September 6, 2005

Warning! This is an extremely long entry. Carri and I sat on the bus for hours trying to write about the trip….we just kept writing and writing and writing! I’ll try and post some pictures to break up the monotony. Enjoy!

I woke up today feeling like I had just done 12 hours of garba. My whole body is sore but I woke up smiling. I honestly think that this was the best weekend of my life thus far. I can’t get over how fortunate we were in all aspects of this trip. I’ll try and write in detail but so much of it is in my head and I’m going to have a hard time expressing it in words. Anyways, let’s start out Friday night. After our preport lecture we were all feeling pretty sketchy about Venezuela. They gave us a whole list of things front and back of what NOT to do. (Aah! Ted and I just saw dolphins outside my window!!!) Ok so none of us knew what to pack or what to think of this trip. We got the idea from Sarah (justduckycolorado as Jed affectionately calls her). Sarah- I know you’re reading this because I just read your email that said you were so I just wanted to thank you for telling us about Merida. I don’t think we can thank you enough for your advice and kindness. We’ll send you pictures- don’t worry! We wanted to do it indy but we ended up doing it semi-indy. Caitlin (thanks so much to you for planning this!!) found a tour operator who helped us organize it (more about Ben, Pedro, and Osprey later). We all finally finished packing and me, Jed, Natalie, Glenn, Lindsay (note to Lindsay’s mom- she told me that you might be reading this. 🙂 rest assured, this is the same Lindsay and she’s a very sweet girl!), and Lyn went outside to sleep on deck. We woke up at 4am, went back own to our rooms and I ended up waking up again at 6am to watch the ship pull into La Guaira, Venezuela. The morning briefing was long and we were so anxious to get off the ship…I guess that made it seem even longer. We finally disembarked around 10:30 am, got some express tourist visas and found our bus. The bus is really nice; it has reclining seats, lots of leg room and a bathroom. The only problem is that it is FREEZING cold inside. The AC can only be turned on or off, there is no in-between. Anyways, we drove off through Caracas and it looked like a pretty downtrodden city. I guess all the warnings they gave us applied more to Caracas than Merida. We drove by so many hillside slums and shoddy houses. It was such a stark contrast to the beautiful landscape though. I took way too many pictures from the bus since I am not used to such a mountainous backdrop. I was mesmerized and stared out the window for hours.

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Ben with all of our money!!

We drove for about 5 hours and then stopped at this place for lunch. It was a small family-owned restaurant with a very interesting and hodge-podge decor. Outside they had parrots and an old sugar cane press complete with information plaque. Inside there were pictures of all kinds of things up on the wall and a kid sized model Ferrari. The chef made some HUGE barbecue thing for everyone which was apparently delicious. At first Ashish and I were just eating salad but Pedro and Ben noticed we weren’t eating anything so they asked the chef to make something for us. He made us black beans, rice, friend plantains, and some white cheese. It was really really good. The chef and his family were awesome. We were in such awe of the hospitality, good food, and the idea of actually being in Venezuela that we didn’t notice these 2 women who were kind of following us around. We found out that they were from a local newspaper in San Felipe and they were doing a feature story about us! Apparently, we were the largest organized tour to visit Maria Lionza Mountain so it was a big deal for the state.
After lunch/dinner (or supper as Shane would say), we drove a short way to Maria Lionza. I don’t have a good way to describe it because the brochure is in such broken English. Basically it’s a mountain that houses worshippers of the patroness Maria Lionza. They practice both white and black magic. We really didn’t know what to expect when we got there…As the bus pulled into the parking lot we saw about 15-20 men in uniform standing around. Apparently we were being escorted by the police and National Guard to ensure our safety. The road leading up to the mountain was dark and surrounded by high sugar cane fields which are conducive to bandit activity The Mountain itself was kind of sketchy too. Ok so we got into two smaller buses (each one had a gun-toting National Guard officer) and made our way to Maria Lionza. Police on motorcycles and in cars led the way and surrounded us on all sides.

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Me with the police/national guard.

After a long and bumpy ride we reached a place where other buses were parked. We were told that Saturday is the best and most ‘auspicious” day to visit so there were a good amount of people already there. Conveniently (ha, yeah right) it was dark when we got there so that added to the effect. We walked up to this place where there were tons of people singing, smoking, praying etc. There were 2 beautiful shrines in front of the crowd and people were coming in and out of them after lighting candles inside. These people were all so welcoming and they invited us to participate in some of their rituals. I think we all felt pretty intrusive at first because we were observing such sacred practices. The first thing they did was bless us with the smoke from one of those swinging containers (help?? what are they called) filled with burning charcoal and incense.

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They also gave everyone cigars (I felt bad not taking it so I just gave it to someone afterwards) – smoking seemed to be a big part of their lifestyle. I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by so much smoke in my life. We met a fortune teller who could tell you about your life just by smoking the remaining part of your cigar (guess I missed out on that one)! She did it for a few people in our group and they said she was dead-on in everything she said. I can’t even remember everything we saw that night. It was such a sensual assault. Anyways, we hung out there for awhile and then went across a really rickety bridge to some other part of the mountain. At the first place we stopped we witnessed people going into trances. The first guy who was in a trance was speaking to us in tongues. He asked someone what the English word for “children” was and they told him it was “babies.” He went around talking to us and the only thing we understood was babies. I don’t think I can ever forget the sound of his voice. Shane does a pretty good imitation though. The second guy in a trance was a doctor so he went around to everyone, held their hands and “cured” us of all our ailments. Oh, I forgot to mention. We though the first guy was talking about babies- like the children we might have in the future. We were, well at least I was, hoping that he wasn’t cursing our unborn babies! Luckily it turned out he was just blessing us and saying that his God will protect us. It was such an amazing thing to see. The next place we went was a small alcove where everyone was signing and clapping. It reminded me so much if doing Aarti. Apparently it was some woman’s birthday and she entered a second trance because she felt our presence. While she was entering the trance people would put alcohol in their mouth and spray it all over her. It was really interesting. I really want to read up on all this now. After this stop we headed back toward the first place. I make it sound like this was a short trip but it really wasn’t. We were there for a good 3-4 hours. On our way out we met the equivalent of the Director of INS for the state. She gave us little gifts and some info about Maria Lionza. Oh I forgot to mention that after lunch when we got back onto the bus there were bags on our seat with Maria Lionza statues and some more information. The gifts were so authentic and unexpected. Anyways, on our ride back to the bus we still had the escorts but there was an addition of an army truck. I still can’t believe what we saw. If that was all I saw in Venezuela I think I would have been satisfied!
We were all exhausted by the time we got back on the bus but we were also stupefied (that’s a real word right? I feel like I stole it from Harry Potter) by what we saw so sleeping was difficult. It came eventually though (thanks to Collin’s generous donation of a blanket to me and Amy). I woke up around 6am and couldn’t go back to sleep so I just stared out the window until people started waking up. The drive was beautiful- so many mountains, farms, and little houses on the side of the road. I loved it. Ok so we reached Merida around 8am- 2 hours behind schedule. The canyoning people were shuffled off and we were sitting on the bus for another 30 minutes or so. Oh, so on the bus ride over us talked to Ben and Pedro. They are amazing people who are full of information and ready to talk about anything and everything. Ok so I’m a little biased because I am writing this in retrospect but whatever. Anyways, we finally got off the bus- dumped our stuff in the posada and we all tried to brush our teeth and wash up in one tiny bathroom. We eventually left and started walking towards the cable car (teleferico?). We met Jorge on the way- at first we thought he was some sketchy guy following us but he turned out to be another tour guide. He was really nice and walked and talked us through Merida to the cable car. Merida is a gorgeous place- it’s a college town so it’s really charming. It was just so inviting- wide streets, store owners standing at the entrance, street vendors, and more importantly everyone was smiling. More about Merida later.
We got to the cable car and waited in line for an hour or so. It was here that we learned Pedro was the pimp of Merida. Since we were late our tickets were given away. Pedro knows everyone so he managed to get enough tickets for our group. Group B is awesome by the way. We had a small group and we all got along so it worked out well. It was me, Amy O., Amy R., Ted, Caitlin, Kristyn, Maritza, Alex, Rob, Carri, and Shane. While we were waiting in line we got to know Pedro a lot better. He is such a genuine, happy, intelligent and kind-hearted person. We were so fortunate to have met him and to have him as our tour guide on the first day. I think, as a result, he was closer to our group. Ok so while we were waiting in line these 2 people came up to us and start talking to Pedro. They were from the local paper and wanted to write about us. They took all of our names, asked us what we thought of Merida and took a picture of us. We found the paper the next day and lo and behold there we were on page 5! The name of the paper was Cambio and the title of the article was “Merida entre las ocho maravillas del pais.” The whole article wasn’t about us, just a section of it.

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Ok so we finally got on the first cable car. We had to go on 4 different ones to get all the way to the top. The first one went up 5174 ft, the second 11326 ft, the third 13271 ft, and the fourth 15,683 feet. That makes it the longest and highest cable car system in the world (it’s in the Guinness book). It took us a really long time to get all the way up and back but it was fine because along the way we talked to Pedro about all sorts of things. How he felt about Chavez, etc. It was really interesting. I kind of hoped that I would meet a Chavista because I want to hear their side too. To bad all the people I’ve met believe Chavez isn’t good for their country. Actually, Pedro said he was “neutral” and just “observing.” Ok so we got all the way to Pico Bolivar, the highest point on the cable car. Some of us were feeling pretty lightheaded and nauseous, myself included. The air was way too thin up there and we obviously didn’t give ourselves the chance to acclimate to the climate. It was also freezing cold up there. The trip down took a long time too but it was fun.

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The last leg of the cable car. At times all we could see were clouds around us. It was a bit unsettling.

We got back down and rushed to Posada La Montana (a Posada is like a hotel/inn), put our stuff away and got ready for paragliding! Me, Carri, Amy R., Amy O., Rob, Ted, Shane, Maritza, and Rick went from our group. We took a Jeep up the mountain…it was one of those winding roads with nothing to keep you from falling off the side into the abyss. Our driver was crazy and he was laughing at me because I was sitting up front so he could see me grabbing onto the handle bar on the glove compartment every time we came to a curve or a bend in the road. He was a good driver though. It was also a good thing that his speedometer wasn’t working…I didn’t want to know how fast he was going. We got to the top of the mountain safely and there were a lot of people just milling about watching the Para gliders. We also saw one guy on a hang glider take off which was awesome! Coincidentally, the adrenaline tour people were there too and just finishing their paragliding. I was really nervous about doing this in the first place so this was a big step for me. I’m a pretty nervous child for some reason…no roller coasters, bungee jumping, diving, scary movies, etc. I finally decided that it was about time I started facing my fears. Paragliding was attempt #1 (canyoning was definitely #2).

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The view from the top of the mountain.

My nerves were a little shaken up because we saw a girl throwing up and I was positive it was going to be me throwing up next! Somehow I put it out of my head and made the decision to just do it. Best decision I’ve ever made. There was a little bit of chaos because it was nearing the end of the day and they were having a precision competition that day. Me, Ted, and Rick were the only ones who weren’t going to be part of the competition. That was perfectly fine with me because they were going to land in the dark! For the competition, they set up a target down on the ground and whichever paraglider landed closest to the bull’s eye won. Some of them did it tandem, that’s why some from our group went with them. My pilot, Jorge, was doing it by himself so he just took me up earlier and we landed on top of the mountain instead of at the bottom. Besides being extremely good-looking, Jorge was an EXCELLENT pilot and he was pretty proficient in English. Ok so I thought that we would need more gear for paragliding but all we had was a helmet and a harness seat type of thing. Your legs are hanging down and you’re strapped to your pilot.

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Getting ready to go.

The only instructions Jorge gave me were to keep running off the mountain and don’t sit until I tell you to. Do you know how hard it is it physically and psychologically keep RUNNING off the side of a mountain into nothingness? Eeks. Our takeoff went fine though- thank goodness. Once we were airborne I calmed down a little bit and got comfortable. The view was incredible. I went paragliding in the Andes mountains. I still can’t get over it. All we could see were mountains, the city beneath us and the sun shining through the clouds. The sun was starting to set when we got up in the air.

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Running off the mountain…

Jorge and I struck up a conversation and I learned that his English was so good because he lived in Canada for awhile as well as Morocco, Nepal and some places I don’t remember. He teaches and competes in paragliding. He was really interesting to talk to and he made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. He asked me of I wanted to do this spinning thing so I said sure why not. I’ve gotten this far anyway. Ted told me to do it before I left so I figured it was worth a shot. Oh my goodness it was insane. I felt like gravity was sucking me downwards like in a vortex. By far the craziest thing I’ve ever felt. Jorge asked me if I wanted to do it again and I bet you can guess what my answer was. I like trying new things but I don’t like feeling unnaturally controlled like that. It’s hard to explain. After that we flew around for awhile. It was surprisingly relaxing. I guess because I didn’t have to physically do anything. After being airborne for about 30 minutes we landed smoothly back where we started from. Paragliding was by far the most amazing thing I have ever done. Jorge told us to drive down to the competition to watch them land and then join them for a party afterwards. Ted, Rick and I drove back down with the driver who was still going super fast around curves. I wasn’t nervous this time though! We met up with the rest of our group who landed down on the ground. We didn’t get to see them land because we were still driving down at the time and it was dark. So here’s where we started doing things that SAS probably wouldn’t have approved of. It’s ok though…we’re all adults and I think we made good decisions for the most part. We went with one of the pilots to this little village where the rest of the pilots where. I think this was Pedro’s doing because he was good friends with a lot of them. So we walked down a dark street (complete with open manhole) to this party. Well at least we were in a big group! It only took us 2 minutes to walk there. Pedro and the other driver came a little later because they were driving so it took them longer. We got there and the whole atmosphere was like something out of the Fast and the Furious. We just hung around for awhile until Pedro came back. I eventually found Jorge and he told us to follow him down to where they were giving away the awards for the competition. This is when we went down the seediest and darkest alley I’ve ever seen, Carri even took a picture. 🙂 It was OK though because it led to the back of someone’s house and there were tons of people and lots of light. You just had to turn the corner to see all that. It was incredible to be part of this. To get the chance to hang out with locals and have them treat you like you’re one of them. Jorge told me that they only have this competition every 2-3 months so we were really lucky to be there on that day. Even though we didn’t get to stay as long as I wanted it was an overall unforgettable experience. Oh, and I got a kiss on the cheek by Jorge so I guess that made it somewhat more special for me! 😉 We reluctantly left the party and headed back to our Posada. We showered and cleaned ourselves up since we hadn’t showered in 2 days and we were still in the same clothes we got off the ship in. A shower was much needed.
This is how you make true friends; we’ve seen each other dirty, exhausted, grimy, scared, and happy, you name it. We were waiting around in the lobby and Pedro sent his friend Rico (another cool travel partner of his) to pick us up. Me, Carri, Amy, Ted, and Shane. We were going to get something to eat but apparently all the other people had eaten already and wanted to go out. Somehow we all ended up at a bar. Luckily there was a restaurant next to it so we went there to eat. It was called MacWen’s and Pedro told us the story behind the name because he knew the old owner (of course!). The owner apparently wanted something between MacDonald’s and Wendy’s…well at least they had good French fries. I wasn’t actually that hungry but I needed to eat something. So we finished eating and headed next door where SAS had pretty much taken over the place. There were 30 from our group and about 7-8 people who came to Merida indy. It was good though because there were a lot of locals too. The music was good at first…until they started playing old American music that you couldn’t even dance to. We would have much rather danced to Venezuela music Oh well, it was fun anyways. The bar closed around 12:30 but none of us wanted the night to end because it was the only night we had in Merida- the other 2 were spent on the bus. Yeah…so guess where we went? Pedro’s mom’s house. Our 27 year old tour guide took us to his mother’s house to party. It was hilarious. He doesn’t live at home because he has an apartment but his mother lives in Tennessee so the house is pretty much empty. It was a gorgeous house though and we got to see suburbia in Venezuela. Very cool. Me, Amy, Ted, Carri, and Shane went with Rico- but not before stopping in another dark alley with some more shady characters (good times, right girls?). We went to Pedro’s house and Amy O., Rob, Maritza, and Collin were already there. Not too many people but it was still a lot of fun. Somewhere between all the talking and laughing we realized it was 5:00 am and we all had to be up and ready by 6:15 am for canyoning! We got back to our Posada around 5:45 and I set my alarm for 6:15am. It’s hard trying to fall asleep when you know you have to wake up in 30 minutes. That and Collin was snoring louder than any of the kakas! Somehow we woke up and got ready (keep in mind that getting ready didn’t involve a shower…whatever we were about to get really dirty anyway). We had kind of a late start but somehow we got to the canyoning place on time (after unsuccessfully trying to find “Tom’s office”…we didn’t even know who Tom was!). We drove for about 20 minutes up a mountain I think? We got off the truck and stripped down to our bathing suits and sneakers. We were each given a helmet and a big pack to carry on our backs. Have you ever tried hiking in a bathing suit? It’s tons of fun. Haha, actually it was a lot of fun. Poor Ted was the only guy and he was walking around in his underwear. Whatever, we’re all friends now. We hiked for about 30 minutes up and down and all around. The view was gorgeous- mountains in an early morning mist. We were all pretty relaxed…we had NO idea what we were getting ourselves into!

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The first part of the hike. That’s me in front and Carri behind me.

We were being led by this Andes mountain man who was awesome (we later found out his name was Blue Eyes). He was really good at leading because he would hold your hand when you needed it and showed you where to place your feet. He was also wearing nothing but loincloth type underwear and a necklace made of horse teeth. We got to a small river and he did some sort of prayer before we crossed it. My Spanish skills are nonexistent to I couldn’t ask him what it meant. We then put on our wetsuits, jackets and carabineer harness things. Ok so let me preface this by saying that this was definitely the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life and probably the scariest thing I will ever do.

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This is nothing compared to the rest of it.

Dry hiking is perfectly fine but there’s just something about the water that makes me panic. After we put our wetsuits on we just started walking down the river (cold water, mind you), slipping on rocks, climbing over and on trees, etc. I was fine and pretty excited until we got to our first waterfall. We got a crash course in rappelling down it but it was in broken English so I didn’t understand that we would actually be going UNDER the waterfall not on the nonexistent rock face that I thought would be on either side of it. You were supposed to go down, with your feet dangling, head down so the water was cascading over you and slowly giving yourself slack until you got down to the bottom. I have never felt so panicked in my life. As soon as the water hit me I started panicking. I stuck my foot in this little cove thing so I could have a place to breathe. I had to try 3 times to go down- I was on the verge of tears but somehow I did it. Now that I’m thinking about it I have on idea how I got myself to the bottom of that waterfall. I have no recollection of it. I really think I blanked out. I remember someone untying me at the bottom and then swimming out to the rest of the group. My nerves were shot and I was literally “Shaking in my boots.” I know I sound really weak but this was really hard for me. To each his own. Don’t make fun of me until you try it!

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I look a little panicked.

So, the first waterfall was only 10 m. The next one was 14m and the last one was 35m….that’s over 100 FEET. Thank goodness on the other two you had the option of going on the “outside” of the waterfall instead of under it. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if that wasn’t an option. I don’t even want to think about it. Even rappelling down 35 m of rock face by yourself was hard enough…and sometimes you would lose your balance and swing into the waterfall anyways. My heart is beating faster right now just thinking about it.

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It’s kind of like walking the plank…

The other part that really scared me was jumping from the rocks down into the water. We had to do that periodically and you could never tell how deep the water was. The scariest one for me was this place where were on a high rock and had to jump down about 10 feet. The problem as that the space between us and the rock face across from us was maybe 10 feet in width. You were supposed to do a step off kind of jump so you wouldn’t hit the wall. I got up there 3 times and couldn’t make myself jump off. Panic mode again. I’ve never felt so weak in my life, but I guess it’s good to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. I finally ended up sliding down the side of the rock- TERRIBLE idea. I banged up my knee pretty badly.

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It’s hard to tell in the picture but this is one of the places we had to jump. The scariest one for me…it doesn’t look that high in the picture but believe me, it was.

Just reliving the canyoning experience is scary for me. I loved it but I would NEVER do it again. It’s just not my thing. Now, paragliding I would definitely do that again. Especially with Jorge. haha just kidding.

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Ted, Amy, Carri, me and Alex

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Group B is awesome. Top Row: Amy, one of the guides, Alex, Blue Eyes, Carri, Kristyn, Caitlin, Maritza. Bottom Row: Ted, Amy, another guide, and me (holding my disgusting wet socks in my hand….ugh).

We finally finished canyoning- after about 5 hours and stripped off our wetsuits quickly because the Adrenaline Tour people were waiting for them. While we were waiting for our bus Blue Eyes and Carri went off to talk somewhere! The Venezuelan men seem to love her. She’s such a sweet girl though so I can see why. We drove back to Tom’s office (we know where it is now) and had lunch there. We had German food because I think Tom is German. I was still pretty shaken up from canyoning but it was nice to sit and relax (and ice my knee). Their office has an amazing view of the Andes and the cable car line.
After lunch we walked back to the Posada to clean up. We all had to check out in the morning so we just rented one room for an extra night so we could keep our stuff there and shower when we got back. We all showered and then went to walk around Merida. Amy, Carri, and I went to make some phone calls first though. I talked to Mom for the first time since I left so that was really nice. I’m not homesick yet and I don’t think I will be because we are going to be so busy! I do miss you all though! After we were done with all that we walked around looking for postcards and patches. I was unsuccessful in both areas. We did, however, find copies of the newspaper we were in. We found ourselves in the Plaza Bolivar and saw a newspaper stand so that worked out well. We also wandered into a gorgeous church. I love churches if you didn’t know. Outside the church they had some street performers that reminded me so much of Stockholm. There was this one guy who was dressed all in gold- complete with painted face and all that. We gave him some money and first he made some weird pose with Carri. Then he beckoned me over and put his forehead to mine and made Shane take a picture. He then kissed my hand and made me kiss his cheek. It was interesting…and I walked away with gold glitter on my lips. He could control his movements so well and was so graceful that he almost seemed angelic…in a robotic kind of way. After that we (oh by we I mean me Carri, Amy, Ted, and Shane) walked down some side streets and we noticed that they were drastically different from the main street. But I guess that’s how it is everywhere. I still think Merida is a really charming pace. We walked around for a little while longer and then headed back to the cable car place. Carri and I got strawberries and cream from a street vendor. It was really interesting because they put condensed milk on top. Anyways, we ended up going to a bakery instead of the Posada to get food. Much better idea. I love going to see 3 things in places that I visit; churches (or any house of worship), fruit stands, and bakeries. If I was a photographer I would take pictures of fruit markets all over the world. Ooh, on the topic of photography…I was thinking about something else that would be interesting to take pictures of- tree roots. Some of them are HUGE and make such strange shapes. You could call the exhibit “Roots” and integrate something about the young and old and instilling good values in the next generation and being in touch with their “Roots.” ok sorry I’ll stop trying to be creative. Back to Venezuela. The bakery we went to was awesome; crowded and full of all kinds’ local foods. I got a chocolate croissant, some twisty sweet bread thing and plantain chips for the bus. All of it was really good. Rob got some foccaica that was delicious. We headed back to our Posada in the rain, sat upstairs for a little bit and then gathered up our stuff to leave. We broke one last rule (only mentioned in my written journal);-) and then it was time to leave. We got in a van and went to the public bus depot. Apparently our driver was confused and he took us to the wrong one. Luckily we got a hold of Ben and the bus came and picked us up! We kind of had a party bus yesterday but Carri and I were running on less than 30 minutes of sleep so we were OUT in no time. I woke up around 8am this morning and I couldn’t go back to sleep. Thank God we all survived this trip with noting but bruises, mosquito bites, and sore muscles to show from it. We’re almost back to the ship and I can’t believe this actually happened. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life. Last night was so bittersweet. We only spend enough time in each country to make friends and begin to get to know them. Before you know it it’s time to leave.
Pedro lived up to his word and gave everyone a bag filled with information about Merida, his card, and a CD of Venezuelan music. He also gave me copies of the paper to give to people who didn’t have them. You know how some people say that they are going to do something but it never comes to fruition. Well Pedro and Ben were definitely NOT those kind of people. Venezuelan hospitality or truly genuine people? Whatever it is, it was so great to meet people who act out of kindness and not purely for profit. Granted they are getting paid but they definitely went above and beyond their duties. We each paid $230 for this trip (+$50 for paragliding) – you can’t put a price on our memories though. I’ve spent 3 hours of writing in my journal on the bus yet I still feel like I’ve forgotten to mention so many things. Well this entry is long enough anyway. We’re back in Caracas!

What’s been happening since then? Nothing too exciting. We had an activity fair the day after Venezuela (I only know days as A, B, or port…days of the week are no longer important). It was kind of like First-Look Fair but on a much smaller scale obviously. I signed myself up for Global Nomads which sounds like an amazing opportunity. They are promoting intercontinental conversation between youth on the topic of HIV/AIDS. I believe they are doing it in conjunction with MTV and some program in India. I’m not sure what the details are but I will let you know. Google Global Nomads if you are interested. I checked out their website before I left and it’s pretty good. Other than that I signed up for salsa and hip hop dance lessons (we’ll see if these actually work out), Adopt-a-Family (you get to know more adult passengers and kids on the voyage), Vicarious Voyage (2 way communication with a classroom back in the states- I’m excited about this one), and I applied to be an Ambassador (you get to meet with interport guests and basically promote goodwill on the ship). I met a good amount of people yesterday so that was awesome. I keep forgetting how many people I HAVEN’T met on this ship yet and it’s a bit daunting to think that there are 680 kids on this ship and I don’t even know half of them. I guess it’s impossible to meet everyone but I sure would like to! OH, Mom- thanks so much for the card!!!! Mail in Venezuela is extremely unreliable so they only got 12 pieces of mail for the whole ship (6 of them were for one person). They’re going to forward the rest of the mail to Brazil so I was pretty lucky. Anyways, today was pub night again. I’m feeling kind of under the weather so I just went up and hung out for awhile and then came back down to finish writing this journal entry. Oh, I forgot to mention- we had community college today and the topic was Capoiera (Josh L.- you would have loved it!). Community college is this thing they have every evening where people teach a quick lesson in their area of expertise. Yesterday, for example, the staff photographer held a “take good travel pictures” session. They all seem pretty interesting. Ship life is awesome. It’s definitely not conducive to studying though.Today Natalie and I were trying to study but we kept staring out at the ocean and we eventually gave up and just started talking. Well this journal entry is long enough. If you did read until the end of it- congratulations! No but for real, thanks to anyone and everyone who is reading this. I really appreciate it. Leave me comments and I’ll appreciate it even more!

P.S. You know what’s frustrating? We all feel like we live in our own little microcosm. We read the news whenever we get a chance but we don’t get to know the whole story or the country’s reaction to the news which is equally as important. All we can do is talk about it amongst ourselves. It’s weird. So many people dead in New Orleans? Someone told me 10,000 the other day. I can’t even fathom such a loss. We are hoping and praying for all who have friends and family down there…

Mom, Dad, Didi- missing you all so much. Must be lonely at home without me and dad? I can’t even imagine…I’m trying not to worry about him being down in New Orleans but it’s hard. Must be even worse for you. I’ll call you whenever I get a chance. LOVE YOU! Oh, my cabin number is 4086, I forgot to tell you that when I called.

Everyone at CP (that includes Meera, Kinj, and Tapan)- hope the semester started off well! Let me know how you all are doing! Also, when they put up spring registration stuff can someone please please please send me a quick email.

Tejal- miss you soo much! How’s your new apt?

Casey- thanks SO much for the card. I meant to email you earlier but I didn’t get a chance. I will really take your words to heart.

Everyone in India- wish I could see you all in Chennai! Ahaan is the most popular person on this ship now because his picture is the wallpaper on my laptop. Missing you all terribly!

Anyone else reading this- thanks!!!

I will post again after Brazil. We are crossing the equator today! Neptune Day will be saved for Sept 20th though because we have a Global Studies exam.

It’s tradition for everyone to shave their head on Neptune Day? Should I do it? Leave me a comment with your vote!

Love to all.

Some old pictures:

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I wish you could see how blue the water is.

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Jed, Lyn, Shane, and me after dinner.

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Me and Cristian- the Venezuelan interport student.

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