See it is possible to smile in Venezuela. Gemma and I took a ferry to Isla de Margarita for Christmas and New Years. Its the one place in Venezuela that has the very slightest form of tourism infrastructure.
Luckily we had prebooked an apartment in a four bedroom house for Christmas. It was so nice to finally have our own little hideaway with a fully equipped kitchen, running water at all times of the day, a pool, A/C, and cable TV!
We even managed to turn a potted plant into something of a Christmas tree and put all our presents around it. Gemma and I shared our respective Christmas traditions with each other. My family always puts a clue on our gifts and you have to guess what it is before you open it. In England they have these little wrapped tubes called Christmas crackers. Two people pull each end (kind of like a wishbone on Thanksgiving) and whoever gets the bigger half gets the present inside. I won a beautiful Burger King like crown and neon green eraser on my first pull. Whoo!
The longest white sand beach we´d seen so far on our trip was only a five minute walk from the house. We spent Christmas week either on the beach or at the pool. It was the first time either of us had been in a hot weather location for Christmas and it was really odd. No one had up Christmas decorations and it was pretty hard to tell it was even that time of the year. Not alot of Christmas cheer being spread around Venezuela if you know what I mean.
After our time in the house was up we still had a week left before we flew to Buenos Aires. We had originally planned to venture back to the main land and explore some new towns but had really had enough of that by this point and moved to a less expensive area on the island where we stayed for the remainder of our Venezuelan prision sentence.
We were greated by a really friendly Irish man named Michael. He told us his hostel was different than all the rest because it was more like he had just opened up his family´s home to travelers. We didn´t realize that meant we´d be awoken at 2am to him and his brother in-law in an all out fist fight! I woke up and opened the door of our room to see Michael just getting the crap kicked out of him literally by this other guy. There was a third friend hovering but not intervening so I didn´t bother breaking it up either. Michael picked up a chair and I thought it might get real interesting but instead it was broken up by the friend. Ghetto.
All week we kept hearing about the great Christmas dinner they had prepared the previous week and Michael had invited us to dinner at around 8pm on NYE. We are traveling on a budget so we ate lunch around 2ish and then were waiting patiently for this feast to begin around 8.
We didn´t eat until midnight and this is what was served.
I was looking back through our pictures and saw this one and was like ¨what in the hell is that???!!¨ Then I remembered that was my last meal of 2009. Sweet. The worst part is when we went to check out they tried to charge us 160B´s (thats $32 dollars at 5:1 or $80 at the official exchange rate)! For slop! Either way its pretty expensive for food that you can´t even tell what it was looking at it.
But it was funny watching a little kid whiff about 20 times as he tried to hit this pinata and also seeing how aukward their family dinner was with the brother in-law, wife and Michael all eating at the same table the day after the fight.
Our last day in Venezuela proved to be exciting and terrifying. My mom had sent me my Christmas presents via FedEx because she´s the best and wanted me to have something to open on Christmas day. Well Venezuela being the well oiled machine that it is, my package with a guaranteed delivery date of December 23rd still hadn´t reached me by January 6th. After both my mother and I spent countless hours on the phone with FedEx, and then the Venezuelan courrier they had given my package to for its delivery to Isla de Margarita, we finally got them to ship it back to the FedEx depot in Caracas.
Our bus got into Caracas about three hours before our flight took off. Luckily the depot was close to the bus terminal and I finally had my Christmas presents two weeks later. It was the first time I´d ever opened my Christmas presents in the back of a taxi! Thank you again for everything Mom!
We got to the airport and checked our backpacks and then were told to go pay the exit tax. We didn´t have enough Boliviars left but planned to get out more at the dreadful 2:1 exchange rate out of the ATMs. But the ATMs weren´t working. None of the maybe 10 in the airport would give me any cash. Now its about thirty minutes till takeoff and we aren´t through security. We´re trying to tell the airline our problem and they are telling us if we can´t pay it then we won´t be allowed on the plane.
Gemma was near tears at this point and I was legitamitly freaking out when I found a money exchange office that would give us cash by charging my credit card. They took forever and charged me an additional 8% but honestly it was the best $140 I have ever spent.
We made it through security and onto the plane. I´ve often clapped or cheered when my plane lands but this was the first time I´ve celebrated when the plane took off.
I mentioned this in another post but I´ll write it again because I don´t want to think about it when I write the Buenos Aires post. On our first day in BA we were celebrating the fact that we were out of Venezuela at a bar and I got my small daypack with all my camera gear and passports in it stolen. It sucked but really I always had prepared myself for the eventuality that my bag and/or camera might get stolen. Stuff is replacable, people are not. We´re OK and stronger for having survived our time there.
Ahh Venezuela, How I hope to not think of you again for a very long time. And I´m proud to say that I received one email from a friend telling me they will never go there. Ever. So if I only reached even just one person, I did my job.