivers or canals that flow into the lake (which is open to the sea, but because of all the rivers emptying into it is over 70% sweetwater). Saw howler monkey and maques (sp?) and water birds. On the tour we also stopped at a sugar cane processing plant. Lots of bees, not just there but all around Merida...and no honey to be had anywhere. Saw a restored ‘typical’ pueblo (town) and coffee hacienda museum. Even stopped for lunch at one of these outdoor S.A. barbecue restaurants. Lots of beef, yuka and salad. All in all, even without the lights it was a memorable journey.
Since I am now on my way out of Venezuela, let me share a few discoveries and general impressions I’ll take with me. First, Chavez is popular here. When people find I am from the States, the initial response in their eyes is hesitant and it looks like they are weighing how to respond. Then, they return to their normal gregarious selves and keep talking…seeming to accept you as an individual, rather than a representative of a country they have mixed-to-negative feelings
toward. This place reminds me a little like China in that people seem to be taken care of, maybe not as good as Japan, but there’s a real effort to help on the side of the government. Natasjja’s university has been paid for, plus her bus fare, plus meals at school. The public health system is not to be compared to France’s, but it is there. People seem to be healthy, happy and living in homes, not the streets. The down side, as you have read in the papers, is that Chavez is trying to imitate Castro and become a dictator. He got the constitution changed so he can be president until 2020. Of course, he has to be elected, but when most of the money in this country’ money comes from oil and he controls that, he can and does make it very rough on those who don’t like him.
Some strange fallouts from his dislike of the US is that where students go to study is everywhere but the US. I met a guy who was getting a grant to go study English in India. Others go to England and Canada. Also, the other way around, one
of the guys staying here and studying art is from Turkey. Strange alliances he has made.
The great latin machismo is not nearly as strong as I had expected. Plus, Spanish men are polite and helpful. The guys who work on the buses help the old and infirm off and on without being asked. Of course, I don’t have to deal with what young women do, but there are several I have met and they say Venezuelan men are generally nice and behave within totally tolerable limits of behavior. In fact, the young women travelers seem to like them a lot.
The food is unexceptional; tough beef, rather unexciting main courses, usually a meat of some kind with slaw, plantain, beans, rice, potatoes, and sometimes yucca/yuka, which is just potatoes with the molecules crammed closer together (possibly this is tainted by all the time I have spent in India and Thailand, where I love the food); and it is expensive. There is one good deal in eating, though. It is called, ‘menu ejecutivo’ and it is at lunch. Usually two courses, soup and a main dish, plus fresh juice. The latter is one of the nicest treats here:
Can you believe this manniken?
I took this to show you I am not lying about the emphasis on 'bodacious tatas'(as Jeff used to call them) in SA.
fresh blackberry, peach, melon, guava, mango, papaya, etc. juices, all over. The one ‘national’ food is the arepa, which is a cornmeal flat bread that is thick enough to split and put all sorts of goodies in. This can be delicious or very so-so. We stopped at a Venezuelan ‘truck stop’ on one of the tours at this place the guide loved that had an interesting variation on arepa. Sweet corn (kind of like creamed corn I would imagine because you didn’t get bites of corn) is added to the aprepa mix and a big tortilla sized arepa is made and filled with ham, cheese. Nice! Although, the corn made the arepa sweet and I would l have liked another without the filling and a little honey. One strange food here is a pastry that looks like a sweet roll with sugar, cinnamon and butter melted on top and then grated cheese. The first time I tried this in Ciudad Bolivar, I thought, ‘I’ll take a chance. Surely it must be sweet OR savory, not both. Wrong! The second time in Merida, I thought it was a different type, could not believe I got snookered in again. Although, I would
Super Market at the meat counter
Take a number and wait your turn. Chairs compliments of the mangement
have to admit, it is not as bad as it sounds, just different.
It is so much cleaner here. Not nearly as much garbage. And, there are containers for garbage along the streets and everyone uses them. Garbage is picked up regularly and men sweep the streets. Plus, the mentality is different on the whole subject. I was on a bus and we had stopped for passengers. The lady behind me was trying urgently to open my window. Why? To throw some garbage out the window onto a garbage pile. That wouldn’t even occur to an Indian. The great outdoors is their garbage can…and , for the men, their urinal. What India needs is a HUGE public awareness program to get people on board with the problem. Until then, we will all live in one big garbage dump. Not here, though. They are very tidy, maybe with unintended results. The sidewalks in Ciudad Boliver have these little access holes probably to sewage lines or electrical cables that are covered with steel plates about the size of a giant tortilla. Some are missing, and, in every case, people have used the hole as a garbage can.
Finally, a note
First stop on our Catabumba trip
on the cars, Venezuela must be GM and Fords biggest customer. Because the cost of oil is so low here (8 UA cents a gallon, can you imagine), gas guzzlers are all the rage. More SUVs on the streets of Merida than in Beaverton or Bellevue. Plus, you ought to see all the old 1950s-1960s American sedans. All those old V-8s ended up here…..and many of them are looking great. Even the ones that should be retired, are still chugging along as taxis and private autos. Nice to know there is a buyer for the SUVs and vans we have been driving when we switch to the fuel efficient. Come down here, yours will probably be on the street somewhere in Venezuela.
And, last but not least, there are no Starbucks here. However, not to despair. Every cup of coffee I have been served has been made from an espresso machine and, considering they are not a latte, very acceptable indeed.
There are more photos below