« February 2005 | Main | April 2005 »

March 29, 2005

Caracas, Venezuela (2nd entry)

i returned from the Plaza Santa Fe yesterday, after a very enjoyable 4 days spent lounging around making new friends and swimming in the ocean. it was nice to see the Venezuelans enjoying their week off, the beach i stayed at is normally more full of foreigners but this time it was almost entirely nationals, they played music extremely loud the whole time and all got drunk and sunburned, as we sat in a restaurant watching them and drinking lots the little tiny beers they serve in this country. logic quickly made apparent why the beers are so small, as they would get very warm very quickly otherwise.
the best part of the weekend was hanging out with a group made up almost entirely of english people. the 2 couples, ade(who was welsh actually, not that i know the difference) and ally and chris and joy, were all on year long travel trips, chris and joy a mere two weeks from completing a one year around the world adventure, and ade and ally halfway through a year long trip from the south of venezuela to the tip top of alaska. also along was mary, a 38 year old sun worshipper who has been traveling for 2 and a half years and forsees another 2 at least before heading home. they were some of the best brits i had ever met, all having completely chucked their jobs back home to travel for a very long time. i found myself speaking with british vernacular, which i have always enjoyed quite a bit. also along were 2 german girls, katarina and inga, who both having learned english in the states, couldn't understand the brits that well at all. we spent one day on an island beach, where i snorkeled around the small reefs and saw squids and barracuda underwater and the decapitated head of a goat washed up on shore. good old south america.
so arriving back in Caracas, or Crapass as ade and ally dubbed it, i had hoped to secure my visa starting this morning and leaving here thursday night. so i was surprised to find out that the man working the embassy last tuesday didn't know what he was talking about and that i must travel to Georgetown, Guyana to secure the visa. something about how i am traveling overland, but it made me miss out on a hiking trip in southern venezuela that i would have had time to do. not that i am complaining, the beach was really peaceful. however, now i must leave tomorrow night and probably will have little or no time in southern Venezuela to explore the wilderness. oh well, next time i guess. the good news is that i may catch a flight back from Suriname to Port o Spain, Trinidad, an island nation right off the coast from Venezuela. from there it would be another ferry ride and then a bus back to Caracas, where i will catch a flight to Miami for around 120 dollars, which is pretty cheap. so all in all i am doing well, went and saw el museo de bellas artes and the science and technology museum, and tomorrow i plan on checking out the largest park in the city, which has snakes and alligators and other animals wandering around in it.

so i guess i forgot to add in the reason why i made such an effort to describe the late 70's american automobiles here in venezuela. it makes me feel like i am in a movie from my childhood. also, the venezuelans are the worst by far in terms of listening to the same 10 songs over and over and over, at a volume that exceeds anything tolerable, and indeed anything i have heard in latin america so far. i can't understand how they aren't all deaf.

while checking the internet yesterday after i returned i found the photo set that most makes me want to go back to SF. meggers and her photos make SF look totally sweet.

next stop, the Gran Sabana.

Posted by bendan at 11:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 23, 2005

Caracas, Venezuela

i'm at that stage of exhaustion when you just want to drink beer. too bad i have no time or real inclination to do so.
so the hike i did from Merida to Los Nevados was really nice, beautiful granite peaks and that strange paramo countryside left me stopping to admire the scenery many times during the 5 hour hike. i spent the night in some little hostel owned by a tiny venezuelan lady, and then caught a jeep the following morning back down to Merida. i hopped on the night bus for Caracas, hopeful that i would be able to get my Visa for Suriname in short order. arriving here, i tossed my stuff in the only good hostel, and went looking for the embassy. when i arrived, after following many poorly given directions, i found it closed, and someone who was fixing something inside told me i would have to come back on tuesday to begin the Visa process, which should take about 4 days. this means i will be unable to do the Roriama hike that i was looking forward to, and that i would be stuck in Caracas for 8 days, if i hadn't bolted for the bus station and bought the last ticket for Puerto la Cruz, a beach city about 4 hours east of here. Caracas is big and seems like it would be alright in a normal week, but Semana Santa means it is half empty, and many things are closed or going to be closed from tomorrow until sunday. thank god i got that last bus ticket out of here.
the guy at the Suriname embassy said it will take about 48 solid hours traveling to get to Suriname, if i follow the route down through the Gran Sabana, crossing through Brazil a little, and then back up in a pickup through Guyana. i am considering catching a flight if it isn't horribly expensive back to Caracas, so i can fly to Miami and get back to the west coast, in preparation for my cross country bike ride. life is good, even though i have get back on another bus in less then 2 hours. might go hunt up a beer.

Posted by bendan at 12:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 20, 2005

Merida, Venezuela

The first day you enter a new country is almost always extremely long, and usually very memorable. yesterday was one of those days.
i had boarded a night bus the evening before, departing sweltering Cartagena and leaving behind Aaron and Kristy, who with luck will catch a sailboat for Panama within a few days. They seemed thrilled at the prospect of learning some sailing techniques, and excited for the northward travel through central america and mexico back to the U.S.
the night bus was well air conditioned and i managed to sleep fairly well until 6 the next morning, when it reached the final destination at Magua, near the Colombian Venezuelan border. i disembarked in a sleepy haze, and quickly was approached by a man offering to find me a ride to Maracaibo, the first large city in Venezuela. i followed him to the parking lot of the bus station, and there sat american built cars from the 70's, Fords, Cadillacs, Mercury's, Chevys and Lincolns, all long as boats with enormous engines and huge trunks. i waited around with 4 other passengers until our driver found a fifth, and they we shoved all our luggage into the trunk of his black Chevy Caprice, and we tore out of the parking lot towards the frontera. i looked back as we sped across the flat countryside, thinking of how much i had learned about Colombia since i entered a month ago, all the turbulent and violent history that has shaped the culture into an emotional mix of bravado, frustration, despair and hope. some day for certain i will return, if not to live then at least to visit again some of the friends i have made and some of the natural phenomenon i didn't have time to see.
the border crossing was simple, and i hopped into the waiting black beast after getting my Venezuela stamp. the driver drove like a man possessed, with a mix tape of the same 15 latino songs i have been hearing for the whole time i have been down here in south america blaring through speakers behind my head. the country side turned arid and i observed the traffic, surprised that nearly all of the cars were huge gas-guzzling american monsters that hurtled past each other at startling velocities. speaking to the other passengers, i learned that in 1982 the oil market crashed here in Venezuela, and that importing new cars after that date proved difficult. they mentioned that due to their status as 4th largest exporter of petroleum in the world, national gas prices are about 500 bolivares a liter here, which addes up to less then a dollar a gallon. suddenly i understood why everyone was piloting such inefficient machines.
arriving in Maracaibo at 10, the feared heat had not begun to beat down, and i found a cheap bus for Merida. Merida is a highland town, between two cordilleras of the Andes, and is reputed to be cool and clean of air. after all my time in the heat drenched coast, i looked forward to having to wear trousers and a sweatshirt again.
the bus slowly filled, and finally we edged out toward the highway. as we neared the checkpoint where the busses get permission to leave for their destinations, a grungy man walked up and began speaking wildly to the ayudante (the driver's helper), who being a deaf mute, just sort of looked at him. the grungy man began hailing down people walking into the terminal, telling them that our bus was destinated for some location on the coast. quickly through his ramblings i realized that he was quite crazy, but the driver let him climb aboard for half a mile, and finally had to pay him to get off the buzz. the man wandered off with his 1000 bolivar note, mumbling about mudos (deaf mutes) y gringos.
the bus ride wasn't so bad, since i was in the very front of the bus and had my head out the window half the time. first we drove across the huge bridge across lake maracaibo, which had been full of oil rigs pumping oil years ago, but now just had several rigs out there draining the earth of the evil black gold. oil was good to this country at first, but later on it ended up making life really difficult for nearly everyone except the super rich. nothing new down here.
the country side passed by easy, changing from arid to lush and green. as befitting my travels in every latin american country, the bus of course had a flat tire, and we were stuck on the steaming side of the road for half an hour. the mute changed the tire like a champion, and we were on our way again. finally, around seven thirty at night, 9 hours after beginning, we rolled into Merida. having boarded the bus out of Cartagena at nine thirty the evening before, i had put in 22 hours of travel, and it showed. i dumped myself into a taxi and gave them the address of the hostel. it had a room, which was lucky since semana santa begins today, and the whole town is going to fill up with people from everywhere else in the east of the country. i spent today walking around and chatting with a mexican guy who has been traveling and selling artesanias for 9 years. he had some crazy stories. now i am headed to the bus station to reserve my ticket for tuesday night to Caracas, and then i am gonna go to the science and technology museum, which is said to have a cool dinosaur exhibit. tomorrow i take the telesferico, which happens to be the tallest one in the world, up the northern side of the Andes, and plan to walk 5 hours to this little mountain town, where i will sleep the night and then come down the next day.
i am getting used to traveling alone again, in a way i miss having folks to talk to, but i can always make new friends, and for now i have all the time i want to read and walk around alone. it's kind of nice.
more to come about my roundabout voyage towards suriname.

Posted by bendan at 09:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 17, 2005

Cartagena, Colombia

The tremendous heat of this city forces me inside of a supermarket that has internet on the second floor. ah, air conditioning.
So Tayrona park was exactly as i had predicted, we found a secluded hill at the end of the very last beach to 'guerilla camp' on, as aaron calls it. our days consisted of waking up, finding a coconut to crack open with aaron's machete, drinking it's milk and eating it's meat, then swimming, snorkeling, lounging in hammocks, reading, and cooking over an open fire for most of the day, before a little bit if rum and an amazing night's sleep beneath the stars. eventually the ranger caught us and we had to relocate to one of the campsites, but the joyous tranquility of the caribbean kept us enraptured and content just the same.
i left the beach a day early to go scuba diving in Taganga. the first dive in one year for me was straight down to 35 meters, it felt amazing to be in the water again. i had no nitrogen narcosis, just amazing views of neon electic fish and huge coral fans and outcroppings. the second dive was a drift dive at 15 meters, the underwater current pulled us along and we saw this opaque jellyfish big as a basketball, being orbited by little fish that seemed to be cleaning it or eating it's flesh.
aaron and kristy arrived in taganga, and we had a hot busride here to cartagena. this city is dirty, loud, hot, and dripping with sweat and life. so far i have really enjoyed it, we went for a walk around the old city, which has walls built 400 years ago to repulse attacking pirates sent by the english royalty to try and usurpe the spanish monopoly of the new world. today we went to the main fortress and the museum of torture, and had a guide explain for us in hilarious english the history of the inquisition in Cartagena. it wasn't funny business at all, mostly it was horrible senseless violence perpetrated by the church, but that doesn't seem to be anything new. today we ate at a hari krishna vege restaurant, but the employees all had cell phones, it was curious.
semana santa, the national holiday, is about to begin, which means the coast will flood with people. therefore i am leaving tomorrow night, ending the 2 and a half months i have traveled with aaron and kristy. in truth i am bummed to be parting ways, they have been amazing to travel with. the prospect of finding new traveling companions as good as them is daunting at best.
so the interesting part of what will happen next for me is this- i must be in suriname by midnight on the 7th of april. this will including traveling through all of venezuela, stopping in caracas to get my passport. from there, i will have to head south into brazil before crossing into guyana, where i will face an 18 hour pickup truck ride to georgetown, the dangerous capital city. then, i must fight my way onto a ferry for the ride across huge rivers to suriname. it will be tons of hours spent in bouncing moving vehicles, and i am hoarding books for the voyage. wish me luck, i begin tomorrow night.

Posted by bendan at 12:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 09, 2005

Santa Marta, Colombia

I was trying to think of a good word to describe our hiking trip to the Lost City up in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, and nothing surfaced from my vocabulary that was adequate. Choosing to do the longer route proved a wise decision. The 6 days of hiking up and down mountains covered with thick jungle and cloud forest vegetation and swimming in clear mountain streams felt really good for my body. we ate a lot of food that was at times very nourishing and at times a bunch of crappy white bread, but i felt fueled to push up 3 hour ascents, sweating like a racehorse, and then bounce on down the other sides. the ruins weren't magnificent in that in your face way like Tikal or Petra, they were about 80 terraces built of rocks across the face of this mountain at a few thousand feet elevation. what made them more impressive were some of the facts that we learned, such as they were only rediscovered 30 years ago, after being lost for 370 years, and that the discoverers weren't scientists but instead graverobbers, who had hit upon a treasure trove of gold artifacts. the graverobbers were so organized that they even had a union for a bit. before the government came in there was horrific infighting between the rival gangs, with gunfights up in the midst of the overgrown ruins.

unfortunately, i keep writing these entries the night before i head out on week long trips, so my thoughts are always on the upcoming trip, and i forget to focus on what i have just done. tomorrow aaron, kristy, and i, accompanied by 3 new friends, scott, angie and this amazing basque guy named unai all head out to Parque Tayrona. we will be living on empty caribbean beaches, swimming and bodysurfing in the ocean and lagoons, jumping off rocks into the water, cooking over campfires, sleeping in hammocks, and reading tons of books. the plan is to return in 5 days, but that may be extended indefinitely. all the plans i have for after my trip are up in the air, seems i won't be returning to israel anytime soon, nor working in l.a. doing editing or leading rafting trips in oregon. that leaves hitching and riding my bike back and forth across the country, maybe hanging out in portland with drew for a bit, maybe visiting canada or some other things i haven't figured out yet. it feels amazing to have nothing at all really on my plate for when i get back, and between now and then i have all of venezuela including another hiking trip, plus meeting my father in suriname for 10 days to explore some crazy nature reserve they have there that is encompassed a 4th of the entire country. ok, gotta go pack again.

Posted by bendan at 06:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 02, 2005

Taganga, Colombia

it's terribly easy to lose track of time and many other things when you are at the beach.
so the overnight bus from Villa de Leyva wasn't so bad, especially considering that we nixed the idea of visiting another small mountain town and headed straight for the coast. it was a good moment, we all looked at each other and it was decided, and we on our way. we had a nice stopover in Bucaramanga, a medium sized modernish city in which we ate chinese food that actually had tofu, and drank some beers at a bar called 'Moe's Bar,' and had rad images from the Simpsons all over, especially the halloween episodes, and many of them hand drawn. god knows the copyright lawyers never make it to Colombia.
and then the next morning, we awoke in the city of Santa Marta. it was muggy and we were sweaty and tired from the bus, and we boarded a minibus piloted by some crazy guy that zigzagged on random streets for 20 minutes before depositing us in Taganga, a small fishing town next to Santa Marta. Now we had heard tell from many other travelers that this was The town, excellent for scuba diving, swimming in the ocean, and lounging around like a lump. at first glance, i was underwhelmed. instead of the tropical caribbean i had envisioned, it was arid, kind of like how New Mexico would look if it had an ocean.
that said, in the 4 days that we have been here this town has grown on me considerably. for instance, yesterday we awoke and decided to postpone our 7 day hiking trip so as to sit on the beach another day before all the exertion. they we headed down to the beach to drink fresh juice, i had tomate de arbol as per usual, though my dad think lulu is much better. from there it was catch a water taxi out past the last beach, and before we boarded the taxi, a small white dog decided he wanted to come along. the taxi dropped us and the dog off at an empty beach, and we walked out along some rocks to some tiny coves. the water finally did what we had been hoping it would for 3 days, namely giving off that blue green glow that i like so well. shortly thereafter we found the fabled rock jumping spot, and proceeded to hurl ourselves from 10 meters into the water. good times. after that it was back to the town to chat with our hiking partners, hailey from canada and scott and angie from wisconsin. our hike secured, we swam out into the ocean to watch the excellent sunset. on returning to the shore, our adopted dog's owner found hmi and took him away, and though he looked forlornly at me i decided not to kidnap him and take him to venezuela. it was really nice to walk around the town with the dog at my heels, the locals looked at me with respect. then returned to the hostel to cook a dinner of fresh coconut milk peanut sauce over sauted veggies and brown rice, which turned out excellent and had the other travelers jealous of our skills as cooking artists. then we sat in the backyard of the hostel sweating and drinking beer till late. it's a good life.
on the bad side of things, aaron got some spines in his foot from the reefs yesterday, which meant i was at the doctors office this morning watching a nurse dig unmercifully into the bottom of his foot in search of the offending entities, which had given him an infection overnight. plus, kristy has an upset stomach, and we are set to leave tomorrow morning on the hike at 6 am, so we shall see how things go. i have all confidence in our abilities.
congrats to megan on getting a promotion, and aunt freddi if you read this i hope your arm heals quickly. everyone else, i will think of you when i am gazing upon the excellence of the lost city, high in the sierra nevada mountains of colombia.

Posted by bendan at 05:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack