Woe is me…Venezuela

So, you’ve probably noticed my lack of entries during our almost two month stint in Venezuela. Due in part to the excitement and activities planned with my husband’s thirteen siblings and extended family, but more out of frustration. Additional, as a country with a watchful eye, I have been reluctant to muse, or especially,  critique while still resting within its borders.

As gently as it can be stated, Venezuela would have not been on my list of places to visit, much less spend a significant amount of our trip in, had I not married a wonderful man from this incredibly complex country. I’m having a difficult time summing up my emotions when it comes to this place….The family reunion and welcoming to my husband’s family, the intrinsic value placed in/on family, and the outpouring of pride of country and political leaning all lend themselves to the side of Venezuela that I love. It is a diverse country, of land, of people, of wealth. It’s plights are many, and during our stint here we have been on the receiving end of many.

Locals jest that Venezuela is the “land of lines.” I concur, that it truly is. Police are not respected, stoplights have no meaning, and no matter where you go, there is a line to wait in before your arrival. Without going into the specifics as to why, the current political situation in Venezuela is caliente, and very volatile.

While we are unable to acquire flights out of the country, I’m trying to remain positive. Our extended stay here has cut three weeks out of our itinerary, and is significantly altering our travel plans. Hopefully within the next week we will have a way out; to anywhere, and continue our adventure. For now, I’m going to try to reflect on the experiences and adventures we have enjoyed in Venezuela. Overlooking the negatives, (which I will try to address with more clarity at a later date,) there is magical culture, amazing beaches, good food, and the spiritual oasis that is the Amazon. I revel in diction and dictation, but find that if a place can render me speechless, it has found a home in my heart. Venezuela has its place. Image

Lake Maracaibo and the Maracaibo bridge. Though today, technically not a lake, it is the largest lake in Venezuela. The bridge, according to Wikipedia, is “the longest prestressed concrete bridge in the world.”

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Districto Commercial en Curacao

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IMG_3028Districto Commercial en Curacao

Curacao is a major Caribbean cruise ship sea port. It has been interesting to see the differences from one side of the island to the other. The port side consists of very nicely appointed building, painted in fashionable colors, the streets are clean, you pay for parking, there are market street vendors, and stands for tourist curiosities. Street stands work on the barter system, which I apparently need to get re-accustomed to, because I got dupped with my first purchase. I bought a small tourist trinket for three bucks and later found someone selling them three-for-five. Oh well. Lesson learned.
Having made our way to Maracaibo, VZ it is interesting to compare the two country’s a similarities and differences when it comes to their most valuable commodity: crude oil. Both the island and the country are littered with ugly refineries. In both, the air is thick in the evenings from the constant burning in the plants. Their economies are both reliant on the industry. As a consumer of petroleum I recognize it’s current significance on a global scale. But I am also someone who would like the tides to change; for us as a global community to realize and actuate the use of alternative fuels. I can’t personally claim to have much knowledge of these other options, but I believe that our dependence on petroleum has a gross political, social and environmental impact. My friend recently sent me this article about Venezuela’s tar pits and I found it to be a very informative read. http://oilsandstruth.org/china-explains-move-out-canada-venezuela. The major differences between Curacao’s petroleum and Venezuela’s is price. Venezuela’s government has chosen to restrict its oil exports, so gasoline within the country is very, very inexpensive. Yesterday, we paid twenty cents a gallon for gas. While in Curacao, gasoline prices are comparable to those in the states. This is primarily because Curacao exports the majority of their petroleum.
Fruit. Wow. Tropical fruits are my favorite! And said fruits, whilst in the tropics; the best. Giant avocados, guanabana, tamarind, duran, pineapples, plantains, strawberries, mango, banana, and coconuts…I’m in fruit heaven! In both Curacao and Venezuela, fruits are plentiful, but imported. They are imported from Columbia, El Salvador, Chile, Brazil and Panama. Curacao is completely reliant on import industry for almost all of their commodities. The people making money in these countries (either work in government) or have import businesses that take advantage of this reliance.

El Acuario en Curacao

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IMG_2955El Acuario en Curacao

We’ve spent the last few days as tourists in Curacao. We’ve been to the Hato Caves, which are limestone caves above former plantation lands. The caves move upward into the mouton-side, so unlike most caves, they do not get cooler as you go further, they get more and more humid. Though I think the Jewel Caves, in North Dakota, are the best I’ve seen to date, this was an interesting day trip. (http://www.nps.gov/jeca/index.htm) The tour guides have to give the tour in as many languages ad represented by the groups purchasing tickets, so we listened in Spanish, in English, and then in Dutch. As people fascinated with language, this in itself was very enjoyable for us both.
We also went to The Curacao Aquarium. Admittedly, I thought this to be a tourist trap. In some ways it was, but we got to touch Manta Rays, get up close with flamingos, Alex touched and fed a nurse shark, and we watched rescued Patagonian dolphins perform a pretty spectacular show. What the aquarium lacked in size, it made up for in character and the people working there were passionate about sharing their knowledge of the surrounding sea life.
The reef system around these Caribbean islands are shallow ones, and in eminent danger of being destroyed. Many studies are being done along these reefs and in the depths below in attempts to protect them. There is a crawl space for people to get in the middle of this reef aquarium, hence the goofy photo.

Willemstad, Curacao

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Willemstad, Curacao

Estamos en Curacao!
With a few hiccups, our adventure has begun! We were supposed to be in Aruba for a few days, but had some flight complications. To be more specific, we attempted to check-in on Monday morning for our flight, and we were told the flight didn’t exist. Um, it DIDN’T EXIST! We’d had this flight booked since last March! As is turns out, the connecting airline from Aruba to Maracaibo, VZ apparently no longer exists, and nobody told us. No airline. No flight. No Aruba. (for now)
With some major scrambling (and almost no sleep,) we secured a similarly priced flight to Curacao, where one of Alex’s sisters lives. Curacao is the largest of five Caribbean Islands under the Administration of the Netherlands. The official languages are English and Papamiento, though Dutch is also taught in the schools. Alex’s cousins have grown up learning four languages; spanish is spoken throughout the island, and in their home as well. This is a photo of the port side of a major canal that runs through the capital of Curacao. There are many street vendors and restaurants in the area. Everything is built around the remnants of slave barracks from the late 1800’s. Brightly colored stucco buildings are the norm and advertisements for electronics, types of beer, and lottery litter every available space.
Our immersion into spanish speaking was immediate. When you speak spanish in this household, you also apparently need to yell. Alex’s family is unbelievably loud, but I love them already. He hadn’t even met some of these nieces and nephews, and already its how I imagine it always was. Our days here are going to be spent helping to plan the sixteenth birthday of Paula, Alex’s niece. She’s also competing in the finals for Ms. Teen Curacao. I don’t know why, or how, but I’ve been designated driver for our stay. Alex’s sister is afraid to drive here. Go figure. People drive crazy here! Add to the crazy drivers, a car full of people loudly directing me, in spanish, where to go, and sometimes expressing different opinions about the direction we’re taking.