Tuesday, May 17, 2011


On the plane from Miami to Caracas I sat next to a woman from Caracas named Carla who had been visiting her sister in New York City for two weeks. She kept asking me "But why would you come here? Why would you leave the United States to study? Why Venezuela?" Many of the women on the trip were warned by Venezuelans to stay with the group and be careful in Caracas, and the men were told about how awesome Venezuela women are in bed by the locals.

After all the hubbub about the Caracas airport being one of the most dangerous and all the things that could go wrong, yesterday turned out to be crazy long and boring. We woke up at 4AM in Miami, did the airport thing (i.e. waiting, security, waiting, trying to sleep and not succeeding, waiting...) Arriving in Caracas was the easiest customs and immigration I've ever gone through. The woman didn't even ask me any questions, just stamped my passport. There were about 23 of us, spread between two flights with a guide from the school we're going to.

Then we sat for 6 hours. Exchanging money took about 10 minutes and for $100 I got BfS550. I'll exchange more cash later for a better (ie nonlegal) exchange rate. Then we spent our time sitting. Truly just sitting. We chatted and did sudoku and ate some food... and sat. Our flight was delayed an hour and a half (which is pretty normal) and so finally we left at 8:30, arrived in El Vigo at 9:30 and got on a bus for two hours through the mountains. It would not have been two hours if there had not been a very slow logging truck in front of us, or if there were not so many speed bumps - three in a row every few miles where we had to slow to a nearly complete stop.

11:15 we finally arrived at VENUSA the school, and met a lot of host families standing around with signs with our names on them. My roommate Kirsten and I had to wait about 20 minutes for our family to show up, and take us back to their apartment about a mile away from the school. They live on a higher floor 2 bedroom apartment where we have our own room and bathroom. They went over a few house rules and I got the gist of it. I'll need to learn Spanish quickly, but it's good to know I can do the basics and people more or less understand me. I think my most father speaks English but he's holding back and making us practice Spanish, which is for the best. We get 2 meals a day with them, as well as drinkable water and directions around the city.

Water is rationed in Venezuela so at about 9 or 10 PM we no longer have water, definitely not hot water. One thing I've learned: growing up with my parents prepared me for Venezuelan bathrooms. You can't flush your toilet paper down the toilets. Luckily this is second nature to me.  There have also been power outages lately, so for a few hours every day each state will not have electricity. It's hard to know when this will happen and what time of the day, so there's always the chance we'll be with no electricity for a few hours.

I texted Aaron, told him I made it and he was able to call me for about 10 minutes. So it officially works for people to call me here. I can't check phone messages and can only receive and send 50 texts a month, so it would be best if everyone just called if you want to talk and if I don't answer call back later. After the phone call, I fell asleep immediately.

This morning we were given breakfast and coffee, then met another US student living in the building and her host sister, who took us to school. She spoke to us in Spanish, and explained the walk and how to use the buses at the end of the day when it is more dangerous to walk, especially across the bridge where there is not working street lights. Rosa the host sister is a really amazing woman who knows 7 languages fluently, is a professor at the University of Los Andes and is 20 years old.

At school we had an orientation and signed up for classes. Looks like I'll be in class from 8AM till 2:45PM (time difference from MN being a half hour ahead) every day, except Thursdays when I only have my morning class. So far the city is beautiful. We're surrounded by mountains. Everything is green and pretty wet today. After afternoon orientation we'll be taking a walking tour of the city, and learning more about the ways in which we can travel around the nearby National Parks and the country on the weekends while we're here.

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