Oct 5, 2010

Venezuela: Where boys are groomed to dance

This is the road to hell in Caracas as of July 2006.

In a country with so many Italian immigrants, Italy winning anything is a cause for celebration, let alone the World Cup. This event marked my arrival in Caracas in 2006 on the day of the final game between Italy and France. Surrounded by Italian flags and an absurd number of cars, there was no way to beat the crowds… It is not a surprise that everyone has a car in Venezuela which is an oil exporting country where the tank fills up for 2 Dollars. So even poor people do. Which means a lot of traffic in Caracas and low quality petrol giving you head ache and a soar throat after a while.

Will these Absolut ads ever go out of fashion?

Venezuela’s nature is amazingly diverse and beautiful. Despite that, it is not a touristy country. It is also inexpensive but the political agenda of the president Chavez makes life inconvenient for tourists. You cannot change money in a bank for instance. So I had to carry all my cash with me. I was lucky to be hosted by my Venezuelan friend so I had no problem of exchanging  with her friends. Her presence also made our domestic travels very convenient for us. Crime rates are high in Venezuela so one must be careful. But I took the metro in Caracas, walked alone in the street as a blonde woman and not only in chi chi Alta Mira and Las Mercedes but also other parts of the city and had no problems.

The sunset at the beach in Gran Roque.

Typical sand dune in the archipelego Los Roques.

Venezuela is located by the Caribbean so our first destination was the Archipelago Los Roques, half hour by plane from Caracas. We landed at tiny Gran Roque and settled in our pretty posada while we were taken by the beauty of its colonial architecture and colors. We were then taken to the catamaran. Close to the blue voyage concept in Turkey, the boat took us to an amazing scenery dotted with reefs and coral islands. You can scuba dive, lie on the beach and relax or just look at butts, yes!…in the country of beauty pageants,  women -no matter what age and weight- wear such bikinis that leave their butt pretty much open for view! However, there are no topless women as we see back home. When you ask why not, the answer is “we are a conservative Catholic country” …Excuse me?

And our jeep departs for Gran Sabana, now playing Angie by Rolling Stones, amid the rain.

After this initial Caribbean escape, we left for the Gran Sabana. We flew from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz and rented a jeep that came with a driver who was at the same time a guide, an entertainer and a caretaking dad (peeling mangos for us). The jeep safari of 4 days was of this highland was most adventurous with dust, skidding in the mud, driving on the runway of airports, passing military check points due to drug traffic, seeing the El Dorado prison on the road and dirty little small towns. It involved in staying low key places with no shower for couple of days, lots of insect repentant, walking, boat trips and life jackets. 

The Salto Aponguao waterfall makes you think that life is so much larger than us.

You have to give up some luxury to see the 105 m high Salto Aponguao waterfall that you actually hear before seeing. Gran Sabana is large, wild, pretty and quiet. It is full of little Indian villages, all sorts of waterfalls, monkeys, mining towns, tepuis. Its emptiness makes you feel like you are at the end of the universe totally disconnected from the world. Indeed, in our posada in S. Elena D’Uairen this is exactly how we felt. Here we are at the border of Brazil and Venezuela so deep down, even if we wanted to, we cannot go back to civilization for days! It is a liberating feeling. 

Vast, empty and quiet, typical Gran Sabana.
We couldn't pass the border to Brazil because we didn't have yellow fever shots.

On our way back we passed through El Callao and ran into a religious festival with music and a spontaneous dancing crowd. Dancing is a way of life in Venezuela…mothers tell their sons: “if you want to have a girlfriend, you have to learn to dance”. So starting from a young age, the boy is dancing at home with female relatives then accompanies cousins to parties as a dance partner. Then he learns…what a perfect system! I feel like starting an exchange program between mothers in Venezuela and Turkey. And let me tell you no woman can resist that Latin man who can shake his butt like that…I am telling you there is something about butts in this country:-). Apparently, dancing is also the “entry point” for groping.

El Callao residents celebrating their religious festival with dancing and music.
In the El Callao festival, she is dancing too.

My last stop in Venezuela was the Henri Pittier national park, and Choroni in particular. Although the park is famous for bird watching, July was not the right season. I stayed in a posada in Puerto Colombo that had a nice colonial setting which provided a nice refuge for I was alone and had to wear hats and sunglasses to get rid of unwanted male attention, so beware fellow female lone travelers! It will not deter a Latin man who will nevertheless come up to you and make hand gestures that are meant to tell you to remove your sunglassesJ. You will nevertheless enjoy the beach of Plaja Grande with its coconut trees. In the evening, Puerto Colombia’s harbor is colorful and full of families, fishermen, corn and beer sellers, tourists that watch the sun set.

Sunset in Puerto Colombo, in H. Pittier national park.

One really enjoys the noncommercial tourism in Venezuela. There is an incredible variety of activity from the Andes, to the Amazon and the Caribbean. Fruits and juices are wonderful so is the rum. While the meat and chicken tastes really good, one ends up overeating it. Nevertheless, Venezuela is a destination to go back, this time in combination with Colombia…..