Josh’s Venezuela Journals:

The Rants of a Traveler that Leaves Destruction in his Wake

26-Dic-06 to 14-Ene-07

Peter is ready and armed with 3 sets of snorkels and fins. I don’t know why I think this is funny, but I do. Pete, Jordan and I caltrain it down to the SJC airport. We talk with a crazy conductor whose gonna retire and move to Costa Rica. When we pull up to the Santa Clara stop the conductor, who had been chatting with us for quite a while, announces “next stop; get of if your final destination is Santa Clara or Venezuela. I repeat, all persons going to Venezuela get off at the next stop.”

SJC to LAX, mother horse f*cker, our next flight is delayed. Let me back up just a moment. Jordan explained that any colloquialism that we started using around his Venezuelan English speaking friends would be picked up on. We decided to make this the next hip Venezuelan/ English slang phrase. Anyway, the flight was delayed, but I ran into my chardonnay-drinking-in-an-Irish-pub work buddy Brent. He and his wife had an admiral’s club pass, so we all drank in style while waiting for our next plane.

LAX-MIA red eye.

Dia 2, 27 de Diciembre

Jordan meets a pretentious, but very hot Venezuelan chick at the airport (she had spotted the Venezuelan flag on his bag).

MIA-Caracas Venezuela! Ahora yo Viajo a todos los continentos excluado Antarctica (and you thought I had poor grammar and spelling in English :P). A quick FYI, my Spanish is very sloppy and if I don’t know the word, I just adapt an English word with the proper suffixes i.e. exactly, ly=mente  exactmente. Throw in a random ‘a’ and you get exactamente. Oh and for you Spanish speakers, I barely ever conjugate in anything but the present tense. Yeah it should be viajiste or something like that, but for now, I’ve found that continuous speech with bad grammar is easier for others to understand than slow broken properly spoken Spanish.

We’re fortunate enough to be lent a car by Jordan’s buddy Diego’s Dad Carlos for the whole trip. We meet Carlos and Jordan’s other fr… let’s just assume, unless otherwise told, that all the people that I bring up are Jordan’s friends. Carlos flies off to Paris and Rosanna picks us up.

Now the airport is like a 30 minute drive from the city with out traffic, but the 3 lane bridge that crosses a gorge is out of commission, so the road bottlenecks here into a one lane wide road. Now this area is surrounded by the Barrios (where the really poor people live, but somehow all seem to afford direct TV). A lot of these people try and make a living pedaling goods in the stop and go traffic. Nothin’ too special here yet. President Hugo Chavez sees this and decides to organize them (this is actually a good thing). So these peddlers of water, cell phone cases & fried pork fat are divided into 2 teams; Equipo Azul y Equipo Verde. Each team has their team color had with their personal number on it and sometimes their team color shirt too. Team blue deals with traffic leaving the airport and team green deals with those coming to the airport. Team green had much more green t-shirt solidarity and it was unanimous in the car that team green was more awesome. Unfortunately, team green and blue don’t post their net profits to generate a little friendly competition, but I’ve already been horribly insensitive enough as it is now, so I’ll stop.

A quick word on Chavez. It’s been 1 day plus what I know in the States, so here's my take. (Let’s see if I change my opinions by the end.) As we passed through the barrios I saw huge pr-Chavez posters, billboards and even banners (granted many are left over from the recent elections). When you talk to any Venezuelan with some money (~20% of the population) they hate Chavez. The country is way more polarized here than we are in the US over Bush. Chavez is, in my opinion and the opinion of many of the opposition, a Castro Jr. The stuck up Venezuelan in MIA described Chavez as “selling illusions to the poor.” I like the analogy. Chavez is slowly garnering more power, i.e. after 3 years of his first 4 year term he changes the constitution to make the presidential term 7 years. Conveniently this also resets he’s time in office making his first term 10 years. He’s now working on changing the constitution to remove the maximum number of terms a president can have, paving the way for a Castroesque quasi-dictatorship. The congress is primarily pro-Chavez and they vote along party lines, so there are almost no checks and balances. To his credit, the media is still free, though Chavez is beginning to apply some oppressive pressure. He’s also working on land grabs and certain governmental monopolies, but I don’t know too much about the details. So I’ve mentioned some bad things, but Chavez is all about the poor and he’s the first president to help them; giving land and some aid. All of this is in line, of course, with socialist principals. He has enacted squatter’s rights. He has encouraged everyone to read and learn about the constitution, but other than that he has not focused on educating the poor. So my basic take is that he’s trying to maneuver a basically democratic nation into more of a socialist nation because that’s what he thinks is best for the nations. Along the way, the poor, ~ 80% of the populous, get helped out, and he and his cabinet can skim a little off of the top to own Ferrari’s. Do the ends justify the means? I don’t think so. I think there are much better solutions that lie in between Chavez and the opposition. Venezuela is somewhere between the 3rd and 5th largest oil producer in the world. With natural resources like that there should be enough to go around. And, unless governmental social aid is in the form of education, the poor will always stay essentially poor… oh that reminds me of this T-shirt I saw that says “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will spend all day in a boat with his buddies drinking beer.”

After my Israel-Egypt trip, which was very, very educational, I promised myself that I’d have more fun and less education on my next trip. Enter Bernardo, who greets us by flippin’ Jordan off. He tells me immediately that all I have to know is “de Pinga” (It’s cool). He works & co-owns one of the 3 premier recording studios in Venezuela. We got an awesome tour. He quizzes me; “ Josh, que paso?” “De pene,” I reply. Jordan Bernardo, and his brother Gabriel crack up. I just said “of penis.” But it’s all good; I said it once, but we’ve got them saying mother horse f*cker quite a bit.

We cruise to Bernardo’s moms where we’re staying. She’s a sweet-heart and cooks us traditional Venezuelan Christmas time comida. We bestow upon them a random smattering of gifts that Jordan claims they can’t get here: 6 bars of Ghirardelli chocolate, cinnamon toast crunch, a variable measuring spoon, cheese it’s (though Jordan was supposed to get Cheetos), Sees candy, fancy hand lotion, and (my pick) Cookie crisp cereal.

Off to Jordan’s old neighborhood to get a ridge level view down on the city at night. We ran into a couple that Bernardo knew here and we chatted with them. I held my own all in Spanish for un medio hora, mas o menos. It was cool, but taxing. Off to a party.

Turns out Bernardo’s friends party was a 17 year old girls birthday party. I know, I know, 17 es un poco viejo para mi. Me gusta mejor las chicas que son menos de quince anos. We sat at the big kids table with Bernardo’s friends. I danced Marange with Lilia. I danced to reggae, after much “encouragement” from our friends (because who the hell partner dances to reggae?) with Liz. Then, Sara be proud of me, I taught Lilia how to Lindy hop. She caught on quick too.

We drank & had Jell-O shots, then 7 of us rocked over to Casa de arrepas, which are basically sandwiches with bread kinda like dense pitas. Then off to bed at ~4 am.

Dia 3, 28 de Diciembre

This day shows the dawdling that Jordan assures me is one of the building blocks of the Venezuelan life style. We’re sittin’ on 2 ½ grand for the three of us for the whole trip in US dollars. Why? Because the official exchange rate is 2100 Bolivares/$ and the black market rate is listed at 3300-3400.

Of note, the black market rate is loosely set by a website which shows how much Venezuela’s telephone company is trading in the international stock market. The ration of bolivares/share to $/share is the free market exchange rate. Now the black market basically amounts to calling a bunch of people up and trying to wheel and deal. Our original contact, which we were supposed to exchange with bailed, so we were scrambling. Bernardo lent us some money in the interim, but we needed to exchange our cash soon. We wandered around the city a bit while we waited on call backs. We also relied heavily on Bernardo’s Saint of a mother to work her connections. After several failed attempts, Bernardo’s friend Pedro came over saying that his dad wants to buy, but after 30 minutes of discussion it was decided that 2900-3000 b/$ wasn’t good enough. This discussion transitioned into drinks and into empty bottles and then to a supermarket run and more drinks. Rosanna and a neighbor wandered over… In the end five hours had passed, we mumbled a bunch about logistics, but mostly good ol’ fashion bullshit.

Midnight rolls around and Pedro takes us to a 5 star hotel for dinner, which is on the house because his dad had connections. We also learn that due to Venezuela’s extreme proximity to Columbia, a small vial of c0caine costs 5000 Bolivares or $1.70. We realized just how profitable drug cartelling can be. We head out and pay parking. It costs 5000 Bolivares. That’s right we chose parking for an hour over some of Colombia’s finest (and I ain’t talking about Juan Valdez). [Disclaimer: no illegal drugs were taken during the course of this trip.]

We cruised up to Guillermo’s house (a dude from yesterday) Where there was a small party. His Brother Gabriel was a wicked crazy magician. His best trick was this card trick/prediction thing. He had Pete pick a card, I thought of a 4 legged animal, Bernardo picked a picked a piece of sporting equipment and its price tag and Pete also thought of a famous person. Gabriel whips out this little bag that says predictions, pauses to explain for like the 10th time “I’m a f*cking Magician!!!” He pulls out a piece of paper and asks Pete who the famous person was. “Nicole Kidman”. “Amazing, I have here, a picture of her at 2 months old!” “Josh, what animal were you thinking about?” “A giraffe”. “A f*cking Giraffe!” (this line would be repeated in jest many times over the course of the trip.) He unfolds the paper a little to reveal a wide rectangle with a triangle attached to the front of it (a head), 4 backwards “L’s” for feet and a squiggly tail.

“A f*cking Giraffe! Applause, Applause!,” Gabriel exclaimed. “Bernardo, what sporting-good item were you thinking about and how much did it cost?” “ A soccer ball for 60,000 Bolivares.” “Amazing!” < unfolds the prediction paper again.> “I have right here the bar code for a 60,000 Boli soccer ball!” Then he finishes off the trick by picking Pete’s card.

The party wayned and then someone got a hold of a laptop and started playing TV show/ movie theme songs. Sara, you’d be very happy to know that we rocked out to Saved by the Bell and Full House. We went home ~ 4 and got ready for the beach the next day.

Dia 4, 29 de Diciembre

Yeah we slept through our alarm and woke up at noon. On the up side, we managed to secure dinero. I’d like to take a minute to discus two phrases que estan uniquo a Venezuela. “De bolas,” literally translated means “of balls,” but it means “of course.” And “De Pinga” which I already mentioned means “it’s cool,” but literally translates to “of Penis” and that just doesn’t make any friggin’ sense. We bummed around the city, ate, counted hot Venezuelan women, went to the mall and some other B.S., but nothing note worthy.

Dia 5, 30 de Diciembre

We actually wake up early and go to la playa. We pass through Equipo Verde territory and pass through the tunnel that goes through the massive northern mountain range “El Avila” that separates the north of Caracas from the Caribbean.

Drinking and driving is legal here, so we all grab a beer (minus Peter) and cruise east. The beaches are very chill. They’re abutted up against the mountains which are spilling over with foliage. Just like one would expect, there are a couple of ghetto lookin’ stands that sell beer, cheap fried emenadas, and provide a little shade.

For some wonderful reason, every chica Venesolano wears a thong when going to the beach. That made doing nothing even more enjoyable. We went beach hoping. The next beach that we looked for, la playa Osma, was right by a small town, but we couldn’t find the entrance to the beach. Finally Jordan spotted a narrow path that dead ended a few meters later at a 10 meter wide, ½ meter deep river. He turned down the path. I informed him politely, what the F was he doing, the road clearly dead ends at the river. He ignored me and plunged full speed ahead into the river. I didn’t know what the heck was going on until I saw across the river and down stream there was the rest of the road. Thank God for SUV’s. Later I found that this was not uncommon. In fact, when we left I saw a car parked in the middle of another section of the river. People were just kickin it there havin’ a beer by their car. All of Jordan’s friends pride themselves in the freedom that their nation provides them. So there you go.

Bernardo got tanked. He brought a big Keg/thermos thing and filled it with a fifth of rum and Pepsi. Jordan and I had a couple sips, but Bernardo took the brunt of it. So at 3 in the afternoon, as we were driving home, Bernardo was smashed for no reason. He removed his head rest, put it at his feet and then demanded that Peter give it back to him. He provided the entertainment in Equipo Azul trafico as we headed back the same way we had com from when we got picked up from the airport.

We took an all important nap and then off the Carolina’s house. This Chica had studied Poli-Sci in Huston, then became disillusioned with the political process in Venezuela. (Who’d have guessed that would happen to a person with scruples.) Now she’s going back to school for a degree in systems engineering, lord knows why . Her real passion is art restoration. She smokes like a chimney and was a compulsive shopper at supermarkets. Quite an eclectic lady. We kicked it at her house then turned in early (~12) so we could get up early and climb Mt. Avila (the 8000 ft tall mountain range that we drove through this morning).

Dia 6, 31 de Diciembre

This was a 25 hour day and the best one to date. We dragged our butts up early and Jordan, Pete and I hit the trail head by 7. Now El Aviala is only a 7 km hike, but it’s 1 ½ km up. After the first 35 minutes we hit a workout spot. Apparently Venezuelans love hiking this small section of the mountain, then exercising. They had 4 dip bar/ pull-up bar/ push-up handle metal frame works and two planks for sit-ups. I grabbed a quick 5-10 min workout on the way up and on the way down. Pete carried 16 lb of top notch camera equipment up the hill and got some sweet shots. The foliage changed from deep jungle, to lots of bamboo, to shrubs and flowers and ferns as we ascended. It reminded me a lot of my Mt. Kinabalu climb in Borneo. Every clearing that we passed yielded a great view of the whole city. You could see how the city started off as a small east west city and then spilled out like a can of paint to the south, with buildings filling out the cracks between the hills of Caracas.

Jordan gave me a geography lesson and the individual spots that we had visited; Bernardo’s house, Jordan’s old house, the mall, the main stretch of restaurants, the huge hotel that got shut down by Chavez after the 2002 coup attempt because it housed opposition Generals who plotted the coup, the Tamanaco hotel where we had dinner with Pedro, Carolina’s house, Guiermo’s house, the huge Johnny Walker Black Android ad. The city began to weave itself together in my mind like a detailed tapestry.

We got to the top and had lunch by a large white cross that can be seen from the city below. We could see the northern side of the mountains; the beach communities where ~70,000 had lost their lives in the great flood of 1999. But, Caracas was completely enshrouded en nubios. We napped for two hours in the hopes that these clouds would burn off, but to no avail. On the plus side, naps are awesome.

Half way down we breached the cloud cover and were rewarded with some fantastic views of the city. Plus, later on, well take a cable car, “el Avila Magica” to the top of a different peak where the clouds will hopefully not be.

On a quick aside, friggin’ every other person who was exercising on Mt. Avila had a Caracas Nike 10k race technical T-shirt. It turns out that dri-fit shirts are hard to come by here. So, if you did the race and got that shirt, you wore it ‘till you could no longer stand the stench. None the less, I was pleased to see that running was invading Venezuelan culture. (I say invading because all of the race shirts were 05 or 06 shirts.)

We got to the bottom and Pete bought a grapefruit Gatorade which he’s now in love with for a buck 25, more than our tank of gas yesterday. Did I mention that gas is 12 friggin’ cents a gallon (not liter, gallon). I can’t remember if I already mentioned that gas is 12 cents a gallon here, but gas is 12 cents per gallon. That means that you can fill your tank here for what it costs for half a gallon in the US. We came back home and, you guessed it; took a nap. Did I mention gas is 12 cents/galloon.

Up at 9 pm and time to get some illegal fireworks. The fireworks stands are conveniently located next to the Illegal burned DVD’s.

I was told not to speak cause they’d spot the gringo and then Jordan and Jesus would not be able to bargain effectively. So I wondered off the DVD section. I was looking forward to getting tons of DVD’s before I left, but to my horror, I discovered that todo de los DVD’s estan en espanol. Es possible que alguno do los DvD’s estan en ingles con sutitulos en espanol, pero no se. They did have “Calle Sesame con Elmo.” That was great.

We ended up getting 100,000 bolivars in rockets, boom sticks, phosphorescents, cellabitos (little onions) and crazy spinning color fire thing’s. We took our bounty and cruised over to Bernardo’s uncle’s place.

In Venezuela new years is a time for celebration. Midnight is the beginning of the festivities instead of the culmination. Dinner doesn’t even start ‘till after midnight. There are no centralized fireworks organized by the city, but rather fireworks coming from all directions, starting as early as… well honestly people had been lighting fireworks off since to Venezuela, but they really ramped up around 11:30 and began to taper around 2 or 3.

Oh I forgot to mention that post naps and pre-fireworks purchasing, I found out that Gabriel, the middle brother, got a 4 year full ride soccer scholarship to any of 100’s of colleges of his choice. He was selected as part of a group of 7 of 800 applicants. I haven’t seen him play, but he must be nasty. In addition, he has an 18 year old girlfriend who is smokin’. She’s the one in the leopard print dress in the new years picts.

Anyway, we cruise to la casa del tio de Bernardo. ~20 people were there and almost all the kids my age spoke some English. But, it seemed to amuse them to hear me speak Spanish. The loved my Spanish rendition of the Saturday night live skit/song “What I’m getting you for Christmas!”

Paso uno: Abrir un hueco en la caja

Step one: cut a whole in the box

Paso dos: Pone su pinga en la caja

Step two: put your junk in the box

Paso tres: hacerla abrir la caja

Step three: make her open that box

 We played some fireworks kickball; where you throw a lit fire cracker at someone and they kick it and try and time it so it explodes in the air. We launched some rockets too. At midnight everyone hugged and wished each other una feliz ano Nuevo. It was so warm; I just met most of these people two hours ago and they embraced me like I was part of the family.

Myra, the extremely wonderful mother of Bernardo, who has been housing and cooking for us, even said now you have a mother in Venezuela. A couple of the cousins, Corina, who’s a professional dancer & Rodrigo who once went to a party and woke up the next day with a red thong in his pocket, made me promise to give them a call and hang out again when I get back from the jungle. (We’re going to the jungle for 7 days.)

1:30 and we cruised to the next party. We were invited to 4 parties after this family one, but we only ended up making it to these two.

Victors house was sweet. He had an indoor basketball court and 100’s of thousands of boli’s worth of firework rockets. I got to practice my Spanish quite a bit with a little bit of help from my friend Johnny walker black (which, Adi, is like the national drink here). I talked to this guy who had who had brought a hookah back from Israel for quite some time. We exchanged Marange tips and commiserated about the difficulties of learning another language.

I also got to talk to Victor, the owner of the home at length about Venezuelan live and Spanish conjugation. And, of course, I got to do a little dancing.

When we emerged, the sun had risen and we had been up for 25 hours. The Venezuelan sky was thick with firework smoke.

Oh I forgot to mention that at Victor’s house I played the former Xylophone of Tito Puente. I realized at that moment, that I had no idea how to play the Xylophone.

Dia 7, 1 de Enero

We slept most of the day. Today is recuperation, internet, laundry, and getting ready for the jungle manana. Oh and the internet connection is at Bernardo and Gabriel’s recording studio. I may have mention that Bernardo (26), Gabriel (23) and their financial backer Victor own a top notch recording studio. If I wasn’t musically retarded, I’d totally be jammin’ with Pete, Jordan, Bernardo and Gabriel right now. Cest la Vi. They can play, I can dance (kinda), it’s a wash in the end…

We spend the rest of the evening screwing around in the recording studio, playing 80’s music and again with the guess the 80’s T.V. show theme song game. I guess that’s a thing here. But friggin’ everything sounds great in this room. These are far and away the best speakers and the most acoustically ideal room that I’ve ever had the pleasure of listing to/being in. From John Walters rendition of Zelda, to thriller, to 99 red balloons, to Scooby Doo, it all sounds sweet!

Dia 8, 2 de Enero

We wake up ridiculously early to catch our 7am flight. The cabby rocks one salsa song and then midnight train to Georgia and then he switches to Regeaton and cranks it up way high. (Regeaton, for those that don’t know, is a guttural, primal, base-centric music that is best described by Peter as “Doong Tcha-Dun-Tcha! Doong Tcha-Dun-Tcha!” It’s pitch black, no one’s on the road, we’re half asleep and all we hear and feel is Doong Tcha-Dun-Tcha! Doong Tcha-Dun-Tcha! For the next half an hour. It was strangely awesome.

I forgot to mention that in the traditional Venezuela procrastinatory nature, our black market money changing contact was paying us in installments and had been late on the last two payments. Our next 7 days were all expense paid, but that doesn’t include, snacks beer, souvenirs and beer. So, we had like $60 between the three of us for the next 7 days.

On the way to the plane I strike up a conversation with an Indian Venezuelan guy. It turns out that he’s friends with one of my co-workers, Arun Banerji. Weird.

We touch down in the middle of the country at Puerto Ordaz and start that day’s 650 km Journey to the Brazilian Border. Our travel companions are a daughter and mother with a picture of her daughter on her shirt, or Equipo shopping (pronounced chopping) as they would later appropriately be dubbed. And Equipo NASA, an electrical engineer from Caracas and his wife, who were both sporting Kennedy Space Center NASA hats.

The first day was not heavy on the sight seeing, rather heavy on the driving. We did check out an awesome bridge that was architected by Ifle (of the Ifle tower). It crossed this brown river with Jungle on either side. You look out on this wide calm river of mud flanked with jungle on each bank and the word that resonates in my brain was tranquilo.

We hauled butt down south and stopped by the Virgin rock. You know how you always hear about super religious people seeing the Virgin Mary in their potato chips; it was kinda like that, but a big-ass rock with a superb view of the jungle.

I must say that I’ve never seen so many SUV’s in my life as I’ve seen on this trip. This trek is apparently very popular among Venezuelan tourists. Oh and they all have where they’re coming from and their destination and maybe some random phrase on their back window. Some small carvans made up a team name and sported that on their car too.

We cruised on through the Gran Sabana. (I’ll let you Google translate that one.) It was wide open and Savanaey, but it also had random palm trees springing up everywhere.

Quick aside, I just remembered that Bernardo added a 4th step to los tres pasos: paso quarto- Hacerla chupe el regalo.

Anyway, we drove through this small town up some crazy bumpy road to a wonderful little mom and pop hotel where we’d spend the next 2 nights. They fed us well here.

Dia 9, 3 de Enero

Off to Brazil. So to get into Brazil you need to show official proof of yellow fever immunization. I was cocky and lazy and didn’t bring mine. Jordan had the shot 5 years ago and lost his certificate. Our master plan was to have the six people with proof of immunization pass their document to the border check chica all at once and hope that she had an inability to count above six. Miraculously it worked. She really did look like she was counting heads, but kept loosing track… But maybe that’s just my imagination.

So we kick it in a Brazil border town with tons of tourist stores. We can’t buy any of their useless crap due to our financial constraints, though I was tempted to buy a machete.

We wandered to the slummy residential sector. Pete & Jordan were uncomfortable going deeper in, but I was curious. About a block and a half in, a dog runs at a fence and starts barking at me. I stop for a moment and then remember that he’s behind a fence, and keep walking. Then I also remember that I’m in South America and that they don’t have gate locks or even close their gates. The dog runs down the fence and shoots out of the gate barking at full volume. I backed away. He advanced. I stopped. He stopped. And Repeat. Eventually he pushed me a half block back, so I gave up and put my tail between my legs and headed back. I had been regulated upon.

Jordan and I grabbed a Brazilian beer and milled about until it was time to leave.

Back across the Venezuelan border where there was no security; we didn’t even have to stop. We drove up to a couple of picturesque waterfalls. This is where we discovered that the kind of Venezuelans that drive 4x4’s and go camping are also the kind that drink under waterfalls and scream for absolutely no reason for absurdly long periods of time. The most elite of these camper champions also poo in the middle of the trail. US park rangers would have had a cow. But this ain’t my house, so as a tourist it was all kinda funny.

We also saw this very cool waterfall/stream that went over this red rock called Jasper. The river looked like it ran red with blood.

Somewhere in there we had lunch and Peter and Jordan played some futbol with the local Pemon (native Venezuelan) kids. As my suckiness in futbol is so great that it can not be measured by any scale known to man, I stayed on the sidelines. Pete got schooled by a ten year old who kicked the ball right between is legs; a move known as el tunnelcito.

Fast forward. Back at la hacienda we enjoyed another delicious home cooked meal. Meanwhile we were entertained by local kids in the same room where were playing PS1’s Bloody Roar II. We bantered for an hour about how Pete felt that Mayonnaise is pure evil and represents all that is unholy and ungodly in this universe.

Dia 10, 4 de Enero

I don’t’ know when during the trip, but Jordan informs me that here you can call someone by their job or physical attributes like “hey gas pumper” or “hey rubio (Blondie)” or “hey Negro” or “hey Gordo.” I didn’t believe that last one, but Jordan insisted with the caveat that you don’t call a woman that. For the rest of the trip I called our driver Gordito (an affectionate version of Gordo). The first time he heard it he ignored me, then, upon realizing that I was referring to him, he straight up laughed at me. When he could compose himself he managed to respond by addressing me as flacito (derived from flaco: skinny).

We went off-roading, boating and hit up a big ol’ waterfall, though still 1/10th the height of Angel falls, which we’ll see in a couple of days.

Along the way, some Venezuelan dud bought a blow dart souvenir and fired it into his buddy’s butt cheek; just proving that Jackassery did not spawn and spread from American culture, as sum anthropologists hypothesize, but rather it was independently developed from all nations around the globe.

Oh and I continue to make people laugh through my egregious misuse of Spanish phrases.

We also stopped off to see people collecting red ants. These suckers are huge. I was informed that they were collecting these ants to make the picante sauce that I had been drenching my food in the last several days. Apparently the name of the sauce loosely translates to “hot sauce from the big butted ant.” Next time I used the sauce, Jordan pointed out an unpulvarized leg. All I can say is that ant-eaters know where it’s at.

Off to our Pemon run hotel where electricity gets shut off at 10 and we get candles for our late night needs.

Dia 11, 5 de Enero

Today was the long drive back to the airport. It was reasonably uneventful. We did get to see a big mountain called the sleeping Indian off in the distance that looked like a dude lying down with a big nose. I laid down in the foreground and Jordan lined me up and took a picture of me super imposed on the mountain. For once my big shnoz came in handy; providing entertainment for all our travel compatriots.

Pete and Jordan played another short futbol game with some Pemon kids in a random village that we stopped in because the esposa in Equipo NASA was car sick.

In this little pueblo an adorable little boy and girl held up a rope across the road and forced oncoming cars to stop and then asked them for toll money. It wasn’t very effective since the boy kept dropping the rope, but people seemed amenable to the idea of throwing a couple of B’s their way.

We got dropped off at our hotel in the evening by El Gordito and said our goodbyes. An hour later weight was lifted off our respective shoulders when we successfully managed to extract dinero from the ATM (using Diego’s card and account that he had given us in the states for emergency use). There’s no night life in this town so we celebrated by going to the Farmatodo (pharmacy-everything), abierto 24 horas and getting beers and then retiring to our room where we watched El Simpons en espanol y Justica Ciega, literally translated as blind justice, or for those with a keener understanding of the Spanish language, translates to Boston Legal.

We had to get up earlyish for an 8am vuelo… Or a flight that was advertised as an 8am flight, so we crashed.

As a side note, I mentioned earlier that gas here is 12 cents per gallon. That’s for premium 95 octane gas; higher quality than even exists commercially in the U.S. Their low-grade unleaded gas is 91 Octane, the same as our premium, and costs 8.5 cents/gallon. And just so you can see how much gas is governmentally subsidized in Venezuela, just across the border in Brazil, gas is like $1.30 / gallon.

Dia 12, 6 de Enero

We get up early as planned and get to the airport at 7:15 for our 8 am flight. The Canaima tours rep, Cesar, tells us that the flight is actually scheduled for 8:30 and that the 8am in our tour package was a misprint. Later, as we’re waiting, Cesar tells us that we were waiting for two other passengers and their flight was delayed on hour from Caracas. We’re a little annoyed, but this is a small 6 seater Cesna, so it’s not unexpected. The Caracas flight arrives, and everyone gets their bags and Cesar doesn’t come get us. We hunt him down and tell him that the flight he said we were waiting for has arrived and when are we going to go. He then changed his tone again and admitted that he didn’t actually know which flight the other passengers were on. Then he tells us, in an effort to appease, that we’ll leave even without the other passengers. Great, we were a little steamed, but an hour and a half delay isn’t unheard of by any means. But, there was a “but.” But, there was a delay in Canaima, Cesar, informed us. Our plane needed to come to this airport (Puerto Ordaz) from Canaima, and due to rain (we later found out that the weather had been sunny and nice all day in Canaima), was only allowed to leave recently. The plane was in the air as we speak and would be here soon. The flight is 50 minutes, so we patiently waited. An hour went by and then 2. We’re really pissed now, so Jordan lay’s into the guy. It turns out, or so Cesar claims, that his supervisor wouldn’t tell Cesar why the flight was late, but that he instructed Cesar to tell us the aforementioned lies (as explicitly admitted by Cesar). He hemmed and hawed for the next 45 minutes and made one more promise of a departure < 25 min which he couldn’t keep, but eventually we were off. This was a bad way to start a three day trek with this company.

Two thirds of the way into the flight my temper was mollified by the awesome views below of the famed Venezuelan table tops or Tepuys as the local’s called them. Tepuys are vast chunks of jungle that are raised 100’s or 1000’s of meters from the jungles below. They look as if some deity reached down and lifted a piece of jungle straight up, leaving a kilometer of shear stone face.

We landed at the Canaima airport, or more accurately, a landing strip, souvenir store and bathroom. I immediately felt more at home. We were not surrounded by drunken Venezuelans chanting foto foto foto! Their were some actual travelers with backpacks. I was getting excited. A Pemon kid led us down the road to the beach by some hotels and I thought that this is pretty good, but no, it got way better. He leads us into a boat and we jet across a lake and as we go, we pass three awesome waterfalls that we had passed while flying into Canaima. Each one was as cool as the best waterfall that we saw in La Gran Sabana. We arrive at the other side of the lake. There, by the beach is one of the three waterfalls and just inland is our hotel. It consisted of 4 bathrooms, a kitchen, a shade structure filed with hammocks in lieu of beds, a couple scattered tables and benches, palm trees and a cooler of $ 1.25 beers.

Our companions for the afternoon were significantly more our age than at la Gran Sabana. Their were 2 Itilianons, 3 Alemanians (who spoke English, hazah!), 2 beautiful Venezuelan girls and the husband of one of the Venezuelans.

It's around 2:30. Pete, Jordan and I scarf down some lunch & then we all head off on a 2 hour hike.

Quick cultural aside. The default supplement for juice here is Tang.

Our first stop is the awesomest waterfall to date. In the background Tapuys loom overhead to the right. a slow stream widens and shallows. It spreads until it is only a few cm deep and coats a vast flat cascade of rocks covered in moss & vegetation. To the left is an overlook right be for the flat rock breaks at 90 degrees, below is a tranquil river and a sand bar. And straight ahead, below the waterfall, is a vast plain with tropical grasses and spars palm trees sprinkled everywhere.

It looked like a frigin' lost world... but I wasn't the only one to think that. Arthur Conan Doyel would have agreed. In fact, this landscape was the inspiration for his book "the lost world." I asked if that book inspired Michael Chrichton. It probably did, but this landscape most certainly did. Part of Jurassic park was filmed here: the part with the dinosaurs running in the planes. Oh yeah, my belief in the beauty of this place had been validated by Hollywood.

We wandered down to an area halfway down the waterfall where there was a ledge where water pooled. We swam and rock climbed against the waterfall. I did not slip & break anything, so I considered that a success.

We hiked down to our last waterfall of the day where we encountered a gaggle of Japanese. I believe that's the proper terminology. Maybe you think I'm racist, but through my travels, the Japanese are the only nationality that I've seen that travel in packs of like 50. Like other gaggles that I've encountered, they trek to picturesque locations that are not far from modern conveniences and/or transportation. This meant two things. One, we were nearish to our hotel. Two, this was gonna be beautiful. And it was. This waterfall went over and underhang that had a path where you could walk. It looked like the waterfall that the Last Mohichan ran behind in the last of the Mohichans... And for good reason: it was.

We descended and traversed to the sandbar near the first waterfall. I swam across the river to the palm tree plains. I imagined what is was like for the graceful Velociraptors, brontosauruses and pachicephilosaureses who ran across the plains on which I was standing not 12 years ago during filming. They ran, take after take, on a day not unlike today, to provide us with high quality entertainment. And through their tireless and selfless efforts to enrich mankind's culture they became exhausted and eventually succumbed to extinction.

I returned to the sandbar to be greeted by a clod of sand on my shoulder thrown by Jordan. I ran towards him back into the river. He turned, took several steps, and then flung himself sideways into the water 10 feet in front of me. I was confused, but later found out that it was a miserable attempt to trip me… though I do applaud his effort.

Back at the Hammocktel, I had beers with the Germans. In 7th grade that liked David Hastlehoff. They didn’t understand why I found that so funny… Norm McDonald would have understood.

I danced Marange with the single Venezuelan girl, Consuela, who had great rhythm, but was the worst back-leader in the history of back-leading. She insisted on turning me and would literally arm wrestle me when I tried to turn her.

I had an interesting chat with Rick, Carmela’s husband. I found out that she works at a gentleman’s club. This explains a certain physical discrepancy between sisters which is normally less drastic due to its hereditary nature. The pictures speak for themselves.

There was Spanish hour which consisted of Peter speaking short phrases and Consuela mocking my Spanish accent every time that I spoke.

Peter took a 45 minute exposure of the waterfall and the stars using Efi’s hair scrunchy to keep his aperture open. The earth turned and the stars streaked 12 degrees. The waterfall shone as if by daylight. 

Oh and we saw an 8 inch Praying Mantis in the Bathroom.

Bedtime in the Hammocks after a peaceful, but sadly solo, beach stroll.

Dia 13, 7 de Enero

We all part ways after a heated debate about Chavez. The discussion reverted from English to Spanish in no time at all. Makes sense though. Heated debate; you need all of your descriptive tools to aid you. I gleamed the same stuff that I felt I knew in the beginning. Chavez helps the poor, but subtly, or maybe not so subtly, steals power which is scary.

Unlike Cesar, our Pemon guides, who wore NY Yankees and Boston Red socks hats, respectively, were very timely. We left for Angle falls (the longest waterfalls in the world at 1 Km) at 10 am. We cruised up stream in a wooden canoe ghetto rigged with a motor. It was dry season, we had to go up rapids. The first time we attempted to go up a small waterfall we failed and the faction of the boat who had come to Canaima via Rustica (4x4) chanted “Otro Vez! Otro Vez” (One more time! One more time!). We kicked half the boat out and tried again with a lighter load. The rest of the five hour journey was like this with us getting to get out and push quite a few times.

I practiced my Spanish with Daniel who loves Toyota and tells me that it’s Venezuelan culture to have girlfriends in different cities, but one main one that you go home to.

For those that remember my Taman Negara river picts, this was a lot like that, but the river was red and black instead of pitch black. There was jungle on either side and Tapuys towering right next to us.

We passed the rocks called “The face of Simon Bolivar,” “Los Quatro Heroes (or Dioses),” and “Rockas del Sol” (2 huge Tapuys with a valley in between them where the sun apparently rises. Finally we docked and began a 56 minute trek, according to the prediction of our punctual guide, to Salto Angel.

An hour or so later our day’s trek was rewarded abruptly by a clearing, a small ledge really, that yielded the best view of the trip. To the right was a towering lonesome Tapuy enshrouded in clouds. To its left was a wall where jungle had formed. A valley separated our ledge from that jungle. Straight ahead and up was Salto Angel. It is dry season, so the falls were a trickle compared to the summer, but still quite impressive. Sheets of water became dispersed showers and then clouds and then wisps of Vapor. The vapor condensed 1 Km below and formed a river. The river generated a much shorter waterfall surrounded by jungle, terminating in a pool and then becoming a stream. To the left were more shear cliffs with a smattering of trees struggling to grow in cracks and crevasses.

Most of the group headed back after an hour, but 6 of us (our crew and the Rustica guys) stayed until the sun got low: just soaking it all in. Unfortunately the sun did get low and on the way back, peter stopped every 20 stops to get up his tripod and snap a long exposure shot. By the time we got to the river it was dark and the boat had already crossed to the other side. So, we got to ford the waist high river in the dark. Our only light was the moon. The ground was slippery and there were occasional holes that had to be dodged. The current was moderately swift. We were carrying our cameras with the whole trips pictures on them, so the stakes were high on not falling. It made al the more exciting. Pete cleverly used his tripod as a walking staff and we all made it across slowly, but safely. Very cool indeed.

We retired for the night at a little camp in hammocks again. This evening was decidedly worse for sleep due to the handful of snoring walruses in the group.

Dia 14, 8 de Enero

Salimos. We were the lead boat this time. I was mesmerized by the reflections of the jungle and the Tapuys in the still stretches of the river.

I had a nice Spanish chat with a girl from Spain that started off with me asking her if she wanted the trip instead of liked the trip. I ended up finding out that she had a ski cabin in the alps and that she’d like to visit California sometime. She had family that lives near Disneyland, but she’s afraid to stay with them because they are alcoholics. Last time she saw them she was 15 and they were driving her somewhere when one of them had an acid flashback. Then again, my Spanish is kinda spotty, so I could have botched the story a bit. But I like my version.

Anyway, it’s 1:30 and we get back to near the airport. But our bags are on the other side of the lake and our tour had promised us lunch, which is only at the other side of the lake. We could have asked them to bring our bags to us in the next 15 minutes, but Jordan makes the executive decision that since we had to wait for the plane on the way here, they’d have to wait for us on the way back. Sounds fair. We hitch a ride on a motor canoe to our old Hammocktel and demand lunch and that they radio the airport and tell the plane to wait for us. They’re happy to oblige. We finish lunch a little after our plane was scheduled to depart and then take a boat back to the airport. The plane is waiting for us.

Off we go, but east instead of North to our destination. My that river and those Tapuys seem familiar. The pilot has decided to double our flight time to give us a fly-by of Angel Falls. Money! We started taking pictures and this crazy French guy who, image this, hates Bush, opens the window at 4000 ft. The window flaps up violently (being sucked upwards by the wind). He says “oops” with a grin and sticks his camera out the window for a clear shot. The pilot shoots Frenchie a glance, then shrugs and keeps on flying. We get to Salto Angel and the pilot heads on a collision course for the middle of the falls. About 100 meters away we go into a 45 degree bank, coming within 100 ft of the falls before we level out. That just happened!

We head back the way we came, but we seem to be veering more north this time. To the right we see Puerto del Sol or Rockas del Sol or something like that; the two huge Tapuys separated by a U-shaped valley where the sun supposedly rises, which we had passed on boat ride up. Clouds nestle themselves in the valley between these two massive land extrusions. The plane drifts in that direction. I lean over to the Frenchman, who had been talking with the pilot, and asked him if we were going in between the Tapuys. he grinned. We got closer and closer and then went into the mist and the Tapuys on either side of us vanish. Everything is white. Moments later we bank hard left and the back of the left Tapuy comes into view. That just happened! Oh, and I got videos of both the Salto Angel and Rockas del Sol Avion maneuvers.

The rest of the day was spend getting back to Caracas and Bernardo’s place.

Dia 15, 9 de Enero

In the morning Jordan had to deal with the bureaucracy of the bank. The Bank tellers, from what I heard, had all the sunny demeanor of our lovely DMV employees. Then he had to ford 3 hours of traffic to endure an obligatory visit to a black sheep aunt who subjected him t her piano playing. Pete and I kicked it in the finest recording studies that you can find in Venezuela that run by such complete douche bags (Bernardo and Gabriel) :-P.

In the afternoon we went over to a quaint tourist town, Batillo. I purchased Cuban and Venezuelan Cigars and received a Caja original de Habana por los Cigaros Romeo y Julieta. We drove around a mountain twice to find a good spot for Pete to take a pict of the city by night. Not 20 meters away was a group of bicyclists who were doing drugs. We would return here early in the morning the next day because Pete wanted another pict in the early morning light… yeah… well in fairness to him, his pictures are very nice and he did bring like $4000 in camera equipment.

We stopped back off in the studio and recorded Pete saying some dumb stuff. It was a tue night, so nothing was going on. We dicked around a little and then went to bed…

Oh yeah, yesterday we saw a great Engrish shirt. Some dude had a Ferrari shirt that said: “Ferrari special car for careers in hints of high speed, as it grabs precise in the four tires.”

Dia 16, 10 de Enero

We wake up early, drive 20 minutes to take another picture of Caracas.

Jordan spent the next 3 hours with bank B.S. Let me explain. We thought that we’d have extra Bolivares that we wanted to exchange for cash. The exchange rate is set by Chavez’s government, not the free market, so Venezuelans can only exchange Bolivares for up to $4000/year. This is why we could sell our dollars for more than the official rate; people want to change Bolivares for more than $4000/year, because the Bolivar is unstable. For example 2 days ago, Chavez announced that he was going to take the private national telephone company and make it Governmentally run. The next day the free market Boli/$ rate went from like 3300 to 4000 overnight. Talk about inflation! This is the best that I can do in terms of a national disaster. It’s no Tsunami, but it’s better than nothing. U.S. government agents have actually since contacted me and offered to fund vacations for me to Tehran and North Korea. Anyway, even to get this $4000/year allowance you need to open a bank account, get referral letters (or write them yourself and then have friends sign), show proof of employment (or write down the name and number of a friend who will say you work for them), proof of residence in the form of 2 utility bills (they don’t have to be in your name, just send to the address where you claim to be living in Venezuela). Then you need a credit card so the money can be used in the states. Entonces, necesita applicar por el $4000 limit. Po rest, necesita una boleta de Venezuela a los EEUU y revuelva. Pero Jorden tiene una boleta de los EEUU a Venezuela y revuelva. And we can’t apply until the credit card application gets approved in 10 days. But, we can give power to make account changes to Bernardo. And there’s more B.S. Anyway, Jordan spend 2 mornings dealing with all this crap just so we could exchange our extra bolivares for $. The irony is, we checked our cash at the end of today and apparently we planned it so we’ll leave with just about zero bolivares. Que lastima.

Off for a little dollar DVD & computer program shopping. It certainly wasn’t South-East Asia (where the shops were actual stores, not stands, and each DVD had a printed DVD sticker cover), but it was still pretty legitimate… well not literally legitimate, actually quite the opposite, but that is what made the whole set of stands “legitimate.” I also got a homoca-silla. ‘Cause that’s what my house needs; a third hammock thing.

Off to Avila Magica; Avila being the name of the 8000 ft mountain in the north of Caracas that we climbed and Magica being magic. So basically it translates to magic mountain, which in no way indicates what it actually is: a cable car that goes to the top of the Avila. At the top, there are snack stands, a Christmas tree with a coke logo where a star should be, and an ice ring with nothing but 12-15 year old girls skating on it. (Insert your jokes here douche bags. Yeah I’m talking to you Andy.)

We walked around above the clouds and Pete took 1.305.227 pictures.

Back to la casa Mayra to pick up Bernardo. At the house I watched my first episode of myth busters (en espanol de bolas) and it was the dumbest shit I’d ever seen. The myth was “can a concrete glider fly.” So they built two gliders with the dumbest designs ever. They make a flying wing with zero thickness, anhedral, with a plan-form that’s shaped like a bat. The second plane was more standard, but still had an airfoil that wouldn’t lift the plane if it were made out of carbon fiber. They make a ghetto wind tunnel using a fan a brick of straws as a flow straightener. They put the planes on stands on top of a scale. Then they stand behind the plane, hold on to it so that it doesn’t fall and then they turn the fan on. The scale goes crazy up and down as these two jerks struggle to hold the plane up right. The result is no measurement and no conclusion. Why they decided to air that I have no idea. One dude chucks the first plane made out of a thin layer of concrete off a second story balcony. It careens down at like 45 degrees and crashes. The second plane, that looks more traditional, has some potential to perform in a manner that is vaguely reminiscent of an aircraft, but no, after 6 hours of construction the douche-bag puts the center of gravity way out in front of the leading edge of the wing and it nose dives. The final conclusion is “that it may be possible to construct a plane out of concrete, but they wouldn’t recommend it.” I want those 30 minutes of my life back.

Back to near the same spot where Pete took day and night shots of the city to our fancy South-American steak dinner. It’s ~10 and by 10:30 we were the only ones in this bad-ass restaurant that overlooked the city. Seventeen people were here to serve us. We ordered this family sized steak where they cut you a slice and just before you were finished, they’d bring you another. And when you cut off the fact they’d remove it form your plate while you eat. These guys were like ninjas with the fat grab. The meal was fantastic, though a bit pricy, but what’s a third of a million in monopoly money?

Dia 17, 11 de Enero

Los Roques here we come. Los Roques is a natural archipelago with a sprawl of islands with crushed white coral sand beaches. The big Island has an airport strip like Canaima and all roads are dirt.

Bernardo, Jordan, Pete and I arrive in the morning and got whisked away to our postada and then to a ferry boat. The waters around these islands are brilliant turquoise and just gorgeous.

I don’t know why this amused me, but it did: The boat jetted to one uninhabited island and two guys jumped off and grabbed 4 abandoned chairs and a couple of parasols and then took us to our unpopulated island. I just like the idea that their storage room is some random little island smaller than a football field.

We did very little that day and it was all that I hoped doing nothing could be. Well, that’s not entirely true, we all went snorkeling and I went diving. The dive was what I’d expect of Venezuelan culture: they were late, their was no safety check, their was no buddy system, weir wasn’t even a clear leader of the dive (we all just ambled about somewhat aimlessly with the current), and their was no de-nitrogenation safety stop. I didn’t mind any of this; it rather amused me. The dive was filled with wild undulating sea life, and we all ended up where we were supposed to somehow.

Rotating between laying in the sun and sitting in a chair in the shade went by surprisingly fast and the day was over before we knew it. There wasn’t much night-life at this natural park, but we did learn some Portuguese from a Brazilian at our Postada. Legal (pronounced Legou) is their way of saying cool. I think that could catch on in the states.

Dia 18, 12 de Enero

Off to a more secluded island whose inhabitance consisted of a couple of campers and a catamaran full of Germans… they’re everywhere! Snorkeling, staring vacantly into the bright blue sea and exploratory walks on the beach ensued. There were so many conch shells on this island that people made a huge mound out of thousands of them. They were also used to line walking paths here and on the big (and I use that term only in a relative sense) island.

We found a spot in between our island and an adjacent one where you could walk thy deep for 100 meters and then emerge on the smallest island I’ve ever been on: about 3 meters across. The peak would periodically be submerged by the lapping waves, so the five-year-olds in Jordan and me came out to play and constructed Mt. Dreguiz (remember that’s how the Venezuelans pronounce Drewitt). Our mountain could be viewed from the main island for a proud hour before it disintegrated and slipped back to whence it came.

We snorkeled through a maze of coral where we swam through a sea of tiny fish and almost got bludgeoned by a school of hundreds of meter sized fish (which did freak the hell out of me). The coral maze stunted our return to the beach. We were in a human maze. Dead end after dead end turned us back until we finally weaved our way back to the beach. We were greeted by a tropical rain that refreshed at the time, but would pelt like a sand blaster as we attempted to drink beers crashing over waves in our speed boat ride back.

Our time was far to short on this archipelago. I would have liked to see calle de agua, the turtle island, and to have dived in the southern most regions, but there’s only so much time.

It’s our second to last night here, so we plan our evening as we wind through the barrios back from the airport in Caracas. Bernardo points out a shack where someone has crudely painted BLOBUSTER (yeah, they forgot 2 letters). This shack is run by some barrio entrepreneurs that rent nothing but burned DVD’s. Fantastic!

 Bernardo and I go to a friends house for poker, pool, drinking and bar hoping. Dreguiz and Pete head to bed. I school some people in poker, but then I bought Bernardo in. His belief that 2 pair is better than 3 of a kind and his pre-flop all in with a big chip stack with a 4, 5 suited cuts into my profit. I asked if a couple of the girls gustan jugar piscina. Everyone laughed. I was getting used to this by now. Apparently the game is also called pool in Spanish too and I had just asked them if they liked playing swimming pool.

Bernardo and Pedro had stolen a sign that said Si Tomaste No Manejes (if you drink, don’t drive) and presented it as a give to Alfredo, a man with a bottle opener screwed into his car bumper.

We rolled up to a bastardization of American “culture”: a bar called “Wassup.” International beer posters and signs adorned the wall, though no stitch of Budweiser advertisements was present in “Wassup.” They did have a 49ers flag which made me happy, but they played nothing but Regaetone, which made me sad.

I spotted 2 cute girls dancing and told Pedro that we should go dance with them. Pedro, who is no stranger with the ladies, firmly told me “not here.” Apparently, this was a medium/low class crowd and if you spoke with a girl whose boyfriend or male friend was nearby there’s a good chance it would end in a fight that would be somehow unfairly slanted in their favor. I was told that it would not be wise to find out what kind of advantage the guys here would wield.

We had a big enough crew that it was still a good time. Around 5 or 6 we got home and crashed.

Dia 19, 13 de Enero

Three-four hours of sleep later and a hail storm of final shopping or chopping . I don’t remember why, but we ended up going to 2 bakery’s 6 pharmacy’s, 6 supermarkets, and 3 malls. That part of the day was a blur. Logistics and loose ends were taken care off.

In the evening, Victor was throwing a BBQ which we were going to enjoy as our final Venezuelan hurrah before our 5 am taxi ride to the airport. Victor is a huge music fan and a friend of his was in town playing with 20 world class couth American musicians including a producer who won 2 Oscars and 7 Grammy’s (one of the Oscars was for the music of Broke-back Mountain). Victor invited them all to his place where they just jammed. That ruled.

We spend most of the time enjoying the company of our piers. There was a pretty Venezuelan girl who garnered most of my attention as the night wore on . 4 am rolled around and we had to say our goodbyes, head home, shower, eat breakfast and then get in our cab. I wished our cab wasn’t until 7 or 8, but that’s the way it goes.

So that’s my trip to Venezuela. My disasters are getting more dilute. I managed to get Chavez to socialize utilities thus devaluing the currency 30%. Economists would consider it a national travesty, but it’s no Tsunami. I think my Midas touch is gracefully wayning.

We drove a total of 800 km in Carlos’s car and spent a whopping $2 in gas.

Oh, I said that I’d give my post-Venezuela Chavez thoughts to see how they’ve changed. I don’t think that they’ve changed too much. Chavez is good and bad. In his mind I believe he’s doing what he things is best for the majority of the people, though that is intermingled with personal greed for commodities and power. He has improved the lives of the poor a little in the short term. He’s improved schools, built infrastructure, erected houses etc. He’s done enough that the poor say they’ve definitely noticed an improvement. At the same time he’s making strides towards socializing Venezuela. Many call him Chavez Jr. He artificially sets currency exchange rates which somewhat isolates the economy. He limits foreign currency exchange which reduces the ability for people to escape rampant Venezuelan inflation. He is trying to remove the max term limit rule, though he still claims that anyone is free to run against him and he will abide by the peoples will. At the same time he’s removing many congressional checks and balances which may pave the way to a Castroesque quasi-dictatorship. This has many people appropriately nervous. He forces every radio station and national TV network to show him talking for about 2-6 hours about whatever he wants every Sunday. We heard him recite Walt Whitman poetry and talk about how righteous his failed coup attempt was (before he came to power). He’s nationalizing the utilities which reduces efficiency by removing the competitive aspect of private industry. In sum, he’s shifting Venezuela towards socialism. This may have advantages for some, but it puts a strangle hold on others. He appears to be helping the poor a little, but simultaneously he is definitely setting the governmental stage for more and more power grabbing. For the amount of wealth that this country has, I think their could easily be a leader that does much more for the poor without depriving the populous of their liberties and without tampering with the democratic system.

I just read my Chavez Synopsis after 1 day of being in Venezuela and it is almost identical to my current take. I don’t think that that speaks worlds about the complexity of the situation. I’d love to hear your thoughts though.

Thanks to everyone for listening to my rant!

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