Dennis on the Road

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


There is a lot to like about Venezuela, but the greatest thing about this country is certainly its people. Several times each day I´m treated to surprise encounters with wonderful folks of all ages and all walks of life. I just ducked into a cyber cafe to jot down this blog entry after one such experience that began with an offer to taste calamari ice cream.

I just left la Heladeria Comoto, an ice cream store that is in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest number of ice cream flavors. I opted for a combination of flavors made from Venezuelan staples: the first scoop was Malta de Polar, a popular non-alcoholic malt drink, next was Ponche de Cafe, a popular highly alcoholic liquor, and finally platano. I even requested a sample of caraota (black beans). All of them tasted great, unlike the calamari that was offered to me by a much braver ice cream conosieur. While I almost gagged on the flavor, it was a great entree to a conversation with a group of very fun-loving students from Maracaibo who were skipping out on a session of a conference they were attending. Within a few minutes we were laughing and posing for pictures in front of the placards listing the 1000 falvors.

This is my second day in Merida, and I´m loving it. I went out last night for the first all-nighter that I have had since Trinidad. There are more Americans here than I have seen throughout my entire trip thus far and even more Europeans. I struck up a conversation with Brian, who was wearing a Cal hat, in the first bar we headed off to. It turns out that his mom is the prinicpal of the high school in Mendocino. He introduced me to a group of Venezuelan friends, and while he went home, I joined the others to close down two bars, ending up at an all night Arepa stand at 4 AM, not returning to my bed until 5. I don´t often let loose on the dance floor, but I had a blast jumping around to Manu Chao and a broad mix of Latin and English language music. The incredibly cheep beers (I bought a round for 6 people for US$2.50!) led to some pretty excessive drinking, and I´m paying the price today.

Merida is high in the Andes, but it is not just the cooler climate and scenery that is different than other cities I´ve visited in Venezuela. The pace here is very relaxed, and the large university gives it a very youthful feel. The city is small enough that it is easy and safe enough to explore by foot. It is a very active place, boasting that it is the ¨ecoturism¨capital of the country. I´m going to be adventuring out starting tomorrow to explore more of the mountains and later Los Llanos, vast planes teaming with 4 meter-long boaconstrictors, pirana, and anteaters.


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