So, what the heck am I doing in Venezuela?
I stumbled across Foundacion Aldeas de Paz (Peace Villages Foundation) website while googling volunteer opportunities in South America, and it appealed to me because it has an NGO Administration Internship program. Since I've been studying Sociology, I've been trying to figure out a potential career direction within that field, and this seemed like a cool way to explore one aspect. They also offer free Spanish classes, and it's in friggen Venezuela for Pete's sake! That sounded like an adventure to me!
So far, it's been a pretty neat-o experience, though off to a slow start. As it turns out, the social and political climate is kind of crappy in Venezuela right now, which makes it a sort of unappealing place for potential volunteers. This fact combined with some other drama that occurred in the previous months, means that I have arrived at a time when there are literally no other volunteers here! There are 2 guys on staff that are really nice, but I was expecting there to be a big community here and instead its just the three of us! The founder is not here either, as he is currently working on a project in the Dominican Republic. Since I¨m working in the office, its ok. I´ve been going through our old listings on different volunteer agency websites updating information, and doing some maintenance for the guesthouse. I think I will be able to keep busy, but it can get pretty quiet over here sometimes, especially since its a 2km walk to the town, which is not recommended to do alone.
So, its not really what I was expecting as far as meeting people, but on the plus side I´m hoping my Spanish will improve!
Some highlights and memorable moments include:
-the lovely warm weather! No alapca sweaters necessary!
-beautiful mountains and jungle
-delicious fresh fruit, including mangos from a tree on the grounds, and weird bananas we chopped down and then deep-fried with seasoning salt and garlic....sooo delicious!
-driving 20 minutes to cross the border into Brazil! We bought things like fresh milk, laundry soap, and chocolate...you literally can't buy these in Venezuela, they are just not available!
-an abundance of creepy crawlies, including a frog that jumped out of the toilet bowl after I flushed (causing confusion and outright terror/horror), a black moth the size of my hand, a cockroach under the cuttingboard, and my new roommate Oliver, a lizard, who watches over me while I sleep.
-Falling asleep to the sound of crickets and frogs, and waking up to the birds and monkeys.
-homemade arepas and empanadas...easy to make, and so tasty!
-eating a red ant in a spicy sauce...apparently this is a Venezuelan snack, but I will pass on it next time...
-watching a futbol game in town, and snapping some photos of the Carneval parade
It's been a pretty chill week for me, which has been kind of a nice way to adapt to a new surroundings. Cusco was kind of a warm-up to the real culture shock that comes with Venezuela. Things here are just completely different than at home, so its good that I´ve had time to get used to some of the different things about South America before plunging straight into this crazy place.
Obviously, one thing to get used to is the completely different concept of time. I simply accept that things will happen approximately an hour after they are scheduled to occur. Sometimes its more like 2 hours. Everything is done at a more leisurely pace, there is no rush. Everything takes a long time. For example, I was supposed to have a planning meeting when I arrived, but since I got there late in the week, we decided to do it "on Monday". Monday comes, and we plan for 2pm. At 2, it sounds like someone will be late, so we reschedule for 5. At 6pm, I realize its not going to happen, so we reschedule for 8am the next morning. The next morning at 8am, we are eating breakfast, so we finally get around to starting the meeting at 9am, and then one of the guys is distracted by the uneven table leg, so that has to get fixed before we can start...you get the idea. Things get done, but at a verrrry different pace. I´m actually embracing it, though I know its going to be rough when I throw myself back into a treeplanting camp and have to have meals ready on time! haha...
Getting used to the aforementioned creepy-crawlies takes a bit of effort. At least there haven´t been any spiders...yet.
There are a lot less tourists here in Santa Elena than in Cusco, so being white and speaking English makes me stand out even more than before. While in Peru I stood out as a tourist, here I´m more of a novelty. South American culture is very "macho", so guys tend to catcall and whistle at women a lot, and be very persistent when showing interest in girls. On my first morning here I joined one of the guys on staff to the morning market to do the grocery shopping, and I was quite surprised to find my blue eyes attracted a lot of attention from guys in the village...this is not something I am used to or very comfortable with! I am relieved that I decided to get rid of the platinum blonde hair before traveling. Its going to be an adjustment for me to get used to this part of the culture.
Things I am looking forward to:
I am planning on doing two different treks while I´m here, which I´ve heard are really, really good. Details to come (and maybe eventually photos!)
I am also putting some pressure on the guys to do some exploring on the weekends, because I want to see more of the country and get off the property once in a while! We´ll see how it goes :)
Until next time...