The Ultimate STEVE SAYS...SARA SAYS - Part 1

Trip Start Feb 22, 2007
Trip End Aug 22, 2007

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Flag of Venezuela  ,
Thursday, July 19, 2007

SARA SAYS... Steve, I think it`s time for an intervention. Readership for our blog is way down and you're clearly to blame.

STEVE SAYS...What do you mean?

SARA:  My friend Jenny T summed it up in her last email: "I`m loving the blog still, but I need to see less of Steve's ass."

STEVE:  Okay, but in another e-mail, your former CBC co-worker, the classy Alison Smith, called me both ´voluble´ and ´loquacious.'

SARA:  You do know what those words mean, right?

STEVE:  That I look hot in a speedo?

SARA: No, you idiot, it´s just a fancy way of calling you a big mouth.

STEVE:  (trying to look up the definitions on the Internet)

SARA:  Plus, sometimes I read other people's blogs for useful information on our next location.  I just realized that we provide absolutely no help to other travelers.  Shots of you in a Speedo might even deter people from going to the beach. 

STEVE: Okay, you win, no speedo shots (pouts and crosses arms).


STEVE:  Sara and I were lucky enough to see Peru`s Machu Picchu and Brazil`s Christ the Redeemer before they were named to the ¨New 7 Wonders of the World,¨ so again trying to beat the rush, we decided to enter Venezuela before it was put on another prestigious list, the Axis of Evil.

SARA:  We were also starting to feel lost in Brazil without our Portugese guide Victor.  I even had trouble at the Embassy (McDonalds).  I tried to order a Combo #5, but she thought I wanted 5 of them. Argh.  And Manaus was the hottest place I've ever been to in my entire life, not to mention the hideous mosquitoes. 

Here's my useful tip for Canadians crossing into Venezuela by land at Santa Elena, you DO NOT need to get a tourist card in advance, as indicated in some travel books and on the Canadian government's website.  You just need your passport.  

How did we find this out?  The hard way.  It took us almost an hour to find the Venezuelan Embassy in a taxi because the street numbers in Manaus range from 5 to 80 to 300 and 800 and back again, all on the same street.  On one building, the number 6, on the store beside it, the number 81, and beside it, the number 301. You get the picture.  Total confusion.  We only found it thanks to the Venezuelan flag hanging outside.  Of course, it was closed.  My persistent ringing of the doorbell in blatant disregard for the office hours prompted a man in casual clothes to actually come to the door and answer our questions, in English no less.  Venezuela is looking up. 

STEVE: Here`s even better advice. BRING AMERICAN MONEY. Venezuela artificially inflates their currency, pegging it at 2,100 bolivares for every U.S. dollar. However, if you bring in greenbacks, you can change them on the black market at a rate of  $1 for about 3,600 bolivares. Using some quick math, I believe that`s 75% more spending power. Could someone who isn`t an idiot check on that for me?

SARA: Can`t help you.

STEVE: No surprise there, a couple of months ago Sara actually asked me how many millilitres were in a litre. Let`s call it a moment of weakness and move on. 

Anyway, we entered Venezuela with some American money, but as soon as we saw the prices for the Angel Falls tour ($210 each with black market money), we knew we`d need more.

Thanks to the advice of a helpful tour agent, we got a lift back over the Brazilian border, didn`t stamp our passports or go through any form of customs, went to a Brazilian bank, took out $850 US worth of Brazilian Reals, came back into Venezuela, again bypassing customs and swapped our Brazilian currency for the same great black market rate.

When you think of the black market, you picture seedy, gold chain wearing dudes in alleys who would just as soon steal your money, but in Venezuela, everything`s a legit, almost neat operation. As soon as they spot a gringo in Santa Elena, guys on street corners start shouting, ¨Cambiar, cambiar.¨ You can`t escape it. Then, if you show interest, many of them will then invite you into their office (consisting of a desk, drawers with cash, and a calculator) before sending you away with a fistful of bolivares.

Imagine the fistful I had after changing 1700 Braziilian Reals ($850 US). Over three million in bolivares, packaged in a thick wad of $20,000 bills. Never have I felt like such a bigshot. I wanted to buy myself a briefcase, a hooker, an NBA referee, anything to keep the feeling of power alive. 

I settled with offering $1 million bolivares to sleep with some hot-dog vender`s wife. She was fabulous.

SARA: That never happened.

STEVE: Fabulous, I say.

(brushes hands together)

There, that should shut Sara up about not being helpful to other travelers.


STEVE:  First up, a 6-day trek of Roraima (2810m), the grandest of the mysterious tepuis (flat topped mountains) that line the Venezuela`s border with Brazil. Roraima was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle`s The Lost World and is labeled a ¨Must-Do¨ in all travel guide books. 

Roraima's huge plateau is skirted by astonishing vertical walls, lifting it a mile above the tropical savannah. Stepping in the footsteps of some of the great Victorian explorers, you walk through ancient forests and under waterfalls to its summit of surreal rocks and crystal valleys. Sounds amazing right? 

How'd you enjoy Roraima, Sara?

SARA:  Sorry, Mount Roraima just did not appeal to me.  After weeks of good livin' with Victor "Let's have a snack!" Lopes, the thought of a 6-day trek made my stomach turn.  After hearing from the tour operator about the problem with gnats and the necessity for thick socks to facilitate tricky river crossings, I was out. 

STEVE: That was Sara ¨There`s trekking in South America?¨ Brunetti, give her a hand everyone (roaring applause).  Anyway, because I don`t want our readers to be robbed of the same experience I was, I`m pasting a very informative blog on Roraima below. Sara found it while trying to decide whether to exert herself or not. 

The blogger, also named Steve, passes on some conversational nuggets he heard from two gay trekkers on his hike:

"Mark where is the baby powder? I need to powder my nuts." "Right here baby." "Mark, can you tighten the straps on my backpack, I like it a bit tighter around my hips." "Sure cutie, one sec."  "Mark, I am not crossing the river on that log, there's no way I will make it." "Oh you can do it honey." You better cross right now you little clown, or I'll kick your faggot ass back to DC.
( /1110666660/tpod.html )  

SARA: What is it with the name Steve, are all you guys hilarious or what?

SARA: You can`t just start writing shit under my moniker or this will never work!

STEVE: Ah, no speedo shots, now this, I`m handcuffed here.

SARA:  Wasn't the Gran Sabana jeep tour much better than Roraima anyway, given that it was pouring rain?  And you obviously wanted some excitement, trying to turn the jeep tour into some extreme sporting event.  

Waterfall after waterfall after waterfall, you tried to spice up the tour.  The first one had a slippery rockbed, which you semi-successfully turned into a slip'n'slide.  (Only a small slide, but no broken teeth).  The next one had a huge 10m drop into a small but apparently deep hole.  The guide tells Steve that he's jumped off the cliff before and it's safe if you jump straight down from a certain spot.  Given that it's pouring rain and the grass is slippery, most people would say it was too risky.  Steve?  He's taking off his shirt, giving me his valuables and kissing me goodbye.  Luckily, this story has a happy ending, but one of these days. 

I don`t get it. The thought of dancing in public paralyzes him with fear, but he'll jump on a cliff 'cause our Venezuelan guide says it's safe???
STEVE:  It`s true. I`m scared of the salsa, the tango, the merengue, you name it. And you can forget about me approaching a girl in a nightclub. In fact, I think on a subconscious level I just thrill-seek to  counteract my general ¨unmanliness.¨

While I don't bring girls home from the bar, I jump out of planes. While I can't fix a car, I bungee jump. While I need Sara's dad to do all our home repairs for us, I jump off high cliffs into suspect waters below. While I once drilled through a $800 kitchen table I was putting together as a student employee at a furniture store, I repel down mountains, white water raft, sandboard, whatever. 

I sprinkle in a poop story here and there and voila, you have yourself a man.   

SARA: And what a man!!! May I add that you`re very well-equipped downstairs

SARA: That's your last warning or this blog's over. This won't be a repeat of "Sara's Diary."  But speaking of poop stories, I believe you have another one.

STEVE: Nope, even if I wanted to tell it, people are even more sick of them than the speedo shots.


SARA:  I entered Venezuela with a fair amount of caution. As someone who has checked Canada's travel advisories many times at work, I decided to check out the advisory for Venezuela on the government's website.  Let's just say it wasn't a ringing endorsement.  In fact, it was the kind of travel advisories that make you think twice about going somewhere.  A newly added section about the Copa America warned that Canadian tourists should "minimise the amount of time spent in the vicinity of soccer stadiums before, during and after matches."  Phew.  Good thing we're not going to a soccer game.

STEVE: ¨Hey, the semi-final between Argentina and Mexico is only an hour away in Ciudad Guyana. Want to go?¨ 

SARA: Didn't the Canadian government say something about soccer games?

STEVE: Nah.  


And after attending the 3-0 Argentina victory, I don`t know what the Canadian government was so worried about. It was probably the most well-run, safe and enjoyable spectator event I ever went to.

Ciudad Guyana is practically a city from the future. It couldn`t be more modern. In fact, it`s more American than most American cities. Advanced roadways, bridges, huge shopping malls, cinemas and practically every restaurant chain. Not just the usual Burger King, McDonalds, KFC trifecta, but Wendy`s, Subway, Papa John`s, Tony Roma`s, Friday`s and Applebees. So while Hugo Chavez apparently hates all things American, he has no problem Eatin` Good in the Neighbourhood. 

SARA: And, how`d you like the game (which we would`ve missed had we climbed Roraima,  might I add)?

STEVE: Well, the action was fast and furious. What a pace. I didn`t know where to look. I mean, all these perfectly tuned specimans doing what they do best on a world stage. I jumped, I screamed, I did the wave, I drooled, it was amazing. I don`t what else to say. 

SARA: Messi`s goal was unbelievable wasn`t it?

STEVE: Messi`s goal?

SARA: Wait a minute, did you even watch the game?

STEVE: No, but let me explain. Every Venezuelan girl has a boob job.  While 80% of Venezuelans are under the poverty line, they spend 20% of their household income on cosmetics and personal care products.  They also have the most plastic surgery done per capita. And obviously, a premier event like Copa America attracts rich men who want to be seen with these fine ladies on their arms.  

SARA: It`s true, and these young girls are always with these old, nasty guys.

STEVE: It just turns my stomach. All these men who cast aside their wives and shack up with younger models. Just terrible. These men will never experience the joy of growing old with a loved one. Finishing each other`s sentences, taking each other to the hospital,  rubbing moisturizer on each other`s leathery skin, watching reruns of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman...      

SARA: Okay, okay, that`s about enough, we get the picture.

STEVE: If I get rich, I would never do that to you honey, never (looks over at hot dog venders` wife rolling around in his bed with 1 million bolivares)


SARA:  We did enjoy our hostel in Ciudad Bolivar, which will remain nameless (DON CARLOS), but when they found out we were going to Angel Falls through a different company, the owner informed me that we had just booked "a crappy tour."  An utterance of anger.... or truth??

STEVE:  Crappy tour or not, we saved $100 dollars by taking a 2.5 hour jeep ride instead of a direct flight to Canaima. In fact, I wish I held the money for this entire South American vacation. After keeping Sara in line, I could be one of those consultants companies hire to come in, overlook operations (expenditures, the workforce etc.) and start getting rid of redundancies. You know, cut the fat.

SARA:  I certainly wouldn`t have spent as much if Steve was always in control of the money.  In other countries, due to the abundance of ATMs, I always had the money to buy things - gifts, souvenirs, food, you name it.  But because of the black market exchange, we've been living off the money we took out in Brazil for over 3 weeks.

Here are some examples of the "choices" that Steve has given me in the past week or so...

- "Sara, you decide.  Shrimp for dinner, or water to drink.  Forget the shrimp, let's eat those cheap hot dogs on the street."

- "C'mon Sara, we could take a taxi directly from Mochima to Puerto La Cruz for $20US.  But we could also take a 'por puesto' (small local bus) from Mochima to the main road, flag down another por puesto en route to Santa Fe, then transfer to another one in Santa Fe.  It will take twice as long and we'll be the only tourists doing it.  I`m sure the locals won't mind our big bags blocking the aisles.  Think of the savings!"

- "Yeah, that is nice jewelry.  But $10,000 bolivars?  I know it's only about $3, but that could be our lunch tomorrow.  I know we should be buying gifts... but I'm going to have to say no to this one."

- "What did you say, the zipper on your small bag with all your important stuff is broken?  You can't fix it?  Do you REALLY need a new one, we only have a month left.  (Sara carries passport, money, cards and camera around for 2 hrs in a plastic bag, then snaps)  Well, if you're going to cry about it, here's $10 to buy a new bag.  Good luck on your search, that's your spending limit for the week."    

So sorry, friends and family, no souvenirs or gifts from Venezuela.  My spending has been virtually stopped in its tracks.  You better hope for something in my last spending spree in Bogota.

But in the case of Angel Falls, the savings did pay for our Copa America tickets.  I felt good about it... until I saw the airport.  It looked like someone's rundown garage with a few plastic lawnchairs outside.  I saw a sickly-looking dog running around and said to Steve, "That's the most disgusting dog that I've ever seen."  Then I saw another one and said, "No, THAT's the most digusting dog that I've ever seen."  And then I saw the small planes.  Why oh why didn't we spend the extra $50?  Aren't our lives worth that much?

STEVE: Class operation all the way. While we weren`t offered shelter from the sun (or even chairs), drinks, food, a clean bathroom or any updates on when we might be taking off, I thought they did a helluva job.

SARA:  This is also the place where I experienced my first rejection of a Canadian pin.  Courtesy of the Embassy in Washington, I've been spreading Canadian pride and joy to the children of South America with flag pins & stickers. 

A forlorn-looking local boy was standing around this decrepid airport, so I offered him a sticker.  He looked at it, looked at me, then shook his head in disgust.  Maybe he saw my face as I looked around his airport.

STEVE: Offering those crappy stickers to kids is one thing, but what takes the cake is when she breaks them out for adults or other tourists. A rejection was well overdue. In fact, it was easily the highlight of my day.

SARA: Anyway, after waiting over an hour, we squeezed into a small plane with our new friends Christianne and Mike from Belgium and Francisco from Spain.  We left Harry and Enda from Ireland at the airport.  After a breathtaking but thankfully safe flight, we landed at a rustic camp.  We asked about the Irish guys, only to be told they were "on another tour."  Huh?  Typical South American tour.  Sure enough, they showed up hours later with a woeful tale of being left at that airport for 2 more hours.

STEVE: While the Irish guys stewed in the Airport, the rest of us headed for Salto Sapo. On the way, I got talking to a 19-year-old Venezuelan teenager sporting a Kurt Cobain t-shirt. Here`s an excerpt of our hour long conversation, much of it not straying too far from what`s below:

Me: ¨Te gusta Nirvana?¨
Norberto: ¨Me gusta mucho, te gusta?¨
Me: ¨Si, me gusta tambien. Te gusta Pearl Jam?¨
Norberto (great name by the way): ¨Si, me gusta. Y Stone Temple Pilots?¨
Me: ¨Oh, me gusta mucho.¨ 

(conversation went on to include Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, etc.)

A couple of things troubled me about this dialogue. For one, obviously my spanish is still crap and we have less than a month left in South America. Manuel, Laura, Rafa, Hector, people of Colombia, I am sorry, you will be thoroughly disappointed with our progress.

SARA: Speak for yourself.  The CBC allowed me this exciting opportunity to learn spanish and I, for one, took full advantage.

STEVE: Yeah, you`ve really taken to the language, huh?

SARA: Me gusta mucho.

STEVE: The second problem I had with our conversation, is that I have the same musical taste as a 19-year-old Venezuelan boy. I might want to think about moving on from my grunge phase.

And lastly, what`s a 19-year-old Venezuelan teenager doing mourning Kurt Cobain? Before saying goodbye, he gave me his e-mail address: ( Teen angst is truly universal.  

SARA:  Yeah, yeah, get to Salto Sapo, the best part of the Angel Falls tour by far... even a highlight of our entire trip.  After seeing it on the first day, we should have gone home.  I could have avoided spending two night sleeping in a hammock with only a toilet on hand, in desperate need of a shower. 

After climbing to the Angel Falls lookout point, I returned to camp with 2 days of sweat and dirt on me. I asked the guide, "Where is the .... shower? (stumbling a bit on the pronounciation of shower).  Guide:  "Oh yes, the shower.  (long pause)  No, no shower here".  

STEVE: Salto Sapo was a unique, once in a lifetime experience. We were able to walk behind a waterfall, at first only getting sprayed with water, but by the halfway point, getting absolutely dumped on. We were pretty much standing right in it. And thank god, because you needed the shower.

Actually, watching Sara get soaked is always entertaining.

Throughout the whole trip, we had to take these really long, narrow boats that hold about 15 people, including all the luggage and supplies. The guide, of course, put us in the back because we we were the heaviest. 

We had no problem with this until we were leveled with waves for over 2 hours straight, Sara yelling at each one, ¨Ahhh¨ or ¨My butt`s all wet,¨ or a curse of some kind. At one point, she screamed ¨Shit,¨ only to hear the two young Venezuelan boys mimicking her in the front as their mom yelled at them to stop. 

When we returned to shore, everyone jumped out of the boat, smiling, enjoying their day, until they turned around and saw us, absolutely drenched. 

From then on, we`d lollygag and hide behind a couple of people, hoping the guide would choose someone else to get on the boat first.. And each and every time, he`d look around, see us moping in the back, give us a wave and say the equivalent of, ¨Okay fatties, get in there, time`s a wasting.¨

Sara: ¨But my butt, it`s all nice and dry.¨

¨Get in there.¨

(Sara pouts and reluctantly moves to the back of the boat).
SARA: And Angel Falls? After all, it`s the location of our blog and a highlight of South America, we should at least write a paragraph on it. It`s almost a kilometre high, making it 20 times the height of Niagara Falls!

STEVE: Sara`s changing her tune. At the time, she said Regis` piss had a more powerful stream than Angel Falls. Okay, I said that, but she nodded her head in agreement. 

So, here`s the definitive waterfall rankings:

1) Iguazu Falls 2) Niagara Falls 3) Regis` pee 4) Angel Falls  

SARA:  A thin spray of water out of a really tall tepui?  We must be getting jaded if we don't think the tallest waterfall in the world is breathtaking.  However, I did really enjoy swimming in a small pool in the middle of Angel Falls.  Cold water, cool experience.

Actually, perhaps it was our guide who soured us on Angel Falls. While he didn`t talk to anyone the whole trip, his finest hour was when he announced that we had a few hours of free time before nightfall.  As options, he suggested a walk in the woods, or swimming in a river with black water, pretty much saying there was F-all to do.  

Most people, including us, took naps in our hammocks, having not slept well the night before.  I mentioned to Steve that I'd seen pictures of Angel Falls from afar so I asked our guide if there was another view near our camp.  

Guide:  "Yes, just two minutes from here, that way."      
Me:  "But it's getting dark now, why didn't you mention this before?"
Guide:  (already walking away)

STEVE: Speaking of not sleeping well, I think hammocks make you have to pee. Something about the position of your body. Any support on that? Ah, didn`t think so.

SARA: Moving on...the return flight. Back to the same crappy airport. On takeoff, everyone was gazing out their windows, marveling at the unique landscape when Christianne noticed a 5-seater plane, identical to the one we were in, crashed in a heap in front of the runway.  Hard to believe, but true.

I would`ve been frightened, but all the pilots wore these spiffy uniforms. And unlike Steve in a uniform, they looked good.  Now that's the way to class up an operation! 

STEVE: After the flight, we faced the same 2.5 hour jeep ride back to Ciudad Bolivar.

While stopping for gas, a drunk local approached me in a gas station and asked (in spanish) if I was American. I told him I was Canadian.

He then said what I think was the equivalent of, ¨Good, because if you were American, I`d have to kill you.¨ He accompanied this with a creepy, only half-joking smile and a punch on the shoulder before turning for his car.

Noticing he had his two-year-old boy with him, I quickly summoned Sara. ¨See, now this is a time to give a Canadian sticker,¨ I said smugly. After chasing the guy down, I proudly held out both a pin and sticker for his child.

I might as well have been asking him to the prom. The man swatted my hand away, put his kid in the car, said something that made me think he was reevaluating his ¨I only kill Americans¨ platform and sped away in his car.

SARA: That`s karma, chump. However, that makes 2 Canadian flag rejections in Venezuela already. Someone call the Ambassador.  

STEVE: What`s next Sara?

SARA: This was supposed to be the part where we wow`d the readers with an exciting tale of our trip to Trinidad and Tobago (off the eastern coast of Venezuela).  But because of your usual loquaciousness (is that a word?), we'll have to save that long story for our next blog.

STEVE: You mean a part 2? Will there be speedo shots in part 2?


STEVE: But I`ve been good, I didn`t even tell a poo story.

SARA: The answer`s still no.

STEVE: (starts screaming and stamping feet, has to be escorted out of Internet cafe).

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