Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



It has been a while since I last wrote so here is the news. Be warned, it is quite long as it covers the events of the past two and a half months. Anyway enough preamble, here it is.

I managed to get up early enough to get the boat to cross back to Venezuela, the actual distance between the two countries is only a few miles of open water, but the ports are some way from the closest points. In between the two countries is a spot called “The Mouth of the Dragon” as it is a turbulent spot where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet and due to temperature differences, currents and other things they cause a bit of a ruckus for a few hundred metres.

In Guiria the ugly port town in Venezuela, I had a few hours before my bus left for Puerto La Cruz (I had decided that was where I was going just before we arrived). I got the bus in the afternoon and was due to arrive at about midnight, which is not a good time to arrive anywhere, but that was my only option. Fortunately the bus broke down a couple of times which meant that the arctic conditions that one must endure in South American buses could not be maintained and also that we arrived at 6.30am. I decided that I would not stay in Puerto La Cruz at all, but would get a ferry straight to La Isla Margarita.

Tourism is the main business of Margarita, as it has a number of nice beaches. It is also a free port, so tax-free, therefore a good place for shopping, especially for booze. At the moment however due to the economic, political and knock-on social problems in Venezuela there are very few international tourists coming to Margarita. Also the domestic tourists are generally families, travelling on a budget so the bars, clubs and restaurants were empty most of the week, although the beaches were full. After getting a cab to the ferry terminal and negotiating the melee of the office there I boarded the ship with my second class ticket. The ferry resembled “The Herald of Free Enterprise”, after its final voyage, only a little less seaworthy and rustier. I didn’t stay around the vehicle deck to see whether or not they closed the doors properly as I had a feeling it would only distress me and I was tired. I squeezed myself up the stairway with my backpack wondering why on such a big boat with big holes in such inappropriate places they couldn’t knock a few holes here where it might be useful. My feat of contortion completed I entered the “lounge” which was a bleak setting with canteen tables (the sort with the chairs fixed to them, although most of the chairs were either broken or missing) and found a spot that seemed quiet enough and unoccupied, wondered whether the pennies I had saved purchasing a second class ticket were justified as I inhaled a lung full of exhaust fumes. I was starting to really look forward to this five hour Caribbean cruise and thought that the benefit of having the exhaust fumes pumped straight into the second class area was that at least the carbon monoxide would help me sleep, which I duly did safe in the knowledge that nobody would steal my daypack as I was using it as a pillow and only a contortionist weight lifter with an oxy-acetylene kit could even hope to get out of here with my backpack, none of whom I had so far noticed. I woke up after a while to find that two very good looking girls were sitting at the table next to me and looking at me which I took to be an encouraging sign. Unfortunately I had just woken up from a fume induced sleep and must have presented a disturbing picture as I tried to sit up with my face stuck to my daypack with dried sweat. I think I scared them so didn’t try anything on, not that I would have been particularly competent as I had the taste of diesel in my mouth which meant I was coughing and rasping like a five year old Fiat.

On our arrival in Margarita I decided it would be bet to wait for everyone else to disembark before I tried to get down the stairs with my stuff. I actually found it less challenging than I thought it may have been, basically using gravity to get me down whilst the bulk of my backpack slowed the descent, thanks Newton. I got a bus to Porlamar, the biggest town on the island and went to the cheap hotel recommended in my guide book. The hotel was basic to say the least but cheap was what I wanted and it exuded cheap.

I decided that I would take some Spanish classes whilst on this trip and found that there was a Spanish school on the island, I went there and negotiated to start the classes the following day, although it was a Friday. This meant that I got the chance to meet several others studying there with whom I would go out over the weekend, which I did, we went to bars restaurants and beaches and generally had a good enough time.

On the Saturday evening returning to my hotel and into my room I saw something jump off the table and a couple of things scurry over my feet out the door. As they moved quickly I did not get a chance to see what they were, the next two big black rats I saw quite clearly as they left the room. I went down and told the bloke working there that this had happened, he shrugged. It being the early hours I thought 'I can’t be bothered with sorting this now', and thought ‘I’ll just check that there are no more and that they haven’t chewed any of my stuff and then get some sleep’. As I went to check for more I found at least four more bringing the total to eight and counting and got to see their impressive climbing ability as one climbed the back of a cupboard. I went down to the bloke told him this, said there was no way I was possibly going to sleep in a rat infested room and was now going to find another hotel. He seemed to think imprudent to leave at that hour, but I was determined, so he unlocked the door and I walked the streets of Porlamar trying to find a hotel with space at almost four in the morning I finally found a decent enough one who assured me they didn’t have rats and was only a couple of hundred metres from the one I had been staying in. When I got back to the hotel the owner a generally affable Mexican was there to talk to me, I was expecting an argument, but was determined that I was not going to pay for the room for the last few days for two reasons, that it had rats in and also I didn’t have enough money and it was now Sunday so I wouldn’t be able to change money until Monday. The guy was actually about as helpful and accommodating (pun intended) as the owner of a rat infested hotel can be at four in the morning and was very apologetic even offering to make sure that all my things were cleaned by him and that I certainly would not need to pay for the room. He blamed the rats on the construction taking place nearby and assured me it had not happened before. I told him I didn’t care, appreciated his offer to clean my things, certainly wouldn’t be paying but didn’t want to stay or any of my things to be in the hotel longer than it would take me to pack. He then made his employee walk with me to my next hotel after I had declined a taxi as he told me there were thieves and rapists on the streets at this time. I left the Hotel Malecón (Pier Hotel) although by this time I had re-dubbed it the Hotel Maricon (something not quite as nice).

My Spanish classes over the next week wet well and as they were in the mornings, generally a group of us would go to the beach in the afternoon and then meet up in the evening for a couple of drinks. In the classes I managed to get the hang of some past tenses for the first time, my grammatical competence previously being abysmal it now progressed to poor. Not bad for a few mornings work, thanks largely to Sylvia my teacher’s good teaching and easy approach.

One of the places I visited during my time on Margarita was the Parque Nacional La Restinga. A mangrove area, through which I took a boat trip with Cornel (a Swiss bloke studying at the same school, although in a different class). It was pleasant enough and oysters were growing stuck to the tree roots, something I had never previously seen. There was also a very long beach made entirely of broken sea shells, very peculiar and not pleasant to walk on.

The night life was not fantastic as during the week most of the bars and clubs were empty and at the weekends they were filled with teenagers, still we tried to make the best of the situation.

After I had been there almost two weeks, Robert a friend from London came out to join me. This was his first time travelling in a more basic way. Thanks to the incompetence of Alitalia whom he had flown with the first few days were even more basic as they had misplaced his luggage, so it had not made the connection in Italy. Almost everything he had brought out for me from my parents he had brought as hand luggage, so I wasn’t too perturbed, but it did mean we had to get him some bits to tide him over until his luggage arrived, if it ever did. The one thing that was stressing us both out was that in his bag was a half kilo jar of Marmite and that could not be replaced. The rest of the stuff was generally crap clothes he hadn’t worn for ages, Robert had taken my instruction, not to bring anything valuable with him to its extreme (except the marmite obviously). If you are foreign / deprived enough not to know what Marmite is check out http://www.marmite.com. After visiting some beaches, bars and shops we were well prepared to leave the island. Due to Robert’s limited time in Venezuela and the cheapness of the airfares we decided to fly down to Puerto Ordas. At the airport as we were leaving Robert finally got his bag and found some of someone else’s stuff in the bag, had a report made by the supervisor there and off we flew.

Puerto Ordas is half of Ciudad Guyana, we decided to stay the night there and went to find the nightlife, taking recommendations from the guy at the hotel and taxi drivers we found ourselves at a shopping centre with a couple of bars, allegedly the hub of activity. We had something to eat and a couple of beers, were very unimpressed and decide to leave the next day, to Ciudad Bolivar.

Ciudad Bolivar is the gateway city to the Gran Sabana, an area in the southeast of the country of amazing natural beauty and also where one can find The Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall. Due to Robert’s preference for comfort we were staying in slightly more expensive places than I normally would, in Ciudad Bolivar that meant we stayed at a place owned by a German who seemed to go out of his way to make us feel as unwelcome as possible. We booked a tour to Canaima and the Angel Falls with a reputable agency and left early on the Monday morning. The first bit of the journey involved a flight in a small Cessna six-seat plane to Canaima. I was in the jump seat, which meant that I could not only appreciate the views very well, but also was able to keep an eye on the pilot and the GPS. The pilot wasn’t particularly chatty preferring to read his newspaper than read the instruments, I read a bit of it and there wasn’t anything interesting anyway so I fell asleep, I think the pilot may have done so for a short while too.

The views as we came in to Canaima were spectacular, not only of the lagoon which is extraordinarily picturesque, but also of the surrounding Tepuys (flat topped mountains popping out the savannah, similar to Table Mountain in Cape Town, but with jungle on and around and with near vertical walls). In our group was a couple, he was German and she Venezuelan, he didn’t really speak Spanish and she didn’t appear to speak German, but at least they had alcoholism and belligerence in common. We were met at the airport by a representative of the tour company and then taken to a motorboat to cross the lake to our camp. The crossing gave us a great view of the falls that spill into the lagoon. Three large waterfalls can be seen on one side, another is jut around the corner and it provides a very impressive vista. To get an idea of what I am talking about check out the pictures at http://www.venezuelatuya.com/gransabana/canaima.htm

For the first day we had a charming young Pemón guide called Arena or something similar, Robert and I rechristened him Wembley after the famous Arena. As we walked about he would describe the medicinal properties of the plants, trees and insects we passed. He was a helpful, informative, happy, interesting guy, the Germans ignored him. We went for a walk through Sapito (little toad) falls, literally. Tomás Bernal a Peruvian environmentalist excavated a path behind and through the falls. At time one is comparatively dry behind the immense sheet of falling water at other times one is within the deluge itself and if it were not for the rope one uses as a guide would quite possibly be confused enough to walk off the path and into the falls, as at times one is completely blinded by the water. It does give a good impression of the force though. On the other side of the falls one gets a nice view as it crashes through the forest. We then walked to the top of the Sapo (toad) Falls which offered an excellent view across the surrounding area. The Germans generally tried to get in the way of any photos I took, they were really starting to piss me off. That evening at camp Robert and I played dominoes and the Germans got drunk and the guy was hugging a bottle of water like a new-born babe, wankers.

The following day we crossed the lagoon again and were met by eight more people who were joining the group as we went on to the Angel Falls. They seemed pleasant enough; there was a Slovenian family that had been living in Venezuela some years, an English bloke, the ubiquitous Japanese (although he spoke good English) and a Scottish / Iranian father and son. At least it meant we could avoid the Germans easier. We also had a new guide Vladimir also Pemón who spoke English well, but generally didn’t say much and was generally about as useful as Jeffrey Archer is as a character witness. Most of the day was sat on our arses in a motor boat fighting our way upstream to the camp by the falls. With the occasional walk when the boat couldn’t do that bit, we stopped for lunch at a small water fall called Fuente de Feliz, the fountain of happiness. We all thought that it was pleasant but that its name was maybe a bit too much.

We finally reached the dropping point for the walk by mid-afternoon, after some torrential rain, all pleased to finally give our arses a chance to recuperate. We then had an hour long climb to the viewing point. When we got there Auyan Tepuy (from where the falls come and drop down the side) was completely shrouded in heavy clouds, at one point we got a peek at the falls but nothing too revealing. Vladimir told us all that was the best we would get and we should now go to the swimming place, Robert and I declined and decided to wait until the clouds parted as the weather seemed to be lifting. Finally, although with the sun behind the Tepuy there was no cloud in the way at all and one could see the full height of 975 metres of falling water, although the largest single drop is something like 850m (still more than half a mile). Unquestionably deserving of its status as a wonder of the world. Vladimir then went onto tell us there was no point coming back in the morning as the mornings were no good for seeing the falls. We all agreed he was full of crap as almost everywhere is clearer in the morning than the evening. We slept that night in hammocks which was not too bad and in the morning after some torrential rain through the night the river was running very high and fast and the clouds had lifted to give a spectacular view of the falls, from the camp, with the sun on them and twice as much water pouring over as the previous afternoon. We did not go up to the viewpoint though as Vladimir had decided in his infinite wisdom not to have woken us early enough to go there, prat. Everyone was anxious about the state of the river as it was running quite fast. I just thought it would make the journey back quicker, which turned out to be the case, making it back in half the time it took to get there. The weather being clear throughout the return journey, we were able to see much more of the impressive landscape and some very fine Tepuys. When we got to camp we left almost immediately back to Canaima and a waiting plane to take us back to Ciudad Bolivar. There we went back to the same hotel and were greeted pleasantly by the manageress, even given a complimentary fruit juice. The German came back later, seemed surprised and disappointed to see us again and that was that.

The following day we went to Tucupita, the capital of Delta Amacura state, although the delta that occupies the entire state is the Orinoco, for some reason the Venezuelans prefer to call it the Amacura Delta, named after a much smaller river. The Orinoco is not only the world’s sixth longest river; it is entirely contained within the borders of Venezuela, was sung out by Enya and is the only river in the world to be named after a Womble. These things alone make good enough excuses to visit but the ornithological and anthropological treasures make it a must see. So off Robert and I went going Loco down the Orinoco (as Wham would have sung had they got any further south than Acapulco). We were joined by four Venezuelan tourists and a German anthropologist. What was it with these Germans? This one tried to be pleasant, she failed.

The first day was mostly spent going down river to the camp, which we reached after some tropical storms and a breakdown, at about twilight. En route we had also seen some nice birdlife and some freshwater porpoises. The owner of the agency was our guide and as well as having a very bad slur in his speech was generally not worth listening to and mostly lazed around on his fat arse. The camp was impressively built on the riverside in a Warao village (all Warao houses are built on stilts on the riverside).

The Warao, indigenous to the area live on the river, they are of stocky build, ideal for canoeing about as they do all day (Warao apparently means people of the boat). They didn’t seem to truly appreciate our renditions of “Don’t Warao Be Happy”, I think it loses something in the translation. It did go down better than the time when Robert spontaneously and distractedly broke into Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” with the chorus “sail away, sail away, sail away” whilst Wembley was telling us how his hero and former boss Tomás Bernal had been swept over Sapo falls when his canoe hit a rock and he lost control. A faux pas that was only moderated by the fact Wembley didn’t understand English.

The following morning after more rain we went out for a canoe in the smaller channels and saw lots of Blue Morphos, a very beautiful butterfly. There was not much in the way of wildlife to see though. On the way back we stopped off at an old farmer’s place where he bored us with his stories and how much he loved the English and his days of being a sailor. Robert managed to extricate himself and the Venezuelans had decided not to even bother disembarking. Finally got away from him without insulting him and having received the five minute Masonic handshake (they get everywhere).

In the afternoon we visited a Warao village and got to see a bit of how they live (very basic, on the river) and stopped by the Mission where Robert decided to sing Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” at the nuns which was nice of him. That evening we were subjected to a dance demonstration by some of the local Warao geriatrics who only did it because Stephanie the German anthropologist had promised them cash. They appeared to have no idea what they were doing and we had no idea why they were doing it, except the cash obviously. Stephanie got in a strop as she had to give more money than anyone else, because everyone else had seen it as being a sham, whereas she was trying to believe it was something of anthropological consequence.

After that experience we went out looking for Caimans (a crocodilian that lives in the area). We saw several pairs of eyes (one finds them by sweeping the torchlight around until you see a couple of red glows) and got very close to one, close enough to see its head very clearly but not close enough to grab it and get it in the canoe. Probably not a bad thing as it was a very small canoe and I was not convinced of its stability with a scared, writhing, wild thing in it. Fortunately though Robert didn’t have to try and keep his composure under pressure.

Next day we left and saw more birdlife en route back as well as monkeys, more fresh water porpoises and thankfully no rainstorms. Back in Tucupita we repacked and then got a night bus to Caracas where we got another bus onto the pleasant town of Maracay.

Maracay is not far from Caracas and also right next to the Parque Nacional Henri Pittier, according to the guides, home to the greatest variety of bird species on the planet. It is also not far from a couple of beaches that are on the far side of the park.

We went to the beach at Choroni (actually Puerto Colombia) which is very picturesque set in a cove with clean, clear water and excellent waves for body surfing (one just swims onto the top of the wave and makes a human surfboard trying to get as far as possible). Whilst Robert was sunbathing I was body surfing. At one point the perfect looking wave came along a big barrel wave and I managed to swim into position so I caught it just right, I was on top of it riding perfectly and then lost it and fell in front of it. I dropped about eight feet smashed my head on the sand and then the wave hit me, with my legs still sticking up it folded me over backwards and smacked me about some more, I managed to escape without being knocked unconscious and with a graze on my forehead and wrist. I bet it must have looked good though, especially as I walked along the beach with my head bleeding. The graze wasn’t too bad actually and within a couple of days was hardly noticeable and within a week was gone completely. We managed to get a ride back to Maracay with a taxi driver and his wife, as we neared Maracay the taxi driver took immense pleasure in plugging in his little television so we could watch the football. It was actually quite impressive the reception and picture quality etc.

The following day we went to another beach, this one was not as picturesque as we could not be bothered to go the extra distance to a better looking one. I decided not even to swim this time and just chilled out. Once again we got a lift back with a taxi driver and his wife. The two trips through the park gave us a nice view of the cloud forest and bamboo forest although we didn’t have a chance to see any fauna.

After that Robert left for Caracas and the back to England, I stayed in Maracay a few days more, unsuccessfully trying to meet up with a Venezuelan friend of mine who lives half an hour away. After a few days I gave up and went to Mérida.

Mérida is a nice attractive, comfortable town in the Andes. There is a large student population there and as a result a good and accessible nightlife. As I still desperately need to improve my dancing I took as many opportunities as I could to practice and if that meant having to spend my time socialising with friendly Latinas and having a few drinks these were sacrifices I was willing to make.

The climate in Merida is such that it rains most days during this season (the rainy one) and is often quite overcast during the latter part of the day and usually rather cold at night. One of the main attractions in Merida (except for the aforementioned Latinas) is the Teleferico. This is the world’s longest and highest cable car that runs from the town twelve kilometres to Pico Espejo at 4,765 metres (just 14 metres lower than Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest point). As one climbs to this peak changing cars from time to time at the stations en route one gets to see some nice scenery that changes quite rapidly, from cloud forest to more arid mountain, until it is just rocky. The peak is almost permanently enveloped in cloud and when I got there it was no exception, mostly cold and cloudy. It is very rapid to climb to such an altitude any many sustain altitude sickness as a result (the Swiss couple I was going up with both turned around at the third station (of five) as they were feeling a bit light headed. When I got to the summit I was feeling slightly light headed as well, but this may well have been due to the fact I had only had about three hours sleep and quite a big night beforehand.

I also visited some local villages that are quaint although unspectacular. The scenery is really the winner in this area. A group formed of locals, tourists and expats and for a couple of days a few of us went to a place called "La Arca de José" (José's Ark), built by a man on his own out of the local materials and situated someway into the mountains, it made a pleasant break, very tranquil etc. A couple of weeks later several of us went back and found ourselves very at home, particularly as Christian and Carin the owners are such nice folk and also because Carin is a professionally trained chef so the food is worth the visit.

We also went to some hot springs to bathe etc. and use the natural sauna. After a couple of weeks here the group slowly whittled down but we still had a good time. Another place we visited was called San Rafael de Mucuchies. After getting off the bus initially at San Rafael de Tabay we managed to get to the right place. The famous thing there is a church built by Juan Felix Sanchez out of local rocks and is very quaint and quite impressive although not large. We decided not to stay the night and headed back to Mérida.

One Friday night we had a bit of an adventure when the police decided to do a major operation going around all the bars closing them and checking for I.D. In Venezuela it is an offence to be out without a 'Cedula' a government issued identity card. It is also a way of fundraising for the local force as the bars/discos have to pay three hundred thousand Bolivars for each person found on their premises without the card (either one hundred and twenty dollars or one hundred and ninety depending on whether you are changing at the black market or the official rate.). Alex a Margariteña staying at the same place as me and out with us did not have his Cedula, at the first bar he managed to avoid the police and so we thought that was the end of it. However as we left that bar and walked to another the police stopped our group of about ten at the side of the road and demanded identification. I got away with showing them my bogus press card (it works wonders at times) but Alex was not so lucky and was ordered on the bus by the Guardia Nacional (army, working with the police). I volunteered to go to get his card for him at the posada (hotel) and so Sofia (in case a translator was needed) and I jumped in a taxi, headed for the posada, I ran in got his Cedula ran out back in the taxi to where we had just left Alex (we had agreed to rendezvous with the rest of the group at another bar).

As we got back to the point the bus took off, so I got to tell the taxi driver "follow that bus", it was a movie moment. So off we went on a very slow pursuit with a paranoid taxi driver not wanting to follow a military bus and the paranoid military wondering why a taxi was following them. When the bus finally pulled over to harass people at another club, I ran out and tried to get on to give Alex his Cedula. This apparently was not the best thing to do as within a couple of steps I had an assortment of weapons stuck in my face. I don't know how many guns there were, but from my perspective it was plenty. I explained that I was just trying to give my friend his Cedula, but they were not to be swayed so I got off the bus and decided to try and work on the bloke with the biggest bullet-proof vest and most guns, the theory being that he was either in charge or at least the most scary one there so might be able to do something for me. He said he couldn't and that I should go to the police station and wait there. Not knowing where the place was I told him to come and tell the taxi driver where he had to take us. When I turned up at the taxi with the terminator, the already paranoid driver reacted in a way that I can only describe as very intimidated and perhaps in need of new underwear. Sofia gave me a look that seemed to mean something along the lines of "we don't really need to have this man and his many guns here now". However I told the Guard to give the taxi driver the information necessary and then dismissed him. En route to the police station Sofia informed me that they generally don't try to engage the police or Guardia Nacional in conversation too much as they are quite likely to shoot you or arrest you possibly in that order if they don't like the direction of the conversation. I told her that I thought that this attitude was prejudiced, she thought I probably had a death wish.

We waited for the bus to arrive at the police station. Whilst we were waiting a jeep pulled up with Guardia Nacional hanging off the sides and back and full of arrestees. When they disembarked I started to crack up hysterically as not only was there what appeared to be half of a local football team and probably a fair proportion of the spectators as somehow about twenty or thirty people seemed to get out the vehicle that most would have agreed had a capacity of about eight. This earned me a dig in the ribs from Sofia and she told me to behave.

I saw one of the Guardia there had a only one gun but three stars on his collar. I asked Sofia if a star meant someone was important she said it was. So then a bloke with three stars is apparently very important. When the bus finally arrived I went to chat with Mr. Three-Stars whilst Sofia rolled her eyes at me and appeared to be ready to run for her life. I explained what I was doing there and said that I wanted to talk to my friend and give him his Cedula and keys when he came off the bus which was not a problem. Then I thought I would just chat with the guy but he wasn't particularly talkative and when I asked him about the nights operation he became even less chatty. At this point Sofia had assumed a position akin to a sprinter in the blocks at a race. Anyway Alex finally got off the bus I had a brief chat with him and gave him his bits and Sofia and I left to try and find the rest of the gang. I tried to explain to Sofia that we have a very different attitude to our constabulary back home. She then told me I was lucky I still had all my limbs after my behaviour. We didn't manage to find the others as the bars and clubs across town had all been closed, so had a comparatively early night. The following Friday the same thing happened with the police but no more incidents occurred.

Mérida became very comfortable and before I knew it I had been there for three weeks and was still not planning on leaving. I took some Spanish classes there as they were cheap, I needed more lessons and I needed to justify my existence here somehow. The problem with the place is that apart from Sundays there is usually a good nightlife (unless the police decide to do one of there things) and it is a nice relaxed social place to be. I know far too many people here and even more seem to know me. I walk down the street and invariably see people I know. The waiters, security, DJs and bar staff at the places I frequent most often greet me as soon as I enter (or they first see me), I am on first name terms with some of the police and then there are just the regular folks who I have got to know. It is very nice but at times a bit odd as I have had occasions when people have enlisted my help to get themselves or their friends in to a place as they know that the security never stop people getting in with me. It is nice to be of help, but if these people made the effort of being friendly etc. to the staff as well, it would be a lot easier for all concerned. I have made some good friends here, whom I expect to keep in touch with for a long time and my Spanish has definitely continued to improve, so it has been worthwhile, although more than six weeks in one place is a lot of time.

Tonight I am heading to Colombia, so if you hear anything about me being taken hostage please send donations to my appeal to my parents as even if they are not necessary to negotiate my release, the cash will certainly come in useful. Whilst there I also plan to try and secure the release of the current hostages. I think all these rebel types need is a sympathetic person to have a drink and a chat with, so if you hear anything of the tourists being released in the next few days, you know who did it.

I decided not to go to the Dutch Antilles on this trip as it is bloody expensive, although it would have been cheap to get there, being there would not be so cheap. I’ll just leave it for another trip.

Recently the political and economic situation in Venezuela has been making headline news around the world due to the discontentment with President Chaves and his Socialist Bolivarian revolution. In actuality all that has really happened is a collapse in the economy here. Many thousands out of work and a general malaise in all parts of Venezuelan life. It is really a shame that this country which is one of such massive potential is so poor. Venezuela was before these problems started the world’s fifth largest exporter of oil. The mineral resources, natural gas and just about everything anyone wants that can be found within the countries borders would one think under an honest, decent, efficient administration make for one of the richest countries in the world. Unfortunately although far from being the poorest it is a long way from any kind of economic prosperity except for a handful of people. Chaves decided to change much of the focus of the country’s exports to his friends in Cuba, currently Venezuela’s main trading partner. Formerly the USA and Mexico were the main trading partners and this is part of the reason for the downturn.



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