While in Barquisimeto, I'd called to the girlfriend of my pal, David, as I'd been invited to. Luisa picked up the phone. Doing my best latin romantic David impression, I said, "Hola, mi florita preciosa lindissimita, es tu novio en Trinidad ..." (Hello, my precious little flower small but very pretty, this is your boyfriend in Trinidad.)
I didn't have her fooled. "Justin!" she yelled and quickly invited me to her house.
The following day, I took a bus to her town, El Tucuyo. And thus began my day in a Venezuelan small town. I love small towns.
Luisa, with light, smooth skin and long, dark hair, greeted me with a big embrace and laugh. During the day, she drove me outside the town to a vast, breezy reservoir of living brown waves surrounded by pretty, green hills. This was a weekend hangout place for drinking Tucuyanos; so was a serene river spot on the other side of town. We hung around this place long enough to see three bathing Tucuyanos nearly get sucked under the rapids and drown. Two guys entered the water, held together by a belt, and were barely able to reach the last victim before the rapids would have. An exciting moment in the village, El Tucuyo!
It only got better at night. It was La Fiesta de San Juan Bautista. The Party of St. John the Baptist. At the house of a family friend of Luisa, there were colorful ribbons and balloons hanging from the ceiling, candy and cookies and big sticks of meat on the tables, and salsa music on the stereo.
People of all ages were at this large party. I conversed with the smily, tan uncle of Luisa for a while, and then my latin blood grew restless. I had to dance my way around the ladies of this party.
First, I salsa'd with Luisa's blond aunt. This lady flung her feet around so fast to the beats she had to dance apart from me. If the lower half of her body had a brain, it was crazy.
Then, an old, short, very fat lady - excuse the cliche, but she was built like a bowling ball - danced with me and almost wouldn't let me go.
The music paused long enough so the little kids could hit a pinata. Confetti and more candy flung out. For twenty minutes, kids groped for candy while the adults joyfully launched wads of confetti at one another. I was a favorite target, as was everyone.
Pink and white and blue confetti littered everyone's heads and shoulders. And then the real craziness ensued. At about the same time, everyone realized there was a tall, blue-eyed stranger in the house, and gringo-mania caught all.
A group of four male cousins of Luisa called me over. They were typical Venezolanos: burly from beer, latin-skinned, short-haired, shirts tucked in, currently passing around some whiskey. Also, they passed around a lady's purse. Pretending to be gay for kicks, they fluttered their hands and hips around and danced guy to guy. Or maybe they weren't pretending? I considered uneasily. They shared their whiskey with me and were obsessed on getting me to dance.
They had me dance with a tannish, younger blond lady in tight pink pants who moved her legs like fire-crackers. For this, I was happy with them.
But, then, I went to sit down, and the one guy most likely to listen to Kenny G eagerly followed me and persisted I dance more. The aforementioned bowling ball-shaped woman soon came over, and my pestering friend suggested I dance with her. People at a nearby table suggested I dance on the table and strip. And this was suppose to be a family party ...
A young, sweet-faced, curvacious girl asked me to dance with her, and I gladly accepted. Her thin, hazy-skinned friend, Jennifer, danced with me after, and our chemistry was the best. Holding her tight, I turned us slowly. We rocked side-to-side together for three songs. Meanwhile, the pestering guy kept salsa-ing himself and his partner into me and trying to knock us into the wall, and the bowling ball lady tapped me every couple of minutes wanting to cut in.
And then - this being a Venezuelan party - a strange thing happened. The salsa music was turned off. No problem, however. It was only making room ... for ... the ... tamborrr!
"Lay-o-lay-o-laaaaaay, lay-o-lay-o-lah, lay-o-lay-o-laaay-o-lay-o-lay-o-lah!" (Simple, hollow wood percussion) Doong-duh-duh-chnng duh-duloong duh-duh-chnng duh-duloong duh-duh-chnng ...
Wow, was I lucky to be in El Tucuyo this day. A nine-person group of "tambor" players entered the party and set up their drums. Excited, the partiers tightly filled up the room, leaving space for an empty circle in the middle.
The group sang confidently but peacefully in a language probably black. And then began the low, incessant rhythm of the "tambores" (heavy drums). The sound transported us to a trek in an unknown jungle with paranoid suspicions the wild natives were following us. At times, a quick rhythm; at times, rather slow.
But, it always made you dance. In the circle, a girl entered to move her feet to the music, as a guy entered to spin around her. Close enough that their eye colors practically mixed, the two kept their arms behind their bodies or swinging in the air. New dancers randomly took their turns to rest the old. For sure, I got in on this. Freely and comicly, people danced as if on hot coals. It was furious, exhausting, irresistable.
A tall, mostly-African girl from the group danced. She moved her body like nothing I'd seen. Her knees, thighs, left buttox, right buttox, stomach, shoulders, upper arms all moved to the beat in separate ways at a rate of about three times a second. Very impressive. I went in with her once to try to keep up, as did a courageous little guy of about twelve years.
Excellent. Coastal Venezuelan tambor has to be one of the world's best dances. I ended the night swamped in sweat. It had been great. and THEN! ...
A girl from the party said to me, "Tu bailas saboroso."
"Que?" I said. (What?) Gee, my spanish must be awful. It sounded like she'd said: that I dance - for lack of a better translation - flavorfully.
She repeated, "Tu bailas saboroso." (You dance flavorfully.)
"Gracias," I shot at her. Wow. After years of trying to teach my yankee stick-body to actually shake it, I'd finally made it. Hearing a Venezuelan say I dance flavorfully is one of the proudest moments of my life, way ahead of graduating from college.
Alit, I bid my farewells and went home with Luisa. I love small towns. I embraced my bed, awaiting teh arepa breakfast sure to come in the morning.
No wonder they have such great smiles here.
"Yo tengo la culpe, tu tiens la razon - Golpe!" - Tambor Urbana (I have the blame, you have the reason - Hit it!)
- example of a tambor quote that explains why, in the dance, the guy tries spinning in front of the girl, but the girl keeps turning away