Archive for February, 2007

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Caracas Venezuela:: When saving $400 dollars almost gets you put in airport jail.

February 27, 2007

So on friday I set out for what I knew was going to be a sorrowful 4 flight, 4 country, 16 hour journey from Trinidad to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Let me first start off by saying that when I was buying these tickets in October I discovered an odd truth ….. it would be much easier and cheaper for me to get to BA from Kansas City, MO than from Port of Spain, Trinidad… which is located directly off the coast of Venezuela and is geographically about halfway between home and Argentina. Why do you ask? That I am still not quite certain of. Maybe there is no demand for people from Trinidad to get to South America even though they are right next to each other so airlines don´t have many routes from Trinidad to SA. Which I know can´t be entirely true because the last time I came to Carnival I came through Caracas Venezuela. At any rate, when I was buying tickets the Trinidad— BA leg was proving to be very difficult, so me and my equally creative travel agent came up with what we thought would be a trying yet workable and affordable alternative. From Trinidad I would take a 45 minute flight to Margarita Island, Venezuela where I would then take another 45 min flight to Caracas, Venezuela, where I would take a 2 hour flight to Bogota, Columbia where I would then take a 6 hour flight to BA, Argentina and voila! ……. but that would only work if everything went off without a hitch but I thought I had enough layover time in between everything in case something went wrong. Think again lady.

When I arrived in Caracas after my second flight I had 3 1/2 hours between flights. I did as my travel agent had instructed previously, collected my baggage and then looked around for the carrier of my next flight Aerolineas Argentina. Hmmmm, looking, looking…….. pacing, pacing… I saw many airlines, but no Aerolineas Argentina. So I tried asking people at various ticket counters, they all just looked at me like ¨look you non Spanish speaking freak of fucking nature there is no Aerolineas airline here and get the hell out of my country!¨, which I can´t really blame them we treat Spanish speakers no different in the US and Venezuela isn´t really our best friend right now (damn Geoge Duubuya!!) so I start to majorly sweat at this point. I have in my hand a ticket for an airline that doesn´t seem to exist. Then I saw a sign that said International somethingsomething with an arrow pointing to another building, apperantly all the international flights fly out of another building in the airport and I was in the domestic part since I flew from Margarita Island to Caracas. By now an hour has gone by……. still have plenty of time. So me and my luggage roll down the sidewalk about a half a mile to the international building. Hmmm, I see American Airlines, I see Air France, I see Continental, I see Delta Airlines…… still no Aerolineas Argentina. So I ask around and still noone seems to have a clue what the hell I´m talking about (you would think that they would speak English at Continental or American Airlines, but ummm no, not in Caracas) and it took some more hard core investigative work but I finally found the tiny tiny Aerolineas Argentina desk. Whew! With still an hour and a half to spare.

Home free? Nope not hardly. So I am checking in with the ticket guy and he gives me my boarding pass, and then writes ¨$61 USD¨ on a scrap piece of paper, rattles off something in spanish and nods me toward some man in the corner. Umm ok? So through another ticket counter person who spoke a tiny bit of English the man in the corner told me that I had to pay a departure tax of $61 US dollars. Ummm departure tax? But I am in transit…….. how could I owe a departure tax? So as I am trying to discuss this in a ass backwards psuedo Spanish way with the people atthe airline and then they write down on a piece of paper $61 USD $132 USD. Ummm did the departure tax just double in the past 20 seconds? So at this point I am trying to figure out if this is a real fee or if this is some airport bribery/take advantage of the foreigner who can´t speak the language Nigerian style type stuff. I only had an hour before my flight left and only $40 US in cash and about $10 US worth of TT (Trinidad currency) and so I decided to just go to the ATM and get out the Venezualan equivalent of $61 dollars and chalk it up as a lost so that I can make the flight. …………. Long story short, I go to 10 different ATMs in the airport, all with different banks and none of them are recognizing my debit card. O and did I mention that they couldn´t take credit cards at the airline counter? O yea thats a wonderfully fun fact. So after 30 minutes of pure frustration at the ATM I go back to the desk not sure what my next course of action will be. The best plan I could come up with would be to go to the internet cafe in the airport, look up the nearest Citibank ATM and hop in a cab and pray that it would work. But there was no time for that. ……and if at this point you are wondering why I don´t use travellers cheques… they wouldn´t have helped in this situation either because there was no where to cash them. The Friday´s in the Caracas airport wouldn´t even accept them, (nor would they swipe my credit or debit card and give me cash for it but that was a long shot anyway). So walking back to the counter the only plan I could come up with was to offer them the $40 USD that I did have and just beg, plead, and cry if necessary. My worst fear of missing this flight and then having to come out of my pocket $700 bucks was just not an option.

Well when I arrived back at the desk there were two Chliean men having the exact same problem and one of them spoke English very well. He sympathized with my stressed out face and told me to just pretend that we were all traveling together and to just stay quiet and let me do the talking. So I did. Through translation of the arguements the Chilean man (Robert) said something to me about airport jail, and then he turned to me and asked me “do you pray?” and I said yes and he replied “well I think its about time we start doing so because we are running out of options”. So I did. At a point I even tried to cry because the men seemed to get more helpful the more distressed I looked……. but I was so dehydrated that my tear ducts would not cooperate. Finally, about an hour later, after several heated discussions with the airport authority, the venezuelan tax authority and customs …… they just let us go. I think they just got tired. We only made the flight because it was delayed for an hour and half …….. good ole Caracas.

What I figured later is this, while technically I was still in transit (so in my mind I wouldn´t have had to pay a departure tax)…… since the second leg of the trip was a domestic flight (from Porlamalar Venezuela to Caracas Venezuela) they considered that ¨leaving the airport¨because I had to collect my baggage and walk over to the international side in order to check in with Aerolineas. Even though I was still technically in transit when I went through customs on Margarita Island (which is absolutely gorgeous by the way) and then checked in for my flight to Caracas it was considered ¨leaving the airport” because I went through customs….. but its not like I had a choice. Damn me and my funky flight plan.

Lesson Learned:: Dont spend a Quarter trying to save a dime. Though I didn´t end up paying, the emotional stress during those 3 hours was enough to make me look for another alternative. Other lesson? Carry more US dollars on me when travelling through SA….. people love it here.

Let me say it one more time…….. I HATE Caracas Venezuela. I knew that before, but my hate for the city, or more aptly that airport is on a whole new level now.

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Trinidad Carnival Summary

February 25, 2007

Due to the exhausting rock and roll of carnival and the fact that the neurotic Woody Allenesque houseguest that was also staying with my homegirl in Trinidad was OCD about being the computer and uploading pictures I didn´t have too much computer time. This is so unfortunate since Carnival and my experience in Trinidad was so blog worthy but I will do my best to summarize.

First off lets start off with Carnival vocabulary:

Fete–outdoor concert/party where a variety of Soca artist perform the current Soca songs of the season. Thousands of people are usually present at these parties and they usually take place in a stadium, a field, or any space that can accomadate a stage and thousands of soused Carnivalers wining and jumping and dancing. They usually start somewhere around 9 or 10pm and go until at least 4am but the closer to Carnival Monday and Tuesday the later they last… sometimes until noon the next day.

“Playing Mas”— When you play mas, it means you are a going to be one of the thousands of masqueraders on the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. When you play mas, you pick a band, and then you pick the particular section of the band that you want to be in. Each section is put out by different people so each section has different costumes. A band can be as small as a few hundred or many thousands. The band that used to be the largest is the one I played in the first time I came to Trinidad was Poison, but as of this year Poison disbanded and so each section had to split off into smaller bands or create their own.

“on the road” — refers to when you are playing mas Carnival Monday and Tuesday.  So when say “I need new shoes fa de road”, they need new shoes for playing mas in Carnival.

So basically, Carnival is a season to Trinidadians. Officially it starts right after new years, but unofficially the country starts gearing up for it in August. My carnival experiences have pretty much consisted of going to fetes and just enjoying all the splendor of the country while waiting for Carnival Monday and Tuesday to arrive.

From an outsiders prospective, Carnival is celebration of music, life, and mostly…….. women. For those of you unfamiliar with the roots of Carnival/Mardi Gras celebrations around the globe here is a short synopsis. During slavery times, these were the two days out of the year where slaves were allowed a temporary freedom of sorts. They would dress up and mimic those that claimed ownership over them while incorporating traditional African symbols and rites such as feathers, mask, music, etc. It was the two days out of the year that most lived for, and after slavery was abolished in various parts of the world Carnival celebrations everywhere took on their own life. You usually find these celebrations in parts of the world where Catholic (usually French or Spanish) settlers owned slaves as Carnival Monday and Tuesday mark the two days that precede the Wed before Lent. ………. In short Carnival is about creating as much foolishness and bacchanal as possible before Lent comes.

Remember the scene in the Ten Commandments where after Moses (aka NRA spokesman Charles Heston) comes down from Mt. Sinai with the two tablets ready to show his people what God has given him……only to find that they are partying, drinking wine in excess, and are worshiping the golden ox idol they created? That´s Carnival. Maybe thats not the best example to give seeing how its supposed to be such a terrible ¨sinful¨scene, but when you look around during a fete or anytime during Carnival for that matter you can´t help but make the comparison. However, instead of men worshiping a golden ox they´ve created, the object of worship is women and more specifically the female form. The spirit of Carnival gives an anything goes, people swinging from the rooftops, good rum freely flowing, intoxicating music playing, life is so damn good I just want to make love to the Earth kind of feeling. To outsiders Carnival probably just looks like a sinful party of drunks, but only those who have never experienced it, because Carnival is the closest thing to heaven on earth that a personal could ever experience.

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Fuck the world I got here!

February 24, 2007

I am in fucking Buenos Aires Argentina……. I damn near walked on fire to get my black ass here but I am here.  Recovering from some sort of bronchial sickness I developed during Carnival (such a sad sad story), tired as hell, with stunted access to my cash, almost got put in Venezuelan airport jail……………… but fuck the world and all the reasons why I shouldn´t have made it because my sunburnt/samoan lookalike self is here and in effect.

Carnival summary and SA updates to come after I catch some ZZ´s. 

::Note to the people::  Nobody speaks English in South America….. I mean nobody. 

I mean damn, the whole point of me being here is to learn….. can a girl just get through the airport? …… I swear every time I do some nonsense like this it just lets me know that I can do anything.  …… Or that there is no expiration to my utter and total foolishness.  You pick

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Notes from Nigeria: A Wrap-Up

February 12, 2007

::In my attempt to resurrect my blog I shall start blogging my newest adventure instead of sending out mass emails. I never really wrapped up Nigeria, and though I am now on another 3 month 4 country journey, I think that I need to wrap up my first experience to the mothaland. Please note that I cut and pasted the mass emails that I sent out while I was there with the dates I wrote them::

3 weeks for any American in Nigeria is bound to be an unforgettable experience. A month later upon reflection, my emotions about my experience are mixed. The spirit of the Nigerian people is indeed its best asset. I will be eternally grateful to the family I stayed with, and the people I met who showed me considerable graciousness and hospitality. Yet, the most memorable parts of the trip are not all the nicest. The desperation for so many people is as thick and dark as the diesel filled pollution cloud that looms over Lagos. If you are of a certain class and education with enough money to pay off government officials, then you can get along very well in Nigeria. However, for those who were not born into such luxuries, from an outsider’s perspective anyway, there is a mountain with a 120 degree angle to overcome.

It is one thing for a country to be enveloped in poverty; however it is a separate issue for a country be burdened with desperation as well. What I have learned from countries with less tangible material wealth is that one can be content with very little and live just as happy as they could anywhere else in the world. Americans have alot to learn in that respect. America is a very rich country resource wise, but socially and priority wise my travels have taught me how backwards we have it. We are all about working our selves in the hole trying to acquire “stuff”, that we lose sight of the today and the people who really do mean something to us. Somewhere along the line we came to believe actually enjoying life was for pussies because it means you aren’t driven or hungry enough.

I guess it was my mistaken naiveté expecting that I would receive a refresher course in such a lesson from my journey to Nigeria. As lovely as an introduction to the country I had by my hosts, I see why so many people kill themselves daily trying to flee. I have always thought that it was odd that everywhere in the world I go I have met Nigerians, and sadly it makes sense to me now why so many want to leave. Corrupt and defunct government, little to no infrastructure, lack of attainable (much less desirable) opportunities, no electricity, sewage filled water, hell I would want to leave too. I said to myself on several occasions during the trip, “No wonder they come to America and kick our ass in classes…….. if you can make out of here, then Organic Chemistry should be a breeze”. Every other place I’ve been, I have said to myself “I could live here. I could really live here”, and as down with the people, back to Africa, and Afro-centric as I thought I was, my trip to Nigeria put my American ass in its place. I really do hate to admit it, but being totally honest with myself I never felt so much like an American as the moment my plane landed in New Jersey.

This isn’t to say that I had a bad time or that I regret my trip, it was quite an experience to be in Nigeria totally immersed in the Yoruba culture and having those “ah ha” moments as a Black American. It really is true that there are still echoes and footprints of Africa in any community where slaves were dropped off at and America is no exception to this rule. However, the lives of the people who surrounded us in the village were never far from my mind and as someone from “the West” I know too much about America’s history and current foreign policies of steal first/come back and “fix it” later to pretend as if we and our comrades don’t have a hand the troubles of Nigeria.

After telling people about the difficulties of Nigeria, I have heard the responses such as “well hell I’m not ever going to Africa” (as if the entire continent of Africa can be summed up in one midwesterners version of Nigeria), and that was never my intention. I do not mean to give Nigeria a bad name because my impressions of Nigeria were no where near as bad as I had been told. But I cannot deny that as prepared as I thought I was, I was left agast by what I saw in Lagos. It is a place that can’t be sugarcoated and mainly because we cannot ignore our Western resposibility and ignorance to their dire situations.

I would not hesitate traveling there again or any other place in Africa for all you naysayers. It was quite an experience and an unforgettable introduction to Africa.