Friday, June 16, 2006

Venezuela - Beer, Babes, Bolivar and Baseball

A crescendo of exuberant voices greets a first time visitor to the Simon Bolivar (the founding father of the nation) International airport. The brightly lit interiors and LG flat screens announcing your flight's details are the common sights on arriving in Caracas City, Venezuela. Just a few minutes earlier you would have been hovering over the majestic Avila ranges that form the borders of the city. As you look down upon the barrios dotted across the fabric of green a mixed emotion wave flows across your heart. The tiny huts on the gigantic mounds look back sadly at you like a grinning child in a poor neighborhood. You fly past heavenly clouds that sit with an air of regal supremacy on the mountain tops giving you a spectacular view of the capital city of this country.

Circa 2000 found me stepping foot into this rollercoaster of a country for the first time. A time when I could not speak a single word of Spanish (that is Español) and yet had a weird sense of comfort and acceptance right away. An hour's ride through the gorgeous mountain passes and magnificent gorges later the traffic jams of the city hit you unawares. From a beautiful paradise island your surrounding would have transformed into an organized chaos engulfing you completely into it. The irate taxi-walah tells you about the complaints he has about the traffic situation but you pretend to be reading a book since you neither understand nor care for his tantrums. Within an hour's time your experience of being one with the nature has become a part of the past as you wonder where Mother Nature suddenly disappeared!

"Where exactly are all these people going?" if I were to ask a colleague referring to a major cola or traffic-line he would mischievously grin back and say "Nowhere! The petrol is so darn cheap they just keep going round and round. Like the Truman Show!"

Despite this seemingly madman ramble about a very Mumbaiyya situation Venezuela has a lot to offer. If you look past the concrete madness of Caracas you will notice Mother Nature playfully appearing all over the place. If at one point she is in the wide landscapes of the Andes Mountains where the Angel Falls (world's highest waterfall) is, then on the other she is teasing you into her bosom as the plains of the Llanos. If at one point she swims with her characteristic charm in the Orinoco belt then on the other she is a caring parent for cities like Valencia, Maracaibo and Barquisimeto among others. Yes. Mother Nature is definitely everywhere in Venezuela.

The first time I heard about the country was during one of the beauty pageants in India. I remember using Venezuela as a strong metaphor for beautiful women as a teen but little did I know I would have the pleasure of living in it someday. Venezuelan women are very beauty-conscious. They want to look beautiful at all costs which is why cosmetic surgeries in this place are the cheapest in this part of the world. It is indeed ironic that in a country which lives in the shadow of Mother Nature finding naturally structured women can sometimes be a challenge. I sometimes joke with my colleague that the country's name should be changed to 'Vain-ezuela' given the strong undercurrents of vanity I have experienced.

Venezuela has room for everything and everyone. It is one of the most open-ended and accepting civilizations I have come across. Despite being a rather new international traveler myself I can safely vouch that Venezuela welcomes all foreigners with open arms. You will find all kinds of people here – Asians, Europeans, Africans, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus. Fitting into such a diverse culture makes living here an amazing experience. The connections I have formed with the people here are priceless. The warmth with which they greet a foreigner is truly worth applause. This is probably why that despite a shaky political scene and the constant accusation of being a communist-country in a democratic disguise, people still remain loyal to this land.

The desi presence in Venezuela has never been a constant. Being one of the primary petroleum and pharmaceutical hunting ground for Indian engineers Venezuela has managed to retain only a few of them. Over the past few years the Indian embassy in Venezuela has formed an association through which a humble desi like me has had the privilege to gyrate to 'Kajra Re' during Holi and sniff in delicious matar paneer during Diwali parties. These have been the only safe getaways for a vegetarian like me since finding meat in Venezuela is like finding temples in India. That said it also has given me an opportunity to explore some amazing Italian cuisine, some mouth watering Lebanese bonanza and some interestingly different Chinese menu.

Apart from food Venezuela definitely does cater to all other conceivable kinds of appetite. Be it sports, bar-hopping, adventure and hiking, politics, dating and of course music. It is interesting to note that a large ratio of Venezuela's population is the young crowd (18 - 40) and hence the very obvious 24/7 party scene in the country. Despite the many ups and downs the nation has seen in the last few years with regards to its socio-economic scenario, the place is pulsating with endless energy. The Venezuelan laid-back attitude of mañaña (tomorrow) only fuels this never ending party zone further. Here is one true country where the cities never sleep nor pretend to.

To make an end less preachy and more reflective, all I can really say is Venezuela is one place that everyone needs to visit at least once. I am sure no matter where you are from or what your passion is – Venezuela will definitely have something you will fall in love with.

Venezuela para todos.

2 reflections:

Carlos Manuel said...

Hey SK, I hadn't read this post! How come I missed it? Hmm... anyway, it seems a piece of my beloved country is always next to you heart :-) And yes, we're a bunch of proud vain-ezuelans, hehehe

shakri said...

Of course. Venezuela is now a prominent part of me. :) I will take her with me everywhere I go from here onwards.