This is the third installment of my “Throwback Thursday” series. If you are curious as to why I went to South America and why I am writing about it every Thursday see here to start from the beginning. (and for pete’s sake if you are tech savvy please explain to me how to create a hyperlink as I am the ONLY person on wordpress who can not figure this out!) update; thank you L. Vital of http://wtfelsewhere.wordpress.com/ for the assist!!
Now if you have been directed to my blog by search engines then based on my “search terms” list you most likely need the answers to the following questions;
- Do I need to tip my tattoo artist? see here
Should I do meth and then pick at my new tattoo? see here
3.” if i jus got tatto am do meth will it come out my tato” *
- (actual search term from my list. Please stop doing meth people. Oh, and buy a dictionary)
the short version answers to these questions are; Yes, No and Please God No
Now – back to the story
The day finally arrived where it was time to board a plane and head out to South America. On a cold, dark Park City morning Tom borrowed a car from a girl he was hoping to sleep with (yes Tom, I DO remember everything – even Megan) and gave me a ride to the airport. We said our goodbyes and I was on my way. First stop – Gainesville Florida for a quick visit with my parents. I spent a few short days hanging out and getting excited about my trip. My parents were sick with worry on my behalf but I ignored their concern and instead perfected my fantasy of being re-united with Paul. I imagined us seeing each other across the crowded airport and flinging our bags down and running towards one another with outstretched arms, tears of joy streaming down our faces – or something equally tragic and unrealistic.
After my parents made me promise to call them collect every two weeks no matter where I was (wait a minute – call collect every 2 weeks? Why not email? or text? or Skype? It was 1993 people. Pre-internet, common cell phone use, twitter, Facebook – all of it.) I boarded a plane bound for Miami and then Caracas. The second I got on the Miami bound plane my decision to NOT learn a single word of Spanish prior to my trip was revealed to be faulty. Even though I was still in the US my Miami bound flight information was conducted entirely in Spanish. Sure I got the jist of it – especially when the elderly woman next to me began crossing herself and praying (must have been the part about the forced evacuation into the ocean) but it was still a culture shock. Should I maybe have prepared a bit more?
Hours later we touched down in Caracas, Venezuela. It was about 11 at night and I was tired yet exhilarated. 45 minutes in a customs line served to cool my excitement a bit but then…across a hallway and behind glass I could see them! Anna and Paul (!!) waiting for me waving their arms and smiling! I prepared for my epic reunion as I crossed the arrival bay to greet them. A big hug from Anna followed by a rather anemic pat on the back from Paul and the explanation that he was “totally knackered” from flying. I would hear that word a lot over the next several weeks. A. LOT.
Anna spirited us into her Jeep Cherokee and we sped out onto the highway. The night slipped by the car windows, city lights twinkling way up into the mountainside . It looked like a field of fireflies and I remarked on its beauty to Anna who crisply informed me those were the favelas…the slums.
Finally we arrived in Anna’s stately mango tree-lined neighborhood and pulled into a long sweeping driveway capped by a huge wrought iron gate. Once inside we were consumed by Anna’s waiting family. Her 14 yr old sister Claudia who spoke no english, her glamorous mother who also spoke no english, her stern and stately father who spoke a little english and her kooky aunt who- you guessed it – spoke no english.
Shit. I should have learned some Spanish! We tried to make as much conversation as possible but eventually gave up and Paul and I were shown to our room. Finally my moment of truth had arrived! Paul and I had canoodled but never slept together and my anticipation was intense. I imagined garments being flung about and worlds colliding but instead Paul ducked into the bathroom like a shy bride on her wedding night only to emerge 35 minutes later, tell me he was “knackered” and then promptly pass out next to me after planting a chaste kiss on my cheek. So much for worlds colliding.
The next morning I was able to fully appreciate the grandeur of the house. Many rooms, many floors, lots of marble and glass and a “yard” that was like a personal slice of jungle. By the time we stumbled out of bed most of the household was already about their business except Anna – who had stayed home from college to spend time with us – and…her maids. Now I’m not from money so the notion of not 1 but 2 live in maids just seemed ridiculously posh to me. The maids were Columbian – a fact Anna told me with an educated sneer like, “well, you know they are Columbian…” But because we didn’t know what that meant we became friendly with these maids – who found our presence to be thoroughly fascinating and an opportunity to practice their english. Here is Nellie (the maid) and Paul and I on our 1st morning in the “back yard” That yard went on for like a mile! And here is another picture of Nellie and Paul the day Nellie took us to the Venezuelan “Swiss Town” on her day off After Nellie served us our breakfast of empanadas and mango we headed off to the little village down the road, El Hatillo.
If you ever find yourself in Caracas see if you can find this little town. It has colorful old buildings, wrought iron balconies hanging from almost every second story window, crooked cobblestone streets and a beautiful green town plaza.
Dominating the plaza are these impossibly tall palm trees and dotted throughout the palm fronds are tree sloths. We stayed with Anna and her family for 3 weeks and I probably spent about 25 hours sitting on those park benches watching the sloths moving with their languid, underwater grace. Once, only once I watched a sloth carefully and methodically inch its way down the long smooth trunk to finally put its feet on the grass and…take a huge dump. It was definitely a highlight.
We spent so much time in the village because frequently Anna had to be in class – she was studying to be an architect like her father – so we were left on our own quite a bit. Paul had sold himself as a seasoned traveler with nerves of steel but quickly revealed himself to be a homebody who didn’t like to be out of his comfort zone. That’s why we stuck close to Anna’s house and El Hatillo.
And instead of enjoying the many food carts that featured exciting things like hotdogs covered with shredded coconut and chilies we constantly found ourselves at “The American Soda Shoppe” on the town square where you could get a “real” American hamburger and a cookie milkshake. (Prior to leaving on my trip I hoped to acquire a nice stomach parasite so I could combine travel and weight loss. Instead I lived on cookie milk shakes and those damn coconut hotdogs and started out on my fifteen pound weight gain. Damn you stomach of steel!)
But all was not peaceful tree sloths and milkshakes. One day Anna was driving us through the city and she blew through a red light – when I asked why she casually informed me that if you stopped at too many lights you would get carjacked. Once there was a traffic stop due to construction and she had us lay down in the back seat under a blanket out of sight because we might get kidnapped. She cautioned us about taking the subway in downtown Caracas
- a city that looks quite a bit like New York – because again – kidnappers. And when we strolled through her beautiful, landscaped neighborhood filled with exorbitant and stately mansions she warned us about looking directly at the houses – pointing to one balcony in particular and explaining, “they have a man up there who will shoot you if you look too close. This is a narco house.”
Anna spoke of the dangers and violence of her city and country with total nonchalance – as if it was merely a fact of life and not something to worry about too much. It was her same approach to the low status of her Columbian maids because, well, they were Columbian, and the existence of the appalling slum towns because, well, that is the place were the poor live.
Growing up middle class in Massachusetts and living in Boston for years I had seen plenty of poverty even if I hadn’t personally experienced it. But it was usually accompanied with an east coast liberal hand wringing about how to fix it and the injustice of it all. This blithe acceptance of class divides, violence, and ridiculous wealth crammed up against abject poverty was new to me. While I was in South America I would have many opportunities to get used to it.
Next Week: Inappropriate Journey With a Monkey