November 8, 2006

On the Carribbean Side of Things

Though I´ve only been gone a week, I have a lot of stories to tell and have been taking copious amounts of notes. Venezuela has a lot to offer, including beaches on the Carribbean--my first visit ever to these seas.
Higuerote is about 1.5 hours east of Caracas, Venezuela's capital city and hub of business and just about everything else. For the most part, Caracas seemed nice enough; not too huge and sprawling due to topographic limitations. It lies in a valley in the coastal mountains, the highest peak around 2800 meters. A gondola runs from the city up to a high point on the ridge of green that lies due north of town, separating it from the Carribean. The ride is slow. Hovering over a dense jungle canopy, the suspended cage feels a bit claustrophic, vulnerable. At the high point of the gondola, where we were furthest from the tree tops and the anacondas and whatever else lie beneath, my friend Gustavo (Rifle [Reef-lay], nickname because he looks EXACTLY like an argentinian soccer player named Rifle) couldn't resist sussing out the possibility of jumping out of the gondala with a BASE jumping parachute on his back. Height: high enough. Landing zone: nada. Rescue potential: never. So that idea was out.
The summit of La Avila was beautiful. A bit developed, but what do you expect that close to a huge city. Even so, it was nice to look at the Carribbean to the north, city to the south. I was disappointed for the lack of access to hiking trails; surely there were tons, but we couldn't find anything but a road. I had jetlag anyway, so it wasn't the end of the world. Before going to the gondola, we had stopped by the Skydive Venezuela kiosk at the HUGE shopping center, and the woman staffing the booth, a Puerto Rican women named Maricarmen, had told us it would be cold up there: "te vas a congelar" (you are going to freeze). We were both sweating and laughing our asses off; I don't think she had probably EVER experienced cold.
One day in Caracas probably wasn't enough. Or maybe it was, depending on your point of view. That evening, my second in Venezuela, we left for the Drop Zone at the airport in Higuerote. The drive was long, lots of traffic on a Friday night. I was still recovering from 2 sleepless nights getting here, so I drifted in and out of sleep, waking and preferring not to see the road and huge trucks and cars coming at us so fast, happily closing my eyes in the back seat of Luis' jeep. Nobody drives crazier that Latin Americans: never in a hurry until they get behind the wheel. After all, it took us 5 hours to eat and get ready to go to Higuerote. "Unos minutos" (a few minutes) at Luis' house preparing for the trip turned into 2.5 hours. Not sure exactly what Luis was doing, besides packing a parachute in the living room. Rifle and I were entertained by Luis' mama. The discussion turned political; how could it not in Caracas one month before presidential elections? I felt a)ignorant of the Venezuelan political situation, and b) as always, somewhat ashamed to be an American. I have to say, there was some finger pointing going on because of the US's International, shall I say, 'behavior'. It was interesting to talk to Luis' Mama, a highly educated and affluent woman.
Once in Higuerote, arriving with only one near death incident, I was bowled over by the suffocating heat and humidity. It is situated right on the coast, beautiful. Frogs and toads, birds everywhere. Everything is lush and green; the landing zone soft and grassy, like a big park. And big. I am used to landing a parachute on the beach, having to navigate the obstacle course of Palapas, life guard towers, dogs, kids. Or in Cuautla in a tiny, hard as cement landing area where the soil is so dry, it is cracked, baked and the air is thin due to elevation so you come in fast and hard. Well I did anyway.
It was wonderful to be in the company of skydivers again. It feels somehow like home, even though I am hardly a skydiver. The vibe is just so good, easy and laid back, but there is so much passion for what they do. Everyone who works at the zone lives it, 24/7. It's pretty inspiring. Maybe not necessarily to be a full time enthusiast, or professional, but to find something you love so much you are willing to live in a dorm and own nothing but parachutes and cameras.
We jump out of the plane backwards. It is some kind of Russian thing with the exit in back, always open. As my friend Tris said, "It's a bit like diving into a pool doncha think?". Can't argue that. It was a bit scary, after not having jumped in a year and a half. Rifle was with me though, and it went really well. Freefall was amazing; I smiled the whole time, with him just hanging onto me with a pinky in case something should happen, although wanting to let me fly alone a couple of times, and giving me the thumbs up, saying "De Pinga (venezuelan for "Muy Bien")" more than once.
The weekends here are the busiest, with tandems and students taking the course to go solo. During the week there wasn't much happening so we ended up checking out the Carribean side of things, looking for clean beaches and respite from the oppressive heat. And now, being Friday, I think I could be missing out on jumps right now...don't want to miss the plane, unless it's the Cessna.
Unfortunately I don't have photos yet. I'll add them later.

1 comment:

Jay Gifford said...

love the story, as alway. look forward to the next instalment! hope all is well. i have been trying to get back into snow shape, and well. it is a process. have a great day!