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“Experiencing Venezuela” was advertised as 22 days in Merida, a college town in the Andes mountains, home stays with Venezuelan families and side trips, at a basic cost to students of $1800. Seven students made their deposits by the November 29 deadline. Air fare had been estimated by M&M Travel in Greenwood at $750 per person, but when I tried to book the flights the rates had increased to $1340 per person, just to get to Caracas. Apparently this large increase was due to demand effects for first-of-year business travel and Venezuelans returning from Christmas vacations.
Reasonable air fares were not available until January 19, at which time it was possible to get to Caracas and back for $650 per person. I therefore decided to cut the trip to 10 days and make the destination Caracas instead of Merida. I sent urgent email to the students and informed them of the air fare problem, the necessity of shortening the trip, and that $600 of their deposits would be refunded. Unfortunately this caused two of the original seven students to withdraw. Those who made the trip were Hillary Bellman, Jennifer Bennett, Kalow Huff, Nick Phillips and Neil Rauh.
In retrospect the changes imposed on the trip were a blessing: the students were happy to have the $600 refunds as spending money; there were many more things to do in and around the metropolitan capital of Caracas than in the much smaller and relatively isolated town of Merida; the delay gave us more classroom time in Franklin to learn about Venezuela and practice our Spanish. At the end of ten days we were all ready to come home!
Experiencing Venezuela Schedule
January 3-18. We met Monday through Thursday from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm in the comfortable Sociology Lounge in the Leadership Center. We reviewed Venezuelan history, culture and current events, including recent state visits of President Hugo Chavez with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qadaffi and Fidel Castro! I don’t consider myself a professor of Spanish, so I solicited and got valuable assistance from Professor Judi Carlstrand at Franklin. We watched a series of instructional videos from Hamilton Library, Los Destinos, practiced Spanish in class and took three field trips to authentic Mexican restaurants to practice ordering food. At one restaurant in Greenwood they had to call out the dishwasher to take our orders, as he was the only employee who spoke Spanish!
January 19. We met at Leadership at 7:00 am and rode to the airport in a Franklin van. Because I had driven Professor Graham’s students to the airport for their trip to Washington, DC, he served as our driver. Our flight left Indianapolis at 9:30 am, we changed planes in Houston and arrived in Caracas at 9:30 pm. We checked into the Hotel Savoy in the Sabana Grande district at 11:00 pm. The students liked this hotel - although plain, it was clean and comfortable and the staff was friendly and attentive. For most of the visit they believed that the students were my children.
January 20. We visited the local zoo, which cost us each $.75 to ride the Metro and $.30 admission. The Caracas Metro is one of the cleanest, safest and most modern subway systems in the world. Unlike in U.S. zoos, monkeys and birds pretty much have free run of the place. We were able to pat a large vulture on the head and see the Venezuelan capybara, the world’s largest rodent.
January 21. We went to a Venezuelan baseball game featuring two national
league teams, the Magallanes (Magellans) versus the Tiburones (Sharks).
The students loved the game, especially Nick and Neil who are on the Franklin
team. Venezuelans love baseball and are more enthusiastic than fans in
Most baseball fans are aware that U.S. teams import talent from other countries, notably Cuba and the Dominican Republic, native land of home run ace Sammy Sosa. Venezuelans love baseball and occasionally export players to the U.S. On our trip we learned that the globalization of baseball is complete and that the following Americans were playing for Venezuelan teams: Allen Levrault from Massachusetts, Talmadge Nunnari and Dustin Wathan from Florida, Morgan Ensberg from California, Dusty Allen from Oklahoma, Robert Mackowiak from Illinois and Richard Sauveur from Virginia. We actually got to see our fellow countryman Talmadge Nunnari playing for the La Guaira Tiburones (Sharks) in Caracas.
January 22. Before leaving the U.S. I had arranged a side trip with
Lost World Adventures to visit Las Roques, 60 miles off the northern Venezuelan
coast. Las Roques is a coral reef archipelago with aquamarine and azure
waters and pristine white beaches.
This shows, from left to right, Hillary Bellman, Jennifer Bennett,
Neil Rauh, Nick Phillips and Kalow Huff on the beach at Las Roques. This
is a coral reef archipelago about 60 miles off the northern coast of Venezuela.
The students were able to enjoy the white sands of the beach and snorkel
with exotic tropical fish.
January 23. A few of us hadn’t used enough sunscreen and were suffering accordingly. We had been impressed by the Las Roques van providers, Representaciones Jon-Jac, and asked them to take us to an old German community up in the mountains, Colonia Tovar. The original German settlers were shunned by the locals because they carried smallpox from Europe. Although their descendants no longer speak German, the community is still culturally distinct. We had a nice lunch and were able to buy some interesting and reasonable souvenirs.
January 24. We rode the Metro to the botanical gardens, which has some of the largest palm trees in the world. We walked through the campus of the Universidad Central and the Venezuelan students were amazed by the tall stature of our Hoosier students.
January 25-26. Jon-Jac took us to the beachfront community
of Choroni. We enjoyed the beach near the Hotel Cotoperix and the next
day were taken on a wild boat ride to our own private beach, where we were
served fresh bonita for lunch. Unfortunately two students had been lulled
into a sense of security at the Hotel Savoy and lost some cash and traveler’s
checks from their rooms at the Cotoperix. On our return from Choroni, Kalow
reported he had lost his passport. I spent most of that afternoon trying
to contact the right personnel at the U.S. Embassy.
As reported in the Caracas newspaper El Universal, 24 Italian, Hungarian, Dutch and American tourists were killed in the crash of a DC-3 on Thursday, January 25, 2001 in the Canaimas region of eastern Venezuela. Because this is basically a WWII airplane, all other DC-3 flights were suspended after the crash. Ironically, we had taken a plane trip within the country just three days earlier. Even more ironic was the fact that U.S. news services originally reported six Americans killed - exactly the number in our party! Needless to say this was very upsetting to people at Franklin College and throughout southern Indiana, so we all called home when we heard about the crash.
January 27. Saturday was declared a free day because I was awaiting important calls from the Embassy. During the week a provisional passport can be issued, but our plane was to leave first thing Monday, so I was trying to secure something called a “transportation letter.” This service is not cheap, costing about $150 in cash, as your friendly U.S. Embassy does not accept credit cards.
January 28. Two hours before our appointment with the consular officer at the Embassy, Kalow found his passport in his shaving kit. As this was the most stressful event of the trip, we felt pretty fortunate. Some of us returned to the botanical gardens while others went to Centro Comercial Sambil, an elegant shopping mall.
January 29. The owner of Jon-Jac took us to the airport for
our 8:30 am flight. We arrived in Newark at 3:30 pm, cleared U.S. Customs
and made our connecting flight with no problems. We arrived in Indianapolis
at 5:45 and Professor Graham was waiting with a Franklin van.We felt that
this was an excellent trip in terms of intercultural experience, immersion
in Spanish and the broad variety of activities provided.