I have a very sharp tongue, I’m very impatient, and it’s a lifelong struggle. ~ Karen Armstrong
Line up, queue, cola, whatever you call it, it still equates to time wasted.
Life is funny. It seems like I’m constantly challenged to work on one of my worst qualities, impatience. It rears its ugly head at certain things like waiting for summer to arrive, being super excited to go somewhere (I’m not the road trip kind of gal), or waiting for Juan to find his keys and put on his shoes when we have someplace to be and I’ve been ready for 10 minutes. So isn’t it a bit ironic that I move to a place where I think they invented line ups?
I understand that I’m living in South America and they have different ways of doing things; and I get that Caracas is a very large, somewhat disorganized city, but people here dislike line ups just as much as I do. Some days are filled with dread because you have more than one thing to do. You constantly have to consider how much time will be spent waiting.
It goes something like this: I have to go to the doctor’s office. Um it’ll take me 45 minutes to an hour to drive there, try to find parking (always a challenge) wait a minimum of 3 hours for a 10 minute appointment, go to the bank, but try to find parking again, which can be around 20 minutes depending on where the bank is located, wait up to an hour in the bank. There is no swiping of the debit card here. Everything is still pretty much paper driven; you know, how it was 20 years ago when you had to fill out the withdrawal or deposit slip, plus your photo is taken and you have to ink your thumb print if you’re cashing cheques. People are very weary of bank machines and won’t really use them if they’re situated outside of the bank. No matter, there are line ups for those too. Next, get some gas and pick up groceries on the way home. Four seemingly small errands can take up to 6 hours, not very efficient and incredibly frustrating. Of course the time will vary slightly depending on the order and the time of day you do your errands.
Can see my problem? There are even line ups for line ups! You think I’m joking, but it’s very common for government offices to employ this. You stand in line for 45 minutes to an hour (seems like the magical number) to get the information of where you’re supposed to go, only to find the right place and wait another hour for less than five minutes with the person you need to speak with. Ah, bureaucracy, you got to love it. Not!
Of course all of my Latino students laugh at me. They employ the “Silly Kim, you should know better” conversation. I’m glad to know that my frustrations are their amusements. They give me tips like bring a book or magazine; pack some water and something to snack on. These are good, but wouldn’t it be easier if things were just a tiny bit more efficient?
I know complaining doesn’t solve anything, but some days it sure helps to vent a little. I’m learning to deal with it, but trust me when I say it’s challenging.
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. ~ John Lubbock
This past Sunday I did something I’ve never done before in my life. I hiked a mountain from bottom to top! No, not the Canaima like in the animation UP, but the Avila. It’s a beautifully lush mountain range that divides the city from the sea.
I’m not sure why we accepted the invitation except to say that it was something to do on a Sunday. We went with Juan’s sister and a few of her friends. At the beginning of the hike we were told that it had some steep parts, but the overall hike was smooth. Note to self, consider the source. The women who told us this are quite experienced hikers. Having hiked all over the world, this would seem like nothing but a stroll. One thing I learned is this, what one person considers a smooth easy hike, another person considers a small private hell. Now not all of it was challenging, but man, there were some parts that I didn’t think I could climb.
We started our journey at around 8 am, and although the start of the hike was laborious I was excited to be surrounded by the trees and the cool damp air. I love being in the woods, smelling the earth, listening to the quietude, and admiring the various colors of brown and green. It shouldn’t have surprised me that there were a lot of people on the trail, but there were. Young and old alike took to the sky.
There were viewpoints, such as the one above, that made me stop and gape with my mouth wide open at the size of Caracas. This is just a small part of this immense city. It’s quite pretty from above, wouldn’t you agree?
One hour quickly turned into two. I wasn’t really complaining at this point. I still had a lot of energy and my childlike curiosity kept me well occupied. A couple of things that I saw, but was unable to get pictures of, were butterflies and parrots. It seemed like every time I took my phone out to snap a picture, they flitted or flew away. Sigh
At one point we came across a hill so steep I thought it would have been more effective if I crawled up it. The hiker beside me was just as discouraged. Somehow that made me feel better. At least I wasn’t the only one in pain.
After three hours, I was at the point where I dearly wanted to sleep. Fortunately for me, we came upon a resting point with a shack. Thank god!! I would have walked right past this shack because the window was tightly closed and the door slightly ajar. Had there not been anyone milling about I would have lost the opportunity to try something delicious. On the menu (a piece of paper with three things written on it) was jugo de tomate y mora (tomato and blackberry juice). I confirmed this with a fellow hiker (Juan was further behind me so I couldn’t question him). Really? Tomato and blackberry? I needed to try it! To say it was refreshingly divine is an understatement!! Man, oh man, that was surprisingly good. Nope, no picture. I was too tired to take my phone out of my bag. But trust me, it’s worth experimenting with. I think you need to remove the seeds and skin of the tomato and then puree it with the blackberries and some ice. Super simple!
The other thing I had there was frozen passion fruit juice (one of my favs)! It was kind of like a freezy in a cup. I wanted to lay there and eat this all day. The promise of the upcoming view was hardly tempting. I was already in my own little heaven.
Although my rest was well deserved, I knew better than to stop for a long period of time. I was actually afraid that my bones and muscles would seize and I wouldn’t make it up or down. I was promised just one more hour and then I would be rewarded with the most spectacular view. This last hour was killer. There were parts on this path that were so narrow that there was yellow “Peligroso” (danger) tape stretched across two thin bamboo trees. One little misstep and I was going down, way down. I grabbed a few gnarled roots and push myself ahead. The last leg of the hike was a bit cruel. It was tough and I was tired. There were no more resting places. If I stopped, I line of people behind me had to stop because no one would have been able to pass. Ah, the pressure!
Finally, I made it to the summit. I wanted to collapse. My legs were like jelly. I had such a sense of pride and the feeling of accomplishment. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to turn back at certain points. And as cliché as it is, I kept seeing the hike as a metaphor for life. You know, the ups and downs, the struggles and the triumphs.
The irony of all of this was that I had seen the spectacular view three years earlier when Juan and I were here last. The joke was on me! Ha ha. We took the cable car up. But this time around it was more special, somehow I felt like I was more deserving.
There was a woman who came up right after our group. To say she was inspiring is an understatement. Her name is Teresa and she’s 81 years old. YES, 81!!! Apparently she’s a regular. Every weekend she does the hike in under 3 hours. She put me to shame.
After lunch we all decided it was time to head down. We took the cable car. Good thing because I would have had to have been carried. Heights kind of freak me out. I’m not sure when I developed this, but it’s a bit unnerving when I’m swinging around in a little car high above the ground. I had to look way ahead to take the picture.
When I look at the picture above I really can gauge how far I came. It was a fantastic day. As much as I struggled, I know I want to go back and do it again.
Even the ant has his bite. ~ Turkish Proverb
Two fantastic things have happened this week. One, we finally bought a car (this is the miracle) and two, we finally made it to the Chacao food market before closing time. It normally closes before 2 on weekdays, but we went on a Saturday before noon. This was both good and bad.
I’ve written before (A Lesson in Patience) about the incredible difficulties of finding a car here in Caracas, so it was with great fortune that a friend of a friend of Juan’s sister was selling one. Did you get that? That’s the most trusted way of doing business here. If you know the person, or they come recommended, the chances of a smooth transaction are high.
I’ve also mentioned that gas here is, for all intents and purposes, free. Let me put it this way, a can of coke is more expensive than a TANK of gas. The subsidization of gas here is, for lack of a better word, strange. I know every country has their issues, but for a country that has millions upon millions of people living below the poverty line the best it can do is give away gasoline? Ahhhh, my brain goes in circles considering this here. I struggle to understand the why’s and how’s of it. I think I’ll leave it for another day.
Having a car is another piece of the puzzle falling into place. It’s funny, Juan and I have always tried to live in cities where we wouldn’t be car dependent. You know, live in a place where we could easily commute using great public transportation. Montreal, by the way, was the best to date offering city dwellers and tourists alike the metro (a subway), buses, and the Bixi (a bike rental service where you can rent by the hour or the season). Bixi = bike + taxi. It’s genius. Fortunately, and unfortunately, a car here means freedom!! We no longer have to borrow Juan’s mom’s car (I’m pretty sure she loves her renewed freedom) and there is no need to plan; we can just get up and go. The unfortunate part is that we’re adding to the already overly polluted city. I guess I feel somewhat better knowing that the car is only a few years old. The emissions are low, so it assuages my guilt.
We bought the car sight unseen (crazy prospect, isn’t it?), so once it was in our possession Juan wanted to test it on the highway. This was relatively easy seeing how there was a mass exodus out of the city for those wanting to celebrate carnival. I tested it as a passenger, checking the windows, air conditioner, the seats etc. I remarked that we will never, ever have to use the heater!! I giggle at this. Tee hee. Juan will be the principal driver here for two reasons: one, I’ll never drive in the city (it’d be suicide for me or manslaughter for someone else) and two, it’s a stick shift. I never learned to drive one. I’m kind of kicking myself for that, but I learned to drive on my first cross country Canada trip. The huge camper van we had was automatic. I’ll learn to drive it once we get to the island. It’ll be good fodder for a post.
Anyway, once we finally made it to Chacao (a neighborhood) we needed to find parking. Parking on the street in Chacao is safe, but Juan wanted to park in the market’s parking lot. Parking lots here could also be another blog post, needless to say, one needs patience. Seeing how I don’t have a lot of that, I left Juan to find his way while I went in search of some goodies.
Upon entering the market I made a mental note, not to ever go there on a Saturday again or at least come earlier in the morning. We had planned on the latter, but Juan’s test drive took us a bit further than we had anticipated and into a shady neighborhood, one I was anxious to get out of. No pictures were taken there. I digress. The market was loud and lively. This was due in part to a mini carnival parade (percussion section included) making it’s way through the stalls. I love markets. I could spend hours looking at every fruit, vegetable, herb, and knick-knack. Juan, not so much. So I used this opportunity (of not having him around for 10 minutes) to discover things he’d walk past.
Not having him around also allows me to practice my Spanish. I found a store that was just up my alley. It had teas, and natural products, and really kind people. I could tell immediately that they would be patient with me, so I asked a lot of questions, even about things I knew the answers to. I ended up buying some jasmine rice (which is hard to find here), some dried lavender and some pomegranate suckers. The best find/deal for me were the wooden spoons. I’m a tactile person. I love the way things feel. I have to touch things in order to know them better. These spoons are so smooth and the colors are so rich. I just stood there and rubbed all of them. You know, to feel which ones were the best. The prices were shamelessly low, so of course I had to buy them.
After wandering around for a bit, it was time for a little coffee. Again, the people were super friendly. While waiting for our order, Juan had me try a little bit of hot sauce that was sitting on the counter. I love hot sauce. So much so, that I think I must have been Mexican in another life. This hot sauce was nothing like I have ever tasted!! It was not just hot and spicy, the flavor was really complex. I mean layers of complexity. It was phenomenal. My mouth was so happy! Juan turns to me and says, so do you want to know what’s in the sauce? I look up to where the bottles were sitting and I could see an ant on the label. Strangely, I wasn’t disturbed my this. It was more fascination. I mean how could something like an ant taste so damn good?!
The formic acid, the same acid that stings you when it bites, is what gives it flavor. Of course there is also garlic, pepper and salt added, but it’s the acid that makes this salsa spectacular. I have a feeling the kind of ant has something to do with it as well. This particular salsa is made from ants from the Amazon. I’ve seen them and they’re huge! Once home, I told a friend about my new culinary discovery and she couldn’t wrap her head around eating bugs. I understand her squeamishness, but it has opened a new world for me. I can’t wait to use this as a marinade.
Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week. ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Something strange happens here on Sundays, people slow down. It’s like they take a deep breath before the start of a new week or perhaps they have no energy from the week that has passed and just decide to go with it and relax. This doesn’t mean they stay at home and don’t do anything, on the contrary. It appears that everyone heads outdoors to spend time with family and friends.
Two fantastic places to do this are Parque El Este and the Avila National Park. Both, conveniently enough, are located in the city. Because everyone has the same idea, there are some serious lines to get into and out of Parque El Este. It’s a super crowded place on the weekend. Every group imaginable is there from yoga, tai chi, some sword fighting group, I even saw a wellness group where people were laughing so hard it was contagious. There are, of course, the walkers, the joggers, and basketball, volleyball and baseball players along with kids in strollers. Everyone is trying to get the most of the fresh air and their one truly free day.
There are kiosks of toys for kids, people pressing fresh orange juice, or serving chicha ( a semi-thick rice drink, not to my liking), there are even canteens selling empanadas and taquenos (I’ll write more about those when I have pictures of the good stuff!).
Parque EL Este is not a zoo even though it has some crocs, lots of turtles, a couple of monkeys, a few otters, and the odd large iguana running around. I particularly like watching the monkeys, but I love watching other people react, or not, to animals, especially children. People connect to nature differently than how they connect with people. In some ways it gives me hope.
I’m all about stopping and smelling the roses. Seriously, I think Juan gets tired of me picking up random things like seeds, or fruit from a tree, or feeling the texture of bark on a tree.
Take the Hura Crepitan seed for example. It stopped me in my tracks. It’s a big, hard seed which, when whole, kind of looks like a small brown pumpkin. Juan told me that people here make jewelry, key chains, or even art with them.
The tree is also referred to as the Dolphin tree because when you turn one part of the seed a certain way it looks like a dolphin. I think I’m going to try and make something out of mine. By the way, the trunk has thorns like a rose. Crazy, right?
Anyway, I like details; I like that I can think about shapes, forms, the how and the why of things. It gets my mind working and it calms me down. Nature is awesome!
After visiting Parque El Este we headed over to the Avila National Park for a little hike. The Avila is the mountain range that dominates all of Caracas. It’s a large dark green curtain of a mountain. It’s beautiful.
The beginning of our hike was, you guessed it, crowded. People with dogs, bikes and kids crammed the entrance. A few minutes later we were in our own little world. We went off of the beaten track onto a small trail.
The silence was most welcoming. It was hard to believe that solitude could be had in such a noisy city. I love this mountain for this reason. The air was pure, so clean. Caracas, unfortunately has no real air quality control, so cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles pollute in such a careless way that it breaks my heart. Huge black clouds of exhaust are everywhere.
Whenever we walk around for any length of time my nose and throat burn. It’s that bad. So the Avila really is the lung of the city. All I can say is thank god trees turn carbon dioxide into oxygen! If not, we’d all be dead from poisoning.
Walking through the Avila provided me with a great experience to discover new Nature. I saw trees and leaves that I had never seen before.
It gave me a chance to unwind, be at peace and reconnect with the most basic of things: silence, light, shadows, chirping birds and the sound of water pushing its way through rocks.
All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday. So if you ever find yourself in Caracas and need a break, head to the parks!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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!
Remind me to tell you about the beach…….
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ~ C.S Lewis
The dictionary definition of serendipity is this: the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. That is exactly how I would describe my friendship with Hayley.
Hayley and I were in the same French beginner night class. This class is usually reserved for newly arrived immigrants in Quebec. Although I wasn’t an immigrant, I needed to speak French in order to work. Through the basics of French, I quickly discovered that even though Hayley originally hailed from Australia she wasn’t an immigrant either. She’s been married to a Canadian for over 10 years.
I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame. So cliché, I know, but she had an energy that I cannot describe. I’d like to say that it was innocent, but that wouldn’t capture the essence of it. She radiated light from the inside out. She had an ease about her, a sureness. I knew I wanted to know more about her, but how? Believe it or not, I can be shy especially if it’s with people I don’t know. I needed to figure out a way to talk to her after class. I eventually found my “in”. Her husband is Latino!! I knew we’d have something in common. I mean how couldn’t we? Latino families, like most, come with a set of unwritten rules. I knew that we’d have similar stories to share about sailing those uncharted waters.
Our friendship was effortless. It was based on our love and respect of Nature (she is currently living in Banff doing every imaginable outdoorsy thing with her beautiful family), yoga (which she still practices and I rarely do), chocolate, which we both consume on quite a regular basis, language (both Spanish and French) and the love of travel.
Hayley has a tremendous a gift for sharing and encouraging people to be their best, whatever that may be. It was her that planted the seed of me becoming an ESL teacher. It was her insight and constant advocacy. She saw it, the spark I have when I teach and it all happened by accident.
I think we were in our second level of French and we had the most uninterested teacher. She was there only to collect a pay check at the end of the month. She was disengaged. She showed up and handed out the relevant worksheets; that was it. One night I was so frustrated by her lack of teaching that I left the class and vowed that I’d learn it on my own. I went home, figured it out, drew a diagram so I could remember it and returned the following night just so I could explain it to Hayley. I figured that if I could understand it then anyone could. I ended up teaching the concept to the entire class, albeit in English, but teaching nonetheless. I was able to change a difficult language concept into something simpler, something tangible, something people understood. It was then that Hayley said that this is what I should pursue.
After months of debating, she convinced me. I completed my teaching certificate and got a job teaching and another volunteering. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Hayley inadvertently gave me a wonderful gift, joy. It is because of her persistence that I get to experience that every day I teach. I am indebted her.
A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. ~ John Steinbeck
Well, for those of you who know me know that I love quotes, so I had to choose an appropriate one to “christen” my blog and to remind myself that I can’t always control my environment. So it’s a little ironic, or appropriate, that my first picture is about chaos in our apartment.
I have to credit for the name of the blog to my kindred spirit, in all things chocolate and sarcastic, Cécile.