Archive | January 2013

A Lesson in Patience

Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.  ~Mac McCleary

You’ve heard me talk about it before, so it’s not the first and probably won’t be the last time I mention traffic. It’s a monster.  It’s a being all of its own.  I’ve tried describing the cars like marching ants, but most times they’re like the snakes on Medusa’s head.  Everybody is going in every imaginable direction, including the wrong one.  It really is a form of anarchy.

A pretty calm traffic day.

A pretty calm traffic day.

Although the horns blare, mostly as a form of warning from approaching motorcycles, people here really just go with the flow.  There isn’t road rage like you’d expect.  Tempers flare, mine included and I don’t even drive here, but drivers have learned not to take things personally and they let whatever has offended them pass.  This is a lesson I need to apply to my life.

There is never a great time to run errands here.  Pretty much every hour is rush hour.  I normally have to mentally prepare myself if I know we’ll be in the car all day.  It took us 1/2 an hour to get through 3 traffic lights on Monday.  Are you starting to understand my pain?

Today Juan and I went to try to look for a car to buy.  It’s a next to impossible feat.  Buying a used car is very expensive, almost 3 times the price of what you’d pay in Canada.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Can you imagine paying $14 000 for a 15 year old Chevy? I think not. Crazy, isn’t it? There are two main reasons for this: the price of gas is practically free (we pay about $0.26 for a tank) and there is a mafia that controls the market. People list cars, the mafia buys it, repairs it (they have their own mechanics) and then they inflate the price.  It’s frustrating as hell.

I know what you’re thinking, just go to a dealership and buy a new or used one there.  Here’s the thing: if you can find a dealership that actually has cars in it (hard to picture isn’t it, but we went by 5 or 6 today and not one had a car in it), you order a car (which takes up to a year to arrive), only to find out that what they have for you isn’t at all what you’ve ordered.  In this most common scenario you have one of two choices to make: buy the car or walk away and wait another year.  10 times out of 10, people buy a car they don’t even want.  It’s a serious problem on many, many levels.

car-dealer

Although it felt like it, we didn’t spend our entire day in the car.  We stopped by a fruit and veggie market to pick up some fresh herbs (which cost pennies) for tomorrow night’s pasta and then we went to a fruit stand to have some juice.  There I tried a fruit I have never heard of; it’s called nispero.  Nispero has the same skin color as a kiwi, without the fuzz.  The favor was sweet; almost like a pear and the texture was a bit grainy.  I liked it.  Juan tells me that people here make ice cream with it, now that I’d like to try.

Nispero, the strange little fruit.

Nispero, the strange little fruit.

A large bag of long cinnamon sticks at the market.

A large bag of long cinnamon sticks at the market.

I’m pretty big on giving myself rewards if I’ve had a great day (meaning my swearing wasn’t at full capacity).  Today’s reward was a plant.  We stopped by a florist and picked up the cutest little fern (not entirely sure that’s what it is) and some flowers for Juan’s mom. Plants make me happy.  Once we move to the island, our place will look like a jungle!

My reward

My reward

A small bouquet for Juan's mom.

A small bouquet for Juan’s mom.

My other reward for being patient today?  A Campari!  Salud

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A Cornucopia of Fruit

Taste every fruit of every tree in the garden at least once. It is an insult to creation not to experience it fully.  Temperance is wickedness.  ~ Stephen Fry

I really was an explorer the first time I was here.  In fact, I still am.  There is food that I have never heard of or seen, never mind tasted.  Guanabana, is a good example of this.  Guanabana, known in English as sour sop, is reportedly the super cancer fighter of fruit.  Even the food that I’m well acquainted with tastes differently.  It’s all about freshness.  There is nothing as sweet as a mango from the tropics.  When food has to travel 3000 miles, something surely will be lacking.  Whether it be flavor, color or shelf life, the essentials are gone.

fruit-salad

A mountain of fruit salad.

Guanabana, it's on my list of fruit to try.

Guanabana (aka sour sop), it’s on my list of fruit to try.

For three years I kept hold of memories of a fresh juice kiosk in a mall here. I longed for this place like an old friend.  There would be times when I’d say to Juan, “Ah, remember the fruit juice place?  Remember the variety? I wish we could just have a……”  High on my list of priorities, we went a few days after I arrived.  I found out that the place is called Chucha.

Fresh fruit for batidos. Batidos are essentially smoothies.

Fresh fruit for batidos. Batidos are essentially smoothies.

The third best part (the first being freshness, the second being variety) of batidos, as they’re called here, is that they’re  super cheap.  The average price for a glass and a half  is around $2.50.  Trust me, if I lived closer to the mall, I’d go everyday just to try one of each.

And the selection continues.

And the selection continues.

The shelves are lined with, you guessed it, fruit.  You won’t find  powdered protein or wheat germ on the menu, just good old fashion fruit. And that’s just the way I like it.

One of my faves, passion fruit.

One of my faves, passion fruit.

Passion fruit juice.

Passion fruit juice.

My choice that day was mango.  It was absolutely divine!

My mango batido.  Yummy

My mango batido. Yummy

There are shortages of certain kinds of food in this country, but fruit isn’t one of them. There seems to be an abundant supply.

cocos

Chucha’s also has a sandwich counter and a full menu including empandas, fish and criollo (the national dish made of shredded beef, black beans, plantains, rice and arepas).  Stopping by Chucha’s is the highlight of my trip to the mall.  It’s kind of like my reward for having to fight the traffic and, of course, going to the mall in the first place.

How would you like to try this oven roasted ham sandwich?

How would you like to try this oven roasted ham sandwich?

Well, it’s definitely my intention to try as much tropical fruit (and various other forms of food) while I’m here.  Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to let you know what I discover.

The Ants Go Marching……

I need the sea because it teaches me.  ~ Pablo Neruda

It was early morning on January 1st and we were packing our bags to go to the beach.  This was such a far cry last year when we were getting ready to fly out of Miami, hung-over.  Well, I was hung-over; Juan, on the other hand, being the designated driver, still had his wits about him. I don’t think I slept for 3 hours that night/day.  Alas, this is a new year.  I was still wiped from my trip from hell, but knowing that the beach was a few sweet hours away I was up to the task.

Globos de deseos.  Paper  wish balloons are lit on New Year's Eve.

Globos de deseos. Paper wish balloons are lit on New Year’s Eve and sent sailing into darkness.

Travel time is always taken into consideration here; there are no exceptions.  It is expected that you will wait in some kind of line, whether it be in a store, a bank or traffic. If by some miracle there is no line, a million questions arise as to why, or as to how long it will last.  This is what happened on our way out of town. It was smooth sailing.  Our reasoning was that people were just getting home from celebrating New Year’s or they weren’t out of bed yet.  Whatever it was, we appreciated the break.  Knowing that all good things must come to an end, the break was short lived.  A third of the way into a tunnel, the smooth  traffic flow became a parking lot.  The only reasonable explanation was an accident.  This didn’t come as a surprise.

A passing motorcyclist with Juan's reflection in the mirror.

A passing motorcyclist with Juan’s reflection in the mirror. See how close he is?!

Traveling by car in Venezuela is an extreme sport; one in which knowing the rules are a must.  The first time I was here I thought I was going to die 5 times over just from the airport to the condo.  I’m not sure how to really describe it.  A two lane road can quickly become 3 lanes for cars and 2 or 3 extra lanes for motorcycles.  Include a few vendors dodging the traffic and you have a kind of organized chaos.   Motorcycles, of course, have their own set of rules and an incredible sense of entitlement.  By entitlement I mean, if a car does not make way for an approaching motorcycle, the driver will be sure to damage your car just as a way of showing his “right”.  How does one know if a motorcycle is approaching? By the use of the horn, of course.  The cacophony of noise is startling. The speed in which they pass between cars is mind boggling. I’m always in a state of awe, shock and horror.

A less tense moment in traffic.

A less tense moment in traffic.

Traffic here is a living, breathing organism.  You can see the inhalations and the exhalations, the expansions and contractions.  Maybe a  better way of looking at it is by thinking of it as a colony of ants marching to its own beat. If something is in its way, the collective group makes way and when an ant misses a step or gets pushed to the side, accidents occur.  That’s just what happened in the tunnel.  The risks are high and the outcomes are never great.  We slowly crept by the scene and, sure enough, motorcycle parts were everywhere and the victims were pushed along the wall waiting for the ambulances to arrive.

A vendor on the highway. These are very poor people trying to eek out a living.

A vendor on the highway. These are very poor people trying to eek out a living.

Driving along the coast reminded me of driving near Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway.  The view was spectacular and never ending.  We were supposed to stay in a house of friend of a friend out in the country near Todasana.  It was described to us as “rustic”.  And rustic it was.  Getting there proved to be a challenge because parts of the road had been washed out during some recent rain. After one look at the place we decided not to stay overnight.  Instead, we’d to go to the beach and head to a friend’s condo after dinner.

The beach at Todasana.

The beach at Todasana.

People here take beaches for granted, much like Canadians take trees for granted. A so-so beach for a Venezuelan is a superb beach for me!  I’ve been waiting all year to hit the beach.  My desire to be in a teeny bikini, soaking up the sun and frolicking in the waves was granted.  I was the only one within our group who went swimming.  Why, because the waves were too high, and the wind a bit strong for my Venezuelan counterparts.  I don’t think any sane Canadian would have let those become deterrents. Todasana is a mini paradise.

A great place for reflection.

A great place for reflection.

I connect to the ocean, the salty air, and the sound of crashing waves.  Months of work and stress wash off of my skin.  My senses sharpen, almost like a kaleidoscope coming into focus and I eventually become calm.  I needed this to reflect on this past year, what I’ve learned and what I’ve gained.  All I can say is that it was well deserved and definitely worth the wait!

An Assault on My Senses…….

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.              ~Moslih Eddin Saadi

Flying into Venezuela is something to behold.  For some reason I forgot about its beauty.  Either that, or the last time we flew here was at night, and, therefore, we couldn’t have seen anything.  How do I describe the mountain ranges here?  Ummm, it’s like a huge green piece of paper was crumpled up into a ball and then laid flat in order to have been made into a gigantic fan.  Maybe it’s best to look at it like the folds of a long pleated skirt.  The deep green is contrasted with the blue sky and turquoise sea.  It’s breathtaking.  The closer you get to Caracas “the skirt” becomes speckled with color.  The color happens to be the barrios or slums. I had contradictory feelings when I saw that. It was beautiful and sad at the same time and then I thought of the contrasting monetary value of waterfront property.

One view of the Avila.

One view of the Avila.

Like most places in North America, waterfront property is worth millions (well at least in Vancouver), and here the poorest of people live precariously on the slopes with the most spectacular view.  You will learn soon enough that Venezuela is all about contradiction.  Now it would have been nice if I had actually taken a picture of this, but I forgot to whip my phone out.  I know, how absent minded, but in my defense I had been traveling for over 24 hours and I was wiped.

Driving from the airport to Caracas was something that I prepared for.  I knew I would be confronted with a view of one of the largest barrios in Caracas.  As soon as you come out of the dark tunnel into the light all you can see are shelters constructed of tin, brick and painted in all colors imaginable. I have to be honest with you; the first time I saw this I cried.  Having lived in Canada for most of my life and having traveled around Europe and North America I was accustomed to seeing homelessness, but I had never seen poverty on such a large scale.  Again, this is contradictory because Venezuela is an oil rich country.  One has to pause for thought.  How can a country as “rich” as this have millions upon millions of people living under the lowest of poverty lines?  I digress.  Arriving on a Sunday helped ease me into Caracas.  There wasn’t “much” traffic and traffic here means absolute chaos with a noise level that is incomparable to anything in Canada.  So, all was well.  We drove through a few neighborhoods and I was impressed with how much was familiar.

Barrios (slums), where are very large portion of the poor population live.

This isn’t the actual barrio I was talking about. This one is on the other side of Caracas, going east.

For some reason I didn’t feel as overwhelmed as I did the first time.  I saw some obvious changes, like timers for stop lights. These things are fantastic!  They allow drivers to know how time is left on the green light and how much time they need to wait on the red light.  Now they aren’t everywhere, but they’re situated where they are most needed.  I think other major cities in the world should adopt such a system.  I think it cuts down on the stress.

The street light timers.  What a perfect idea!

The street light timers. What a perfect idea!

One thing I noticed was the quality of the streets themselves.  I think Montreal had prepared me for the worst.  Anyone who has ever driven a car or ridden a bike in Montreal will know what I’m talking about.  The infrastructure there is atrocious and is inexcusable.  This, of course, is all due to years and years of blatant corruption.  Sadly (or happily, depending on which side you look at), the infrastructure in a “developing country” is a whole lot better.  Sure there are potholes, etc, but nothing like Montreal!

The heat!  I forgot to mention how warm it has been. You would think I would have mentioned this first considering how much I complain about being cold.  I went from –30 degrees to +30 in 24 hours.  My body is adjusting well.  It likes the non-tense position that it stays in for 6 months out of the year.  My vitamin D levels have been topped up and I have some color in my face.  It’s like a rebirth!!

kim-jungle.1

Before I go, I need to talk about food.  It always comes back to that, doesn’t it?  The freshness of food here is out of this world.  We had red snapper for our New Year’s dinner and it was so good.  I can’t emphasis this through words.  I savored every last bite.  The avocados look like they’ve been given some sort of growth hormone, but no; they just naturally grow to this size.  The plantains are as sweet as sugar and last, but not least are the passion fruit or parchitas. Not only are they super cheap, but they have to be at least 4 times the size of what we import in Canada.  I’ve been spoiled.   Juan’s mom makes the best jugo de parchita (passion fruit juice) and I’ve had a glass of it every morning!

lunch-collage

Remind me to tell you about the beach…….

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