Sunday, 27 November 2011

How to make a complete buffoon of yourself by not learning enough Spanish (aka Venezuela trip part 3)

(Part 2 is here)

It wasn't until late in the morning, almost close to 9 a.m, that I woke up. I think that hunger induces sleep in some people, for I had had just the sandwich and juice at around 6:30 p.m. last night and slept for at least 14 hours straight! Even as I woke up, I hardly felt any need for nutrition which I ascribe to lack of activity.

Most of the day was spent in the bus journey. The only incident of any consequence occurred at one of the myriad Punto de Controls where a bunch of military looking people boarded the bus and asked for people with luggage tags numbered 64 and 104. Mine was tag number 25. However, I must have aroused sufficient suspicion by my ineptitude in Spanish and was asked to show what I had in my luggage. The whole process lasted about 20 minutes and achieved nothing other than wastage of time.

I forgot to mention the Brazilian man who was travelling with us. By the time I woke up, the bus was mostly empty and very few of the original passengers from Caracas were still around. One addition on the way was a Brazilian man with matted hair. He had, in a display board, a number of amulets, one of which read Om (ॐ). He was trying to tell something about an esmeralda (which, I think, means emerald) amulet to a Lebanese person going to Santa Elena. He mentioned Goa, India, in that conversation, whereupon the Lebanese man, whom I had befriended, pointed to me and said that I was Indian too. The Brazilian then said that he found Goa nice since people there spoke Portuguese. I could do little more than smile. His hair and dress sense betrayed his being a hippie and Goa would be the right place for such a person to gravitate to in India.

The bus reached San Francisco de Yuruani at about 12:10 p.m. I decided to get off here, as per Tommy's advice. I was wary about finding anybody who spoke English and was ready to take the next bus to Santa Elena if I failed to. Thankfully, the guard at the Punto de Control pointed me to a man who spoke English. His name is Donald Hazlitt. His English is very fluent. I told him my objective and he found me a guide to Roraima. He also told me what I already knew from my Lonely Planet, that I could not proceed to Paraitepui the same day, because nobody is allowed beyond 1 p.m. However, he told me that the trek to Roraima can be completed in 4 days. The price was 300 BsF per day for the guide and 900 BsF for the jeep transport. I do feel that I overpaid here, but, as Donald told me, the price would've been the same had I been in a 4 person group, but I wanted to do this alone. My guide's name is Maritotto, shortened to Totto.

The rest of the day I spent writing and chatting up some locals. San Francisco de Yuruani is also called Kumarakapay - the valley of the Kumarak (bird) in Pemón. I was treated to a pleasant shower here, reminiscent of tropical rain in India. After a very long time, I could smell the mud during the rainfall and it felt wonderful. In contrast, the temperate rain that I am treated to in the States smells of nothing and feels dreary.

Later in the day, at dinnertime, Donald showed me that he had the DVD of the PBS documentary, The Lost World - The Living Edens. We watched this together. I retired to bed soon thereafter, calculating how to get to Ciudad Bolivar after returning and about making it to Angel Falls thereafter.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

How to make a complete buffoon of yourself by not learning enough Spanish (aka Venezuela trip part 2)

(Part 1 is here)

I had my alarms set on the wrist watch that I had borrowed from Murali for 7:00 a.m and 7:15 a.m. However, they failed to wake me up. I blame this on them being too feeble. However, I was up by 7:30 a.m. My first thought was to locate a bakery (panaderia) and get some coffee / breakfast, but I had conveniently forgotten the Spanish term. The helpful manager came to my rescue once more and gave me directions. It was bloody hard for me to communicate that I am vegetarian there, and besides, everything they had seemed to have some meat. I was about to give up and buy bread when I noticed that they had something labelled "Ricotta". I pointed to it and went through my "sin carne, sin pollo, sin pescado" routine and the shopkeeper responded with "Si. Puro Queso". I was convinced and bought that. It was as bad as the coffee was good and it took all my willpower to eat it.

I had been dissuaded at the hotel by the manager and her assistant from using public transport to get to Terminal de Oriente, primarily thanks to the sketchy nature of the location where I would have to make the switch from the tube to the bus, Petare by name. Lonely Planet also told me that this once beautiful colonial town was deemed too dangerous at the time of research. I decided to take the chance nevertheless and took the train from Chacao.

On alighting at Petare, I tried to look as inconspicuous as possible, which, frankly was made easy by my brown skin. Finding the bus was surprisingly easy, but not before I had to pass through a dirty flea market. I proceeded to Terminal de Oriente from there and many strange hand signs later, I had my ticket to Santa Elena for 3:45 p.m. The return journey to the hotel was eventless. Petare reminded me of Kalasipalya, dirty and shabby.

I had a few hours to spare and decided to explore the Altamira / Chacao area on foot to look for other vegetarian food options. I might as well have decided to build a bridge across a mighty ocean with rocks carried by monkeys. Finally, I found one place which had Sopa Espinaca on its menu. Thankfully, the serving was huge. I had that and bought a few fruits for my bus journey from a supermarket. By now, the clock was striking 12:30 p.m. and I had to return to the hotel to pack and leave. I asked the manager for a taxi at checkout time and packed up.

The running themes of this travelogue can be invariably linked to my ineptitude in Spanish and my vegetarianism. Any mention of the latter would elicit at best a sympathetic smile or, at worst, a derisive snicker from the women and a hearty laugh from the men. I found this mildly amusing, as, I am sure, many of them found me. Very few of them had seen any Indians, and certainly no one whom I met had. This added to the amusement.

Any way, I found myself at the bus station 2 hours in advance. The terminal is located well outside the city. There is nothing around either. Stuck with 2 hours to kill there, I decided to eat something at the cafeteria at the bus station. Thankfully, their vegetables were there on a counter and I was able to point and make signs. A hearty meal (which I would not touch with a stick back home) of lettuce, tomato and sprouts with some salt on them, with fries and an omelette later, I was ready to leave Caracas.

There not much to relate about the ensuing bus journey apart from how supremely comfortable the Marco Polo buses are. I did get a tiny scare at the place where the driver stopped for dinner where I had a cheese sandwich (much laughter followed my "strange" request), coffee and Jugos de Guayaba (Guava juice). I came out to not find the bus where I had left it, at a petrol station. Thankfully, a local pointed out that it was parked in front of the restaurant. I waited at the door, determined to get in as soon as the door opened, Lonely Planet in hand and drew a number of enquiries from fellow travellers. When the door opened, I just found my seat and relapsed into slumber.

Friday, 25 November 2011

How to make a complete buffoon of yourself by not learning enough Spanish (aka Venezuela trip part 1)

(Disclaimer: This post was originally composed on paper due to lack of access the internet. It is a literal transcription of the original, with minor grammatical fixes, location, date and time set appropriately)

Mostly tired today from the flight journey. The flight to Miami was late, and I just had about 45 minutes to make it to my connecting flight. On top of that, there were 2 flights leaving to Caracas at the same time, one operated by American airlines, and the other by  LAN, for American airlines! Having an AA booking until Miami, I naturally went to the AA flight's gate, on concourse D, where I was duly dispatched to concourse J, for which one has to exit the terminal and go a fair distance. Much pain. I did make it through and met some flight crew members who mistook me for a Canadian having taken one look at my (expired) Canadian visitor Visa.  Since my Spanish is terrible, I took some time communicating that I am an Indian. Process duly completed, I boarded with about 5 minutes left for departure.

On board the flight to Caracas, I discovered that there was only one food option - omelette, some potato patty and some fruits. (That they had any food at all for a journey so short was surprising, having gotten used to American flight service standards). But their coffee was heavenly.

I had been wary of meeting my contact person in Caracas, having not been able to elicit a single response to my emails from the States. Ergo, I was not unduly surprised when he failed to show up. I was mildly disappointed though, when his phone was also unreachable. I had given up on getting anything other than the official exchange rate when I was accosted by a person at the information desk who offered me 7 BsF to the dollar. I took it (official rate was 4.3 Bsf / dollar). He also took me to my hostel.

The traffic into Caracas was terrible and the driving aggressive (by American standards; by Indian standards, this was at worst normal and had much less honking). The city itself reminded me of Bangalore - Las Mercedes bears a striking resemblance to Basavanagudi, while Chaco, where my hotel / hostel is looks like Basaveshwaranagar.

My next task was to obtain tickets to Santa Elena / Puerto Ordaz / Ciudad Bolivar. Aeroexpresos' office was close by. I put off the visit until I found some food. The hotel's manager, a kind lady who speaks reasonable English, taught me that I ought to say "Comida Vegetariana" to enquire. I asked at a few places in the neighbourhood and drew blanks. Just as I was about ti give up and head to a supermarket for fruits, I noticed a Taqueria. They had one veggie dish, easily identifiable by the adjective vegetariana. I ran my standard "sin carne, sin pollo, sin pescado" routine by the waitress and got a helpful "Si" in return. Suitably refuelled, I headed over to the bus station.

Once again, communicating was proving painful. Thankfully, some locals who heard me say silly things to the lady at the counter in Spanish while simultaneously making ridiculous signs noticed me and came up to help since they could speak English. I discovered that there were no tickets left for the night of the 25th to Puerto Ordaz or Ciudad Bolivar nor did the buses from there go to Santa Elena. One of the 2 helpful locals, Carlos, told me that he himself had been to Roraima 3 months ago and tickets might be available at La Bandera. He also gave me directions to the place by the metro.

I took the train and was up to my ridiculous Spanish speaking antics again, when a boy who could speak English noticed me and helped me make the switch in lines at Plaza Venezuela. Here, I met another chap, native of Valencia, but of Polish descent, who could speak English fluently, having spent time in London. His name is Daniel and he is an independent filmmaker. His mother and he took me to the La Bandera terminus which resembles the Shivajinagar / Pahar Ganj of yore. I learnt that my trip there was a wild goose chase and all buses to Puerto Ordaz / Ciudad Bolivar / Santa Elena de Uairen left from Terminal de Oriente, which, Daniel advised me against going to then as the time was past 4 in the evening. This, by the way, is a running theme in Caracas, a city rife with mugging and murders. I went back to Chacao hoping to catch a bus to Puerto Ordaz / Ciudad Bolivar on the night of the 26th. However, Aeroexpresos had run out of tickets. Disappointed, I decided to procure the fuel canisters and worry about the tickets on the 26th. I was also very, very tired by now.

I then took a taxi to Macundales, with whom I had exchanged emails about the canisters from the States. The people were extremely friendly and most importantly spoke good English. When I narrated the events of the day to them, Andres took it upon himself to find me a ticket at one of the local airlines to Puerto Ordaz, or at least a bus ticket the next day. By then, Tommy arrived and told me that the best location to get a direct bus to Santa Elena is Terminal de Oriente with either Expresos Occidente or Expresos los Llanos. He advised me to go back to the hotel sleep and proceed the next day. Convinced that this was the best recourse, I returned, ate some veggie pizza from a different place, drank coffee (by now, I needed that once every 2 hours) and slept.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Indian group claims that Occupy movements were invented in India.

Addressing a press conference of similarly bored Indians in the shanty town of Bellevue, Washington, Mr. Priyananda Shenoy claimed today that it was his birthday yesterday. Our correspondent has since verified this claim.

While Mr. Shenoy of Bellevue was claiming so, Mr. Priyananda Shenoy of Mulki, Mangalore district, Karnataka, who bears a striking resemblance to the aforementioned Mr. Shenoy of Bellevue was busy claiming that the Occupy movements were an ancient Indian invention. He then relapsed into Konkani, at which point some well meaning onlooker telephoned a doctor fearing that Mr. Shenoy's nose had gone bust. Waiving off the medical help, while calling Konkani a genuine language, Mr. Shenoy claimed that such democratic uprisings against a very complicated issue by shabby, stoned people was an ancient Indian invention as evidenced by the Maha Kumbh mela, which Mr. Shenoy referred to as the ancient Occupy Allahabad movement and the Makara Sankranti, which he called the Occupy Sabarimala movement.