The teachers and staff at VENUSA have been great. I’ve had very few snags while here, but they’ve always been friendly & quick to help with whatever has come up. A huge thanks to Joan and Yiya – the cooks here at Venusa. Great food & variety, I’ll be bringing a few ideas home with me! It was nice meeting my homestay family, too. More time together would have been nice, but schedules here are just as hectic as they are in the states & finding time is never easy.
Archive for the ‘Jim in Venezuela’ Category
I am acutely aware that I have not written a lengthy, descriptive post for over a month. The first two weeks I justified to myself that I was on vacation. And, legitimely, I was. I knocked out three finals and two papers, took a day off, and then made a break for Caracas, hoping to land on Isla Margarita. I had the fortune to safely transverse Caracas, make a friend on the Paseo Colon in Puerto La Cruz and chill on the beach in Parque Nacional Mochima before fortunes decided I was to go direct back to Mérida without a stop on Margarita’s white shores. Thank you to the people who looked out for me on that trip, whether or not you read this. I am grateful your constant warnings about my impending stoning and robbery still seem unnecessary.
En Puerto La Cruz hay ocaso brillante cada noche!
Moving on, if you’ve read my other posts, you might think me niave or just a fake liar for posing hypothetical goals for myself without any evidence of progress. Niave, yes. Liar, no.
In a sense, my trip to Puerto La Cruz was an opportunity to think about being an ecotourist. I mean, I was certainly being a tourist. As for eco-something, I guess the best conclusion I have come to is the most important thing that should come out of a trip is how you feel about it, which I see as being directly related to how you treat the people you meet. I think you have to have an insatiable curiosity and interest in your surroundings to know the best of the place you’re in and the discipline to travel slowly enough to respect your own limits and the limits of people you meet. Because the alternative is indifference and haste. Which, I guess serves in some cases, but mostly for places that aren’t really places at all, like airports and hotels. So, at this point I’d say an ecotourist is someone who is curious but respectful and above all knows when to stay and when to go.
Pedro nos preparó para la cueva da la pirata con linternas y cascos de bicicleta.
I had a somewhat anti-ecotourist experience last weekend when I went with some friends to La Cueva de La Pirata in La Azulita, which is a small town about 3 hours into the mountains north of Mérida. I mean, by all accounts, the trip was about as environmentally low-impact as a trip in Venezuela gets, but I just caused a few akward moments. We got into La Azulita and found the cave site and there was a group of mountaineers from Mérida practicing climbing on the clifff face above the cave entrance. We met them and talked for a bit before they volunteered to lead us into the cave. They shared their helmets with us and gave us an awesome tour. So we got out and we exchanged contact info and they invited us to climb with their gear when they got done with practice. So we hung out and I eventually had a good, if exhausting, climb. I got down and took off the gear, put on my shoes, and watched the expert climb up and untie the safety rope. Then the akward part. The akward part where I probably should have offered some money for their gracious offer of equipment. The akward part where I should have thanked them immediately, offered money, shaken hands, and left before they broke out the bread like it was the last supper á la cueva de la pirata. What I did instead was a poorly timed sequence of the forementioned. And that, in the end, was akward. Lesson being: know when to stay and when to leave.
Continuing what was at that point basically a two week vacation, I traveled two weeks ago to Coro with my friend who was visiting family. Coro is situated in the northwest of Venezuela, just south of the Penisula of Paraguana and east of Lago Maracaibo. The city is a Unesco World heritage Site, as I understand it, because of its role in the Colonization and Independence of Venezuela. The UNESCO Website says “With its earthen constructions unique to the Caribbean, Coro is the only surviving example of a rich fusion of local traditions with Spanish Mudéjar and Dutch architectural techniques. One of the first colonial towns (founded in 1527), it has some 602 historic buildings.” What that means in fact is that most of the houses have plaques that refer to a time Simón Bolivar (1783-1830) stopped in to grab an empanada or get a haircut. Later on, we headed out on the pelisula and chilled on the beach until heading back via goatherds and salt flats, both of which are very salty, hot, and full of multicolored bacteria. One of the characeristics of the day was the repeated presence of the governor’s helicoptor overhead. Apparently, on weekends the governor of Falcón flies around and sees what’s going on. As the next day was La Día de la Independencia (July 5th) there was no class to attend back in Mérida so we headed into the mountains to go swimming and tell ghost stories. All I can tell you is that you should never walk alone in the forest at night and if the whistle of the Silbón sounds far away, he is right behind you.
Mi familia adoptiva extendida de Coro…
I’ve been trying to stay on track learning Spanish, getting to know Venezuelans, and take care of business as I live the next three weeks. The Silbón is right behind. I feel like I’ve been speaking a lot of English the last week, although a fair amount of that is in reciprocity with Venezuelans learning English, and who always talk to me in Spanish. And my class schedule gives me more time outside of class. But in the last week, I keep coming back to knowing I need to keep growing and I wonder, how I should be growing? And that answer I think is fluency. In Spanish. In communication. In cultural skills. In people skills. A good friend asked me, “What is fluency?” He said to me later that fluency is when you can pick out the words that people say to you. When you’re first learning a language you can’t hear all the words, only the ones you know. Later, when you’re fluent, you can hear words you don’t know. So, that is my next goal: to hear the words, literal or metaphorical, that are being said, and learn if I don’t know them.
I did a little food experiment recently, and it confirmed that my diet basically consists of hamón, queso, and arepas but it also showed me the amount of chocolate I was eating, and have since decided to stop eating, on the side. What follows is a summary of the week of June 14th, which is a typical week. I kept track of all the meals I ate and then approximated their food contents or just listed the food where a description was more appropriate than an ingredient list, although most food here is made from scratch:
6 portions of carne (pork or beef steak)
6 servings of hamon (sliced ham)
5 portions of chicken
9 servings of cheese
8 portions of soup (potato, cream, vegetables)
4 cups of pasta
2 cups rice
butter and jelly
1 hojaldre de hamon y queso (puff pastry with ham and cheese)
2 cups oatmeal
8 cups hydrated powered milk
1/2 cup corn
1 small eggplant
1/2 head lettuce
2 cups guava juice
1 cup mango juice
1 cup melon juice
1 box of pear juice
8 little cups of coffee
2 soda (7-Up and knockoff)
1 Nestle yogur de fresa
1 milky way
1 savoy chocolate de nueces
2 Efe helado de chocolate
1 sospiro (puffed sugar cookie)
1 galleta de “pasta seca” (another kind of cookie)
1/2 besito de coco
1 slice cheesecake
1 sweetcorn muffin
3 slices of cake
1 chicha grande
If you think of eating 17 portions of meat in a week, that’s averaging about 2.4 servings per day! I also basically ate an arepa, a roll, and some cheese and drank a cup of coffee at least once a day. That is my diet.
A field trip into a cloud forest this morning, Monte Zerpa, actually. Very interesting, I have been looking forward to this one for quite awhile. If you look at these pictures, you’re probably saying ‘If that’s a cloud forest, where are the clouds?‘. It isn’t always cloudy in a cloud forest, just usually. Besides, if it were cloudy, the pictures would have only shown a few feet into el bosque before everything was covered by the clouds. We didn’t see many animals—the vegetation really is very thick in there, but we heard quite a few: monkeys (I don’t know what kind); toucans; & some kind of a mountain-jungle turkey (no, really!). I’m getting hungry & don’t feel like sitting at this keyboard any longer, so that’s it for now. I know I didn’t write much, but the pictures are more interesting anyway. Oh, that shot of me swinging in a vine—it isn’t photoshopped, just weird. Hasta la tarde…
Yeah, I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but I do actually have work to do sometimes. Session ‘B’ started last week which means all new classes & turnover of about ½ of the exchange students, maybe a little more. Didn’t do anything for the 4th of July – it’s just another day here. However, July 5 is the Venezuelan Independence day—how’s that for weird? They don’t get into it as much as we do in the states, it’s kind of like Labor Day – many people have the day off & everybody seems to be happy about it, but nobody seems to quite know, or for that matter even care, why…
Interesting weekend. We took a trip to los llanos. While in Venezuela, I’m living in Mérida—which is the capital of Mérida state (better site, but non-English)—in the Andes, so the altitude keeps the temperature bearable. Hot, but not unreasonably so. Los Llanos are a grassland area—sort of a cross between jungle & savannah, depending on where you are. The particular llanos we were in are in the state of Apure (another non-wiki but non-English option), South of the Andes & West of the Orinoco. To get there took a ten hour jeep ride. Once there, we got around largely by boats or on horses. This is about one mile closer to sea level, and it is the rainy season , so between the two, temperatures were quite a bit higher than they are in Mérida. Oh well, nobody melted, so it wasn’t too bad.
Last Saturday I took a walk up to the top end of town (long walk). I had been hearing for a couple weeks that there was an artisan fair on some road just a little way past the bullfight arena & was curious so decided to take a look. I did take the trolley the first third or so, but the line has not been completed yet. Very convenient that what is done is running though, & the price is great (free).
At first it might look like a much bigger difference in the standards of living from one part of town to another, but if you really think about it that may not be the case. You can see houses here that would probably fall somewhere into an upper-middle class range in Mn, and you can see houses that seem to be a bit below any standards of living in our area. However, I have not seen any homeless here at all. I’ve asked & have heard that there are some here, but very few compared to large cities in the States.
The markets are also very interesting. The actual art fair that I was heading toward was rained out shortly before I got there. A few vendors were still there, you can see some of them selling paintings or puppies (?!). Since coming here, I have seen quite a few open fruit vendors, but the pics above were taken where an entire street was closed for several blocks for herb, vegetable & fruit stands. Smelled great!
Tuesday June 8th (I think – no longer sure of the day or date) was appreciation night. This was when students prepared meals at VENUSA for their host families as a way of saying thanks. There was a very good turn out, dishes were pot-luck style, although there wasn’t a lot of organization regarding who brought what. I think there were about 25 pasta salads, 20 deserts, & maybe ½ a dozen potato salads. All very good, at least those I tried were good, just a little funny. I can’t say I did much to sway the variety. I wanted to bring something that was easy to prepare—our kitchen is very basic, a couple frying pans, a can opener & a few spoons (no mixing bowls)—so nothing requiring baking or any sauces was an option. It also had to be something that would not spill, splash or burn on the trolley on the way to school. The trollies are normally very, very crowded, with room to stand only and carrying a bulky item would almost certainly end up dumped at some point. Finally, it had to be something that would not go bad after sitting out all day without being refrigerated (food poisoning can be such a drag). Remaining options? People chow. I know, most people call it puppy chow now, but the first time I ever had it was in a boy’s home in the late 80′s. It was people chow then, a play on words with puppy chow (the dog food). Sometime during the mid-90′s people started calling it puppy-chow, I’m probably just being stubborn, but I’m sticking with the name people chow & do not have any inclination at all to start eating dog food, so there it is.
Even after all the weird accomodations that had to be made, it was pretty popular—there was none leftover at all. Fun night, but I don’t know what I’m going to make for session B—I’m almost out of peanut butter.
A little quick background, the páramo is above the cloud forests, but below the tree line. It is cooler because of the altitude (a light frost at night is not uncommon), & somewhat damp. There are a lot of bogs in páramo areas. The deer in the pictures is a páramo white-tailed deer, or la chuleta, native to the area, but very rare, we were lucky to see it. Enjoy the pics!