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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Into Venezuela

Click on the picture below to see my VZ pix


THE $220 NAP

1:48 pm Caracas, Today has been one of those travel days that

  1. make you wonder about the value of ever going beyond your own city limits and

  2. provide the raw wheat for the bread of tales to come.

Last night: Rand Ali is the guitar player for ANTI-EVERYTHING

, and one of my Trini heroes. (Read: one of the top ten nicest guys in the world. Right up there with Albert Schweitzer and those guys in Bulgaria who had a pet name for their washing machine).

He picks me up at Steve's mansion in Bumfuck T'dad... right next to Middle-of-Nowhere. It's a hell of a ride from Port of Prince to Bumfuck, but Randy does it. Then, back to pick up some other boys in the band, to their practice space, where they ask me to do some vocals for their next CD. They think my voice will be exotic. I can riff. Oh yeah, I'm not gonna pass that up. I haven't been on a record since Peter Peter use me for a BLEEDER something or other, right at the turn of the millennium,. It'll be great to scream again.

We do the the recording. Besides screaming, I play a news reporter in the midst of an urban riot. I also count off 1-2-3-4 in seven languages.

After the recording, we go for doubles, and then go to Randy's family's house. Here is Randy with his brother in a picture from yesterday's adventure: THE CURRIED DUCK CONTEST, not yet posted.

Randy moves into his brother's room. I have Randy's room, and can sleep... for 3 hours. At 4AM, the three of us get up, go to the airport. We part and I wait on line to check in for the flight to Caracas. Groggy, spaced, in a three-hours-of-sleep funk. I'm not having fun.

The line is not as long as the original NY check-in line, and it moves fast... until I get to the front zig of the roped zig-zag. At that point, the computer system stops working. The line stops. Dead. Nothing moves.

“Sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” comes the announcement, “we are having problems with our system. It should be up soon. Thanks for your patience.”

I put my hand to my stomach. I'm having problems with my own system. But it'll keep, I think.

With still enough time left to run through security and MAYBE buy a bottle of booze in the duty free shop, I finally get to the front.

I plan to stay with Johnny the Punk in Caracas, with a back-up family of Venancio, a couch surfer, in case Johnny flakes, or my luck continues. My luck does not continue... it gets worse. Much worse.

I do manage to buy a bottle of rum for the back-up family and make it to the gate slightly before the wheels lift off for their trip across a tiny section of water.

Ah Venezuela, the most beautiful girls in the world, they say. Stephen, my host family dad bought me some “Trinidad Viagra,” for the occasion.

“Works like the real thing,” he tells me. “You can hang your hat on it.”

“Oh yeah,” he tells me later. “You need to take only half a pill. Each one's a double dose.”

Good thing he told me, I think.

[ASIDE: My first plan was to take a boat to Venezuela. It's only 7 miles at the closest point. In New York, I did some internet research and found a boat that leaves once a week. A contact number and email address was listed. Some comments said the boat had been discontinued. I tried both contacts. No reply. So I opted for the plane.

In Trinidad, I discover that the boat does, in fact go, but the company never answers email, and rarely answers the phone. The boat costs about $100 round trip. The plane costs $400. I booked a no-refund ticket. I lost $300. It's a pattern you'll see repeated.]

The flight is only 1 ½ hours. I sleep for an hour of it. I've got a hotel reservation for the first night. A hotel looks better than some punk house in the “local address” section of the immigration form. Besides, Johnny said he wouldn't be home until 7PM, and I need a shower and a nap.

My body itches. The combination of peeling sunburn and thousands of mosquito bites makes me want to pull my skin off. Every day, I cover myself with poison. Every day dozens of mosquitoes find the spots I missed.

I don't get it. Nobody in Trinidad has screens. Neither hotels nor private residences. An island of mosquitoes. No screens. Maybe it's a religious thing. A superstition. God shouldn't strain himself entering your house. I donno. Maybe the locals don't get bit. Different diet. Different color skin. Mosquitos go for white meat, or currently red meat... payback for a relaxing day in the sun.

Before I get to the hotel, there are a few things I need to do at the airport. I want to use my ATM card to take out about $100. Then use the little cash I brought with me to change with Johnny's friends in town. The official rate is 2 Bolivars to a dollar. On the black market, it's 3 to one. Johnny said not to change much at the airport.

Besides withdrawing money, I want to eat something, get a Spanish-English dictionary, and buy a SIM card for my telephone. All of those things should be possible in the airport of any city of size. Caracas is some size. 5 million including the near burbs. I shouldn't have any trouble doing those things there. Right? Yeah, right.


That sign is posted next to a little corner table in “The Museum of the Sacred,” a small Catholic museum next to the largest Cathedral in Caracas. I write this while sitting on a concrete bench in the botanical garden. There are three other concrete benches. One is empty. One is occupied by the bags of a woman who sits on a giant leaf on the ground, resting her elbow on the bench. The third is occupied by a Japanese(?) woman and her Venezuelan paramour. The woman struggling in Spanish, but her arm on his shoulder, the way she crosses her legs, says more than her palabras.

Oh yeah, for the non-Spanish speakers amongst you:

In this oasis of peace, you (familiar you, like THOU) can sit to read, reflect. If you're a poet, write and inspire yourself. The silence and solitude will help a man find himself.

[NOTE: Any American in the 2008 who does not speak at least some Spanish ought to be ashamed. Even George W. Bush speaks Spanish, and he's an idiot.]

This little museum and this garden are the silence and solitude amongst a whole lot of... er... I think the technical term is FUCK UPS!

When I get off the plane, I carry my bags to customs. Only carry-ons. I know how to travel. I have one duty-free bottle of rum. I told you about it... It has a bonus.

Though I travel a fuck of a lot, I'm a nervous traveler. I hate airports. I hate customs and immigration more. I must not have an honest face. They stop me. Every time, every country. Strip search, or just pick a bag and open it. It's awful. I'd be the world's worst smuggler. So I declare everything. Red door. Green door. I go through the red door.

“I bought this tube of toothpaste in Canada,” I say. “Do I have to declare it?”

Usually, the inspectors are charmed by my honestly, and just laugh and wave me though.

Once I declared 5 bottles of rum coming back to the US from The Dominican Republic. You're only allowed 2... I wasn't going to try anything funny. The customs guard thought it was funny though. She smiled and waved me through. I always declare something.

I pass through customs. Hand in my form detailing how many cosmetics, how many electronics, how many books, etc. I tell her about the bottle of rum. It works, I think. The guard waves me through. Not very friendly. But no trouble either... I think.

I try to find the door to the main part of the airport. I have things to do. There is no door.

No exit sign. No SALIDA. Only a big blue-tinted glass wall.

“Como puedo salir?” I ask one of the many tan-clad guards.

She points to the glass wall. As I approach it, it opens.

On the other side are two uniformed men. Here it comes. I can feel it. One guy points to me, the other takes my back pack, which I am now rolling.

“You speak English?” he asks.

I nod.

“Where are you going?” he says.

When I was on my hike to the beach in Trinidad. The halfway point was clearly marked with a sign that meant. You've reached the top. It's all downhill from here. There should have been such a sign on the other side of that glass door.

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