Merida hillside from hotel
Arrived Caracas Jul 10 late so had to overnight. Stepping out of the international terminal was quite the experience like I had been told. The feeling of insecurity is everywhere. Was travelling with native Venezuelans from Las Vegas and we still had an attempt by and unscrupulous cab driver to "hijack" our luggage. Made it to the official cab concession and proceeded through darkened streets to the Marriott Maiquatia hotel which is close to the airport and beach. Hotel modern, clean, and new but felt like a ghosttown. Concierge told us no services (food, bar) available because staff sent home early for safety reasons. (note to self-next time eat bigger dinner in MIA). Slept 3.5 hours before getting cab back to airport for 5:30 check in on domestic carrier to El Vigia, one of two airports serving Merida.
The closer airport was closed last year after a tragic crash into the adjacent mountains which killed all aboard. The incident has officially been attributed to human error but in the governments wisdom, they chose to close the closest airport entirely, which means an hour drive from Il Vigia. Interesting to see a flight deck door open for much of the flight, and for the crew to receive a number of "visitors" into the flight deck for conversation/tour.....I quickly understood I was not in Kansas..... Chiscos younger brother Miguel was waiting for us in Il Vigia, but would have to be patient as our luggage would be delayed on the plane. As we came down the stairs from the plane we were "welcomed" by a militia of around sixty national guardsmen, local police, and government officials complete with red carpet, a band, media, and the like.
Turns out the Honduran ambassador was on our flight and was being officially welcomed to tour the Andean state of Merida. I was sorta hoping Chavez had rolled out the gala for the orthodontic ambassador from UNLV! I couldn't get so lucky.... Arrived at Carmens home just in time for a beautiful traditional Venezuelan breakfast including erapas. Chiscos mom is a beautiful host and we felt right at home. Miguel operates a small manufacturing shop in the home which we toured and he was nice enough to give me one of his pieces to bring back for Nathan. In the afternoon we met MANY of the locals and family friends, including Next door neighbor Eduardo who Chisco has told me about many times, and his family. Eduardo owns and operates the hotelbelensate.com right across the street among many other businesses. I have been able to gather that his influence in Merida is quite high in many ways. I was wiped out from travelling so checked into the most beautiful hotel in Merida and slept for 3 hours. Chisco and Vladimir were to return for me but never did as they were catching up with old friends. They both know everyone in this town! I cleaned up and went in search of something to drink. It was at this point that I regretted my pitiful efforts at espanol through Rosetta Stone. I have been a bit surprised at how few people speak English here. I was having a drink by myself in the bar wondering when Chisco would come pick me up when out of the blue Eduardo wanders in. He speaks no English but motions me to follow him. So I grab my drink and follow him toward a courtyard in the center of the hotel which is surrounded by the restaurant, open air seating, and another bar. In contrast to the smaller, vacant lobby bar, this area is mildly abuzz with early diners and happy hour types. Eduardo and I silently ( because we hadn't shared a word on the walk) approach a table with five younger guys around it sipping and talking. I recognize one of them as Richard, his younger son. I clumsily introduce myself (getting good at saying hola) and Eduardo puts me in a seat and shuffles off. I quickly learn that Richard is very well travelled and speaks good English. Through him I spend the next 4 hours talking about everything under the sun (yes, icluding all things Chavez) while drinking with the five, plus Eduardo, and many other locals who wander by. It is evident quickly that I am at the table with one of the power brokers in the city of Merida. In true Chisco form, he calls me a full 5.5 hours after he was supposed to, and says " hey bro, are you ready to go?"........imagine that! He and Vladimir arrive a bit later and we leave for Marias house........at 11:30! The family ElanaLeone has a huge, beautiful gated home in a nice area of the city. There we stay until about 2:30 until my non-Latin heritage kicks in and I convince Cesar to drop me at the hotel so the rest of the boys can start the night at a local "club"..... Edgarym, you will recognize the feeling that I had last night. The night started out as a lonely dinner and tv, but was transformed into a truly awesome 8 hours because I was open to the possibilities and just put myself out there...... Can't wait to explore the countryside tomorrow....