Archive for Venezuela

Paragliding

Posted in The South America Tales with tags , , on March 27, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

It’s my birthday. I’m turning Old Man. I’m in a fourwheel-driven crosscountry Jeep on a thinstripped road leading up, up, up the mountain.

It’s me, M, two guides and their tattooed little helper, and an italian guy who’s also supposed to strap on a saftey-seal and soar like an eagle. The Jeep is one of concentrated silence.  I’m looking over the verge. We’re so high up now it has become ridiculous. It’s to unreal to make you nervous.

We have to wait for a few minutes on the top due to strong winds. Me and M walk up to the steep end of the jump-off ground. I catch a glimpse of Merida way down there between two mountain peaks.

I get strapped to the safety-seals. My guide, Pablo, says it’s his first time as well.

His giving me instructions. As soon as the chute starts to fill with air, run for the edge. The chute is thrown, it starts to fill, I take half a step before both me and Pablo gets jerked a couple of meters back, I have a split second to think “this can’t be right?”, but then we’re picked up by the strong mountain currents and we’re away.

I can’t describe it as anything else than peaceful. I compare it to meditation although I’ve never tried it. We’re up, away, a roaring river beneath looking like a line of spit, the city of San Jose like a puzzle.

We hardly say a word during the forty minute flight. It’s unnescessary.

After the flight, on our way back to Merida we stop at Pablo’s little childhood village and after a few beers everybody becomes a lot more talkative. After a while M gets nervous, she’s wondering who’s gonna drive us home and when she raises her concerns with Pablo he only half-jokingly dangle the car-keys in front of her, galantly offering her to shoulder the part of the designated driver.

M:s pissed off, Pablo is a little bit ashamed and grabs a couple of Pilsen for the road and off we go.

The whole way home Pablo talks about how much it would cost him in bribes if there was a police check-point along the way, and also stressing the dangers of south-american traffic in general and Venezuelan traffic in specific.

Then he smiles and swipes a gulp from the 90% saliva remainders of his last Pilsen.

And poof, just like that, we’re home.

Interlude in Mérida

Posted in COLOMBIA with tags , , , on March 22, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

There´s a wildlife guide here living just up the street from our hostel. He talks like Scarface and struts like Jagger. His name is Anthony Fernandez. He´s had 45 days sober but today came crushing down. We´re all out drinking. Anthony is torned between angst and anger. His family life is a mess. He selfmedicates with weed.

He says “I am a good man”, it´s a battlecry, almost like an excorcism. We rid the demons with Cuba Libres and the soft mist is descending around the parc, shrouding the glow from lampposts and carlights. Everything dizzy, foggy, mysterious.

Anthony cries “I am a good man! My kids come to me for money I say here, take it, whatever you need, I give you.”

I´m chainsmoking like I´m trying to compete with the mist. I order two more beers. I wish I could help him in some other way but I recognize the state his in. There´s a swedish song, roughly translated, “tonight I´m no good for myself”, and when your in that state you´re dead-set on whatever selfdestruction that may come your way.

“I am a good man!”

Well, I think you are Anthony, and I wish you the best of luck.

The Border

Posted in COLOMBIA with tags , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

Despite the bad-boy image still clinging to Colombia like powder residues to a nosehair, in comparison to its next door neighbor Venezuela, Colombia is a reformed criminal, dressed up in suit and tie, not trying to hide its battlescars and prisontattoos- just trying to move on.

Venezuela is more of a thug still out prowling the streets; chaotic and paranoid, wild and raw.

But also painstakingly beautiful.

We arrive at the Colombian bordertown of Maicao, step one foot outside the bus and get instantly swarmed by peddlers selling their “por puesto” seats in one of the many beaten up old Chevvys lining the parking lot. They´re scratched and torned, patched up with ducktape.

We pay 27 pesos a head, sharing a once upon a time maroon Chevrolet with a Venezuelan couple. You´ll need to cross the border in one of these cars in order to get all the necessary stamps in your passport.

The driver pops his trunk with a screwdriver. The interior is draped in a fluffy sincity-red, a piece of metal at the treshhold to the door hangs loose, the panel seems stripped out. He mounted his instrument panel- horn, speed, gas- on a list by the windshield.

The only thing up to date is his stereo system and we´ve got four big speakers breathing down our necks in the backseat. And the driver likes his Venezuelan folkmusic LOUD. He only presses pause when a military checkpoint forces him to.

Still on the Colombian side, we get off to get our passports professionally scanned and stamped, everything computerized, organized.

On the Venezuelan side a woman with no interest in new people takes a recentful brake from her tell-tale magazine to scribble the information from our passports on a piece of paper.

For the first hour on Venezuelan soil, the land where the cockroaches fly, there´s a military checkpoint every two minutes. The wave us in, every time, we show our passports, every time. The only positive thing about it is it means a few seconds of respite from the accordians and vibratos of our drivers, Pedros, favourite artists.

Charming at first, after a few hours of non-stop blasting, I come to think of Guantanamo and the sophisticated method of torture where they put Metallicas “Enter Sandman” on repeat and turn the wheel of volume to max.

Another checkpoint. We pay a little something not to have our bags checked. A heavily armed MP makes the international sign of “roll your window down”. He looks serious. But looks can be deceiving. He´s got a small snake wrapped around his wrist, wiggling its forked tongue in the air.

We all start to laugh, him too, the stern look of hierarchy and discipline melt away for a mischievous kid.

Pedro has to be the fastest driver on the trail between Maicao and Maracaibo. A speedbump to him is only the perfect opportunity to squeeze by a couple of more cars. He´s not interested in lanes, if he feels the need to he pulls out into oncoming traffic, forcing them to balance one wheel at the verge of the ditch on the dusty roadside.

He only slows down to do the Venezuelan pick-up line to a woman pushing a chart with coffee and cigarettes. He says: “kss-kss”. Pussycat. Meow. She obviously knows him , she laughs and calls him “Loco”.

We´re told this trip should take four hours. He does it in three. We´re there. He turns off his stereo. I´m willing to confess to anything.

Taking the nightbus from Maracaibo I´m told to shut the curtain to my window, since longdistance buses with gringos are much appreciated as target practice for malandros. I´m told a woman and her baby were shot dead a couple of weeks ago, right through the window.

Welcome to Venezuela.

I need a dollar, a dollar is what I need

Posted in The South America Tales with tags , , , on January 10, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

You´d better bring a healthy stash of that soughtafter green if you´re planning on going to Venzuela. They´ve got an official exchange rate of 4 Bolivares to a dollar, so that´s what you´ll get if you take it to the bank, or the ATM, but nobody is interested in the official rate; in Choroní we head on down to Usamas little surfshop with a wad of cash strapped to various parts of our sunburned bodies.

The unofficial rate is somewhere between 7 or 8 Bolivares to a dollar. They´ve got a different way of doing things here. The buses depart once every hour, but when that “once” occurs nobody knows. It´s a hassle to book anything in advance; hostels, hotelrooms, any kind of ticket for transfers.

At the goverment-run busterminal not far from the La Bandera-station, the last remaining tickets for the busy christmas holidays are being auctioned out at 6 a.m on the very same day you wish to travel.We´re here a day to early, a little click of touristy misfits in the midst of a chaotic environment of holiday-stress and a blur of bodies rushing from one ticket vendor to the next.

Overseeing it all is a group of security guards in bright yellow vests, military boots and big guns.

I really wouldn´t wish to attend one of these “socialist ticket auctions”, knowing the level of stress and aggression the slightest mishap or delay in our own public transportation system instigates. If we didn´t have such strict gun regulations, the constant breakdown of the railroads would probably be prone to much more tragic outcomes.

We´ve been schooled that time is money, so ten minutes of tardiness can cause chestpains, and an hour will make you see red as the veins in your forehead goes snap, crackle, pop and the blood seeps into your eyesocket.

Peak Oil

Posted in The South America Tales with tags , , , on January 7, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

There´s an exposé about the Venezuelan oil-business at the Bolivar Plaza; right next to that quaint little park residing in front of the house of parliament, with children feeding peanuts to black squirrels; they gently tap the nut against the tree, and soon enough a little rodent head pops out of its sheltered existence in the crown, making a halfway dash down the base, pausing for a second, playing hard to get, until another little tap makes it go all the way and snap the food right out of the childrens pinches.

The exposé boasts on reserves making Venezuela the largest holder of that black liguid gold in the world, sporting some 300 million barrels it´s the swing producer in troubled times to come. Only problem being they´re not likely to swing the way the West would like them to.

But numbers are politics, and fossil fuels are what the politics and the numbers are all about. So whether or not you question the statistic, fact remains that it´s a non-renewable and it will run out, all the while we put blinders on and scramble for the final frontier of the arctic; because in times of economic hardship, longevity and sustainability and those others words of the day quickly fade into oblivion.

Remember the Kyoto-agreement? The Copenhagen negotiations, which was put on rotation seemingly twentyfourseven, whenever you flicked the switch there was another suit with a grave face at least being forced to acknowledge there was a problem.

Remember Durban? Who does? It passed by like a sneaky fart, we just whiffed with a slight frown and then it was dishelved downwind. Suddenly we europeans are threatened with a future that isn´t automatically spelled constant growth, and we´re faced with third world ratings of desperation and despair in countrys pushed to a threshold that we´re suddenly contemplating on raising; but we shouldn´t be surprised, because the Union was never about solidarity, it was about marketshares and protectionism. It was about the golden days when we had Khaddafi bidding our dirty work, creating incarceration-camps so our borders weren´t swamped with useless labour.

Now we´re left dealing with diseases we thought extinct, or that we at the very least had rendered ourselfs immune to the repercussions of.

But if the economic walls start to crumble, the curse of oil won´t be a tropical fever for long. We put our hands together and hope for a technological renewable solution somewhere along the way, in the meantime the oil-industry and the powerplayers connected to it can have its final heyday in the northern hemisphere, making Stavanger and Murmansk the new Klondyke, offering a quick-fix of a booming market, but it´s still a dragons-fly, it lives for a day, and I bet a chunk of Swedish state bonds that the knowledge of it being the very last drops, will also bring an unprecedented amount of corruption and greed into the hearts and guts of the goverment bodies even in our little sensible corner of the world.

On The Venezuelan Roads

Posted in The South America Tales with tags , on December 15, 2011 by pajazzoproductions

There´s a traffic-congestion on the outskirts of Caracas. We´re inching by, leaving the steaming valley containing the untamed city in a slight tilt up the mountain. Plastic bags and tin-cans litter the roadside with the junglegreen backdrop. Small wall-to-wall restaurants, housed in barack-like settings, serving Empanadas and Arepas in dodgy and dark one-room establishments; plastic furniture crowded around wooden-bars. But since I can see right through them, their advantegous position is obvious: balancing on the verge of a steep drop opening up to the valley below. You can enjoy your Arepa with a light swindle, or fix your gaze on the softly molded mountains curving it´s formations in the distance.

As traffic eases up, there´s about a two-hour drive to Maracay, the garden city of Venezuela, and the gateway to the tropical forest and the Henri Pettier national parc. There´s more green and country-barrios strewn out along the way; you´ll go greenblind, everything losing texture and nuance, melting together into one swollen blob. Graffitti scribbled on road-refuges, declaring “Viva Chavéz” next to “carajo”.

Maracay doesn´t hold our attention for long, as we stuff our luggage into a small, untagged  car with nohing but the drivers word on it being a taxi.

This isn´t one of your ordinary rides, stumbling out at closing time, hailing in a ride with the residues of a kebab stained all over your satin-shirt, and you wont remember much of it other than a vague notion of coming to with the cabbys hand in your pants. This is something else. This is a narrow little path criss-crossing up the mountain, windows down and the jungle so dense and close I could reach out and grab me a handful; we´ve got a couple of inches worth of a protective wall between or snakey tongue of asphalt and a free fall into the misty abyss.

The driver, averaging this trip a couple of times a day, practices the art of honking before each sharp turn instead of slowing down, letting any opposite traffic know that we´re on our way. Meetings are dealt with metal to metal just nudging; a quick swirl on the wheel, a resentful tap on the break, a rare split second of silence when you can actually hear the multilayered tweaking of a myriad of grasshoppers… and then we´re off again, with the engine and the honking, with miniature stone-chapels in memory of people perished on this journey.

When we pass through the mist to the highest point we almost succumb to the massive impact of the environment, it´s too much. And the rocky roads and twists and turns gives everybody a touch of that good-old familiar feeling of getting car-sick. It´s all downhill from here, passing by small villages all claiming their own identity, “Bienvenido a Los Cerritos”, “Bienvenido a Paraparos”, a river flowing wild beside the road, some bikers shredding out of their leather-skin, sitting downstream with the flow washing over them, sipping a beer and it´s almost unnecessary to mention the look of contentment on their faces.

And then we´re here, Choroni, with it´s small colonial-style housing, brightly coloured, pink and babyblue and bright yellow. Ten minutes away from the Carribean sea. It´s a world apart from Caracas. This is the hard life.

Good night and good luck.

A little slice of paradise

Posted in The South America Tales with tags , , on December 13, 2011 by pajazzoproductions

Picture me in the back garden of a colonial hostel; it´s pitch black except from the porchlight attracting two big moths, big enough for us to mistake for bats the first time they smack-dab their thick insectian bodies into the glassbulb around the light. Picture me with the better part of a twelve year old sherry-oak caged Highlander still in my glass, I know it´s like throwing pearls to a swine since I just as well could be sitting here with an Jack Daniels and coke, but all the more reason for envy.

Picture me just letting a little string of smoke curl up against the night-sky, soundtracked by the jungle and a couple of stray dogs in the distance.

We´re in Choroni, a small beach-village in the Henri Pettier national parc.

Now picture me slowly strolling to the beach, I´m into the carribean groove, I got my flip-flops on, an inflated matress stuck under my arm. We´re the only foreign people here anyway so no need to try to disguise the tourists in us.

Now picture the beach opening up, surrounded by these soft-sculptured mountains, shrouded in mist at the peaks; this has truly got to be the smoke of a content creator, putting his feet up, puffing on a cigar. Picture the waves rolling in, breaking off and rushing the beach in a roar of warm, white, caribbean foam.

There´s some vultures paragliding high up there, wings spread, majestic, looking down on all the potential meals on the beach.

Now picture me getting out of the water, the salt already turning to a sticky crust, a little dizzy with emotion and the physical force of the big waves knocking me around a bit out there. I lay myself down on the sunbed. I´ll roast my swedish/finnish skin into a beautiful bright pink. I buy an ice cold cerveza from the beach-vendor. There´s a tropical breeze.

Now picture me napping.

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