Written by Jose Kevo on 12 Aug, 2004
Puerto Colombia was to be highlight of my Venezuelan travels; the coastal itinerary designed on getting there. Perhaps unrealistic expectations foiled what I initially found, but something just didn't feel right...yet nothing to warrant changing plans. Uneasiness was likely grind from already a…Read More
Puerto Colombia was to be highlight of my Venezuelan travels; the coastal itinerary designed on getting there. Perhaps unrealistic expectations foiled what I initially found, but something just didn't feel right...yet nothing to warrant changing plans. Uneasiness was likely grind from already a week on the road. After all, it's not like this was the first coastal village that had me ready to bolt within hours.
Where the only street into town curves toward the malecón was the obvious local hot spot where boats unload hauls of tourists and fish. Capitalizing on its prime position, this small blue bar with no name had expansive, covered open-air patio with 25-cent Polar beers, massive sound system, and an all-too-familiar atmosphere.
After a couple of rounds, I'd melted into needing nap and shower before dinner, but later found myself back where I’d started. The waiter's smile indicated remembrance amid the crowd. Dancing was least of the activities occupying locals and foreign travelers in the greatest numbers I'd came across so far.
For a Tuesday night, there was no shortage of festive atmosphere...further discovered when dispersing beers with walks through the village, malecón and beach with nightlife on full display. A major shift in attitude had obviously taken place, and I was ready for the start of a new day extending a second chance. Grabbing "one for the road", I took the long loop back to my posada around midnight. From here, should'ves/could'ves and what if's unknowingly took over.
Luck of the Irish?In the earliest stages of St. Patrick's Day, a young man stopped looking to exchange an extra beer for a cigarette. He was chatty and I didn't think twice about his invitation to join him and friends on a different section of undeveloped beach just off the malecón.
I don't remember names, and for reasons unfolding, didn't bother writing them down. Introductions were made to others sitting around and I fell right into more than conversation. Listening to everyday repartee from other parts of the world is fascinating between contrasts and comparisons towards life as I know it.
From my night out in Tucacas 48 hours earlier, it was naturally refreshing to have fuss over who was buying the next round beyond guest of honor. One eventual haul produced a bottle of homebrew called Guarapita; fermented sugarcane flavored in citrus or coconut, and packing more punch than Mama Juana! We laughed over downright goofiness; my second wind kicking into high gear.
Others came and went, as did some of the original crew...always bringing something to contribute. Least I could do was also offer to buy a round, and I headed back towards the village with some of my new sidekicks. Once at the posada, I grabbed Bolívares and camera...stripping down to trunks and even leaving flip-flops behind. At least 2:00 in the morning, I got a tour of which doors to knock on to find beers, guarapita, and God only knows what else after everything else closed.
Two of us returned to find only one of the faithful remaining. Conversation resumed where it'd left off, and with lower tide, we sat closer to the sea. Lying back in the sand, the stars were incredible enough to silence things. This wasn't about exhaustion or intoxication; call it adrenaline in the purest form of exhilaration. Well, except for whatever was wrong with my back.
Chalking it up to the mini-mountain I'd earlier scaled combined with long sitting and nothing to lean on, discomfort prompted suggesting we continue the night using chairs outside my room. Offer was accepted and they immediately stepped in when I could hardly stand up.
Tottering through the streets, concern for my predicament erased any buzz; I could hardly stand upright without my shoulders bowing back for balance to keep from tipping over. One guy stopped to speak with others while my original host propped me up as best he could while holding the latest round he'd purchased.
Outside my room, we stopped at table and chairs before I came inside to briefly use the bathroom. With the lights on, I left the room and bathroom doors open. When I stepped back outside, my new friend was gone. Disappointment quickly gave way to readiness for bed. That is, until noticing that the zip-top to my bag was lying open!
Moment of Harsh RealityBy now I could hardly stand up as I made my way back through the abandoned streets in search of my thieves. Sheer panic took over, whether because of losing everything of importance, or because I was clinging to sides of buildings to keep from falling down. I eventually found them and immediately started in about we were supposed to be friends, they took everything I had, and could they please leave me something...anything?
They were cool; inviting me back to the beach...my asking, "to what, kill me next"? One reached over towards a planter, producing credit card and passport, which had already been discarded. Thanking them, I was desperate enough to ask about the $400 in US/local currency also taken. Perhaps stumbling startled them, but they got off some good swings helping me to the ground. I never saw them again.
Anxiety clicked a dead sober state of deja vu from surviving a brutal attack near Yankee Stadium in '98. Initial plan was to head for the local police branch and wait for them to open, but traversing the short distance was one of the longest, most difficult treks I've ever made. I couldn't stand up; early risers ignoring pleas for help, likely put off by another "drunken tourist".
There was a concrete slab doubling as a bench in front of the station. Lunging towards it, I missed, further adding to my asphalt scrapes. Alone, all but paralyzed, and thousands of miles from home, call it a total meltdown...if I only could've disappeared.
Nobody's Fool but My Own!Don't ask me how, but I eventually made it back to my room...still delirious enough to think I could find them in early stages of daylight. Returning to the beach, all I got was a large fishbone rammed into my bare foot, further escalating swelling and pain – it felt like stepping on a sea urchin.
Traumatic shock prevented sleep while trying to devise a plan. Around 10:00 a.m., I was still wobbly in hopes of finding a place that gave advances on credit cards. First place I stopped immediately summoned police from the Choroní station. What unfolded got ugly! Expat business owners were fed up with crime against tourists in Puerto Colombia...which turns out to have one of the country's highest drug and HIV rates!
No one wanted to hear me accepting responsibility for setting myself up, nor offer suggestions on what to do without cash. The police put me in the back of a pickup truck with a pair of rifle-armed officers to begin combing the streets. They asked if I recognized anyone; even knocked on the doors of the more notorious...dragging them out, only to have me shake my head no again.
As if shame and humiliation weren't enough, the guilt of being paraded around to potentially finger someone was all but the final blow! They dropped me back at the posada, where dark seclusion was my only comfort.
Talk about a pity party! Destitute and condemned, wallowing in the self-punishment of circumstance only heightened the crisis at hand. Desperation even prompted filling my water bottle from the garden hose...willing to risk sickness to quench thirst. Late that night, hunger won out over feeling sorry for myself; enough to clear my head and remember that restaurants accepted credit cards. But in a town this small, keeping a low profile was necessary to spare further embarrassment, not to mention potential victimization again.
What doesn't kill us......only makes us stronger, and sucking it up to stay in Puerto Colombia the next three days was essential, if only for recovery. My posada owner fronted money based on catching a taxi for Maracay and Banco de Venezuela; cash in hand a major morale booster, regardless of the hassle, including mug shot and thumbprint like some criminal.
Swollen feet still kept me off them, but the mysterious back problem was gone. I'm fairly certain the guy who invited and was with me till the end slipped something into one of those beers generously offered. Burundanga, a drug for easing childbirth, has became a commonly used weapon for incapacitating robbery victims; reports from Caracas warn they're using hypodermic needles for injections and a quicker effect!
Lesson learned? To be more cautious, yes! Writing off future encounters regardless of locale? Hardly, and for that I'm thankful...along with regaining passport, credit card, and more importantly - my life! It also crossed my mind about avoiding getting locked up by local police regardless of circumstance...just because.
I got robbed of more than just questionable dignity and cash; namely the opportunity to explore this area as intended. For that, I'm sad, but had no problem when Saturday morning's departure finally arrived. I was heading off to spend my last few days in Maracaibo, a bustling metropolis of nearly 2 million people. The numbers alone would scare most people. Strangely enough, I lost myself within the masses to end up having my best times in Venezuela.