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Rachel's Chronicle from Venezuela- October-November 2014

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October 25, 2014 at 8:43:28 PM EDT

Just wanted to let all know that we arrived safely in Puerto Ordaz last night. Flight delayed out of Miami nothing new there. Once we arrive in Barcelona, kind of a Chinese fire drill to sit and wait for the next flight. This country definitely on its own time as we are a half hour behind simply cuz that is what Chavez wanted to do! Our passports stamped by hand literally in Barcelona.
We are staying at a Pasadeo, like a B&B. Small place, clean and my room has an AC! 
We were greeted at the airport by local Rotarians, who will be our guides and drivers.
This morning I had a turkey and cheese sandwich for breakfast! Great crusty bread and real cafe con leche! Oddly enough there are quite a few Rotary Clubs in the area, as Americans build the power plants and they started all the Clubs. 

After a very leisure breakfast we went to a park for some local culture. Parque La Llovizna. ( Little Rain) Americans built the park for socializing next to the damn that powers 80% of the power for the country. The waterfalls were amazing! Though I am told they water line is below where it should be. We fed these black fish called maricuto and others were hand feeding the monkeys in the trees. It reminded me of a rainforest and it was nice to see families and kids having picnics in the park. We ran into a random photo shoot. The model was beautiful and hammed it up for us. I will make sure to include her photo with my Rotary presentation. Lololol

I tried  lau lau, a fish that is found only here in The Rio. Don't tell my Dad! 

We spent the afternoon at an orphanage, Madre Amelia Orphanage. The same family has been there for 4 generations. The kids they have are abandoned by the families or the families just have too many kids and can't take care of them. In one month the local police collected and brought in 12 children, mostly boys. The Rotoract Club was there too playing with the kids when we arrived. They brought in food and snacks for them. We gave them some of the paper, pencils, coloring books and markers that I brought with me. One suite case was like 76 pounds yesterday. Pleased to say a little lighter now! 

Tonight we are heading to a local Rotarians home for a welcome reception. There are 5 local clubs that have come together for the mosquitero project. More on that as I learn more this week. They like to take pictures as much as I do! Instead of saying cheese they say whiskey! 

All for now, more about Venezuela and my adventures tomorrow.

Much love,

On Oct 26, 2014, at 9:01 PM, Rachel Oropeza  wrote:


I have to say there is nothing like visiting another place especially another country than through the eyes of a Rotarian! The mornings plan changed and evolved all day long, just how it is here or so we are told.

Last nights welcome reception was a the home of Roxanna. I was told she had a big personality, that was an understatement! House In a gated community, in a gated community. The family business is AC. Story shared was the government cleaned out their warehouses and took all that they owned and/or they had to sell AC units at the price the government quoted so that they could not make any extra money. She was jailed for 2 months and still cannot leave the city. Somehow, that didn't get her down! Guess that big personality has kept her sane. The lau lau was served as a carpaccio as opposed to the way it was served at lunch. Great either way!

We and 10 new Rotarians that joined us for breakfast same great place. I had a ham & cheese croissant this morning. They do fresh juices extremely well too. I've had papaya and passion fruit so far.  

Learned more about the mosquitero project. Nets were made in Vietnam, shipped to the U.S., then a cargo container to Caracas. From there drivers were paid to bring them in small shipments at night to Puerto Ordaz where the local Rotarians have already been distributing them. All this recently while the riots were taking place. Where there is a will there is truly a way!  Of the $77,000 raised from a Rotary Global Grant and fundraising in Miami and Venezuela about $60,000 was used to make and treat the 6,000 nets and about $17,000 had to be used on the shipping. Only $3,000 from Vietnam to the U.S. 

Joy and I are the first ones to travel with Steve and his wife Peggy to see all firsthand. I'm told that the fact anyone even wants to come here makes the local Rotarians very happy. Maybe that is why we keep meeting new folks each day! All about the good will. I can tell you they take more photos than I do! That is saying a lot as you all know how many I can take! I've tried to show them one camera and one phone and share but they are having no part of it! Of course they drink cafe all day long, can't do it I would've never sleep at all. 

As in India unusual bathrooms customs to learn......remember in India you only use the right hand for shaking as the left is probably unsanitary since they don't use paper! Here what little paper there is to use, they don't flush! Small wastebasket next to the toilet and ALL paper is supposed to go in there! There are just some customs I have to say NO too! They think the toilet paper won't dissolve this close to the equator! Crazy! 

Well, off to bed as tomorrow starts at 7:30am with who knows how many at breakfast. Then to prepare for the Rotary auditor. This project was one of the first that Rotary funded so they are sending an auditor to check it out. Just happens that Steve is here for the audit. He is worried as the word audit would imply. I think it's cool that they want to come and see what it is all about. I told him that there was a staff person from the Rotary International office with us in India so that he won't worry too much. More tomorrow.......

Chow ,Chow, Raquel


On Monday, October 27, 2014 10:23 PM, Rachel Oropeza  wrote:

Our day started at 7:30am! The drivers were mostly on time! I'm learning that we are given a time and they come on their time! Lololol
Today we spent visiting projects that are sponsored by the local clubs. First one was a cancer treatment center called Unidad De Radioterapia Oncolongia. Sponsored literally by the San Felix Club. They have 16 members that raise money to run this treatment center! Right now, the big main treatment machine is down. Broken part, so they have been raising $100,000 (in our terms) for the part. It was ordered from Siemens in the US. It was defective! Now waiting for the replacement part. So hopefully here by next month so they can help patients and pay the staff. The cost is $6.00! Can you believe that??
There is a state hospital right next to it called hospital Dr. Raul Leone. It is the government hospital. We saw patient waiting in line to be called in. Your child could be sick in the hospital and they won't let you in! I was told that the "army is not human and has no heart!" Strong military presence outside of this hospital. 
Then we went to another orphanage that is sponsored by the Cachmi Club. This one is all boys from 13-21. Again, this Club has raised money to build this for them and helps maintain it. The room with the old computers was sad. Even I don't have one like that anymore! But the kids were great, I let them use my camera to take pics and see themselves! They were trying to be cool with their peace signs! 
The next hospital was sponsored by the Puerto Ordaz Club. This one offers different types of Dr.s on different days. They are raising money for a new X-ray machine. It is 30 years old. But they say the Dr. That reads them is excellent and he still catches many things! 
Then they finally let me have my morning coffee! Kind of scary to visit and be nice with NO coffee!  LOLOLOL  Our drivers Marta & Manolo have a Toyota forerunner. It costs them $5.00 to fill the tank! Amazing, one thing that is cheap here is gas! Though I have yet to see them stop for a red light.  Today I heard Tom Jones on the radio. The other night at the home of Roxana I forget to tell you she was playing Disco music! I was like how did she know? Where is Janie? 
My burger for dinner tonight had ham & cheese. Kind of interesting. Guyanese cheese is very popular here, creamy and pretty good! 
The guys went to the airport to pick up the auditor. We are all heading to Tumereno to bring nets, check on how the nets that are there are bring used, etc. will take most of the day as not sure how the roads will be. The plan is to work the areas and villages and head back during the day on Saturday. That could all change by then too! 
Busy day, so signing off. I will try to check in again once we reach Tumereno. But I am told Internet may not be accessible and if it is slow and sketchy! So if you don't get any messages for a few days, don't worry ! Will get back to writing when I can!

Chow, chow
Oct 28 at 9:16 

So we were ready for our pick up by 8:00am as instructed. Driver of the Mercedes autobus arrived Bout 9:15 and we got on the road to Tumereno about 10:30. Pretty sure the bus driver was going about 100 on this 2 lane crazy ass bumpy road. I really wanted a pair of Mimie's Depends for the ride! 
We met Gabriella, the Rotary auditor. She is an accountant from Buenos  Aires. Just all happen to work out in her timing to join us. 
Needless to say we made great time to Tumereno. Let me just say we are not In Kansas or the city anymore! Hotel rooms not ready didn't even have our reservations. Told these things hAppen, no worries. Let's have lunch we'll come back later. Open air restaurant on the side of the road. You can see them cooking meat and who knows what on open pits. Today's special was "guts" yes you read that correctly! Steve had "guts" soup! Sorry, but I draw the line at "guts" anything! Truthfully, lunch was delicious and all cooked very well! Can't comment on the "guts" though.
Then we met the folks at the hospital here who distributed the nets. Gave all a presentation, a simple one but they are proving that the nets are working and the malaria outbreaks are decreasing. The Bakers were in tears when they heard this incredible news! Also told that the government has purchased 18,000 of their own nets to distribute in this area. So, I'd say that Steve and his local group are most definitely on to something with their idea! Very exciting for them! 
We met the mosquito doctor who studies the pesky things and learns from his research! He said he has had dengue 8 times ! Remember they can't even get bug spray or repellent here. Our driver Marta had dengue and chikenguya at the same time! Apparently the chikenguya is the latest mosquito disease which can cause arthritis. There is NO aspirin to treat the pain either! 
Steve brought the biggest bottles of aspirin I've seen to give to her! 
Well sitting in the lobby of the hotel only place to use the wireless when it works. People using a pay phone in the hotel, very interesting! 
Head out early again with the local folks to the villages. Not sure if going by a canoe or a motorbike. Told there is no gas for the motor Boats! Seriously!! 
To be continued tomorrow......
Chow, chow
October 29, 2014, 10:18 pm
Buen Dia,
Where do I begin? In the lobby as told by 7:00am, heading to the malaria hospital to pick up the rest of our crew by 7:30, not bad really! Heading out to San Jose to go door to door to look for and talk to the Pemon Indians about how and if they are using the mosquito nets. Took about 2 hours to get there and the farther out we go the less there is. 
Check points with the national guard to enter every village, since on a bus didn't really give us a hard time. Thank goodness! 
We had local high school kids with us so that the indigenous folks would talk to us. Not sure I can accurately describe what they call "homes." More like huts, some of wood, some cement, some sticks with a cover and a few with garbage bags. Interesting as most whAt they call kitchens are outside open area, entirely separate from where they sleep. We did see lots of nets being used. Only one house told us that they weren't using them. Wouldn't say why. The slums of India were actually much worse. Here they have lots of green space and not as much trash everywhere. Lots of pets, dogs, a few cats but mostly parrots and I did see one monkey. Seems parrots are a common pet here. 
After a few hours of truly baking in the sun, we met for lunch. The local ladies from the village cooked for us. Chicken and rice, tasty! Just wondering if the chicken had been running around an hour before! Seriously! We were told to try and eat something to not insult them, so we did.
Then we went to the school and left the rest of the players, pencils and stuff that we brought with us. I asked if I could take a photo with the kids And the entire classroom got up to take photos with us! Very cool! 
We didn't get to ride the motorbikes today. Sniff!! We walked everywhere instead. Tried to take the last of the Nets to a remote area but have to fly in. Told that the General said nope, no flying this week. So that is the end of that. Local Rotarians will take them when he is in a better mood I guess! 
The mosquito Doctor showed us his collection of Mosquitos for the past 10 years. He studies them and knows where they come from and which one causes which diseases! Pretty amazing actually! Then he pulls out the dead indigenous bugs from the freezer to show us. I ran, I've seen enough live bugs that I don't know what they Are. 
Then we learn that we need gas but there isn't any to buy for the autobus! We have money, just no gas! Not sure if I mentioned Fran our driver, he is also the mechanic. He finally mentioned that he did have a reserve tank for emergencies. Well, I think that this is or could be an emergency! Kind of funny, but not really!! So in the Am the boys getting up to stand in line at the gas station for us. Though the bus is older than I am, it is very efficient with gas.
Tomorrow we start at 6:15, so guess that means more like 7:00. I agree that much better to get out working before that noon day sun! It's like my bikram yoga class! 
To be continued tomorrow......


October 30,2014- 9:53 pm

Buenas Noches, 

Almost Halloween, kind of weird as they already have out Christmas decorations! I do want to hear all about Fantasy Fest though.
So we started out at 6:15 again but no one told the Dr. As he didn't arrive till 7:00. So we got to have empanadas for breakfast as we waited for him. There is a concrete block (literally) that sells food next to the hospital. It's yellow cornmeal with either meat or chicken then deep fried! So much for fitting into a nice dress as mother of the bride! I have added sour sop, guava and peach to the list of juices that I have tried. 
I think that I forget to mention that you have to stop by the house of The Captain when you reach the village to offer your salutations. He was out of the area yesterday but expecting us today. The kids from the high school came to help again. They are the 6 best students. At some point we are under the shade of a tree and discussing the game plan for tomorrow. They literally have plan A, B and C! One of which included seeing the Gran Saban. I say that's the plan I want and the kids chime in too. Well we had to ask The Captain, parents and the school director but we are taking the kids with us once our work is done for the day. I am guessing that none of these kids have seen it before. From the time we sat in the airport, to everyone we have met they have all asked if we are going to the Gran Saban. I am told it is the most beautiful place in Venezuela. They think it's the most beautiful place in the world. I will let you know tomorrow! These kids have been great and I am thrilled we can take them with us. My helper is named Gina and she pretty much giggles all day. But she knows and or is related to just about everyone in the village. Of course we had to help the local economy and have purchased handmade jewelry for like $5.00. Made of beads and local seeds, some are very intricate. Today I purchased a hand made hammock for $15.00! I was like I will take 2! But that is all that was complete as didn't have the strings to finish it. I have seen 2 adults sleeping and just hanging out in these things.
Now to the gas for the day. Well we used the reserve tank and The Captain gave us some that had to be psyhoned with a hose. Then we saw huge lines at one gas station and pulled in anyway. They were out of gas but had diesel which is what we really needed anyway. We were told that had some on reserve for the police and ambulance. Our locals talked him into selling us 10 liters. It was fifty cents! Then we had to stop 5 places to get the oil that we needed to keep the autobus running. Sure tomorrow will be another gas adventure! 
The Auditor left, but that is for another day. Good news is she saw all first hand. She got to see, touch, feel and sweat her ass off like the rest of us! The heat here reminds me of Arizona, sticking your head in the oven while you are blow drying your hair. Yup, that sums it up nicely! 
Jorge, the malaria doctor called a family friend and they kept their restaurant open for dinner for us. Hamburgers  with ham and cheese, try it! Janie, I have a new sandwich for McDonalds! Same friend is making us 30 sandwiches to take tomorrow for us and the kids. Not sure why one sandwich per person is not enough, but I didn't ask.
Well, think that's about all for the day's adventures, more mañana! My Spanglish is getting much better too.
Chow, chow


November 1, 2014, 7:07 PM

Buenas Noches de Venezuela,
Let's see where to begin the last 2 days.......BTW, I hope all had a great Halloween. So yesterday, back in the lobby by 6:30am, these people do not like to sleep! I know that it is not as hot early in the morning, but I'm usually not a pleasant person that time of day! We pick up 30 sandwiches from the restaurant friend of the malaria doctor. I'm like what the hell are we going to do with that many sandwiches? Grateful later last night to have them. I asked Nena (owner) if she would make me some cafe con leche. Of course she does, but says she only has fresh cows milk. So want the hell, it's going to be heated right? Either taste great or I will have montazuma's revenge later on. So far so good. On the bus by 7:00ish back to the San Antonio village to pick up the kids. Only 3 were allowed to go with us, Gina my helper was one of them. Magically the bus is now full of gas again for the day's adventures. Not sure how or where but we now have gas. Just remember there is a black market here for everything!  It's almost 2 hours to get to the village. On the way to the Gran Sabana we are going to stop at other villages to talk to The Captains (Chief) or community leaders but not walk door to door. We stop at 3 villages and Steve is pleased to hear that yes, the nets are being used and yes malaria in down in the areas. We stopped at a school just to visit as we didn't have any more supplies for them. The village with the school was immaculate and very clean and organized, better homes than huts or trash bags. The last village is the closest to the mining town. Did I tell you the mines here are filled with gold! I was like take me there, I want to go! Sounds like NO women at all in the mines as not vey safe and lots of in fighting that goes on. Oh well! So the last village is the one with money since the miners get paid vey well, but it was in the worst condition, very deplorable. We did not stay there very long as the women were just not comfortable. 
Finally on our way to the Gran Sabana.......over 2 hours up the mountainside. I think we were about 6000 feet altitude. Thankful that Fran, though a speed racer on the highway was great on this very winding road up the mountain. First hour like the rainforest, stopped at several natural waterfalls and hiked down one of them. Yes, my fat ass made it down and back up again! Thank you very much! Then it turns into open space, grass, trees like the parries and plains that you see in the movies. Actually called Parque Nacional de Caniama. Caniama means spiritual. It is owned by the government but the Pemon Indians are allowed to live on the land. No one else, just them. In season the locals do camp and hike as I am told this open land covers half the country! We finally reach the lookout area to see the Roraimia mountains. Spectacular is the best word I can use to describe them as they were truly mountains in the clouds. I am told these mountains are the back drop that was used in the movie Up. They came and filmed them then did whatever the movie folks do to animate them in the movie. Guess I have to put that on my Netflix.
Now about 4 in the afternoon and we need to get the kids back, look for gas as we don't really want to be on the roads too much after dark. Many cars on the roads don't have lights since they cannot get the parts. Thanks to Fran's expert maneuvering we get down the mountain in good time, but the gas stations are  all closed for the night. I am assured we are fine to get back to the hotel. Remember those 30 sandwiches, well all gone ny now! Grateful to have them.
Today the autobus was stopped and boarded at every check point. One we had to show them the rental papers for the bus to make sure it matched the number on the engine. Crazy I know! Best stop was the one where a young kid maybe 15 years old, boards the bus and is trying to look tuff......he sees Gina, smiles and waves us on. Priceless! 
About 14 hours later, sometime after 9:00ish last night we make it back to Tumereno. Nana, the lady from the restaurant has been waiting for us with dinner and she made tres leche cake for Peggy for dessert. Finally back to the hotel about 10:30, simply exhausted but the Gran Sabana and more time with the kids was well worth the long day.  When we dropped off the kids 2 of them asked if we could come back and get them in July when they graduated so that they could go to college in Miami? Needless to say, that broke my heart! 
This morning we thought we could sleep in, but hope! Back on the bus by 8:00am and  only 3 plan changes later we made it back to Puerto Ordaz. Had lunch with another local Rotary club at 1:30. We were not served any food until 4:00pm. That's just how things are we are changing for the fiesta and pig roast in our honor! Fran is still with us so he will get us back safely as this fiesta takes place in a town an hour and a half away! Guess you can say these folks do like to eat and to drink and all in their own time! I will get back to you mañana to finish off the story!!
Chow, chow
Sent from my iPad
November 2, 2014 at 8:56:50 PM EST

Adios a Venezuela
Well, last nights fiesta was interesting. It was really a Halloween party for the Rotoract Club from Upata. For the non-Rotarians on this message, they are the next generation of Rotarians usually in the 20's or early 30's.  Idea is Interact in high school, Rotoract then Rotarian. Anyway, as always the plan changed multiple times through out the day. First told we were going At 4, which was never going to happen since we were still having lunch. Then told to be in the lobby at 7, which means a 7:30 pick up. We arrive at 9ish to a fabulous house in Upata. We are the only ones there, told you are early nothing starts around here till 10 or 11! Our pig roast is actually a pizza and whiskey party for the next generation! Aaahhh, just hilarious! But they did want to present us with a token from Venezuela to show their appreciation for traveling here and working on the mosquitero project. I enjoyed being received by a zombie! They were all in Halloween costumes! Priceless! 
My last day......we did get to sleep in this morning as didn't get back till about 1:00am. Told we are going on a boat for a picnic. Let's see if I can get this straight -- someone belongs to The Club, someone else has the boats, another person that belongs to the Club can get us on the private  island only for Club members. It felt like a Sunday on the boat in the Keys. Except they cooked intestines stuffed with who knows what along with the meat and potatoes! Sorry, had to say NO to the local delicacy too! 
I think the only Mosquitos I really saw were Friday in the Gran Sabana. I did see a black and white one. It has white dots on the wings. They carry the dengue! We were at one of the waterfalls. I simply said time to go, all on the bus! It landed on the malaria doctor and he showed it to me. No thank you! Just about everyone I have met this week has had either dengue or chikenguya! Not much they can do to protect themselves as they can't buy anything like deet or off for protection. I heard them talking about grocery shopping for today's trip. They all had to try different stores to find enough food to bring for the 20 or so people that were there. I felt bad that they had to go to so much trouble! 
I think that I have seen the best and the worst that Venezuela has to offer. The locals are incredibly kind, trying to make a difference with the Baker's and their mosquitero project. They live their lives as bet they can with what they have to deal with and still find time for others less fortunate.  Truly inspirational! 
Signing off as up at 3:30am to head to the airport for the mornings Chinese drill! Will let you when I get back to the states tomorrow.
Chow, chow