Tag Archive | living like a local

Jesus Buses


Good things come, and I’m not just referring to riding the buses. ~ Lionel Blue

It’s been a few months since my last post.  I feel like so much has to be said because so much has happened, but I’m just too tired to repeat the story over and over.  In truth, I’ve been quite sad and depressed about what has happened in Venezuela since the fraudulent elections took place on April 14th.  It’s exhausting to live here on a daily basis even without seeing the most blatant display of corruption. So with the encouragement of my father, friends and a fellow blogger named Shelli (an expat writing great tales about living in Canada) I decided to put my thoughts down once again.

Post election has been a time of great  uncertainty.  Not only has an increase of  Venezuelan military presence been seen and felt, but the Cuban military has their presence known as well. There are a lot of people (including practically every South American country) vying for power, for money, the status, and the “perks” from a country that is one of the largest producers of oil in the world, and a valiant few trying desperately to walk the right path, to repair a country in the wake of being subjected to 14 years of a seriously fucked up “Social Revolution”.

In times of crisis (and there is a serious crisis here) people cling to things like hope, family, and God. Venezuela, as a Catholic country, is no different. People here don’t just believe in Jesus and God, they also believe in prophets and mystics when it suits them. I understand their need. People are desperately struggling to find answers and solutions to every day problems such as  food shortages.  Even the Church is complaining that it doesn’t have the wheat to produce the wafers for mass, nor do they have enough Holy wine. Isn’t it just a tad ironic that one of the richest countries in the world is quickly running out of food and toilet paper?  Why?  Well the answers are as numerous as grains of sand.  I think I’ll leave my theories for another post.  But what I will do is tell you about how Catholicism is celebrated here.

First let me tell you what I think of Jesus.  He’s like any other prophet that walked the Earth. I never grew up learning his stories, just like I never grew up learning Allah’s, Buddha’s , the Indian gods or countless others. Religion wasn’t in our home.  And although my parents never practiced religion, they allowed us to explore it and come to our own conclusions about what we believed. I always respected that about them. The same cannot be said here.  Catholicism is “the religion”.

Mary and Jesus,a larger than life road statue.

Mary and Jesus, a larger than life road statue.

Jesus (and sometimes Mary) is every where!  I can’t help but think of him as “Big Brother”.  It’s kind of unnerving to me on so many levels. I see him on bumper stickers,in government offices, in grocery stores, and even as graffiti.  Canadians don’t generally broadcast to the world, let alone to ourselves, that we believe in “God” in any form. People quietly go to church. So if I had to describe the enthusiasm of Catholicism in terms of color, I’d say Canadians would be on the beige side of things and Venezuelans would be on the neon color spectrum.

Maybe the overwhelming public display wouldn’t bother me so much if I really believed that people took it (God/spirituality) seriously, sincerely.  I think there is a real, tangible level of hypocrisy.  I would think in a country that has this many Christians in it, the people would be more, uumm Christian.  They’d adhere to the 10 commandments a little more, maybe starting with the You Shall Not Kill.  With one of the highest murder rates in the world, not many people are observing this. Or how about Do not lie?! The last election showed the world how far and deep lies go. Do not steal. HA HA HA, I can’t help but scoff out loud at this one. Besides the most obvious theft of money (I’m talking individuals that have stolen billions, yes billions of dollars), the theft of the last 2 elections, plus the current government is stealing people’s rights and freedom of speech. I think one of the other 10 Commandments is to Put God First.  That does not exist here. It’s come down to looking out for yourself.  God isn’t first. In fact, I think he’s quite close to last.

There are many true, pious believers, but the general feeling I have about what they believe is how I view my horoscope.  If it’s good and it suits my mood, I accept it.  If not, I think it’s silly and don’t really pay any attention. Or maybe another way to view Him is that he’s a good luck charm. I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe it’s all a facade, but in a country where they actually name their children Jesus and Mary, plus a plethora of other saints, you’d think they’d keep in mind who they’re naming these children after.

I’m confused by the display of Jesus everywhere because people are lacking the Christian values He spoke of.  It’s hallow.  I don’t ever feel neighborly love.  Sure people will speak to you on the bus, but even that has a falseness about it because you’ve become cynical and suspicious of their wants. Maybe the closest I can compare to in Canada is someone who goes to church every Sunday because that’s what they were raised to do. They go through the motions, but don’t ever really feel anything.  They attend all the important masses like Easter and Christmas and that’s the extent of it. There is no real connection. A disconnect. So maybe the difference of display in Canada is people dress in their Sunday best and here people decorate buses. I call these Jesus Buses.

Bus fees, plus a saint or two tacked up for good measure.

Bus fares, plus a saint or two tacked up for good measure.

Buses, in general, are something to look at for various reasons, such as the age (some go back to the 50’s), the color, the guy, who I call the Town Crier, at the bus stop yelling where the bus goes to, the interior decor (curtains included) and the size of speakers.  We’re in Latin America and music is a large part of life here. Reggaeton is generally the music of choice, although the slow sappy stuff is sometimes played.  We’re at the mercy of the driver’s preference.

Professional speakers and a back door. Not a common sight.

Professional speakers and a back door. Not a common sight.

One of the shabbier buses we've been on.  Speakers are nicely set up.

One of the shabbier buses we’ve been on. Speakers are nicely hooked up.

Most of these older buses are, let’s say, well-used.  They’ve been around for decades, the floors are worn, the window tint is peeled back and some (more than you’d think) with curtains are covered in a layer of very visible, allergy inducing dust.

The grungy curtains I was telling your about.

The grungy curtains I was telling you about.

I’m ALWAYS curious when we go on a Jesus bus.  There usually something interesting to look at.  The seats are so narrow that there are times when I think I can barely fit my skinny butt onto one.  People cram in and those who don’t get a seat usually have to commute with their heads bent.  Being short is an advantage here.  I’ve never had to commute in a bowing/praying position.  Another thing that fascinates me is the fact that the bus door never closes.  People stand in the stairwell holding onto the bar while the driver takes his route.  I don’t know how they don’t fall off!  I can hardly sit on the seat across from the door for fear of falling out, but people here have no fear of that.

Well, now you have to opportunity to see what I’m talking about.  Put on some loud music, sit back and have a look at the gallery.  Soak it all in.

Most seats have covers such as these.  My guess is they don’t get washed often. The headrest is frequently on the glossy side from hundreds of heads rubbing against them.

Bus seats: The King of kings.

Bus seats: The King of kings.

It appears like the same art is used and a different message is passed along.

Back of a seat: Scared Heart of Jesus.

Back of a seat: Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The art work is either hand-painted or it’s a decal.  One thing is for certain, even in Venezuela, Jesus is white.  I never understood that.  I mean, how could he have been white?

Sacred Heart of Jesus in Your honor.

Sacred Heart of Jesus in Your honor.

What can I say?

What can I say?

Jesus, I trust in You.

Jesus, I trust in You.

I particularly like Jesus and the palm trees.  That’s a nice touch!

Let's not forget about the Virgin.

Let’s not forget about the Virgin.

I should point out that there is more than one virgin and numerous female saints.  This one happens to the the Virgin of the Valley.  Personally, I have no idea who She is.

I also find it’s interesting, or again maybe ironic, that the art work is on the back window of the bus.  Perhaps if they were decorated on the inside people would reflect.  Or maybe it’s on the outside to remind drivers not to be selfish or be assholes when they’re out on the roads, you know consider the 10 Commandments. It could also serve as a reminder to ask for protection.  I’ve seen countless people make the sign of the cross before mounting a motorcycle.  Funny, because they’re the ones who take the most unnecessary risks. Me, I pray to my god to protect me from numerous things while in the car.

Well, whether this population really believes in Jesus or not, I can say with absolute certainty that Venezuela is in need of one very large miracle.   If the people took back what they valued instead of going against everything they were taught, some real changes could be made here.

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The 7th Circle of Hell

Government! Three fourths parasitic and the other fourth stupid fumbling. ~ Robert A. Heinlein

I needed to renew my ID and the prospect of this filled me with a profound sense of dread, 100 times more dread than filling my taxes.

Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy, no explanation needed.

Whenever we have anything to do at the start of the day I have to mentally prepare myself.  I repeat a mantra that goes goes something like, everything will be fine, be patient, try to remain calm, and limit your swearing.  But when we have to go downtown I need a little something extra, like donning a super hero type invisible shield.

I’ve written before about the parking lot effect of commuting in Caracas.  I can not clearly express the insanity of it all, so when we have to go downtown we usually opt for public transit.  I wouldn’t say that it’s the better option, but it’s less stressful for Juan to have to concentrate so hard while listening to my colorful commentary while trying to take over the horn.

Rush hour.  Can you see the organization with traffic going in three directions at the same time?

Rush hour. Can you see the organization with traffic going in three directions at the same time?

After hopping a mini bus (I think I need to write about these soon) and riding the subway we arrive in the center of the city.  Downtown is a world of its own.  Juan’s mom tells me that it used to be beautiful and people would go out of their way to walk in the plazas, shop and have coffee on the terraces. Now, it’s skid row.  People are loud, shifty, untrustworthy, and always trying to hustle their wares. The threat of violence is always present and palpable.  I’m quickly learning to look without watching. The grime is thick and the smell of piss is sharp. It’s a very poor area of the city. People wear years of sorrow and struggle on their faces and show their pride of Chavismo on their shirts. The irony of this is not lost on me. This is where the government office is. I call it the 7th Circle of Hell after Dante’s 7th Circle.

Dante's Inferno

Dante’s Inferno

I would really like to say that government offices here are organized chaos, but sadly I cannot.  They are absolute chaos.  The process went something like this:

Join the already super long line outside of the building. Listen to the people on both sides of us complain.

Wait around an hour to get to the front of the line, only to be told which line I need to go through once inside.

Argue with the “doorman/bouncer” to allow Juan to escort me and be my translator. His answer, no! Juan explains I don’t have a bank account to pay my fees and that he needs to pay on my behalf.

Doorman tells Juan he cannot pay for my fees and I that need a voucher that can only be paid for at a bank. Juan heads to the bank to purchase said voucher.

I go inside and try and find the line that I’m supposed to be in. It’s beyond confusing because there are 3 separate lines that occupy almost all available floor space. My line is making a perimeter around 100 sitting people.  The line is almost a complete rectangle, reaching back to the entrance.

Chaos

Chaos

I don’t want to generalize about all Latinos, but my experience with Venezuelans is that they’re a very loud bunch. The cacophony of raised voices was deafening.

I ask (yell at) the woman in front of me if the seated people are the people ahead of us. Yes, was her response.  I let out a low sigh and mumble dios mio (my god) knowing the day was going to be a long one.

Juan apparently demands to be let through the door (to give me my voucher) and finds me in the immobile queue. Once we start moving we discover that my line is actually two, one for foreigners and the other for Venezuelans. Another hour later, I have my ticket.

My paperwork is whisked away (being checked for something) and returned. I get to keep my ticket. I only had to wait for 35 more people to take their turns before mine.  I was slightly hopeful that time would pass quickly, but my hopes weren’t high.

The queue moves slowly rotating between foreigners and Venezuelans. By 11:30 we noticed that the foreigner’s numbers are no longer being called. So for an hour we waited while a skeleton staff dealt with the Venezuelans. Don’t misunderstand me, there was staff milling about, texting on their phones, talking to each other in small groups, but not working. For some unknown reason, I wasn’t the least bit fazed.  I totally expected this. Ha!  Maybe my mantra worked.

Juan took the opportunity to go out and find a snack.  Work “resumes” and I have about 15 numbers ahead of me. At 1:45 my number is called and I go to the assigned booth.  I sit down and say good afternoon and the guy looks at me like I have 3 heads.  I think he was offended.  Whatever, I maintained my smile. The guy spoke so fast that I understood about 3 words. Thankfully Juan translated.  That done, I get shuffled to another line.

This department was called Supervision. I laughed out loud. Juan says it’s a make shift job.  She essentially printed out a slip telling me the date I was to pick up my ID.  The last guy could have done this. Anyway, the date?  The following day!  I couldn’t believe it.  I thought, wow, it’s all worth the wait if I can have it tomorrow. We leave a little after 2pm.  Not bad, almost 6 hours.

Yes!!!

Yes!!!

The following morning we decided to drive downtown. We know that picking up my ID should take less than an hour.  Traffic?  Beyond horrible.  We have no idea what happened, but whatever it was affected the entire city.  Gridlock like you wouldn’t believe. Sigh. We got close enough that I could walk to the building while Juan  searched for parking. We met, I pushed my way past the “bouncer” (I knew from the previous day that I could get away with it if I asserted myself), entered a new lineup, and waited. While waiting all I could think about was, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.  Not 10 minutes later I leave empty-handed.  No ID.

disappointment

Sigh

The bottom line is that I have to return in 20 days.  I guess the woman at the “Supervision” desk had it all wrong.  Not surprising.  We chalked it up to another day of trying to get stuff done in this city of madness.

Arepas

So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being. ~ Franz Kafka

I remember when I first started dating Juan we met some of his friends at a Jazz fest and they started talking about traveling throughout South America.  One particular woman was so excited about the arepas in Venezuela that she was salivating.  Me?  Well I was instantly put off by the name.  A-repa.

Juan's mom's arepas.

Juan’s mom’s arepas.

Less than a year later I was in the land of arepa.  You’re probably asking yourself, what exactly is an arepa? I thought it might be time for a little explanation seeing how it’s part of my blog name. It’s made from a finely ground corn flour, shaped into puffy disks and can be eaten with just about anything, at any time. The easiest way for me to put it into context would be to say it’s as important to Venezuelans as bread is to the rest of us. Think of it as their equivalent to the sandwich, albeit the savory kind.  Most arepas are filled with cheese, shredded beef, plantains, beans, avocado or a mixture of all the above.

Juan's mom makes arepas with lightning speed! Once I've tried to round out one, she's on her 10th.

Juan’s mom makes arepas at lightning speed! By the time I’ve tried to round out one, she’s on her 10th.

Once here, I was excited to try it.  I mean it would be part of my daily diet and the possibilities sounded endless. I tried it and much to everyone’s surprise, didn’t like it.  Juan’s mom just couldn’t wrap her head around the reason why.  I don’t know, there was something about the texture I didn’t like; it was soft and spongy.  That  was it, I didn’t eat another one for the remainder of my time here.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s kind of like going to Asia and never eating noodles. Well all of that changed  2 years later when I’m sitting at a friend’s place (in Montreal) and her brother in law sets down a huge basket of arepas to accompany the best tasting cilantro garlic chicken I’ve ever tasted in my life.  These little corn discs were crunchy on the outside and a little doughy on the inside.  Good thing for second chances because the little arepa was redeemed!  Oh the irony.

They don't skimp on the cheese here. This cost about $3.00

They don’t skimp on the cheese here. This cost about $3.00

Areperas (arepa restaurants) here are like Subways or MacDonald’s. There is one on every corner and they’re cheap! They’re the go to meal/snack. They’re also something that you eat and it keeps you full until your next meal.  I can only ever eat one; that’s how filling they are.  My favorite is filled with the humble avocado.

The rich, creamy texture of the avocado is perfect for the crunchy arepa.

The rich, creamy texture of the avocado is perfect for the crunchy arepa.

If you live in a multicultural city, you can find “harina pan” and make your own. If Just follow the directions on the bag and your dough will be perfect. Well almost, you need to add a bit of salt. Juan’s mom, like all good mom cooks, doesn’t measure anything.  So until you’re a pro, I’d stick with the instructions.

Harina pan translates as bread flour.  This is the only brand in Venezuela.

Harina pan translates as bread flour. This is the only brand in Venezuela.

After making the pucks, the best thing to do is to fry it on both sides in a tiny bit of oil until crispy and then put them in a warm oven. Having made these for over 70 years, Juan’s mom taps them to know if they’re done. Apparently if they sound hallow, they’re cooked. To be on the safe side, I’d say bake them for about 10 minutes. Experiment with fillings and enjoy something new.

Juan likes his fluffy and I like mine flat.

Juan likes his fluffy and I like mine flat.

And if you are lucky enough to live in Montreal, check out La Arepera du Plateau.  My friend’s brother in law opened his own family run Arepera with huge success.  I can tell you first hand that the food is authentic and the arepas are fantastic.  Buen provecho!

Photo courtesy of Arepera du Plateau.

Photo courtesy of Arepera du Plateau.

I’m a Head Banger

Efficiency is doing better what is already being done.                           ~ Peter F Drucker

Living in a country that is not your own really puts the magnifying glass on one’s character. You get to discover if you’re a Type A or B personality? I’m on the obsessive A side.  What brings you joy? Nature and  food.  Are you an understanding  or compassionate person? Yes, I am. What annoys you? The list is long.  And what would truly push you over the edge? Not much. There are times when I think I should go over to a wall and bang my head, but of course, in the end, the only person I’d be hurting would be myself. What is this magnifying glass showing?  It’s glaringly obvious that I’m impatient.  It’s my Achilles heel. I really appreciate and need efficiency. I crave it like chocolate.  Maybe I was Swedish or Japanese in another life.

People here complain about inefficiency all the time.  It’s a topic of conversation, much like the weather is for Canadians.

DSC03408

A dreary Montreal day.

We really got dumped on last night, didn’t we?

Yea, another 30 cm of the white stuff’s coming.

God, when will winter end?

I don’t know; yesterday was the first day of spring.

Sound familiar?  You can always insert rain for snow if you’re living in Vancouver.

A relatively small line up.

A relatively small line up, inside and out.

In Caracas the conversation goes something like this:

Aarrgghhh, an audible sigh, immediate look of despair, eye rolling commences. Turn to the guy that just came up behind you. The line up for the bank/check out/pharmacy counter is horrendous.

It’s always like this. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you come.

Yea, I know.  Hey, hold my place in line. I’m going to see if the other line is moving faster.

Sure.  If your line is moving faster, I’ll come over.

20 minutes later……… you’ve moved up 3 spots, but look on the bright side, you just made a new friend.

No explanation needed.

No explanation needed.

So yesterday Juan had to go to deposit 2 checks at one bank.  We take our place in line and within seconds, 15 people were standing behind us.  There is one teller open and every 30 seconds someone is going up to the teller to ask for a deposit slip while a client is trying to do their banking.  Yes, you read that right.  It’s 2013 and they’re still using deposit slips.  Here is one of the problems, the bank won’t leave any on the counter because people take them.  Really?! Well of course they take them!!!!  They don’t want to waste their time.  Your banking takes twice as long because of the constant interruptions and of course after you picked up your slip, you have to go to the back of the line to fill the damn thing out.  Head banging commences.

We waited our 25 minutes, I go ahead of Juan to ask for deposit slips (you know for next time). I leave so the guy doesn’t see through our thinly disguised plan.  A couple minutes later I see Juan standing in line for the bank machine.  He tells me the teller will only deposit one check and not the other because it was under a certain amount. WTH?  My second bout of head banging  is in full swing.  Our turn comes up and the machine is temporarily out of service!!  Of course it is. Now I know you’re asking, why didn’t he just use the machine in the first place?  People don’t trust them.  If a check goes missing, the bank has a “it’s not our responsibility” attitude.  It’s risky.

There was another branch on the other side of the mall so we decided to walk over.  Guess what?  That side of the mall was closed and wouldn’t be open for another hour and a half. This head banging session is coming to a close and the head shaking in disbelief starts.

Of course, I always having a running commentary with Juan about using bank cards instead of deposit slips, streamlining procedures at the teller, efficiency, etc.  And although he concurs, I think he’s tired of me pointing out the glaringly obvious.

Here’s a perfect example of inefficiency, if you deposit a check you have to have your photo taken and you need to give your thumb print.  The teller to camera  ratio is about 2 to 1, and it’s required for ALL checks.  So if you deposit 10 checks, that means 10 photos and 10 thumb prints are taken.  All of that takes time. Can you feel the pain?  Oh and talk about Big Brother!  But that’s a whole other post.

Anyway, that was the first of three banks we had to go to yesterday; they went just as smoothly.

Line Up, Queue, Cola…

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?

Line up for the bank.  A great way to start the day.

Line up for the bank. A great way to start the day.

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.

Rush hour.  Can you see the organization with traffic going in three directions at the same time?

No, this isn’t a parking lot.  This is rush hour. Can you see the organized flow of traffic going in three directions at the same time?

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.

People waiting to insure their cars.  This line up is two people deep.

People waiting to insure their cars. This line up is two people deep.

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!

I'm waiting for Juan waiting at the Notary Office.

I’m waiting for Juan waiting at the Notary Office.

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?

This is not traffic.  This is a line up to get to the gas pump.  It does affect traffic, though.

This is not traffic. This is a line up to get to the gas pump. It does affect traffic, though.

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.

Nature’s High

All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: Freedom, Justice, Honor, Duty, Mercy, Hope, Smoothies.

Juan’s mom and I made a quick trip to the fruit and veggie market the other day and while we were meandering around we came up a fruit I didn’t recognize.  This is pretty common for me.  There are lots of tropical fruit that I have no idea what they are.  It wasn’t the pear shape that interested me, nor the yellow color, it was the aroma.  Now when I say aroma what I really mean is the drug like effect it had on my senses.  No word of a lie, this fruit has an euphoric effect.

Guayaba or guava in English.  My new love!

Guayaba or guava in English. My new love!

The new focus of my desire is called guayaba, or in English guava.  I’ve tried it  before in a jelly fruit candy.  The smell isn’t the same, but I had a general idea of the taste.  Anyway, for the rest of that morning we drove around with them in the car and all I  kept thinking was, this could be bottled and sold as a natural anti-depressant.  Well I guess eating them is easier than bottling and the nutritional value is outstanding!

The new anti-depressant?

The new anti-depressant?

I decided to make a batido (or a smoothie).  I cut the fruit length wise and cut them into cubes, like I do with mangoes.  This by the way, is the wrong way. Juan’s mom came into the kitchen and told me that I needed to peel the skin like a potato and then cut it into smaller pieces.  I was just going to throw everything into the blender willy nilly, but this is also incorrect.  After cutting the guava and placing it in the blender, you need to add a lot of water and blend on high.

Mashing the pulp.

Mashing the pulp.

The next step is to put the juice through a sieve and mash all the pulp out.  This process also removes  the seeds, which by the way are as hard as little pebbles.

Look at all of those seeds!

Look at all of those seeds!

I also decided to add some papaya. This is something I wish I liked more, but I can’t get over the smell. The color, on the other hand is something that I love!  I put it in smoothies because it’s supposed to be SO good for you.

A bin full of papayas.

A bin full of papayas.

The last thing I put was an apple. I had no idea if this combination would work, but I thought, What the hell?  It won’t be that bad.

The tart component to balance the sweetness.

The tart component to balance the sweetness.

And it wasn’t!  Actually, it kind of tasted like a mild bubble gum.  I think next time I’m going to add passion fruit to my guava juice.  You know, there are a million different possibilities here!

Voila!

Voila!

Sunday in Caracas

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.

View of the Avila from Parque El Este.

View of the Avila from Parque El Este.

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.

A wandering turtle.  I think it was lost.

Turtle

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!).

A 2 foot long wandering iguana.

A 2 foot long wandering iguana.

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.

Taking a sip of water.

Taking a sip of water.

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.

Hura Crepitan seed.

Hura Crepitan seed.

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.

Can you spot the dolphin?

Can you spot the dolphin?

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?

Hura Crepitan Jewelry

Hura Crepitan Jewelry
Picture courtesy of http://www.angelfire.com

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!

Pink Bloom

Pink Bloom

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.

A whole lot of roots.

A whole lot of roots.

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.

Twisted trunk.

Twisted trunk.

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.

I call this the Pimple tree.

I call this the Pimple tree.

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.

I call this the Face tree.

I call this the Face tree.

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.

A little nest.

A little nest.

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!

I love the contrast of the green and yellow of this grasshopper!

I love the contrast of the green and yellow of this grasshopper!

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

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!

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