A Night at the Ritz

Yesterday I awoke at Las Trincheras at 6am. We had agreed to leave for Puerto Cabello bright and early, and I wanted to soak in the famous springs before heading out. I donned my bathing suit and headed for the pools.

I was surprised to see Jeanne already hard at work rearranging her van. She told me that she had been working on organizing things since 3am, since she couldn’t sleep.

There are four pools at Las Trincheras. The top pool is scalding hot, the middle pools are very hot, and the last pool is warm. Only the middle two pools were open. Warily, I stuck in a foot.

And pulled it out again. These pools were HOT. Finally, after summoning up my courage, I stuck both feet into the water. And then waited for about 5 minutes. I then took another step down, and waited. Eventually, I was neck deep in the water, which steamed up around me.

My body acted like an ice cube in this water. As I sat still, a small envelope of water would cool around me (the heat of the water pouring into my cooler body.) If I dared to move, the hot water would rush in, and I’d feel needles in my skin.

While I soaked, I saw a funny cat walking along the roof of one of the pool buildings. Then the ‘cat’ started climbing down a drainpipe and I realized that it was a monkey. It walked around the pool looking for scraps of food in trash cans. At one point it was walking along the top of a fence with a piece of fruit in one hand and a juice carton being carried by its tail.

We stopped at a café just across from Las Trincheras for breakfast. It was sort of a health-food restaurant, serving whole-wheat arepas and rolls, eggs, and cheese. A very simple breakfast. They didn’t make coffee, but rather a sort of coffee-analog made from some sort of toasted cereal. It tasted like coffee, but was caffeine-free. The proprietress also insisted that I have a glass of the same stuff made into a juice. It tasted sort of like a cross between horchata (a Mexican drink made from rice and cinnamon) and metamucil (a stool loosener).

We hit the road at about 8:30, and arrived in Caracas 2 and a half hours later. The highway between Las Trincheras and Caracas was double-lane ‘autopista’ all the way. Limited access toll roads. One of the strange things about highways in Venezuela is that occasionally you’ll see a sign that says “Slow down, fruit salesmen.” Then there will be a mile of small booths alongside the highway piled high with melons, figs, and other tropical fruits. Cars and trucks would stop alongside the highway, buy their fruit, and continue on their trip.

In Caracas, we managed to exit the highway and find parking right at Plaza Venezuela. While the others waited, I walked over to the auto club and picked up our librettas. Then we got back into our cars, wiggled around the streets of Caracas for a while, and finally got back onto the highway heading towards Barcelona.

By the time we arrived in Barcelona, it was dark and raining hard. Jeanne didn’t want to find a place to camp in the rain, so Shay selected a hotel from the guidebook. Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t have secure parking, and there were no secure parking lots in the area.

There was a high-rise luxury hotel, and that’s where we ended up staying the night. The hotel was abandoned… it appeared as if we were the only guests. This hotel had that sort of faded glory that makes you think that it was the cutting edge of resorts 20 years ago, but hadn’t done any renovations since then.

Because of the stuff piled on top of our vans, they told us that we could park in the cargo parking lot. We drove our vans in and parked alongside barrels of garbage, but it was secure garbage, and safer than parking on the street.

We got adjoining rooms on the 19th floor, each with a balcony overlooking the ocean. (Which we couldn’t see, because it was dark.) The rooms were basic, and a little funky, but decent.

At around 4am I woke up because I heard a dripping sound. The fridge in my room was dripping water onto the carpet. I tried to turn on the light, but nothing happened. The building’s power was out.

I opened the door to the patio and tried to go back to sleep. As I lay there I remembered that I had left my refrigerator on ‘battery’. The way my car is currently wired, I knew that this would drain the primary battery overnight and make my morning a nightmare. Damn! I had to go turn off the fridge.

I quickly dressed in the dark and then went out into the hall. As I’d feared, the elevators weren’t working. I found the single staircase and started down. Most of the way I could see fine, as there were windows in the stair and a nearly-full moon outside. But when I got down past a certain point, the windows disappeared. As I passed door after door, I found them padlocked, and I would grope my way down the next flight of stairs. Finally I came to an open door leading to the dark lobby.

“Hola!?” I called. Two men got up off of sofas. One of them was the man who had helped us to put the vans into storage, and I told him I needed to access my car. He led me down a back stair to the storage lot, where the cars were waiting. I got in, turned off the fridge, turned the key, and the van started right up. Yay!

The next morning the power still wasn’t on in the hotel. We all gathered in the nicely quiet lobby, went out to our cars, and headed south towards Ciudad Bolivar.


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