Archive for the ‘Jim in Venezuela’ Category

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Jim: final days in Merida

August 3, 2010
With only about a week left in Mérida, I plan to spend some time getting to the places in town that I haven’t made time for yet. A few more souvenirs to pick up yet as well (most will come from the markets, too bad about fresh fruit, though). You’ll see a  few more pics in this slideshow than normal, a little bit of most of the things I’ve gotten into since coming to Venezuela. I definitely want to give Ysaac a big pat on the back! He took care of almost all of my travel arrangements while I was here, & got us into a lot of things that would not be a part of any normal tourist program. Possibly the best parts of the trip, thanks!

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.

I don’t know if I’ll be posting next week or not, it’ll be busy. A couple papers to write, a presentation to prepare, a couple more tests and I’ll be done with my study abroad term in Venezuela. I realized last night that this is the first time in twenty years that I’ve been out of Minnesota for more than a couple months at a time. It’s been great, but I’m ready to go home.
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Jim: Na’gara, todavía hay tiempo

August 1, 2010

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.

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Jim: My diet?

July 25, 2010

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
3 eggs
8 portions of soup (potato, cream, vegetables)
1 pizza
4 cups of pasta
2 cups rice
2 potatoes
8 rolls
6 arepas
butter and jelly
1 hojaldre de hamon y queso (puff pastry with ham and cheese)
2 cups oatmeal
8 cups hydrated powered milk
1 plátano
1/2 cup corn
1 avacado
1 carrot
1 tomato
1 orange
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 snickers
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.

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Jim: Where the dinosaurs are

July 20, 2010
Nothing new to post really, just looking over some of the pics from the past month or two & after considering the landscape, I wondered: ¿Why I haven’t seen any dinosaurs yet?

(click on any to see full-sized)

I’ve seen the movies, well, not all the movies, but enough to know that places that look like this are where the dinosaurs are.
Oddly enough, very little has been heard from the students who ‘allegedly’ returned to the US a couple weeks ago. Might be that something funny is going on…
I’m not saying that there has been anything unusual that was covered up or hidden from the press or anything like that (you’d need some pretty solid evidence to make a claim like that…). I’m just saying something seems funny & what little I do know all seems to point to the same thing:
(Seriously – If I’m not back by the middle of August, send a search party!)
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Jim: Monte Zerpa cloud forest

July 10, 2010

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…

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Jim: Session B & Independence Day

July 6, 2010

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…

I’ve got some writing to do & should get going, but will put in one quick video first.



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Jim: Los Llanos excursion

June 29, 2010

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.

Since it is the rainy season, there is much less dry land than the dry season, in fact, much of what would have been dry was covered in up to 3 feet of water! Because of this, it can be more difficult to find many of the animals this time of the year, although that really did not seem to be too much of a problem. Living at the camp were a macaw and an anteater—besides quite a few more traditional pets & animals that would be more familiar at home. There were cebu & burros in many places, horses & pigs too, but again, they are a little more familiar. As far as wild animals (the interesting part?), we were not disappointed there at all. We saw several caiman (even caught one!), many capybara—and this surprised me a little. I thought that capybara were somewhat rare and elusive, but we saw them fairly often, even herds of them. I guess some people think they are very tasty, but most of the people we traveled with kind of thought the idea of eating a rodent was repulsive (I would have tried it…). We also caught an anaconda. The snake we caught was about 3.5 meters, so it was noticeably bigger than the garter snakes back home, at least most of them. While on the river, the trees were full of iguanas, really full of them. Some trees would have three or four of them. I don’t know why this surprised me, I just didn’t expect to see so many big lizards in the trees. Occasionally they seemed to fall out, but I guess they would jump. I don’t know why, apparently it would be time for a dip. We saw a few different kinds of turtles & a couple fresh water dolphins, although I never did manage to get a picture of the dolphins. We also fished for piranhas. They look an awful lot like sunfish—tasted like them, too.

As usual I’ll leave you with a nice PHOTO ALBUM.

I’m sure there is more that I’m forgetting, but that’s enough for now. Feel free to comment or ask any questions.


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