Posts Tagged ‘Merida’


Sarah: ¡Feliz Día de Gracias! Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2011

I’m not sure if Venezuelan turkeys exist or not, but regardless of whether I’ll be eating turkey tonight (or just more arepas), I’m excited for my untraditional Venezuelan Thanksgiving dinner experience. This will be my first Thanksgiving away from my family, so it does make me miss them, but I’m so thankful that I’ll be coming home to them in one week! Actually, I have exactly one week left here in Venezuela as of today, because I’ll be leaving for the airport early next Friday morning. It’s hard to believe that 3 and a half months went so fast. After my classes today, I will officially begin my last weekend in Venezuela, so I definitely want to make it count!

Tonight, VENUSA (our school) is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for all of the students and their host families. Thanksgiving isn’t actually celebrated here, but they are having the dinner for us, so we can feel at home.

Some of the students went to the market yesterday (while I was studying for 2 final exams) to buy fruit for tropical fruit pies. One is piña colada, coconut and pineapple that is, and another friend of mine who loves to bake is making a guava pie. Needless to say, I’m excited for the dinner tonight…it’s going to be an adventure! I’m hoping there will be a pumpkin pie tonight too – squash and pumpkin (which are considered the same thing here) are called “calabaza” or “auyama” are pretty popular ingredients in soups, so we’ll see if someone is brave enough to transform them into a delicious home-made pumpkin pie tonight! Unfortunately I have a final paper due this morning for my politics class, and then 4 classes to attend throughout the day. That’s a total of 8 hours of class (my Thursdays are always busy) and then the dinner starts just after my last class gets out, so I have no free time for baking. 

Oh well, I guess I’ll just eat and photograph. I can handle that! It’s weird knowing that it’s Thanksgiving and I still have class…and not seeing all of my Mom’s festive decorations. But I’ll make the best of it, study the day away, and then enjoy dinner and be thankful for all of the wonderful people I’ve met here and get to spend Thanksgiving with!


Sarah: November

November 4, 2011

I can’t believe that it’s November already. I’ve been in Venezuela for 11 weeks now and I have 4 weeks to go. Since I decided that writing is some sort of “reflective therapy” for me, it’s about time that I start looking at the big picture and reflecting on my experience here in Venezuela as a whole.

I came here knowing nobody. I sat in the airport with a steaming vanilla latte in my hand, read Julie and Julia and looking up from my book every three seconds to see if the person sitting down next to me could be someone from my program. I searched for college students with lots of luggage, but no one came for a long time. Just as I was starting to panick, I saw a girl my age walking towards the gate. She was balancing tons of luggage and looked exhausted like she had been up all night packing; prime candidate. After several minutes of analyzing each other’s luggage and pondering possible flight destinations, we both smiled. I asked where she was headed and she said exactly what I wanted to hear – “Venezuela”.

And that’s how I started meeting some of the people who would have a huge impact on the quality of my experience here in Venezuela. From that moment on, had a traveling partner – someone just as clueless about what we were in for as I was. All I knew when I applied for this program and wrote my scholarship essay was that I wanted to live in another country, escape the familiarity and comfort of Minneapolis, practice a foreign language, and meet new people. So after meeting Andrea in the airport, I was finally on my way to achieving my goals.

The second person I met was Jenni. I got onto the plane and saw her sitting in a window seat a few rows ahead of me. I recognized her from her Facebook photo and introduced myself as her roommate. She recognized me too, but it wasn’t until we arrived in Miami that I really started getting to know Jenni. We stuck together from the time we stepped off the plane. We were in different hotel rooms, but decided to leave the hotel and take a taxi to Miami’s South Beach to see the ocean. As soon as we were standing there amongst the crashing waves and jellyfish, rambling on about how excited we were for the semester ahead of us, I knew we’d get along.

And the rest is history (well not history, but it would make for a novel-length blog post). Jenni and I have continued to get along and have become close friends in addition to being roommates. I guess that means I accomplished my goal of meeting new people. As far as my other goals: I have lived in and explored a foreign country, battled against my desire for the familiarity and comfort of Minneapolis, and practiced a foreign language day in and day out, at school and at home.

Venezuela has been incredible, and anything else I gain from this experience is just icing on the cake!

4 weeks left of this adventure to put icing on the cake. That, I can do.


Sarah: School

September 6, 2011

I’m in the spirit of school today, because for most students back in Minnesota, today is (once again) the first day of school. For the college freshman, it is their first first day of school. For the seniors, it may be their last first day of school. I, however, had my first day of Venezuelan school exactly 14 days ago, and nonetheless I feel like being a part of the big back-to-school hype.

I remember watching the video of my 5-year-old self getting off the school bus outside of Windom Open School on my first day of Kindergarten. I had my address and phone number memorized, and had ridden the bus all by myself. My grandpa was waiting outside with the video camera as I walked off of the bus, ready to capture my first footsteps as a “big kid”.

No matter how old you are, the first day of school always brings the same two of emotions. A little bit of nervousness and excitement to meet new friends and start a new routine. But as you get older, you also feel confident that you’ll get good grades this semester because you’ve done this before, sad because you have another year behind you, apprehensive about graduating from college, and overwhelmed with thoughts of 15 page papers and sleepless nights filled with homework and Pandora. You feel happy to see familiar faces in your classes and recognize professors, and proud that you showed up on time and prepared, with time to sip on your latte and eat your scone before the classroom fills and the professor introduces himself.

Most of all, the first day of school makes me feel excited and comfortable at the same time, and I think that’s why I’ve always liked it.

My goal here is to achieve that same sense comfortability and excitement about school. I’m starting to get there – to be comfortable in my surroundings, find my favorite coffee shops and panaderías, and my favorite hammocks to sink into during breaks between classes. As far as the excitement part goes, I’ve never had such an unpredictable and exciting semester.


Sarah: A peek at my Venezuelan life

September 2, 2011

A little bit more about my life here in Venezuela:

When I wake up in the morning, I shower, brush my teeth with purified water that’s been boiled for at least 15 minutes, and wake up my roommate, Jenni if she’s still sleeping. Then I choose one of the four t-shirts that I brought with me to wear with my favorite jeans. I slip on my black flats, pack my backpack, and let my hair air dry while I eat breakfast. When Jenni and I walk into the kitchen, Benilde, our 29 year old host sister, will already be there with two pots and two pans on the stove, all boiling or steaming or simmering with something different inside. She’ll greet us with “¡buenos dias!” and we’ll greet her back and sit down on our stools on opposite sides of the kitchen island. Benilde will set down two mugs of café con leche in front of us (a rich blend of milk, coffee, and sugar), and then put down our plates on matching orange placemats. Breakfast usually consists of arepas (a traditional Venezuelan pancake made of ground corn dough) which are sliced open when they are still warm and stuffed with ham and cheese or eggs.

When we are finished eating, we grab our backpacks and head out the door by 7:40 to make it to our 8:30 class on time. We walk along this path…

next to this lake…

to get to on this red trolley-bus.

And this is what I see outside the trolley window on my 15 minute ride to school.

I see the same colorful fences and houses and powder blue mountains on the ride home. And then I know I’m at the right stop when I see the sign on the corner that says “Museo de Ciencia y Tecnología”.

This is the museum that I live by. And this is what it looks like from across the lake.

On my way home I walk up a big hill, and this dog follows me.

I pass by the house with the crazy plant (which I always stop to look at), and the little store where I buy yogurt and apples, and I have no idea how much anything costs.

And then I walk three more blocks along the windy road until I see this gate.

Behind the gate is my house…

and this beautiful garden…

and a very interesting tree with very interesting flowers.

When I walk through the front door I pass through the livingroom…

and then flop down onto my bed.


Sarah: Andes excursion!

August 27, 2011

Yesterday my group took a trip through the Andes Mountains. Our goal was to find snow…and we did! When we woke up at 7 a.m. it was already almost 80 degrees outside and sunny. I hardly believed our group leader when she told me to bring my North Face, one of my warmest fleece jackets, but after riding on the bus for several hours I started to shiver.

We stopped on the way up the mountains at two places. First, to see this view…

and second, to take a closer look at this lonely mountainside stone church.

After that I didn’t think it could get any more beautiful…

until we got higher up in the mountains.

We finally reached a high enough elevation that we could see snow and sleet (thank you mom for the rain jacket!), and I could see my breath, so we stopped for lunch and a hot chocolate at this little mountain restaurant.

I was starving at this point and was definitely not disappointed with my meal: traditional Venezuelan soup with potatoes, mild white cheese, and cilantro

and chicken in mushroom sauce with seasoned potatoes and “arroz con vino tinto”

After eating, we continued on to our destination and finally reached the snowy peaks of the Andes!

There are really no words to describe what I saw, but what I will never forget the way I felt – thrilled, overwhelmed, a little dizzy from the elevation, and very very cold.

The Andes Mountains are now at the top of my list of most beautiful places in the world.


Mountain climbers.

Monster flowers.

Winter lake.


Rainbow hat.

All in all, it was an excessive amount of beauty to absorb in one day. I think I still feel the adrenaline.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”        – St. Augustine.

What I’m thinking right now: nothing tops traveling and seeing things you NEVER expected to witness with your own eyes.


Sarah: ¡Mérida, Venezuela!

August 25, 2011

This is me, blogging comfortably from my hammock at Venusa, the college where I am studying in Mérida. And this is one of my favorite study areas:

Beautiful, isn’t it? One of my favorite things about the school and about life in Venezuela in general is that people are so much a part of nature. The houses and schools all have areas that are open to the outdoors, like this one.

Some things that are interesting here:

They eat lots of jamón y queso (ham and cheese), the café con leche (coffee with steamed milk and sugar) is better than any Starbucks latte that I’ve ever had, and there are never hand towels in the bathrooms.

And apparently ham and corn pizza is popular at Dominoes? Who would’ve thought.

Some things that I already love, some things I still have to get used to.

My group and I arrived in Mérida on Monday night, and yesterday we took a walking tour through the city. These are my fellow travelers and the 20 people that I will be going to school with and getting to know over the next 3 months!

The architecture in Mérida is beautiful. This is a school building where they teach fine arts to children and people in the community, and the style here is very similar to many of the houses and buildings throughout the city. 

That’s all for now…more photos to come!





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.


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.


Jim: Saturday Walkabout

June 23, 2010

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!



Jim: Host family appreciation night

June 22, 2010

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.

The markets here are a little different than markets in the states. This is a very simple recipe with only four ingredients, but not quite so available here. On a recommendation, I had brought peanut butter along to Venezuela, so that was not a problem. Rice chex, or something vaguely similar did not seem like it would be too difficult to find. Wrong on that one, corn flakes were as close as I could get (yeah, I know). Semi-sweet chocolate chips? No, not here. I went with some dark chocolate bars intended for making hot cocoa. I added a little sugar & some dry milk once melted, it came out really close.

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.


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