Daily Archives: October 12, 2011

Notes on Venezuela

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Notes from Venezuela:

 

  • Venezuelans are born lucky. They must be to survive driving the way they do.
  • Gol Varig is an awesome airline: they gave me a Sandwich! For free! Without me asking!
  • Not many people seem to actually like Chavez
  • The whole socialism thing is really strange when you think about it from a capitalist standpoint… just so many things are different. Upside? Free parties, sandwiches and beers. Downside? Enforced minimum lease terms of three years, and massive sanctions for “the rich”, as defined as… whatever they feel like?
  • Strange side of Socialism: since the government owns everything, they can do whatever they want with it. Example: Some of the hotels in La Guira were closed and turned into refugee apartments after a natural disaster in the interior. I honestly don’t know how I feel about that, since my capitalist side is saying that it cost them a ton in tourism (directly and indirectly), but my “help the world” side is saying that our country should be able to help our citizens that way.
  • Salsa dancing is FUN! Especially when you’re being taught by a Venezuelan girl 😀
  • People are nice: everyone I met was pretty friendly, from the taxi drivers to the random guy on the street who stopped me not to steal my stuff, but to ask for directions. One older couple even helped me and Ana write down some important Spanish phrases.
  • Hipsters have invaded every country. Heaven help us.
  • Fanny packs have invaded Venezuela, and have attached themselves to everyone. Seriously. Pretty much every random person I passed on the street had a fanny pack, worn in the front.
  • The beaches are totally rad, we need more of this.
  • Tts strange what super-cheap gas does. Seriously, Gas in Venezuela is ~$0.25 a gallon, and thus public transportation is just $0.125 per trip on the Metro, and $1 for a 1 hour bus ride outside of the city.

Traveling from Venezuela to Argentina

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I got up on Monday ready to take on the day; I had woken up early and had my stuff packed up pretty quick, so I spent the rest of the morning grabbing some quick breakfast, wandering around the area, and reading in the hostels library.

Ana and I met up around 1:00, packed the rest of my gear up and stashed it in the hostels saferoom, and then took a walk around the city to see a few last sights before I headed off to the airport. We ate some Cochabas for lunch, and I immediately fell in love with them. Seriously amazing. See the recipe below. After eating we headed into the main city to explore for a bit, going to see the nicer portions that I had missed before. Ana left me for a bit to put an hour or two in at her job, and I spent the time wandering around the financial district of Caracas; marveling at how shining skyscrapers could stand directly next to a cold-war era building that looked like it had been shelled out. Its honestly impressive, and does wonders for making the shiny skyscrapers look even better

While waiting for Ana the skies decided that I CLEARLY wasn’t wet enough, and decided to help me cool down with a quick shower. Luckily I was right near the enteraence to the main mall, so I ducked in and spent the rest of the hour reading from my kindle (stealthily hidden in one of my other books, so I just looked like another Venezuelan dude chilling out with a tattered notebook).

After a bit Ana finished up and we headed back to the Hostel to get my bag. The rest of the evening was pretty standard-issue, though I did get a nice surprise when I went to pay my “exiting fee” from Venezuela: my outbound ticket had already covered it in the price. Nice, don’t need to burn an extra $50, I am not complaining. I got into the airport with just enough time to pick up some food (yay Burger King! I don’t know which is worse: that I ate my first Whopper in Venezuela, or that I paid $9.50 to do so) and make a quick skype call to my mom to let her know that I was fine and boarding successfully. And then we were airborn, heading south to the connector in Brazil.

Side Note: The city lights of the Barrio’s outside Caracas are amazing, and I’m really glad I flew out at Night so I could see them now that I know what they are.

I woke up with a start when the wheels touched the ground; I had slept clean through all the warnings about landing and everything. Impressive. I de-planed, found my gate (where I’d be boarding in 6 hours), and set myself up for a nice internetting session. Not to let life be easy, Sao Paulo’s WiFi is deceptively cheap at $1 an hour or so, but impossible to access unless you’re quite fluent in Portuguese. They even have a language tab that only has one setting: “not a language you speak, sucker!” I tried to bumble my way through it, but in the end contented myself with saved videos and some more reading. Maybe a bit of music too.

My flight boarded smoothly, and I slept through again; both times I had a window seat with the middle empty, so I was feeling pretty good and relaxed once we touched down in Buenos Aires. I had woken up a bit early so that I could fill out the immigration paperwork, thinking I’d be saving myself some time in the lines. Instead, I was carefully and meticulously filling out the form that would herald the destruction of this part of my trip…

 

Yay cliff-hangers! And recipes!

 

Cochabas Recipe (for one person)

  • Cornbread batter (go a bit heavy on the corn though)
  • Butter
  • Cheese (thick white cheese)
  • Ham slices, thin

 

Prep:

  • cook the cornbread batter on a hot skillet exactly as you would a pancake; layer it just as thick
  • once its pretty much done spread some butter on it and let it head butter-side down for a few seconds
  • Put the cheese on half of the “pancake”, and layer the ham on top of it
  • Fold like an omlet
  • let it heat for a bit, flipping it twice or so. Make sure the cheese is nice and gooey.
  • Cut it in half (so its quarters of a circle), and serve!

Exploring the mountain streams of Venezuela

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I woke up when Ana nearly kicked the door in with the assistance of her friend Andrei. It was nearly noon, and I had slept through Savas getting up, his Dad leaving for work, and a huge pool party right outside. Damn but I’m good at sleeping. Respect.

Anyways, Ana Savas Andrei and I ate a quick breakfast and headed out to grab a small townie-bus up to the Barrio South of the city, up in the mountains. Now two definitions for you: the townie-bus? That’s a gutted molester-van with its windows knocked out and the engine barely running. But by god it made it up that mountain like nobody’s business, and it was DAMN awesome. And the Barrio? Think Favela’s of Brazil or the deeper ghetto’s of LA. Sketchy, but if you’re from there completely cool. And luckily for us, we were meeting two of Ana’s friends from the area; Yelvin and his younger brother.

 

After we got off the bus and did introductions we all started heading the rest of the way up the mountain to the main river. That was the goal of the day: hiking up the riverbed to a great swimming area that Yelvin knew. We walked through the Barrio for about ten minutes before breaking out into the river area; a lone water transfer station marking the end of town. I guess this river is the primary water source for the town, so the path that we took was actually a maintenance trail used to keep the water systems running. We took off our shoes as soon as we got to the river and headed up barefoot so that we could hop between the river and the path easier. The path itself swapped between concrete walkways with handrails, bare packed earth, and extremely sketchy rock traverses that wouldn’t be out of place climbing in New Hampshire. Thank you rock climbing, for letting me get across those without incident.

As we ascended we passed a good number of other folks bathing and hanging out. I guess Sunday is an international rest day, so there were a ton of families out with the kids and grills, swimming and cooking. I have no idea what kind of meat was being cooked (and don’t want to know), but damn it smelled good 🙂 The ascent took us about an hour, give or take, hiking through some of the most beautiful country-side that I’ve seen. The river had cut a valley through the mountain, and the steep sides were covered with fruit trees (none ripe yet, unfortunately), but the views were amazing. Another kind nice upside to where we were hiking is that, since it’s the main water supply, there were a good number of water transfer stations that we could drink out of. I tried to keep the drinking to a minimum to lower my painful-stomach-risk, but I will say that the water I drank was amazingly clear and crisp. We’ll see if I regret it in the future. (Editors note: He did regret it, but not too much so. A light case of bathroom “oh god why! Why hath thou forsaken me!”, but it only lasted for half a day or so, thanks to Azithro)

And then we were there: an opening in the river-bed had created a large area of shallows backed by an extremely deep section carved by a waterfall in the back. Perfect for cliff-jumping, though I’ll admit that I pansied out at the last minute and didn’t jump. We swam and chatted, climbed the side-walls and danced, and rocked out as befitting the perfect scenery surrounding us. The river was cold, according to my Venezuelan compatriots, but perfectly warm according to Bostonian water temperatures. I took the chance to give my dreads a good washing, took lots of pictures, and enjoyed the sensation of the riverbed between my toes. Sounds dumb, I know, but the riverbed was this amazing mix of clay and sand, so it felt really neat, especially on all the bug-bites that I’ve been getting.

Before headed out I was treated to an impromptu “new life ceremony” courtesy of Andrei; I guess the primary reason for walking up here today was so that he could “turn over a new leaf”, and start a new chapter in his life. I hadn’t realized when I met him, but this dreadlocked and tattoo’d guy had just turned 18, and so had decided that now was as good a time as ever to drop all his bad habits and rebuild his life to be a bit cleaner and simpler. Him, Yelvin and Savas all did a neat Hindu ceremony of… something… (not sure, sorry!) where he chopped off his dreads and all his hair, and discarded all of his vices: weed, cigarettes and booze specifically. Then, we burned it all. Luckily the smell of burning Wine, weed and tobbacco over-rode the smell of burning hair, so it wasn’t really that bad. And seeing him shaved completely bald was a rather interesting sight. The guy who had looked a bit like Bob Marly not half an hour earlier now looked like Aang from Avatar. Creepy… but kinda funny too 🙂

After the ceremony we headed back down to the Barrio for some well earned snacks. I’ll admit, when Yelvin started asking around for something, getting directions and furtive answers from the residents of the barrio, I was half convinced we were trying to find the resident coke-dealer. Turns out the target of his hunt wasn’t the resident DRUG dealer, but the resident POPSICLE dealer, and I was treated to an amazing chocolate-milk pop. Awesome!

While cooling off with the pops we took another sketchy bus back down to La Guira, and headed towards the closest surfers-only beach. I guess bathing in the ocean is a fairly normal occurance, so this beach had huge signs all over reminding people that they can’t get naked and get their soap on here, it’s a strictly surfer-dude-only atmosphere up in here. Kinda nice, I’ll never complain about not seeing naked old dudes, and seeing smoking-hot surfer chicks instead. And do not forget this one fact: Venezuelan women are HOT. Like… holy hell. Thank you, whoever invented the itty-bitty bikini 🙂

The beach was quite excellent, but before long the sun was setting and I was getting on the bus headed back to Caracas so that I could head back to the hostel to prep for my flight to Buenos Aires. Ana and I had planned on going to a concert that night, but when we learned it was nearly 400 Bolivar (only $50, but I didn’t have that much changed) we bailed on it, since we couldn’t find anyone to change the cash. Thus, the bus ride was solo for me, though I think I was technically in a threesome on the way back… The folks sitting next to me were a surfer couple who were, literally, having sex next to me. And by “next to” I mean “his leg pressed up against mine thanks to the small seat,and half of her ass-cheek on my lap”. Yeah… awkward, but I won’t complain since she was, as I stated before, quite hot.

After getting back into the city I unsuccessfully hunted for the Metro… I had intended on getting off at Gato Negro, one of the main metro stops, but either I had missed it, the bus driver was wrong, or it was closed. I’m leaning towards the later, since I did find an obvious station that was quite definitely closed. So a little scared and worried (since it was night, and the area looked pretty bad) I did what any red-blooded Jewish-American boy would do: I ordered myself a fucking HOT DOG. WITH EVERYTHING. And, much like the hamburger of yesterday, everything means everything in Venezuela, and this thing had condoments all up in its business; they ran the gamut from onions and cheese to mayo and french-fries. And damn but it was good.

My belly full and my mind distracted from my predicament, I went about solving my problem. Keeping my head on a swivel and dodging around the sketchier groups of people (I did get a few called of “Hey! Gringo!” from the groups, which I ignored) I picked out the best looking cab and jumped in, telling him the closest metro station to where I wanted to go. On the ride we chatted (my Spanish is getting better yay!), and I found out that he studies at the university near my Hostel, that he wants to visit the US, and that his English was impressively bad. Almost as bad as my Spanish 😛

But soon the ride was over, my adventures for the evening completed. I settled into the Hostel, watching some stupid Youtube clips and typing up some stories.