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.


The God Of Tall Things said...

Super. Please continue with the rest of the story.

Arundathi said...

'My spanish is terrible' annoke prerequisite is knowing some spanish.