Las Estrellas

It’s Friday night in Puerto Cabello. I just finished sitting by the pool with Tyler. He’s very busy chatting up two beautiful young women who are acting as extras in the tele-novela being filmed in town. Sitting by the pool at a bar under a waterfall drinking a beer in Venezuela while young starlets flirt and giggle with you has got to be one of the straightest experiences of my life. It was also incredibly fun, even though I felt vaguely worried that someone was going to walk up and denounce me as a fraud.

Two Vanagons fit into one of these containers

Today we got to take our vans out of the shipping container. We drove with Jesus to the port, where we met Johnnie Bizot, the operations manager for APL. He’s a great guy who speaks excellent English, has travelled quite a bit to the U.S., and loves to talk politics. He drove us over to the yard containing our shipment. Two other nice guys from the shipping company came over and ritually cut the steel seals holding the containers closed. The doors swung open, and our vans were inside. All of our hearts sped up. They were here!

Jeanne’s van was slowly backed out of the container, and Jeanne was excited to note that there was no puddle of fluid under her engine. Tyler’s van was next, and it emerged from it’s container like a butterfly from a cocoon.


coyote in container

Then they tried to take out mine. Nope. The engine wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t even turn over. Unfortunately, the key had been left in the ignition, and the lights were left on. The battery had gone completely dead, and my backup battery refused to even kick in. We tried to jump-start the engine and the motor would lazily turn over a few times without catching. Meanwhile we were all standing on black asphalt under a near-equatorial sun.

The port is about 20 square miles of asphalt and metal containers. Planes flying overhead rise 10,000 feet from the intense thermal column. Even after someone (Jeanne?) had the good idea of moving our vehicles into the warehouse, we were still streaming with moisture. We would have been surrounded by small individual puddles if our sweat didn’t hiss and instantly vaporize on contact with the ground.

Our vans awaiting customs clearance

After trying everything else possible, we finally removed the battery (difficult), and the guys who maintain the container cranes took it to the shop. We went to lunch while they connected it to a charger.

We went to a restaurant in town which is popular with the tele-novela stars. The restaurant was surrounded by school kids in their uniforms, and as we waded through them they would hopefully say ‘buenas tardes’ to us and smile sweetly, hoping that we were famous in some way and that it would rub off. I smiled and tried to glitter. Mostly I just oozed.

The restaurant is air-conditioned in much the same way a refrigerated tractor trailer is refrigerated. They seem to keep the huge overhead air-conditioning unit cranked down to 40°F. We sat around eating dishes of hot soup and warming our hands with cups of coffee. It was wonderful.

After lunch we went back to the container yard where we fetched my van from the garage. After reconnecting the battery, my van started right up! I wanted to hug someone.

Unfortunately we also found out that though our customs agent had gotten us 28 signatures and 15 stamps, we were missing two more signatures necessary to get our vans out of the port. They’ll have to stay in the warehouse until Monday morning. Since I’d pessimistically guessed that this process would take a week, I feel like this is a victory. Neither Jeanne nor Tyler seems terribly disappointed.

Right now the lobby of our hotel is filled with teenage boys and girls getting autographs from twenty-something stars. Because I don’t watch Venezuelan tele-novelas, I am completely immune to their star quality, leaving me free to watch the social phenomenon. It’s pretty amusing. They seem to be generally nice people, and when one of them catches my eye, they smile conspiratorially. They seem to find the whole adulation both fun and silly. I like to think that most film stars are like this… tolerant and kind and more than a little amused by their success.


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