Saturday, December 31, 2005
Our faculty advisor for the trip was Annie Bauer. Annie is a fascinating woman with a deep background leading teams in a variety of settings across private enterprise and international development. We found Annie to be a tremendous asset in helping us to manage our team dynamic, develop our project goals, facilitate interaction with the client, and adapt our work style to logistical and cultural challenges.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
It took a little bit of searching to find space available in a hostel for two nights. But it was a relief to discover very cheap rates for reasonable accommodations ($7 per person). It was now clear that
During our first day, we sampled a $1.25 lunch at a local restaurant, did a quick tour of the city, and tasted ice cream from
After our urban explorations we headed to a travel agent to find out what kind of trip we could fit in during the remaining 48 hours. Guamanchi Expeditions was recommended to us by Adriana, Commercial Director at DHL Venezuela. The agency is owned by John and Joelle Pena who are close friends of Adriana’s niece. Of course, in
Upon arrival we met Jan, a friendly Danish guy, who quickly dispelled any plans of climbing a 5,000+ meter peak. Logistics, preparation and acclimatization were the critical impediments sighted. I was less aggressive than usual given our 48 hour time limit and my travel partners novice climbing level.
In lieu of a real climb, Sienna and I signed up for a jeep trip to Los Nevados followed by a ~15 kilometer hike to a mountain pass at 4200 meters and a ride back down to Merida on the longest, highest teleferico in the world. This would get us close to three of the peaks and back to
On Wednesday morning, a young
With Rafael in tow the four of us departed for the 4 hour drive to Los Nevados. Breathing in dust and taking in beautiful mountain views, we listened intently to Rafael’s adventure stories and the local park ranger’s update about someone getting killed the previous night (no real details available). Also, we were intrigued to hear about 2 Belgians who have not been heard from in over 4 weeks after heading up
When we arrived in Los Nevados we took quick power naps in the hammocks at the hostel and headed o
The farm is populated with 4 children and 3 adults and a wide variety of animals. The matriarch is an older man of 86 years who walks with a cane and has some dope glasses and a killer hat. His wife and sister are also very mature and equally warm and friendly. We took a few pictures, shared some stories, listened to Rafael play the cuatro (Venezeulan 4 string guitar), and then got back on our way.
In the evening Rafael introduced us to another local patriarch. The 83 year old woman is now bedridden from a stroke and was surrounded by members of her family in what, as near as I could tell, equates to a death vigil. She and Rafael shared stories from previous trips he made through Los Nevados.
The following morning we got up early and left at 7am for the hike up to the Alto de La Cruz pass. We left from 2700 meters and made our way up a very well traveled path. This trail serves as the dirt highway for the locals that send goods into town via the teleferico (our final destination).
The weather was emaculate and the views breathtaking as we ascended to 4200 meters. We were accompanied by two very friendly dogs and two more focused mules. Although we did not use the mules, they were included in the excessive fee that we paid to our new friends at Guamanchi.In any case, we arrived at the pass around 12:30pm and got our first close up glimpse of the highest peak in
After taking in the view, we made our way to the teleferico a few hundred meters away and headed back down to
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
On Saturday December 17th I began a search for bus tickets to
I first headed to the ticket o
I headed to La Bandera – the sketchy bus station that I was told to not go anywhere near – to check out the situation there. I learned that pre-sold tickets to
On Monday December 19th, I arrived at La Bandera again about 7am in order to beat the crowd. But I hadn’t taken into consideration that every bus for every destination would be on sale at the same time. The bus station was a spectacle of meandering lines from the 8-10 di
After 3 hours creeping slowly forward, I found myself at the desk and was rewarded with two tickets on the overnight bus. The next person in line asked for the same tickets only to be told the bus was now sold out. I smiled at the ticket agent, she smiled back and I left to find somewhere to stash my 40 pound pack.
I now settled in for a long wait for the overnight bus at 8:30pm (it was 10:00am). I also was left wondering if Sienna would arrive from her weekend trip to Los Roques (carribean islands) in time to catch the bus. Fortunately, everything went o
Not too unexpectedly, the departure area was an absolute mess. Hundreds of people in di
This system is built to breakdown if buses are late. Given the dramatic tra
Dripping with sweat we were fortunate to hear that the 8:30 passengers were being permitted to pass through to the awaiting buses. We literally pushed our way through the crowd and were finally catapulted toward the open doors.
Without an employee in sight – I ventured out into the parking area where I saw over 25 buses in various states of boarding/departing/looking for parking/etc. After asking a few drivers where bus 1054 was – I located our passage to
Monday, December 19, 2005
Cash - Our first 24 hours in
Our cash problems were alleviated on the first day of work when we each became Venezuelan millionaires. DHL provided us our three weeks of per diems in cash on our first day of work --- an amount exceeding 1.8 million Bolivars. The distribution took place in an interior o
Walking – Without any money for cabs we tried to do a walking tour our first day in
Gas – Our first day of work we were introduced to
Chavez – We were fortunate to witness a major election during our stay. The events around the election included the withdrawal of the opposition party, heavy Chavista propaganda, and the infiltration of our hotel by an EU contingent (overseeing the election). I took the opportunity to view a 2 hour Chavez speech the night prior to the vote and to discuss politics with anyone that was willing. I also read the two national papers to find out what the journalists had to say (both national papers are opposition papers). I spoke with taxi drivers, DHL managers, students, and others to find out how people felt about the government. I was not surprised to find many people in opposition. I was surprised to find opposition across class lines.
Beisbol – My first cursory introduction to the fanaticism of Venezuelan beisbol fans occurred when I visited a sports bar to watch the Copa Sudamerica Final (Boca Juniors v. Pumas) with Navin. We were told the game could not be put on until after the baseball game (a midseason, meaningless game). Our real introduction was on a trip to the stadium during our second week to watch the
In one of the middle innings we made a food run – the hotdog stand was a huge hit. The chef was an artist and the assortment of toppings were dulce. I remain a huge supporter of the smashed potato chip topping. After stu
Doormen and Taxis – We lived out of the Eurobuilding (pronounced Aerobuilding) Radisson during our consulting project. The hotel was comfortable and close to work. The doormen were a huge hit and did their best to get on our good sides. This included negotiating with taxis for us, recommending restaurants and bars, and even o
Models, Weddings, TV and the Hotel Lobby – The hotel lobby was an absolute spectacle. At any time of day or night you never knew what you were going to find. Typically, it would be anything from a world class model preparing for a quick TV clip with an older latin man in a sti
Necklines, Mid-drifts, and Silicon – It took some adjusting to and a few days to find the right places but
The party was amazing. Complete with four live bands, a comedian, a booty shaking contest, performers on stilts, and whiskey of course. We met so many people it is hard to remember them all. But there were some personalities that stood out. Jose Gregario (mentioned above) had an endless supply of energy. ‘The Rock,’ a Matt Dillon clone that is ‘easy on the eyes,’ had the mental aptitude of… well a rock. Sabrina, one of the DHL socialites, took booty shaking to a new level (think exorcist). And Valmore, of course, who served a stellar role as our host. Others included – the drunk guys on the bus, Roman, Yoli, Alexandra, Strategic Parts, the Customer Service crew, Valentina, etc.
The rumba lasted all day. But with mild pre-sleep hangovers, the gringos admitted defeat and dragged ourselves back to the hotel at midnight. Of course, the DHLers continued the party til 6am at local bars and clubs.
Shopping Malls – In
Travel Agents and Tourism – Travel agents in
A more surprising lesson learned very early again involved money. Tourist destinations in
Public Transportation – On my weekend alone in
I also took a few rides on the local buses. These charge twice as much as the Metro but are still a very reasonable $0.30 each way. The buses were a bit more interesting in terms of diversity of riders and there was a lot more staring at the odd ball gringo. The dramatic concerns for our safety seemed to be unfounded during my local travels.
Theater – I also took advantage of my weekend in
Restaurants – Dining in
Hospitality – Venezuelan people were the happiest, friendliest, most energetic, positive people I have interacted with in my travels. They have an amazing zest for life. Our hosts at DHL made us feel right at home and part of the DHL family --- which we found out is truly a family with plenty of fishing o
Friday, December 09, 2005
We spent the entire day lounging on the sand, enjoying the water, and having some fun and drinks with Jesus and his buddy. We also got a great lunch of pargo, avocado, chips, and salad right on the beach. A storm passed by on the horizon making for some photo opportunities with the island with the white house in the foreground.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
As we began our assent, we were armed solely with a rough outline of the route and plenty of enthusiasm. The weather was clear and sunny and the sky was a beautiful shade of blue. And we were all amazed at the proximity of such a lush natural area just minutes from our hotel in this bustling metropolis.
We began our assent at 1,100 meters on a paved trail populated with hundreds of Caraquenos. I was highly discouraged to be on pavement which for me does not count as good hiking terrain but happy to see plenty of the local talent getting exercise and gazing upon this motly crew of gringos.
The trail changed over from pavement to dirt quickly enough and the grade became fairly steep but we made steady progress. The weather changed from dry warm air, to thicker more humid air as we gained altitude. Cloud cover moved in as well and we were greeted with our first sprinkles of water about an hour and half into the hike.
After taking refugee from a down pour under a four post shelter – we made our way further up the trail. At this point there was some uncertainty about where we were heading and we began to check with people coming down the trail to find out how far we were from our destination.
We soon realized that the looks of confusion and concern on the faces of our advisors was an indication that we may have made a wrong turn. Two young caraquenos assured us that we could get to Hotel Humboldt but we had to traverse from the top of the mountain we were on to another and it would take another 3-4 hours. Keeping in mind we were 2.5 hours into a 3-4 hour hike this was not welcome news.
Fortunately, the landmarks they suggested were clear and we found the proper turn off to begin a westerly traverse of the mountain ridge. Unfortunately, as we began the traverse the sky opened up once more and our hiking trail was quickly converted into a flowing river of water shin deep. Having reached an elevation of 2,350 meters we were also now in much colder air – without proper clothing and soaked to the bone.
The traverse was enjoyable for some and a concern for others. Visibility was very poor with cloud cover surrounding us. At the very least, we had left behind a steady incline for a more level and forgiving trail. However, the rain continued beating down on us with unrelenting force.
After several fits and starts and some intense debate about where we were heading – we emerged from the clouds and rain to get a glimpse of the ocean which lies north of
With renewed enthusiasm and an easing of group tensions we picked up our pace and headed toward the first man made structure we had seen in several hours. We celebrated our arrival at Humboldt with some pictures, some laughs, and by quenching our hunger at the variety of food stalls set up for tourists that arrive via the teleferico. Then we huddled ourselves into the cable car and began the easy assent down to awaiting taxis and warm showers at the hotel. Although it took some convincing – we were able to coax a taxi driver into accepting our fare despite our miserable appearance and were soon home nursing our sore joints.