Venezuela

September 2, 2008

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela
October 2, 2008

Matilda, She Take-a Me Money and Run Venezuela
Harry Belafonte

We had booked a 1 week land trip to Merida, a western Venezuelan city in the Andes. After discovering that it would cost about $900 to fly there (it’s only a few hundred kilometers from PLC), we decided to take a bus (18 hours with 2 rest/eating stops, and, as it turned out, a shakedown by theGuardia National, who stopped the bus at 2AM and made everyone disembark, collect their luggage, go through a portable x ray machine, and get back on). Our Venezuelan friend Ricardo took us to make a reservation or buy a ticket. Upon arrival, the very attractive chica (don’t worry, all you N. Californians, this is not considered derogatory in Venezuela) told Ricardo we could neither buy a ticket, nor make a reservation. Why? Because they don’t take reservations, and don’t sell tickets more than 3 days before departure. Why is that? She smiles sweetly, and shrugs her shoulders. Ricardo says “let’s go, we’ll come back 3 days before departure”. As we turn to leave, the very same chica, looking furtively from side to side, calls us back, and puts our name on a reservation list. As we left, I asked Ricardo what just happened. Ricardo is very intelligent, speaks nearly perfect English, and is a native of PLC. He just shrugged his shoulders and said “In this country, everything is possible, and nothing is possible, at the same time.” I have decided to call this phenomenon “La regla de Ricardo” (Ricardo’s Rule), to explain everything in Venezuela which is, to me, inexplicable. (By the way, we returned to the bus station 4 days before the trip to buy the tickets. The very nice woman I spoke to before recognized me in the ticket line (she was working in the shipping line that day). She closed her line, motioned me over, and with a big smile, sold me the tickets at half price. Upon arrival at Merida, 8 days before we were to leave, they sold us our return tickets.) La regla de Ricardo.

We stayed in a timeshare in Merida that we got by trading points from our timeshare in Lake Tahoe. It’s supposed to be an equivalent trade. Here are some of La Regla de Ricardo as applied to our time share:
1) The dining room opened for breakfast at a) 8AM b) 7AM or c) never. This isn’t a multiple choice quiz. All the answers are correct.
2) Our breakfast was a) included b) not included or c) half and half. Again, all are correct.
3) The pool towels were not available at the pool. I guessed this in advance, having become a student of La Regla. We went to the office, where they “rented” pool towels, which we did. We then proceeded (where else?) to the pool. There, the pool boy asked us for identification. We had none. Finally, I understood that we had to have one of those plastic bracelets one sees everywhere at places like this. Where does one get such a bracelet? Why, at the office, of course. We walked 300 yards back to the office, and asked the very same receptionist who had rented us pool towels moments before, for our bracelets, which she cheerfully provided. I asked her with wonder why she hadn’t given us one when we were given our towels. She shrugged sweetly. La Regla.

There are many other examples. Of course. The best, however, occurred when we returned to the pool. I was admiring my new bracelet, which had a symbol of the hotel (Aldea Valle Encantado) telephone numbers, internet address, etc., and the motto “Donde se escuela el silencio” (where one can hear the silence). The hotel is indeed set in a beautiful environment-a small valley surrounded by beautiful mountains and vegetation, done in neo Andean adobe and stucco with red tiled roofs. I turned to Phyllis, who was sitting in the pool chair right next to me, to point out the motto. Unfortunately, she couldn’t hear a word I said, despite the fact that she was sitting right next to me. My words were drowned out by the ubiquitous, astoundingly loud, bad Venezuelan rock ‘n roll, heard at every pool, marina, restaurant or any where else there are more than 2 Venezuelans.

Despite all this, we loved Merida (again, having been there 20 years ago). It’s a special place with great weather, beautiful scenery friendly intelligent people, and lots of outdoorsy things to do. The highlight was a trip to a small town (Los Nevados) at 3500 meters. The teleferico (cable car) which is Merida’s main tourist attraction, has been broken forever. We took a harrowing 4 hour jeep ride on a road so bad that the jeep nearly turned around. We stayed in a very nice posada, where we were told we couldn’t go back the next day, because the road was closed for repairs. Instead, we would have to ride mules several miles, to a point where we could meet our jeep. It turned out to be horses, not mules, which I loved, but Phyllis was terrified. By the way, the road wasn’t closed (our jeep passed us on the way).

As for the rest of our time in Venezuela, I’ll resort to the old admonition not to say anything if you have nothing nice to say. Our friend, el Presidente (not Bush), who is now despised by most of the Venezuelans we met, has totally screwed up what was previously, for us, our favorite country.

Tomorrow, we leave for a leisurely cruise through the offshore islands of Tortuga, Los Roques, Las Aves, and then to Bonaire. We can’t wait to be sailing and cruising again. Hasta la vista!

Andean Village

Andean Village

Farmer

Farmer

Los Nevados

Los Nevados

Our posada in Los Nevados

Our posada in Los Nevados

hammocks on the terrace

hammocks on the terrace

Family on horse back

Family on horse back

View from our posada

View from our posada

Our horses for the trip down the mountain

Our horses for the trip down the mountain

Our friend Angel and our luggage on the mule beside him

Our friend Angel and our luggage on the mule beside him

View on the way down

View on the way down

City bus in Merida

City bus in Merida

Joia, our tour guide in Merida

Joia, our tour guide in Merida

Jeff in the Parador

Jeff in the Parador

Butterfly kisses

Butterfly kisses

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