Dennis on the Road

Thursday, October 20, 2005

a pirated view of Caracas

click to enlarge

More from Venezuela...

¡Young Chavistas!

On a bus to Maracay last weekend, I jotted a short list of the things I love about Venezuela on a blank page in the back of Love in the Time of Cholera. The list only scratches the surface, but here are a few things… many more to be added in the future.
* Everyone, from the youngest kids to grandparents seem to know every word of every song on the radio and will sing them anywhere ~ on busses, in the streets, at home ~ at full volume and usually out of key.
* Family, friends and community are valued above all else. Venezuelans are overly social and warm and generally travel in packs. There is little solitude or privacy here, which I sometimes miss… but it is worth sacrificing for the authentic connections that are so quickly made.
* There is lots of laughter!
* Grosarias: Mild profanity and humor are staples of most conversations. Expressions that if literally translated in English would be quite offensive here are standard vocabulary.
* The countryside, and even the city to a lesser degree, is green and lush.
* Fried plantains are served with everything! And I still can’t get enough of them.

My home base here has been the apartment of Marianela and Josefa (sisters) and Estrella and Aliana, students who are renting rooms. Their generosity and hospitality is incredible. I finally had the chance to offer something to them by preparing a large Italian dinner last night with two different pastas and sauces, insalata caprese, antipasti, and wine. One of the things I miss while traveling is cooking… It felt good to be back in the kitchen.

Last weekend I took a side trip to Maracay to visit a family I met last year in Choroni. Six people, of three generations, live in their modest house and made me feel a part of their family. Aquiles is a baseball fanatic. I went with him to three of his softball games over the weekend, where the beer drinking would begin as early as 9:00 AM. Their four-year old daughter, Seliuqa, is adorable and incredibly smart. She beat me in a memory card game, not once, but four times! The whole family is die-hard “Chavista” and loves the fact that I’m a fan of President Hugo Chávez. It is a novelty that was mentioned nearly every time I was introduced to a family friend. I’ve up-loaded some pictures of this weekend here in a new folder, and have also added some more photos from Caracas.

On the cycling front, this week I’ve returned to daily training and it feels great. I was happy and surprised to discover that Venezuela’s national sports complex is only a few blocks from where I’m staying. There is a velodrome, offices of the national cycling federation, facilities for dozens of other sports, and residence for hundreds of international-caliber athletes. In my first visit there I met Cirio, a para-Olympian with one leg who has competed (and won) all over the globe. He introduced me to daily rides that leave from this area every morning. Today a group of about ten of us headed up into the mountains to the West of the city, weaving through clogged traffic until escaping the city.

I’ve also been exploring work possibilities here and might teach an English class for employees of a company once a week to gain the experience. I’ve already had an offer for full time work, including a tempting opportunity in the Amazon to teach English at a big mining camp for a few months, but I’m enjoying being on vacation too much to take on a work commitment, especially since the pay is horrible. It would make more sense for me to return to California to work for six months while living frugally and then travel for six months.

Tomorrow I'm off to Colonia Tovar and nearby beaches for the weekened to celebrate the birthday of my friend Rafael!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Back to the Bay for a Minute

One of the greatest joys I had while teaching was taking the learning outside of the classroom. My greatest ally in this had to be Trips for Kids, an organization that takes urban youth to the trails of Marin County. I was asked by their founder, Marilyn Price to write the lead article for their annual newsletter, which was recently published and is now available (in PDF format) at this link. Check it out if you have a minute.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Alex's Ironman for the Leukemia Society!

In 2000, when I was going through the most difficult period of my life, on the heals of my divorce and the death of my mom from leukemia, my dear friend Skeeter resurfaced and offered several avenues to healing. First she took me skiing every other week and then she convinced me to participate in a half Ironman triathlon, raising money and awareness for the Leukemia Society while getting fit with their Team in Training (TNT) program.

The experience was much more than I could have imagined. It both helped me to cope with my mom’s death (in a way that she would certainly appreciate) while moving on in a very healthy way with my own life. Although I’ll never do another triathlon (hopping into a lake with a thousand swinging and kicking limbs is not my idea of fun) this experiencing was my path back into cycling… and you know where that has led me!

This morning I read an email from Skeeter’s wonderful sweetheart/partner Alex who is beginning her training for Ironman Canada in August 2006. She will be raising at least $7500 for the Leukemia Society. I will be helping out with that and would be most honored if some of my friends would also chip in, even if you can only donate a few bucks in memory of my mom or someone close to you who has suffered from cancer or to honor someone who is currently fighting that battle. Go to and you can donate any amount you like. Thanks!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

arepas, fitcar, y el avila

Preparing arepas in Caracas

It is great to be back in Venezuela! I’m back “home” in the apartment of my Venezuelan family. It’s been a relaxed first week here… a lot of eating and some exploring of Caracas. Highlights include a visit to a huge tourism festival, Feria International Turismo de Caracas (FITCAR). Perfect timing for this preview of all there is to see in this incredibly geographically diverse country. We arrived too late to see most of the exhibition, but we caught an amazing performance of two-dozen dancers and an outstanding orchestra. The music was a mix of flamenco and Venezuelan music with the theme of the country’s history with a post-colonial perspective. Beautiful, fascinating, and very professional. The flamenco vocalist was especially inspirational, and I have never seen anyone play the harp with half the passion of their harpist (who in the finale, when he wasn’t playing, danced with his harp over his head!) The group just returned from a stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

A view of Caracas from Parque Nacional El Avila

Yesterday my friend Clement took me to Parque Nacional El Avila, a massive national park that boarders the city. (Check out the park's excellent website. It is amazing how accessible such a beautiful park is to the city. A metro ride and a short walk brought us to the base of the mountain and the start of a system of over 200 km. of trails. The path we took was very popular with folks getting their afternoon exercise. The views of the city were spectacular.

Tomorrow we’re off to the beach at Morrocoy!

Thursday, October 06, 2005


I'm safe, sound, and very happy in Venezuela. I arrived Tuesday... I'll be writing more one of these days...

Monday, October 03, 2005

Barbados race report, photos, press, and ....

Saturday’s racing at Ride Barbados was everything but boring. (The boredom was exhausted with the pre-race briefing Friday night in which the organizers arrived an hour late and then spent over an hour presenting ten minutes worth of information while trying to fix problems with their PowerPoint.)

Stage One: On the wheel of Herve Arcade, the overall winner from Martinique, with World Champion Franco Marvulli at the back.

The first stage was an 80 km. race around a 2 km circuit with one steady climb. I felt great and the course was well suited for me. The attacks began early and I made a break with four other riders including Franco Marvulli a two time world track champion and Olympic silver medalist from Swizerland and Herve Arcade from Martinique winner of this year’s Tour of Martinique and the bearer of the yellow jersey for three stages in Tobago. With about ten laps to go, we lapped the field and shortly after that two of my teammates, Phillip Clarke from Barbados and Guy Costa from Trinidad, also lapped the field which now included ten riders who were a lap ahead. I had a lousy sprint, finishing sixth but fortunately Phillip was ahead of me for forth (by far the best placed Bajan rider) and Guy was on my wheel for seventh, giving us three riders in the top ten.

Cosidering how poor the organization of this race is and how strange some of the characters running the show are, Stage One somehow went off without anyone getting hurt. Imagine a rule change made at the line one minute before the start redefining the definition of the divisions, sending five riders from one field to another; or the official starter with a cell phone strapped to each wrist waving a starting pistol carelessly in the faces of the riders while screaming at us to stay behind the line that we were barely touching. This is just a sample of the insanity of this race organization.

Stage Two: Although it ended, it never finished.

Stage Two was scheduled to start at 2:00 PM under the baking sun. Around 3:00 it was announced that the schedule would be changed and that instead of racing both divisions on the same course, they would race Division Two first and start Division One later. It was 4:30 by the time we got to the line. We were called up before the last Division Two riders had finished, causing them to sprint into a field of waiting cyclists. Absurd and dangerous. Finally we were off, but in the first 100 meters I heard the terrifying sound of cracking carbon fiber, a sound that is usually followed by a quick trip to the ground. This time, however, I lucked out. I looked down to see my handle bar cracked enough that with one good bump it was destined to split in two. Fortunately, Mark, one of my Rafmon/Mecalfab teammates who didn’t earn any points in the morning race, offered me his bike. Miraculously he is the only other person I’ve seen in the Caribbean who has the same pedals as me and his inseam is identical to mine. His gesture to offer me the bike was generous and professional and another example of the tremendous support that I’ve received from everyone involved with this team. The circuit was just over 1 km of shear danger. The road surface was horrible and cars entered the course nearly every lap from driveways and parking lots. It was hard to appreciate the view of an idyllic beach only a block from the course when my life was constantly in peril. I never rode further back than fifth wheel, not to guard the front, but to have a clearer view of the obstacle course of hazards. Shortly after midway through the race on a headwind section with a brief stretch of decent pavement, I was tucked in behind the rider in front of me when suddenly I skimmed past a videographer who was crouching on the yellow line. I looked behind me to see riders swerving to both sides of him. Then I looked to the side of the road where I could see the look of shock and fear on the faces of our support crew immediately followed by the horrible sound of a crash. The next time through we slowed to go around the cyclist on the ground and when I saw that he was badly injured I had had enough. I was second wheel as we passed him and I sat up and yelled to stop the race. There was no argument, and by the time we reached the next corner the entire field came to a halt and protested to the chief commissar that we would not have our lives risked by such poor course planning and marshaling. I was livid at the utter disregard for our safety that both the promoters and the cameraman displayed and feeling very sorry for the downed local cyclist who broke both of his wrists, which will keep him from his profession as a chef for many months. My suggestion to the promoter that he change the name of this event from “Ride Barbados” to “Die Barbados” was not well received.

Fortunately Sunday’s race had an afternoon start, because I needed the morning to get a new bar to replace the one that cracked yesterday. Again, the kindness of folks in Barbados shown strong. Mr. Taylor drove straight from church to open his shop only to sell and install a new bar for me. The greatest support, though, came from our hosts. Throughout the entire trip the Chandler/Cozier family has been tremendously hospitable: housing, feeding, transporting, and supporting us during the races. Thanks a million for everything and the generous open door offer to return any time!

We showed up to the line a few minutes after the scheduled start of the race, not at all worried about missing it. We were pleasantly surprised that the start was only an hour late. The race was a 100 km. road race that covered much of the island. Rolling through town we had our first short rain shower, which turned the roads into the slipperiest surfaces I’ve cycled on since my days of winter training in Michigan. Early in the race there were two separate solo attacks. An Italian rider was given the wrong directions and ended up actually having to chase to catch the field. A Guyanese rider was given the correct directions while the rest of the field cut the course following incorrect directions. He never caught up.

The day was mostly sunny, but when the rain came down I was frightened and immediately dropped to the back of the field, especially when going around roundabouts where the diesel fuel was spread over the tarmac. I took the same precautions on the decent, but by the base of each climb found my way to the front. About twenty kilometers into the race a two-man breakaway escaped: Giuseppe Atzeni, the same Italian rider who was misdirected in an early break, and a guy from the Martinique National Team. Heatwave organized a chase and Guy, Jason, Chris, and I put in a good effort, but there was little support from the rest of the field. Fortunately Guy called the chase off about 5 km before the biggest climb of the day. American Michael Norton set a fast and steady tempo from the base. Herve Arcade, in the yellow jersey, was on his wheel, and I glued myself to Herve’s wheel. It was the perfect climb for me: never too steep, but long and fast. By the top I realized that there were only two other riders with us, Franco Marvulli and a Guyanese rider. The next decent was the harriest of the day with an unexpected sharp curve near the bottom. Realizing that I wasn’t going to make the turn, I hit the breaks early and skidded off the road, resting softly on the dirt embankment. I wasn’t even scratched, the bike was fine, and the guys in the break honorably sat up until I rejoined. On the same corner, in the field behind us, Guy crashed and broke his bike frame. Fortunately he was OK. Our group worked well together until with less than 10 km to go we spotted the two leaders. Since each of them had a teammate in our group, our muscle and motivation waned. Fortunately, though, as we slowed, Phillip Clarke, my teammate and a local Bajan, caught us with less than two kilometers to go. In the end, Phillip pulled out a good sprint to take third in our group and fifth for the stage while I had a lousy finish to an overall very strong race, finishing seventh in the stage.

Following the race, the mismanagement and disorganization continued. First the officials said that Phillip was disqualified for going off course, which he did not do. (He was one of the few that actually knew where we were going!) This was the final straw for the Heatwave. We were fed up with the incompetence of the organization and the petty issue that the organizers seemed to have with Phillip, a Bajan, racing for a Trini team. Tempers and tongues (and nearly fists) were flying. Finally that issue was sorted out, but there was no announcement about the overall placings and not a penny of the prize money had been paid. It was not until less than an hour before leaving for the airport the next morning that we received a return call from our messages telling us where we could pick up our prize money. We also found out our final placings. Phillip earned forth overall, an outstanding result! I earned 8th. Somehow the Guyanese rider who was misdirected was given a higher placing in than me, although he did not finish ahead of me in either race. Not surprising, the money from the second stage was never redistributed and most likely when right into the pockets of the promoters, their reward for putting on a life-threatening race.

The always subdued and tranquil Heatwave Cycling Team and supporters.

Despite the chaos and shitty sprinting, I had a great time at the race and rode very well. As you will see by the pictures, the highlight of all the racing in this region has been the folks that I’ve been racing. Big up to Rafmon/Mecalfab Heatwave Cycling Team. You all have been wonderful teammates and have become close friends!

P.S… I’m in Trinidad just for a night and fly to Venezuela in the morning!

P.P.S. There are some great pictures from Barbados at my photo site. Plus here are links to mediocre articles about the race. Stage One (where they slaughtered my last name: Goizana”) and Stage Two.