Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Last Time I'm Going to Tell You

With every passing day I am losing inspiration as well as memories with which to write this final installation of the story of my past 4 months. But every good story must have an end and this one needs a few things wrapped up as well.

I should start...where should I start? I think that my recent lack of steady blogging is going to get back at me right about now.

So I left Cartagena what seems like another world ago and made my way up to Santa Marta. Other than a few friendly coeds, not too much to see there so I hopped over to the next beach, a fishing village turned tourist destination called Taganga. A great place to have a beer and watch the sunset, Taganga was good and relaxing after the escapades of Cartagena. Forewarned of the drug dealer that turns in tourists to the police, I met Neil and Chris while trying to warn them of that very situation which they were just about already in. Two IT guys from London taking their 3 weeks vacation, they had no cares in the world, spoke no Spanish and had the same destination in mind as I did. So after just meeting we decided that we would take off the next morning for Parque Tayrona, the most famous National Park in Colombia. I met them after a 3 hour sleep and off we went. Upon arrival at the park and after getting everything sorted for entry, we were bused to where we could begin walking first to the beach, then up the beach to El Cabo (The Cape) which is the most picturesque and popular of the beaches. Other than the first night which was windy enough to make it very cold (considering where we were sleeping up top, wind was not surprising), we had 3 perfect days of card playing, sun bathing, bad food eating and home run derby playing.

For story telling purposes Parque Tayrona marked the end to my trip.

Getting back to Venezuela:

In Maicao there were not people selling stolen iPods (Guy...?) so I continued onward to the border. After getting all of the immigration and money stuff finished I was officially back in Venezuela and there was a pickup truck ready to leave to Maracaibo (where I would then catch a bus). The driver charged me about double the actual price, but I was in a hurry and being back in Venezuela this is what I expected. Wedged between two Colombians, we began the journey. What I wasn't aware of is that I was wedged between two illegal Colombians, one with a fake Venezuelan ID and the other with a Venezuelan ID that identified him as a foreigner. We were stopped much more often than in Colombia, but the difference being that in Colombia the police actually do their job and are looking for guerillas or drugs...but in Venezuela it is just looking for someone out of line who can be bribed. Every time we were stopped the Colombian with the real ID was taken out of the truck, paid his bribe, then after 15 minutes we could leave. Not exactly the express service. Then, the last time we had been waiting for 45 minutes and I was ready to catch another ride. The driver who had already overcharged me said he would pay my fair on a bus the rest of the way. He got on the bus, had a conversation with his buddy and I was on my way. Then, 20 minutes down the road the bus asks me to pay also. After about 20 minutes of yelling and fighting with this guy--making the biggest scene that I could, I paid him. Welcome back to Venezuela.

The only piece of good luck was catching a departing bus in Maracaibo, that, in 11 hours and after various unnecessary delays got us back to Caracas. Got in at midnight, picked up at 1am and off to the beach, Puerto La Cruz, at 4am. A nice (couples, right Molly?) weekend at the beach brought things full circle and it was back to Caracas for one day of last minute preparations.

And my birthday/our last night was great with Molly's surrogate family throwing a little party and Angie gracing us with her presence. A great surprise and a nice time to see some of the South American fam before leaving that world behind.

Not as easy as I thought it would be to leave it behind...on several levels. Aeropostal, the Venezuelan government run/worst airline ever to my surprise still had record of my ticket with them. Sigh of relief...however since I arrived in July they had yet to improve their punctuality.

We were actually on the plane, seated, and only a half an hour or so late. Things were looking good. Then rises a cloud of smoke in the aisle just in front of me which I try to ignore, hoping that I'm the only one who sees it and maybe we can just take off. Not the case. To avoid panic the pilot told us that the air conditioning vents had lost pressure (not a good lie, because they hadn't we could all very clearly see) and that we would have to deboard while the problem is looked at. This would prove a long process and to make a long story short our 4pm flight finally took off, although to a different destination, at 9:30am the next morning. To make the story a little longer...we at least had a fun group in the airport and ended up hooking up a bikini contest to the big screen airport TV that normally had propaganda for Caracas and some fake news about how good Chavez is.

It was a tiring affair, and I almost didn't get on the flight the next morning just out of distrust for the airline...but I ditched the American reservation I had made and luckily got back in time for Katherine's wedding! 38 hours of travel, only 6 of which were in the air.

Mom and I looking good at the wedding

And, In Conclusion:

I just watched The Motorcycle Diaries today and it was great, because this time I understood the language, and recognized the places, the people; understood the cultures and politics of the places that they were passing through, the end, when Che says that he was undoubtedly changed by his experience--I can empathize. Amazingly enough I followed the same route that the moto pair undertook, starting in Buenos Aires and ending in good ole' Caracas.

Over 500 hours (which is more than 3 weeks 24/7) in buses, 10 countries (although fleetingly brief in Brazil, and only by sight for Paraguay and Uruguay), my favorites of which were Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia...all for very different reasons. Least favorite: Peru.

What an amazing experience and how lucky I am to have had it! Couldn't have done it without lots of support, both in telling me to go for it and of course the "scholarship" that literally supported me. Thanks Mom.

And now on to the next step, more in the direction of "real life." But before you sigh an awe schucks for me, don't, because I'm excited about the next step. Excited to renew that sense of accomplishment and to start on a path that could lead just about anywhere. I'm not entirely sure where that path will begin, which is where you are all welcomed to chime in with ideas, but regardless it'll be an interesting and fun time because, why shouldn't it be? I've been riding too much of a high to stop now!


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