Written by Jose Kevo on 14 Nov, 2004
From day I was born, it's been in my blood to annually come alive every March in Spring's early stages. Chance for renewal through authorized rowdiness likely began with Spring Breaks in gradeschool but wasn't honed until college discovering likes of South Padre; Daytona…Read More
From day I was born, it's been in my blood to annually come alive every March in Spring's early stages. Chance for renewal through authorized rowdiness likely began with Spring Breaks in gradeschool but wasn't honed until college discovering likes of South Padre; Daytona and Fort Lauderale. But as time went on, there became a burning desire stronger than Spring Fever.
Cause to celebrate as an adult devised posting milestone markers skiing in Winter Park, parasailing in Nassau. Eventually crossing the pond netted even greater achievements hiking around castle fortresses in Sintra; rockin' the Kasbah in Tangiers; tracing the apostle Paul's footsteps through Korinthos, dumb-founded at the Vatican complex. Now, Venezuela was hosting my latest March Madness culminating with plans for an extraordinary adventure in Maracaibo.
The final day in destinations has always spoiled me with opportunity to go back rediscovering new-found favorites mingled with the I'll come back for that laters. Promising to sleep-in was surrendered by 7:00 am. Shortly later with extra-large coffee in hand, watching Maracaibo come to life around Plaza República was revitalizing as professionals and athletic-types pushed for one more lap around the park before heading off to officially begin their day.
At this point there was nothing specific to do except indulge. And with still all day to accomplish task, a second cup of coffee seemed a great way to start; wired mind roaming farther than feet ever could...
Unrealized Recognitions of Self-EvolutionOld Town had baited an encore reappearance. Not so much because other options were limited, but gritty city environments reinforce my element. Uninterrupted strollings on a weekday morning were original compared to chaos found two days before as Maracaibo geared-up for one of the largest celebrations in decades.
At times, looking up is the only way to find best perspectives for hidden details otherwise missed through life in general. Crowning statues, towering spires; second chances. Getting my first head-on view of the unveiled Chinita accumulated chilling goose bumps...eventually extinguished by burning in my pocket.
Enduring previous day's hassle of retreiving cash had been part of today's master plan. With a wad of 100,000.00 Bolívares, an indulgent shopping spree at the Outdoor Market was befitting for unloading US$53.79. I was enthralled to find conditions just as crowded and chaotic as Sunday; trying to remember where I'd eyed my must have's amid the masses an even greater challenge.
Engaging outdoor market's is one of my favorite travel experiences, and Maracaibo's was the motherlode! Books of classic Latin literature, local pro-league baseball jerseys, and hand-made artifacts were parts of the haul. Dispersed tables with piles of homemade sweets also irresistible with still enough room for feasting like a ravished peasant.
Sights and smells were always mingled with sounds of merchants conducting business while accompanied by young chulos blaring the hottest local hits on downloaded cd's sold for 50-cents. With little resistance, purchasing stacks of music was the perfect accessory for the icon chosen to summarize the Venezuelan experience. After much diligence searching for the perfect fabric, color and fit, bartering price was no object for the most redefining acquisition ever made; a double-wide beach hammock.
It's my Party, and I'll Dance if I want to...Traffic was creeping along Avenida Cuatro when signaling driver to let me out at the corner. Weighted down with plunder for the short walk back to hotel, a host of local police redirecting traffic initially set-off an uneasy feeling heightened by frenzy along crowded sidewalks. Plaza República was completely sealed off making way for hordes of vendors scurrying to set-up boothes in vacated streets.
Investigations were in order once unloading back at the hotel for what could possibly be happening on a Tuesday afternoon? As it would turn out, Maracaibo was amidst an election year and the incumbent mayor was hosting another block party with enough makings to rival any NYC street festival! By this point, a long siesta and shower were the only rsvp appropriately needed.
Fashionably late is the norm even though eventual reappearance was rushed by 6:00 pm. Crowds were pouring into the plaza jockeying for position near the concert stage which blockaded Calle 77. A festive, light-heartedness was settling in with the sinking sun; más tarde was only explanation for whatever was going to transpire.
Returning to the Astor, the bartender was indifferent whether soaking in his killer Cuba Libras inside, or dragging a chair out front to the abandoned patio. By round two, others had followed suit moving outdoors for front-row seats to all unfolding. I'd stopped counting lime wedges by time dinner finished and was waiting for dessert-round when an overwhelming roar prompted settling the tab.
A familiar latin tune was echoing through the night when asking quién es? The guard excitedly quipped, Omar Enrique before breaking into a beat-supplementing shuffle. By now, there was barely room to push through the crowded plaza; trees concealing the distant stage but sound enough to wake the dead from one of the hottest Merengue stars on earth!
There were no inhibitions constraining the fevered multitudes swept away in the spontaneous rave. Age was not a factor for appreciating the revelry that roused everyone like ants on a hot rock. Every song was cause for celebration anew right up until sonic booms ushered in the current hit saved for last and accompanied with a firework show that emblazoned the night.
A vacated bench relieved weakness in my knees. With head down and eyes closed, there was no processing what was transpiring. Crowds had thinned a little, but most appeared eager to keep the party going with tradition I was yet aware of. They opened with the headlining act and follow with equivalent of warm-up bands.
My head was still spinning by time Juzt 2 Brothers from Puerto Rico opened with popular House-music hit Que Bonita Bandera. Warm fuzzies had overwhelmingly numbed far greater than partakings. More than pesonal limits had been surpassed.
Two weeks in Venezuela had certainly been questionable, but this final day in Maracaibo had transcended the highest expectations of travel experiences and celebrating life. The clock was ticking towards midnight and alarm had already been set for 5:00 am.
Sounds of music were still bouncing off high-rise buildings as my semi-concious stages passed unto sleep, and silence. An eventual roar was accented with a melodic trill of the "rr" in Puerto Rico before the salsa hit began running through my half-dazed mind. I wasn't dreaming when Bailando immediately followed.
Frankie Ruiz was dead...or so I thought? The clock said 2:07 am scrambling to half-dress for gracing hallway balcony. Glimpsing people through the trees still dancing fired a contagious movement into barefeet. Frankie was dead, but I wasn't; the cover-band authentic as the real man. What the hell, and I laced up my shoes...
First Day of the Rest of My LifeRegardless of how endearing times have been, when it's time to go, it's time to go! Final three days in Maracaibo had erased previous twelve, but there was no desire for more. I'd had my fill more than ready to head home.
Sleeping on the plane was futile thanks to entrancements beyond the window; the Caribbean shimmering in full glory at height of day. Dreaming with eyes open had a soothing affect despite interruptions from the chatty gentleman wanting to practice English. Recapping state of the country's turmoil was no longer a pertinent issue, though his profuse apologies appeasing encountered mishaps unknowingly justified both our causes.
Restlessness often spawns desires for travel, but a foreign concept was working in reverse process. Never had there been such anticipation for returning to the States, placing journey behind with little thought, and getting on with routines of everyday life. At this point, who knew?
Whether it was Venezuela, experiences beyond the obvious, or just one of those unexplainable points of time, something internally had majorly shifted; a moving forward that requires advancing to the next plateau in life. Months later, I'm still not sure exactly what constituted such a drastic new outlook on life, but Middle-of-Nowhere, Missouri suddenly didn't look or seem so bad.
It's said stages of mourning when suffering great loss can be a three-year process. Perhaps they're right. March 2001 was when decision was made to leave New York City; a surrendering of almost nine-years worth of living which had consumed my identity. The loss was immensely devestating.
Unknown at the time, that final day in Maracaibo was a wake only befitting for a guy like Jake Ryan; likely snuffed-out by smoke inhalation from 27 candles in addition to the original 16. Illusions of bright lights, big city living, and access to three major airports had vanished. A changed, domesticated person was in the works later confirmed by the road trip to Galveston.
Down-home country had been reincarnated with an island peculiarity; roots that never died now flourish on planet Jose Kevo. Where's that? All-inclusive travel details coming soon...
Aside from the historic center, only a couple of things were listed as attractions to make a day of. Laguna de Sinamaica was where Venezuela got its name when explorers found natives living in palafitos over water, reminding them of Venice. Three different locals convinced…Read More
Aside from the historic center, only a couple of things were listed as attractions to make a day of. Laguna de Sinamaica was where Venezuela got its name when explorers found natives living in palafitos over water, reminding them of Venice. Three different locals convinced me not to go, since risk of getting there wasn't worth the hour-long ride north. Apparently, little nature remains, but mainly, it wasn't safe. They also warned that visiting the smaller, similar area of Santa Rosa de Aqua, within city limits, was a death wish. This time, I listened!
Also north along the lakefront is Parque la Marina, with a mirador look-out tower. Initially setting out across the Puente Rafael Urdaneta when arriving, I found that the views, gazing back across the lake and skyline, crowned by the tower, suggested wealth, but looks can be deceiving in more ways than one. Approaching the park on foot from other side of the highway, rows of palm trees shaded what turned out to be scrubby grounds. There was nothing fancy about the tower, made of unfinished, poured concrete. Making matters worse, it was closed, even though the hours of operation were listed as 10am to noon and 3pm to 10pm daily. A few scattered sculptures and abstract artworks were tucked around, but the entire area was deserted, except for a handful of vagabond types.
The lakefront was heavily polluted, fulfilling what turned out to be the country's trademark. I was thoroughly covering the grounds in hopes of finding something hidden when a pair of gardeners came running, quite panicked. After initial greetings, they were insistent that I put my camera away and leave the area immediately, based on the safety factor. Again, who was I to argue?
About a 15-minute walk south along Avenida del Milagro is the Centro Commercial Lago Mall, a four-level, air-conditioned haven from the blistering heat. The shopping center had an all-too-familiar feel, with perhaps one third of store spaces abandoned due to the current economic crisis pinching local wealth. Otherwise, retail clothing stores dominated what's present, most geared towards ladies' fashion.
As I was hoping to catch a matinee, the foreign film was out. The cinema was not only closed, with no hours or prices posted, but favored American blockbusters with Spanish subtitles. There was a small Internet cafe where I had my first cyber-contact in almost two weeks. Rates are charged in half-hour segments at Bs750 (US 40 cents). Spanish keyboards and computer formatting are confusing. Connections are dreadfully slow, but they’re better than nothing.
The lower level has a giant food court featuring local eateries, mingled with popular fast-food chains. A large plate of roasted chicken with rice, beans, salad, and a drink cost US$3.75. Behind the mall are terraced gardens, a playground, and walkways, likely providing the best and cleanest views anywhere along the lake.
An official taxi stand is posted out front. The metered ride back to Plaza República was Bs2,500 (US$1.25), not including tip, but unless hard-pressed for something to do, don't bother coming here.