SIESTAS, FIESTAS, SEMESTERS....sorries


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South America » Venezuela » North-Eastern » Puerto la Cruz
September 18th 2007
Published: October 1st 2007
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In this episode: Winter in the bar, constant contrasts, plumbing the unfathomable - the Venezuelan toilet system, security, the effects of too much gravity, the Marina and the Development, Puerto Ordaz, Caracas revisited, another rum factory, the bus, the neighbourhood (there it goes), getting published and more grammatically strangled pithiness. At least my español is improving and I have ñ on the keyboard!

yes, the time is slippping away...I've got no idea any more about anything ...but my conscience has been prickling lately so it must be close to blog o'clock...I've been keeping some notes but it just isn't the same atmosphere on the boat as it was on the bike....like fear, danger, impending and real disasters, speed, pain, more danger etc etc.....here life just oozes out like melted chocolate down the asphalt beside the crashed Cadbury truck.....another day, up at 6 or so to the poolside where I can sit and write(?) well, read and email,

Arrgghh and the mozzies, two styles, big and slow and small and really, really aggressive. Still not sure which is the malarial and which the dengue but yellow fever is the current disease-de-jour here.

That new levels of incompetence can still be plumbed by our beloved commonwealth bank should not surprise me, I know, but their creativity is astounding….but I won’t go on…

On the other hand, aren’t siestas just the epitome of civilization? I mean really, what could be more perfect than the midday break. I tell you, when I’m president……

All too weird. Sitting in the bar, by the pool, as one does….6pmish, but it’s bloody freezing, so I’m wearing jeans and 2 shirts, outside the sky is overcast, light rain falling, trees bent over in the wind…it’s Winter!!…
No, just an illusion, and when I walk outside it’s still 35 degrees hot and sweaty. It’s the ongoing saga of the over-cooled bar and the rainy season. It rains every arvo like clockwork for a few days and then nothing for a few days….real tropical downpours, fabulous thunder and lightning, I do enjoy a good tropical storm!
But why does the bar have to be sooo cold? Yesterday, after the rain, the litttle hummingbird was bathing in the top leaves of the frangipanni that had caught water. I've never seen a still h'bird before.

Life here has become a bit of a routine, you know, get up, eat, drink, go to sleep…repeat…Well no, actually my days are pretty full. Sometimes (an erratic concept) I’m having lessons in español over at the next marina, Bahia Redundant, where some of our yacht friends are moored. David and I and some of the others get taught by our charming professora and usually come away a little more confused.
However, the lessons are in the bar so we can soon stabilise our equilibrium.
Or I can get a cab to the bustling mess of buildings and stalls that is the municipal market….an endless maze of small lanes (last week I did get lost) crazy people, huge white-tiled booths, the tiles are cracked and scarred but it’s cleanish (?) Unidentifiable animal bits are being hacked and sliced and diced with massive machetes, beef, pork, chooks, fish…and all the waste washing around your ankles in bloody, ankle deep sludge….great if your wearing Crocs so it all flushes thru….(thanks Gabois!…the new Crocs have landed) (You can avoid the drains and walk safely if you want to, I just loved that visual)

On the way back I might call in to the fish market. It’s right on the beach. Where exactly?…right in the middle of that flock of fifty million pelicans! You can watch the fishermen bringing their catches in…a couple of dozen little stalls, tables of fish. Why do caught fish all have the same astonished look of surprise? You have to buy the whole fish, but they will clean and cut it…stand back as great swiping slashing knives cut and render, spraying fish juice and scales everywhere, the knives are old, and sharpened on well worn bits of rock, but these guys in action would match your finest surgeon! Prawns, mussels, calamares, all manner of clams and shellfish, giant octopus and squid, and for a couple of extra cents they give me ice to pack it in for the hot ride home. And we have had some pretty good feeds. I had the boullabaise. (after I cleared the scales from my eyes)

Ah, Security! You get used to the security precautions here, after a while, but it is an everpresent issue. Houses and shops have elaborate wrought iron grills often covering the whole front of the property. In the barrio just outside our secure zone, liquor shops deal thru one small opening in the iron barriers. Most apartment blocks and many houses have security gates and guards, then you have personal double locks on your doors. It often appears slack as we stroll thru’ but it seems to be both necessary and efficient and we are just enjoying the gringo effect.
Altho’ stories abound amongst the foreigners of the dangers in this country they are mostly exaggerated and with reasonable regard to where you are and common sense it is quite safe. I don’t know of any city in the world where it is totally safe, all of the time. Except Havana.
But then you do get to hear of personal experiences. A woman taxi driver I met was held up by a passenger who whacked her across the head with his pistol and stole her bag with money, cards, phone etc. And our teacher, 23 yo was visiting a friend. As she got out of her car in front of the apartment block a guy walks up and holds a gun to her head…takes off with the car and everything!

So you’re never 100% sure, but you can’t creep round in fear all the time either. And furthermore, during the day it’s all soo much safer, it seems only at night do you get problems like the above.

Raf came down with his son, Matias, 4 and a half yo, for a couple of days and I went back with them to Puerto Ordaz. We stopped at the famous cave of the Gaucheros, an enormous cave, the entrance is cathedral-like, huge, so you start walking the slippery, birdshit lined pathway in light….claustrophobia held at bay…soon,tho’, the light fades to a small window a long way back, the claustro builds, the guide has a small gas bottle and incandescent light…it doesn’t look too sophisticated …it flares and dies occasionally…claustro peaks….I’m not sure if by accident or design…the light is entirely inadequate for our group of 20 people…fortunately many have telephones with torches…what a brilliant idea! We stumble nearly 1 kilometre into the cave, (it actually goes for 10km!!) the gaucheros flutter and squawk and crap, it’s smelly, dark, dank, scary. All styles and shapes of stalactites and stalagmites, the guide constantly pointing out imagination-stretching resemblances!
The cave was discovered by a german guy, google it for details, and he observed these weird birds that live like bats basically…beep radar and all that…one of the ‘highlights’ is around dusk when they leave the cave. Fortunately, as it turns out, we kept going and missed that part as others told me of their disappointment at the trickle of birds that left at dusk. Unlike the clouds of bats that are seen elsewhere….like Katherine.
But it was fabulous country, driving around the mountains, bulging roadside stalls with brilliantly coloured stacks of fruit and veges and flowers. I wanted to load up a truck full and take it back to the boat….strawberries and cream the local street-stall-treat-of-choice. We ate at a bizarre little roadside shack/restaurant, a german guy, only room for two tables, I had the goulash.
Puerto Ordaz is inland, on the Orinocco. A modernish city built for the massive iron and steel, aluminium and other industries. Originally the city was maintained in all its splendour by the companies. This was then handed over to the municipal authority and it’s a mess, well, a lot of it is a mess. There’s constant signs of attempts to get on top of it but it’s hard, dammed hard. The rubbish,……you know who wept,…..more on that later.
I hung out some days at Raf’s club…pretty shmicko here, everything is maintained, a little chip-and-run course, several Olympic size pools, bars, restaurants, a soccer field, tennis courts..a beach (on the river)..unbelievable…oooh I could live here!

There’s a major park down by the dam. A huge waterfall, below the dam wall, thunders and gushes out clouds of spray across its 200 m face. And there’s miles and miles of paved paths thru’ a veritable botanic gardens. Further along is the hydro-electric plant. As in so many places in this country, basically practical buildings are designed and constructed with extraordinary architectural flair and style.
It’s part of the constant contradiction of Venezuela, the most outstandingly beautiful buildings, parks, monuments, right next to appallingly awful ones…meticulously manicured parks, gardens, roadsides, medians…right next to rubbish heaps, great mounds of uncollected garbage burying quite attractive parks and gardens, unmaintained parks totally overgrown with weeds and crapola…and with the tropical climate that grows gardens overnight, and an unfortunate culture of chucking rubbish anywhere…it’s soo frustrating.
So, the hydro plant, a fabulous building with models of the works, an actual glimpse of the generator bizzos, fabulously timbered walls around endless cornered spaces, more like a gallery than a plant. In fact they have exhibitions here! And a restaurant. I had the soup.
I came back down with Raf a few days later and we headed off, with David, to Caracas where I had spent several weeks last trip.
It has been great having Raf show us around, the food and the sights!..we stopped at a roadside eatery, cachapas, corn pancake like things but thicker, like whole plate size, with local white cheese over the top and a side of roast pork…unbelievable! I’ve got the recipe to make some cachapas, I’m not sure how to organise the roast pork like they do it. Another feed was roast pork stuffed breadroll. Hey, we also had fresh juice and some fruit somewhere. I had the cachapa.
We went directly to the teleferico in Caracas…a gondola thing..it had been closed on both my previous visits so I was keen to go up…and up…and up….jesus wept..the top is just a bit shorter than Australia’s highest peak!…a little breathless climb to check the view. Caracas stretches along a valley and this is the dividing mountain between the city and the coast, quite extraordinary geography and stunning views. You look down from this razor edged ridge, one side down to the sea, the other down to the city, remarkable really!
There is a surprisingly extensive pattern of green, lots of parks and open spaces thoughout the city we look down on, it’s like being in a plane it’s so high.
Then the clouds moved in and it started pissing down. We sheltered under a hotdog stand. I didn’t have the hotdog.
This is no smoothy-faced-glacial valley, no, this is folds and wrinkles, switchbacks and sharp turning steep little back streets as we get to Raf’s place. It’s up the slope of the mountain, above the city. He has a couple of rooms that are part of a larger house. It’s actually a farm! Hard to believe, right on the skirts of this huge city, a little secluded farmlet.The son of the family is coming to Oz to participate in the solar challenge race from Darwin to Adelaide this year. Small world.
They have a gigantic dog, a rotty, but a pussy. Well, so far so good. But strange habits. While we were standing around talking, a taxi dropped off another resident. As the driver went to drive off, the dog loped after the car and started growling and biting the wheel. As the taxi went past us we could hear the hiss, hiss, hiss…the dog had bitten into the freaking tyre!! He then walked off and found a rock to chew on….strange days indeed.
There’s a local town centre with the oldy worldy feel of a small country town. And that’s what it was until the city expanded. But there’s still the small village atmosphere, local farms selling local produce, wonderful little restaurants and bars, the zocalo of course with the church at one end, families gather in the zocalo for musical treats or just to hang….tres rural.
Around the next furl of mountain the ritzy burbs, great walled houses, massive security grlles altho’ it must be said, some of the guardhouse bunkers have been designed into the overall work with great style…glimpses as always of fabulous tasty design, a wall façade, small tile work, rock, brick and tiled fences, glimpses of spectacular architecture, amazing engineering capacity to construct these places, constant dazzling colours, textures, shapes, materials and all emersed in gardens of lush tropical plants, bright flowers…and always the beautifully intricate incaesque stonework…
And many grand edifices, apartment blocks, megalithically rising from the jungle growth gardens.
Unruly tufts of vegetation sprouting from occasional balconies way up high..
And right in the heart of the city, among high risers, you happen to glance up and catch glimpses of the green walled mountainside that protects the city. The long green tunnel.
Going into the city at night the barrios, slums, provide an incongruous beauty, thousands and thousands of twinkling lights across and above the city where the barrios extend like after-flood detritus up the sides of the valley. Dirty, dangerous and desperate during the day but delightful at night….(sorry!) The fairy light effect is enhanced by the whiteness of the lights. All the bulbs have been replaced by the government for low power ones. So that’s where bloody Turnbull got the idea.
Raf took us out to the Santa Teresa rum establishment, all very rural, clunky old buildings and equipment alongside the new stainless steel stuff…all set in the sugar cane fields divided up by palm lined roads, v pretty. I had the rum.
We drove out of Caracas along the autopista, madcap driving, bikes and cars everywhere. After the churning, choking gridlock of the city the vehicles are now off the leash, spiralling out of control down the highway. Through classically jungled mountains the classier and faster vehicles cut a swathe thru’ the crowds of old clunkers, chevvies and ford 500’s from the past 50 years, battered and with bits hanging off they thunder along…cheap gas!
Along the roadside, patches of stalls selling food, birds, monkeys, firewood, nuts and lots of cheeses. We passed thru’ a village where all the stalls had wooden spoons, nothing else!
We drove back from the rum plant along the mountain roads, twisting curves, up to the ridge. Many hang glider jump-off spots and fabulous views down the lush valleys.
We called into the ‘lost’ German village…a slice of old Germany up here in the mountains, isolated for a million years now making the most of selling all sorts of German produce. Tres bizzaro. I had the schnitzel.
Back to the city, we pulled up at a set of lights and a pungent blast of piss-smell wafted in the window…we’re back.
We took the bus back to PLC. The bus has all the curtains drawn tight , the air-con is on maxi-freeze, I try to peer out the window and get a few glares from passengers. Obviously this is all about sleeping. And it’s 10 in the morning! An uneventful trip, 6 hours or so, the occasional vertabrate-realigning bounce. I spotted the love hotel where Ted and Sandy and Grant and I stopped in the middle of a long night’s ride, Piritu I think.
Back to the Marina Mare Mares, our home for 6 weeks or so, how the time flies! The marina is part of a huge development that goes on forever. Must be 30 or more square kilometeres. Several marinas and hundreds of houses ranging from squillion dollar mansions to little groups of 3 level town houses all brightly, and differently, coloured. Like a slice of Venice, narrow waterways, little front yards with barbies, pot plants and most with boats hanging off, mega launches, cigar boats, gin palaces, dinghies.
There is a road system that winds around the whole place but it’s always quicker to get around by ding.
It was a major swamp and has been dredged out and set up, an astounding bit of engineering and as always, between the ritzy complexes there’s the occasional mega developments stalled at halfway, concrete and rebar rusting, graffiti covered…perches for the pelicans…what does go on?
The marina is part o f the hotel, maybe 1,000 rooms, little 3 level blocks of 30 rooms, spread about huge grounds, paved pathways circle around, palm lined, flowered garden beds, lawns, all manicured to excess… silently swishing golf cart buggies transport the rich and fat to their rooms, a giant pool where I lap in the mornings, restaurants, bars and some shops. During the recent school holidays there were lots of kids in the pool and it's spanish name 'piscina' became more appropriate.
We can walk out the back gate of the marina, just buzz and the security guy releases the catch. (one of the marinas on the other side has a yard where they let vicious dogs out at night. If you want access to your boat you have to take a hunk of meat!)
Up the road we have the golf course, night club, row of restaurants, grog shops (we’re on a first name basis here!) a slab of stubbies about $6-7 and a big rum $6. Dangerous!
There’s an apartment block going up next door, I wonder if it will stall and become the next victim of this ‘dead building’ syndrome?….It staggers along it’s anarchic construction timeline - in fits and starts - a dozen or so individual workers, seemingly unconnected or co-ordinated, plagued by inertia and slowth, battle on in their own little worlds. It’s like each apartment is being built by an individual. And there’s two guys, looking totally perplexed, sitting absolutely still in a small central brick room, the throbbing heart of the electrical system by the look of the million cables sprouting from the walls. They are just sitting there, handsfulls of cable ends and utter confusion on their faces, just waiting for the god of wiring to wave his wand.
But, like the grub to the butterfly, it seems to be actually getting there. Each day, without actually ever seeing very much happen, it is climaxing, so to speak.

There’s a ‘security’ gate with a sleepy old man and an equally sleepy old dog. In a competition of alacrity it would be a nil all draw! One is the security officer, the other the safety officer, or maybe the dog does both….safety standards are pretty basic. The scaffolding, in a generously expanded definition, is scary to say the least, and those hanging things like window washers use, the handrail looks to be scarred with teeth marks.
And you need to take care walking past the site. The safety fence, your classic chain mesh, curls out at the bottom. The fifty metre gamut, especially at night, dark, the footpath is potholey, dark liquid filled, and then the fence. Hundreds of razor sharp, tetanus laced, ankle high barbs that will rip you from toe to shin before you can say “medivac”
A beat-up Corolla cruises down the street beeping the horn, the security guys rush out of their various pill boxes in front of the ritzy places and grab their lunch packs.
Everywhere someone is eating something. It’s like the Asian eat-a-thon thing, after years of deprivation people grab whatever they can, whenever they can.

Another 6am start to watch the Moto GP, go Casey Stoner, and slip into the brekky room for a free feed. One of the waitress chicas is a moto fan and always looks after me. And now we have found the gym, I’m just waiting for my personal trainer to complete the personal workout program (the links to the websites supported by companies flogging diet supplements just didn’t do it for me)
There’s a note here about unfettered something but I can’t decifer it.
And then the granny…woke up at 2am and staggered over to the lobby to stream the last half. What a bath.

(apologies to those who miss large chunks of this waffle, I try and keep it comprehensible, and if it’s any consolation, I doubt anyone is going to get it all!)

And yes, it’s too long, but so little seemed to happen until I started writing and it all sort of caught up with me.

And the aerial photos were given to me but I don't know who took them....acknowledgement next time! Thanks



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