Sat 10 Apr 99 18:15
Karl Schneider
My spring break


I make no pretense of being in the same literary league vis-a-vis Fido-travelogues as our noted Dr. Leipzig, but I surmised a quick resume of my just-completed sojourn to our southern neighbor might be of a modicum of interest. To someone.

Monday last, I received a call from my esteemed amigo Enrique (Ricky) Lowinger, a 3rd generation Venezuelan who has been, as have I, in the ophthalmic equipment business (optibidness) for 30 years MOL.

It was, of course, an emergency. (Nothing that happens in Venezuela is anything else). Seems that our mutual friend Edgar Behrens (another 3rd or 4th gen. Vzn) had purchased for a song, an entire laboratory full of what is now in 1999 ...uh, shall we say, 'incipient antique' machinery? Yes, let's say that. (It just struck me...most of the people I know down there have names that sound more like *my* heritage than the expected Spanish sort...but then, I have a neighbor here in Redneck City named Kaleem Kerish, or something similar to that)...

Owing to the fact that Ricky had engineered the sale of this rather large carload of electromechanical apparatus, and that Edgar couldn't make any of it work, he was understandably somewhat anxious to make at least some of it at minimums 'light up', as it were, when plugged into a source of electricity. Which in Caracas can be of virtually any sort of voltage and frequency (Hertz to you technodweebs). 60 is, however, the most common. What is not so common is to have something closely approximating 110 or 220 volts. 85 is found with alarming regularity, as is 185, and that usually lacks any sort of neutral (or ground which can in a pinch be substituted in a way that would turn any electrical inspector in the USA seventeen shades of green).

But I digress. (Of course I else could I make this crap even *remotely* readable???)

Upon arrival at the redoubtable airport at Maiquitia down at the beach (Caracas is in the mountains 40 Km away and its only flat space is taken up by Aeropuerto Carlota which is for the exclusive use of whatever General is running the country at the moment and whose runway is all of 1100 meters long which makes it a bit difficult to stuff a 747 into its rather limited real estate), I declined the noisome importunations of the, 'legitimate' taxi drivers lined up outside what passes for the terminal, and located a 'coyote' taxi. I learned many years ago that they're quicker, cheaper, and know where to buy Cacique Rum at a fair price. I told the driver (who was obviously fresh from the Orinoco Outback and whose Spanish was no better than mine) to take me to the Continental Altimira Hotel. This has always been my favorite in Caracas. He never heard of it. "No problema", I said, "Just go to Petare and turn left. Let me know when we get to the U.S. Embassy". Oddly enough, he didn't know where that was either, but he did know Petare. "Close enough", I said.

After a couple of hours of what always resembles a roller-coaster ride (but mostly all uphill), he announces we're there. But where we are ain't where 'there' used to be. My lovely Hotel Altimira, where I spent so many wonderful days and evenings, eating aguacates (avocados) picked from the tree in the garden, has been torn down for a fucking parking garage. AGGGGGGGGGGGG.

Well, I despise the Hilton there. So I opt for the Tamanaco. ("It's still there, right?" I ask him.)

"Si, Senor, es un gran hotel".

Yeah, yeah, I know. It is a very beautiful place but it's too big and it's too touristy and all that shit, but I do know it and even though it's clear over on the south side of the city, I agree it's the best choice. So I get delivered thence. 85 Bolivares later. Sheesh.

Now, this part is kinda funny. The last time I was at the Tamanaco, they were full, but finally relented and let me stay in one of the cabanas at the pool. I loved it. So I asked for a cabana again. The clerk was aghast. "Que?...Senor, eso es para la piscina!" (That's for people swimming!). "I know", sez I, "That's what I want!" Neat. They let me have cabana #5. It might have been the same one I had 10 years ago. No locks on the door...well, actually no door...and a cot. But a bar full of Polar Cerveza and 6 steps to the pool. I had a beer and a dip within 45 seconds.

Knowing I had to make yet another cross-country journey the next morning (Caracas is not a place for faint-of-heart auto passengers), I decided not to go overboard at the bar. Ho ho. For some odd reason, I seem to prefer to drink screwdrivers when I'm in that city. I think it's because the name is so neat in Spanish. Destornilladores. I figure when I can't say it any more, I've had enough. Rum is just too easy. Anyway I had a couple or 5 and got to chatting with a fellow Norteamericano who was sitting at the bar. I just about fell of my stool when he told me who he was. He is the nephew of a guy I grew up with and who was my best friend in grade/high school. He's in charge of Toyota's Venezuelan distribution system (however the hell *that* works) and has been there for a year. Still hasn't learned more than 30 or 40 words of Spanish. I told him his uncle Jim would be proud, but it went over his head...but he had a Toyota ...what the hell was that thing, some sort of 'Rover'??? of those eleven-wheel-drive/nineteen speed monsters they advertise on TV, I guess...I'm not into those kinds of vehicles, and informed me he wanted to 'try it out'.

Well, I figured that might be a bit of a hoot, and we proceeded to formulate a PLAN. Said plan being that when I was done the next day, we'd meet (in the bar of course) and go off trekking. Some plan, huh?

Turned out I was able to teach some fairly clever young fellows how to connect up all the machinery in about an hour next morning. (I called Edgar when I got back this morning and he said everything is "moving". I hope it's "working" too...), so I met Mike back at the Tamanaco Bar and we hopped into his pristine and polished (demo I imagine) machine and headed south. He said he had heard of some 'interesting' caverns down that way.

Other than the obvious limited speed, a bulldozer would have proven to be a more expeditious means of locomotion through what are probably laughingly referred to as 'roads' once one leaves the metropolitan Caracas region. Or maybe a Ford would be appropriate, since that is what one must do when reaching one of the seventeen thousand rivers tumbling down from that Western spur of the Andes. But I must admit it is a fascinating and beautiful piece of the world. We travelled about 300 miles over hill and dale and river and rock and never ever found any goddamn caverns. I didn't remember the Spanish word for 'cavern' and it probably made no difference anyway because the indigenous humanoids in the jungle speak a dialect/mix I couldn't make heads or tails of anyway. But they ALL knew 'cerveza' (beer). We stopped at one tiny village, replete with naked natives at the edge of an incredibly pristine and beautiful river/waterfall, and wandered into a hut where there was *obviously* some sort of, 'beverage' being consumed, from the raucous laughter emanating from same. Appearing, I imagine for all the world like Aliens from Jupiter, we calmly waltzed into this ramshackle hut, vocalizing the only word we imagined might have a chance of recognition, 'CERVEZA?'.

This produced one of the most amazing reactions I've seen in my travels. These fellows (there were no women present) all burst into insane fits of laughter. One of them finally composed and excused himself, stumbled down to the river, about 20 meters away, and fished out 3 bottles of Polar beer from the riverbed. It was cold, it was delicious, and we all babbled at each other for half an hour while understanding nothing. (That isn't really true...most of you will grasp what I'm saying here). A memorable moment.

I would loved to be able to drive (impossible) as far as the Tepuis. Last time I was in Vz, I made friends with a bigshot in the govt. who promised to let me fly his plane down to Angel Falls, but the weather never cleared while I was there. (It's overcast about 300 days a year). Some day I'll see it.


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