From Colombia, I returned by bus to Venezuela. Fun times, good friends awaited me.
First stop: San Cristobal. My San Cristobal familyīs generous mother, Carmen, soon had me breakfasting on cheese-and-egg buttered arepa sandwiches. After I napped, she then stuffed me with four big cachapas (corn pancakes), buttered with shredded cheese. The following morning, she experimented with arepas made from carrots, with shredded meat inside. With those juicy, sweet, orange balls, my ingenius theory: All foods round are good - passed the test.
For fun, I hung out with six-year-old Jose-Daniel, the grandson of Carmen. He had adventure-lusting eyes, a wild mouth, black, pointed hair, and a restless imagination. By day, we tripped with his grandmother and uncle to nearby Andean towns. A restaurant called "Cachapas Los Capachos" incited us to race in reciting the name the most times quickest. "CachapasLosCapachos-CachapasLosCapachos-CachapasLosCapachos!" We also talked to the animals, and Daniel walked repeating a crazy impression: "BUUUuuuuuuu-BUACK! buh-buh-buh-buh ...!" By night, we acrobat-ed around the house with a bat and stick, deftly sword-fighting, but Daniel grew mad when I said "juegar" instead of "jugar," and told me I talked like a baby.
My third night in San Cristobal, Jose-Danielīs nice-smiling mom, Liliana, took me to a "cervecata" (a beer party put on every semester by universities; this one brought two-thousand young people to a huge field with live music). The drinking and dancing lasted all night. A short, sixteen-year-old girl tried teaching me to dance kumbia. We leaned forward, shook our fists in front of us, and jumped back and forth to the accordian beat. Kind of fun like this, I have to admit.
And then, the earth braced itself for great things. I bussed it to Barquisimeto, where my dear friend, short, burly Venezuelan roommate in Trinidad, David, gave me a big hug. Luisa, his dark-haired girlfriend who Iīd already stayed with once, screamed happily. And we drove to Davidīs house, where Davidīs friends and a few case of Venezuelaīs popular beer, Polar, expected us in the street.
Next morning, my digestive tract felt quite ill as a result of the watery Polar. I complained, and people responded with something like, "Oh, yeah! Thatīs what happens when you drink Polar." Great, pass me another one!
David and I switched to scotch. Davidīs brother was getting married in six days, so we cleared out of the house with Luisa and roadtripped to the beach.
Passing through several states, we turned up the salsa music and danced in our seats. Luisa laughed to see how David and I alike bend our necks way down low when we dance. Perhaps that was a spell our witch landlady cast on us in Trinidad, turning us into turtle dancers.
Luisa pointed out a famous mountain of "brujeria" (witchcraft) in Jaracuy state. A song David had told of a lost girl who appears on this mountain as a siren on the back of a tapir, with a magnificent naked body. In the song, the Panamanian singer goes to the mountain to give this woman flowers. An interesting legend.
Also, in the car, I practiced cool Venezuelan slang.
"Hola, mi pana! Como está la vaina!?" is an energetic way of saying, "Hello, my friend. How is everything?" Adding "de pinga" to something makes it good. "Burdo" means "very." "Burdo chevere" means "very, very fun/excellent." "Burdo borracho de pinga" means "very happily drunk." If youīre "jodido," youīre screwed. If you tell a girl she looks "arrechissima," it means sheīs really hot. "Chama" or "chamo" means "girl" or "boy." And, local to Barquisimeto and the surrounding countryside where Luisa is from, the word "Naguara!" means nothing, but the emotion you give to it (from casual to fire-breathing dragon) sets up the next sentence. David learned from Luisa to say it every other sentence, almost. Slangs are fun.
Two days and a night were spent at Davidīs familyīs apartment at the popular get-away beach, Chichiriviche. The boys downed the scotch; Luisa cooked the arepas.
We next tripped to a state park called Sanare. A ferocious mob of forest coveted the cold, mountain road near Barquisimeto. We arrived at a duck-topped lagoon, made dark by the surrounding jungle and noisy by the many bird sounds filling the air. For Slang Education, Luisa taught that "culebra" means a fight, and "pato" (duck) means gay. Two ducks snapped at each other. I joked, "Tu quieres una culebra conmigo? Tu eres un pato pato." (You want a fight with me? You are a "duck" duck.) We laughed.
Elsewhere, some roadside stumps beside a falling mountain stream marked the spot where Luisa had first met David and his cuatro guitar. Like a Japanese tourist, I wanted pictures of this historic site. In two reenactments, I first played Luisaīs adoring character on the stump while David played himself. Next, I posed as David, serenading Luisa, as herself, with my imaginary cuatro.
Luisa looked on as the guys then challenged ourselves to a good-natured, bone-chilling dip in the cool stream. David whooped and hollared and laughed all cold bath long. Good olī fun Venezuela!
We passed the next few days in Barquisimeto. David and family rushed to get ready for the coming wedding. I was left to eat. Eat arepas and reflect. Reflect on Venezuela and dance. Dance to the beat of another, new, exciting, back-to-back MODERN ODDYSEUSī TOP 5!!!
So, put on your dancing shoes, īcuz youīre in Venezuela! And bend your neck down like David and I or a turtle! The Top 5 Best Things About Venezuela!
1. THE MOST FUN COUNTRY - Practically all anyone wants to do here is be your friend, drink some beers, go dancing, laugh, talk excitedly, go to the beach, and take trips.
2. THE SMILES - Little kids, young people, older generations - big, handsome smiles are abundant.
3. TAMBOR - This circle-dancing, African drum music canīt be denied.
4. AREPAS - These cooked, flattened flour-balls - sliced open and stuffed for sandwich meals - are a way of life. Mmmm, I love īem!
5. SALSA - In Venezuela, as oppposed to some Latin countries, the people take their four rhythmic steps side-to-side. This seems to make it easier and better to hold your partner close as you sway your legs together side-to-side. Maybe this one should be higher on the list? Itīs rare, I think, in that it lets you be creative at the same time you can dance close.
I canīt believe they didnīt make the list, but for HM we have: the SLANG; MERIDA in the Andes, my second-favorite city after Cairns, Australia; THIN, LONG-HAIRED GIRLS IN TIGHT CLOTHES, so many beautiful; the FIESTAS (parties or nightclubs); and DAVIDīS CUATRO, crisp and entertaining. A pretty solid list.
Now, we move onto The Top 5 Worst Things About Venezuela! Donīt worry; the news isnīt too bad.
1. INCOME GAP - I think that in Venezuela there are many very poor, few in-between, and some rich.
2. WORRY OF CRIME - A lot of people have been robbed, and the capital, Caracas, is especially scary.
3. INFIDELITY - Even many of the best, most romantic guys cheat.
4. POLAR - This beer is good because itīs social; but, it really wounds your stomach.
5. CHAVEZīS AFFECT ON THE RICH - The countryīs president, Hugo Chavez, is on the far Left side. Among other things, heīs trying to publicize the countryīs wealthy petroleum industry. Which seems like a good idea to me.
In a six-month period with Chavez, the countryīs currency fell almost fifty per cent. This stresses out and makes angry the rich. Are they right to be angry, or has Chavez taken great strides to improve the life of the poor in the country. This I couldnīt figure out. Much of Chavezīs Leftist actions have impressed me so far. But, fifty per cent unexplained deflation seems like a lot, and, watching Chavez on tv, he didnīt gain my trust.
From what I saw of Venezuela, I liked it. But, I wouldnīt say I got to know the country really well while I was there. Particularly, because I only stayed and hung out with the mid-to-upper class, and I never got to learn about the other side. At any rate, I wish the country luck.
Sitting at Davidīs kitchen table, we waited as the maids placed before us: chicken, rice, beans, salad, and papaya juice. Mmmm!
Sitting next to me was Davidīs father, Jaime, a retired professor with short hair, glasses, and the huge smile of an old man who doesnīt know where he is. Jaime was with it; he was just very happy. Next to David sat Juan-Jose, a teenage cousin in from another state. Dark hair to his chin was slicked cooly back. Juan-Jose said I looked like Jesus Christ with my long hair. He said I spoke like a Russian, because I rolled all of my spanish rīs instead of only the double-rrīs. I did this, of course, because rolling rīs is cool. (Also, by speaking differently, I picked up a few cute-accent points from the ladies. All rrrrright!)
Just then, Davidīs mom walked in, speaking about getting flowers. Davidīs brother, Izac, followed her. He was a burly, smily guy, tall for a Venezuelan. His fiancee, Alejandra, was in tow. The wedding was getting close now!
Hasta mas tarrrde, Justin!