This is the last installment of the Bogotá/Caracas trilogy. I’m now back home in Florida, and between getting settled, resting up, seeing friends and family, and fighting with Blogger over video uploads, I’ve slacked up on the blog. Sorry, y’all.
Here’s video of Saturday night’s Brazilian do, with Big G handling the ladies.
As I typically wake up every weekday morning at 6am for school, I woke up late on Sunday: 6:30. Bad idea. As typical of Latin America, even in a capital city of almost five million people, everything within walking distance of the Hotel Harmony was shuttered with metal roll-down barriers. Even McDonald’s was closed; some pancakes would have hit the spot right then and possibly weighed the stomach and eyelids down enough for a quick pre-lunch nap. No dice. I ate a couple of stale ham and cheese pastries at a dusty li’l luncheonette on the corner and straggled back to the room under the increasing heat with day-old clothes, the desire but not the ability to sleep, and a vacuous hole in my social schedule, since no one in the whole damn city was sure to be up before noon.
Around ten, I caught the bus to Latin America’s largest mall, Sambil, thinking that it’d be open, since shopping is Venezuela’s most popular sport after baseball. Wrong. I headed back toward the hotel via Sabana Grande, another bargain basement retail district with bootleg DVDs and knock-off handbags. Some of the stores were just opening, and because of my tremendous shopping fubar in Bogota a few days before, I was in dire need of a couple more shirts and some jeans. All the stores featured t-shirts in Foreign English—”Look Me,” “Red Knorth Crazy,” “Nigth’s Gangsta”—phrases that I couldn’t even remotely pass off as intentionally ungrammatical or witty. For all my love of the varied permutations of vernacular English, I’m a purist when it comes to indecipherable gibberish and my wardrobe. Finally, the mall opened, I had lunch (Wendy’s) and spoke to George on the phone, who was involucrado for most of the day, inspiring me to investigate the prospects for my own afternoon of being involucrado. Involucrado‘s how you want to spend an lazy afternoon in Caracas, trust me.
Later, I hooked up with G and Alaa and Alaa’s brothers for little hookah (me, no) and some political convo: they look at Chavez pragmatically, saying that he’s done many good things in addition to being a major fuck-up (and Alaa is a merchant and businessman, of a class directly opposed to the Venezuelan president) and are resigned to taking the bad with the good. They lamented the increase in street crime and ridiculous cost-of-living increases (renting a room in the capital now costs damn near US$700 a month!) and I lamented the near impossibility of living comfortably in Caracas as a foreign teacher who’d only make about $1400 a month at the most prestigious school. We compared the country to Colombia, their neighbor and my former home, and we acknowledged Colombia’s superior system of education and (truly) stronger governmental institutions, while giving Venezuela the edge in social interaction and open-ness—with the odd exception of Cuba, no other country in Latin America comes as close to Brazil as Venezuela does in terms of genuine warmth and friendliness on all levels, regardless of skin-tone or nationality; I never, ever remember receiving shade of any kind after four trips to the country. After a late night street hot dog (which in Venezuela means keeling over with ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, onions, potato chips, and pineapple sauce), I crashed from the fatigue of two relatively sleepless nights.
Monday meant scrambling for last-minute souvenirs and t-shirts emblazoned with symbols of the city (Indiani, baby), and I had lunch with the fellas before Alaa’s brother, Jamal, offered to take me on his scooter to catch the airport shuttle bus. On the way, we were stopped by CCSPD for riding without helmets. I went “gringo,” pretending that I didn’t understand Spanish and speaking only English (luckily, Jamal had lived in Chicago for a while, so the bit worked). He did get a $200 ticket (sorry, dude), then they let us head on off to the shuttle stop, helmet-free, suitcase, and all. Ghetto fabuloso.
Here’s some raggedy raw footage of the getaway, including some typical tropical driving techniques and my own Spanish commentary (still don’t know how to add music to my movies yet; the theme song would have been “Guaio a Caracas” by Paul and Mark…can anyone help with this?). More photos forthcoming.