(Reminder: all dialog/texts in italic, were spoken/written in Spanish.)
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. --American Proverb
“Excuse me, sir,” I ask the clerk. “I'm presently traveling the road to hell. I feel pretty close, and I've got a ton of good intentions. I need to buy an instruction book.”
He looks puzzled.
“I need to know exactly where to place each good intention,” I tell him. “The layout. You know? I don't want to make a road to hell like the roads here. I have the materials. I'm sure I'm headed in the right direction. I only need to know how to build it.”
“How 'bout if I leave you the good intentions? I ask him. “And you show me the way back to where I started?
As I write this, I'm in El Parque D'el Este, actually more in the center of Caracas than in the East. I sit under a palm tree. Slowly, little black ants crawling over my filthy body eat the tasty parts. According to the clock in the corner of the computer, it's 10:12 AM . I've been up for about 4 hours.
It's relatively peaceful here. If not for the insect bites, one could fall asleep.
But that's a switch..
This morning, I arrived back in Caracas at 7:30AM. After a 6 hour bus ride from Basquesimeto. Before that, 2 more busrides-- from the countryside. I slept about 3 hours on the bus. Too much AC, seats not quite comfortable enough, my stomach acting up. The days before are another story. One yet to be written or read.
Right now, I'm full of sweat and country dirt. There was no shower where I've been. Only mosquitoes and strange fruit.
Right now, my mouth tastes like dirt. No water to brush my teeth in. Only something so polluted only paramecium can live in it. Me too.
I'm exhausted. My few hours of sleep on the bus. That's it.
Now, the plan is to go back to the Carillo family where I've been staying. Take a shower. Nap a few hours. Get up around 5. Then meet Johnny, back from Columbia, Finally, move back to a place somewhat punker.
Meanwhile, I can't wait to get to the jail I've been staying in: the family of a couch-surfing friend. Mom, and daughter. I wrote about them. You need a key to blow your nose in their place. But they're great people. I'm part of the family. They cook for me, give me my own room. Wifi. Anything I want.
Mom is chronically something. Some disease. Makes her weak. She never leaves home. Anytime I arrive is okay. She's always there to let me in: Come to the gate. Open all the locks. Poke the e-keys into the elevator sensor.
It'd be rude to arrive too early. Show up at my door at 7:30 and I'd be more pissed off than a New York cab driver.. Last night I texted the daughter. Told her I'd be in at 7:30, but will wait until 9 to show up.
Nope. Mom had to go to the doctor. Appointment's at 8. Won't be back until 11.
“OK,” I text back, “I'll come at noon. How's that?”
“Fine,” she says. “See you then.”
What to do from 7:30 to noon? Have coffee? Better not. My stomach hasn't been good. Go to the to park? Read? Write? Sounds good.
I can make notes in my little notebook. (I ditched the computer for the trip to Barquisimeto. It was giving me a backache. (Did Ahab have a backache from his albatross?))
At 7:30, I walk from the bus station to the park. I walk into the park.
“Hey!” comes a voice behind me. I ignore it.
“HEY!” comes the voice again, now in all capital letters.
A man in uniform comes; touches me on the elbow.
“What do you want?” he asks.
“I want to go into the park?” I tell him.
“The park opens at 9,” he says.
[ASIDE: Later I find out this was The Park of The Arts, not The Park of the East. But I didn't know it then.]
Kill another hour. Can I risk a cup of coffee? Inside a café, I order a big Negro. (Un Negro Grande.)
Venezuelan café coffee is served in little plastic cups, without handles. A pequeňo is about the size of a pen cap. A grande is like the cup on a bottle of Nyquil. Sit and I drink it slowly, pulling out my borrowed copy of a Le Carré spy novel to kill time.
[Aside 2: I don't like spy novels. But it's all I've got, and even a daughter is better than nothing. Especially when I need to kill time. I spend MOST of my time in Venezuela killing time. I kill it. I torture it. I murder it. I cut it into little pieces, boil it in its own blood and eat it for dinner.]
I last at the café until 8:30. Then it's off, slowly, ever so slowly, to the park. I arrive just about 9 and walk in. I kill more time. I write. I read. I have a donut... uh oh? We'll see what that does to my stomach.
As I eat the donut, I suddenly remember the family. They cook for me. Always, something special. They go out of their way for me to give me a taste of local. But mostly I can't eat it. Just not my taste, and especially now. I can't eat anything.
It's 11AM, I text the daughter.
I'll be there at noon. I know how kind you are and always want to do things for me. But please don't prepare any food. My stomach has been bad these days. I really can't eat anything.
It's not long before I receive a text in response.
Mykel, we're still at the doctor. We won't be back by noon. Sorry. You'd better make it 2 to be sure.
I'll die. Or at least go to sleep. Under this palm tree. I need a real bed, and a real shower, and a real sink to brush my teeth in. I haven't done any of those things in days. But right now, I'll sleep. Nothing kills time like a nap. Close your eyes it's 11AM. Open them and it's ... 11:15.
I throw a grenade into another 5 hours. Makes sure the time is good and dead. Then I appear at the family gate at 2PM. Finally, a shower and a real nap.
“Hi Mykel,” says Mom. “Welcome back... I'm sorry to tell you we have no water. They are repairing the pipes. They're always repairing the pipes.”
“Can I go somewhere and kill myself?” I don't ask.
“That's okay,” I do say. “I just need to take a nap. I'm meeting my friend and moving back to his place this evening, about 7.”
Then, I notice the man in the house. An older man, slightly older than Mom. I guess this is Dad. I haven't met him yet. He's just out of the hospital. Something with his heart.
He introduces himself to me. He speaks a little English. About as much as my Spanish. He asks me about my trip. We talk about Venezuela in general. He asks me if I've been to Avila. I tell him I don't know what Avila is. He walks me to the window and shows me a huge mountain in the North.
“It's Avila,” he says. “It is what separates Caracas from the sea. Have you been there?”
“I expect there's a beach on the other side,” I say. He nods.
I think about my previous mountain trek, I'm not about to go alone on another one. At least not alone.
“You want to go?” he asks. “I will go with you tomorrow. We can meet and then hike through the mountain.”
That doesn't sound like a bad idea. If I'm with a local, a mountain hike might be interesting. An adventure with someone. Sure beats killing time by myself. He's such a nice guy. Means well. Wants to help me. The only problem would be... he is recovering from a heart attack. It would be like pet-sitting for someone and the cat dies.
“I'd love to go,” I tell him. “I'm staying with my friend in Los Samanas tonight. But I have nothing to do during the day tomorrow. I need to check with my friend first. If he's working, I'll spend the day on the hike. I need it.”
His face brightens with the joy of being able to escort someone through a land he really loves. As for me, I'm delighted. Time actually DOING something, exploring. Trees, flowers, little animals. Birds, conversation with someone older and probably wiser than me. Yowsah!
After that I nap until about 5:30. I text Johnny that I'm getting ready to meet him at 7 as we had planned.
How's 6:30? He texts back.
Shit! I'm up and out. Fast. Good bye kisses. Through gates. Lock-after-lock. Out to the Metro (subway) and waiting for Johnny at 6:30, at the appointed spot. At 7:45, he shows up.
“Cola,” he says. That's Venezuelan slang for TRAFFIC.
In an hour or so we get to Johnny's place. (Nice guy, I'll tell you more about him later.) I tell him about my poor stomach. He makes me a plate of plane spaghetti, no sauce. Perfect.
Then comes the phonecall.
“Mykel,” says Dad, “I'm sorry to tell you I can't go to Avila with you tomorrow. I have to stay home. Fix some things around the house. Take care. You understand.”
I nod into the phone. We say our hasta luegos. Maybe Mom talked him out of it.
“Okay,” I think. “I'll have an apartment to myself tomorrow. At least for a little while. I can use Johnny's broadband to post some internet pix. I can take a shower, there. Brush my teeth. Do what I'd do in the privacy of my own apartment. Then I can go for a leisurely walk. Sit in a café, over a big Negro. Read. Mosey on into town. Not the hike I was hoping for, but not so bad.
I fall asleep on the hard wood floor.
At 6:30 AM there's a voice somewhere in the dreamtorn abyss.
“Mykel, get up. It's time to get up. We have to leave now.”
“Huh,” I moan, my tongue not yet prepared for Spanish. “Can't I sleep until a little later?”
“I only have one key,” says Johnny. “I can't lock up if you're here.”
“But we did it last time,” I whine. “Why can't I just shut the gate behind me? It locks automatically.”
“It's not secure enough,” says Johnny. “If you stay, I'll have to return to lock up after you.”
I roll over in bed. “Fine,” I say, “I'll call you when I leave.”
“It takes an hour each way,” he says. “Cola. Cola. That's two hours out of my day to lock up after you.”
“Okay, okay,” I tell him. “I'll come. Just give me ten minutes.”
He nods, then watches me dress.
I walk into the bathroom. I can hear him pacing outside. I relieve myself, brush my teeth, and nothing more. Then BANG! We're into the car and off to Caracas. He lets me off at the subway and I go to the park. This time with my computer.
Ok, now where were we? Oh yeah:
THE $300 DOLLAR NAP, PART THREE
Recap: Exhausted, I'm barely aware of the light before being captured by an airport official on the take. He's brought me to get a local SIM card for my phone. I hand the salesman my passport to register my new number. The salesman installs the new chip. Then my captor bullies me into an expensive cab ride into town, the cab driver carefully chosen by the airport official.
At the hotel, they tell me the room won't be ready until 1. It's 9AM. I need to kill 4 hours before I can check in. I'll register now and take a walk.
The hotel costs $100 a night... I need to sleep more than anything and it's the cheapest I could find on the internet. My cellphone with the new chip rings. Who has this number? Only the phone company.
“Señor Mykel Board?” comes the vaguely familiar voice on the other end.
“Si?” I say.
“Mister Mykel. Where are you?” says the voice.
“I'm in Caracas,” I answer, “at the hotel. Who is this?”
“Don't worry. Your passport is safe,” says the voice. “I have it here at the counter. At the Digital counter, at the airport. When will you come to pick it up?”
“Can I take a bus to the airport?” I ask the desk clerk, the only helpful man in Venezuela, (and he speaks English!) .
“There is a way,” he says. “But it's difficult. You need to take a Metro to (I forget the stop), then transfer. It takes much time.”
“I don't have time,” I tell him, and explain the problem.
“Maybe I can help,” he says, going out of his way for me. “The fare is usually 150 Bolivars (about $75). I will see if I can find a driver who will go and come back for 200 Bolivars.”
I follow the guy out, and listen as he talks with the cab drivers waiting outside. There is much shaking of heads. Then one guy, sort of Italian-looking, with a big black mustache, nods. I follow him to his car 1970-something car. Could be a Buick. Fender crunched, bumper barely hanging on. I get into his “cab.” And we're off.
“You go into the airport,” he tells me. “I will circle until you come back. Wait for me, okay?”
He's a sincere, well-meaning guy. He's helping me out. Of course, I agree, and tell him I'll pay the first 100 when we get there so he can be sure I won't run away. Instead of reassuring him, I've made him more anxious.
“You will wait for me,” he says, more like a plea than a command. “I'm going to come back. To circle. You will wait for me.”
“Don't worry,” I tell him, “I will wait.”
He lets me off at the terminal. I run inside. Now, if I can only find the place I bought the chip. The phone sales booth. I know it's upstairs.
For some reason, I suddenly develop a fear that Ill run into my original captor. What if he sees me back here so soon? Will he grab me again? Force me into another expensive cab? It's one of my few fears here, that is unjustified.
First task: Find the phone stall. I know it was upstairs. Near the sliding glass doors. The entrance to hell. Ok, here are the doors. First I went to this ATM, it didn't work. Then...
I retrace my steps. ATM. ATM bank. Change money location. I come to the big curving hallway.
There it is. I remember the guy at the counter. I wave to him. He looks at me blankly.
“I'm Mykel Board,” I tell him. “I think you have my passport.”
He nods like he's disappointed. Should I give him a reward? This day has already cost me $200 and I still have to get back to Caracas. Sorry, bub, all you get is a thank you to match your expression.
I pick up the passport, run downstairs to look for my driver. There he is, anxiously searching the crowd like he's convinced I'm going to skip out on him.
I wave to him. He waves to me and pulls the cab up to the curb. I get in, and we head off for the ride back to Caracas. In the middle of the impossibly heavy traffic to town, the cab breaks down.
More next time...