Friday, September 23, 2011

Utility Riding

Car needs a new alternator or something so I've been using the bike more for utility riding. Fun stuff!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sicalis flaveola

These birds, the saffron finch (Sicalis flaveola),  are very common. I see them all the time and always want to get a photo of one. Saw a mating pair as I rode today. They were picking gravel and stayed fairly close to the trail and I was able to get a few shots. Was wishing I had the G11 instead of my usual SD1200IS.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Torre America

Torre America in Caracas.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Signs and Lettering around Caracas

Caracas had its heyday in the 60s and 70s. Its architecture and sign lettering reflect this period. Its all very interesting.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Caracas Hell

Inspectoria de Servicios, is where I was ordered to report too on Monday morning (this morning) or I'd be in trouble. 

Go back 5 years, when I was issued a Venezuela residency visa. I thought I was a lucky guy. No worries for 5 years. The visa got me in and out of the country without problem. So when it was set to expire on Sept. 20, I figured I better get a new one. 

Tania and I went to the SAIME office in Puerto la Cruz, did the proper application, left my passports (old and new) and after 5 days, went back expecting things would be okay. Turns out things were NOT okay. Turns out the visa which Quality Schools International (QSI) got me was bogus, a fake, fraudulent. So now I am on the Venezuelan government's radar and was told that I better be honest and in Caracas on September 5 or I'd be in trouble. 

Before Benjamin, travel to Caracas was no big with Benjamin, everything is a big deal. We decided to go by bus to Caracas. After an air conditioning failure in the first bus, then switching the second bus, Benjamin did pretty good the first 3 hours of the trip. The second 3 hours were not so good. Its hard enough for an adult to keep their patience on a long bus ride...but Benjamin wasn't whiney, but he was not comfortable. 

After a night in a decent hotel, we make our way to the proper SAIME building in Caracas. A Hollywood set-designer couldn't think of anything more hellish. An 8 story government office building with no working elevators. Plenty of security and red-shirted workers everywhere. Tania, insisting on wearing heels this morning, up the stairs, carried the front of the stroller, while I controlled the back part while Benjamin was still seated. The office we needed was on the 3rd floor, but the stairwell we chose goes from the bottom floor, to the 2nd floor, to the 5th floor. We didn't know this until we got to the 5th floor, asked someone there, and had to use a second stairwell to go back down to the 3rd floor to find the proper office. 

Glock cutaway view
The 3rd floor office door was barred, but there was a little barred window off to the side and Tania showed the document we got from the SAIME office in Puerto la Cruz. We were let inside to the waiting room/foyer kind of place and it is truly bizarre! On one end is a red wall that says "Chain of Command" (in Spanish). Arranged in a descending diagonal is a photo of the president of Venezuela, then the minister of interior, and finally the vice minister, and there was a long broad sword as part of this arrangement. That was a strange wall, but the most weird was the "art" on the walls of this waiting room; near the door leading into the interior office was small plaque of a map of Lebanon, the kind you'd buy at a tourist shop. Then on that same wall were 2 framed posters of cut-away views of a Glock automatic handgun. I looked behind me and there was a framed poster for Beretta handguns, but with patches of the branches of the US armed forces; US Navy, US Marines, US Army, US Air Force, and US Coast Guard. It was really strange because the United States is the sworn enemy of President Hugo Chavez. I wanted to take pics of all this, really thought about it, even got my camera out (hidden from view) and was going to try to take a few, but then decided I better not. I put the camera away. 

Tania talked to the guy...of course the documents from Puerto la Cruz hadn't gotten there, and they told us to come back Wednesday or Thursday...and here I was expecting to be detained and put on a plane back to the USA today. Pffft! These guys can't even catch an illegal alien when he walks through their door!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Tropidurus hispidus

On my birthday bike ride this morning. Saw this little guy catching some sun. My friend Gunnar Berg did a web-search and identified it as a Tropidurus hispidus also known as a "lava lizard". This is the closest I've ever been allowed to get to one.  Very cool!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Riding in Big Bend National Park, Texas; 1997 & 1998

 Back in 1997, 1998, and 1999 for Christmas and New Years, I toured the Big Bend region solo. In 1997 I went out of desperation and sadness, 1998 I went for jubilation, and 1999 I went for Y2K. Big Bend is one of my favorite spots in the world and these trips confirmed that. I have a special bond with the place. I haven't been there in post 9-11 America and I'm sure its changed some.

Today we were cleaning out the file cabinet, purging old papers that didn't need to be in there any more and I came across these photos. I took these on my 1998 trip, a completion of the 1997 trip. 

I took a similar pic in 1997 at the Black Gap road junction and I wanted to repeat to see how I changed in one year. In 1997 I was still mourning the death of my dad and failure of my business. I was fed up with everyone in my family, especially after a fiasco during the Thankgiving holiday, so when I got my Christmas break (I was teaching again) I drove the 6 hours to Silver City, still had the key to my brother's house, so I got in and got my camping gear stored there, made a sandwich, got a Coke, and left without seeing anyone.

It was cold; a arctic cold front had settled in the Southwest and I was still in my mucks when I left Silver City. I didn't take off my cold weather gear until I got to Las Cruces. Its a 12 hour drive from Silver City to Terlingua and I got there right when Desert Sports was closing. My friend Mike Long was surprised to see me and invited me for Christmas dinner (it was Dec. 24) with his parents. They were full-time RVers and we drove down to Lajitas and 7 people were crammed into a 5th wheel travel trailer. It was cozy but really good!

The next day, Christmas day, I headed to the park. I got to the visitor's center 5 minutes before closing (at 12:00 noon) and got my back country permits, loaded my bike with gear and took off. Each day was something different. Riding was cold. It was spitting snow a lot, and I did not have a tent to hunker down in. All I had was a bivy sac and my sleeping bag. Anyway I met all sorts of characters and people in the desert. It was really therapeutic and I feel I was healed of my funk while riding my bike.

On the last day, I rode up the Black Gap road to get back to the VC and my car. When riding up the Black Gap road, it kept climbing and getting into more and more remote country. I starting thinking of "The Heart of Darkness". This thought just kept coming to me and I kind of started freaking a bit. Finally I reached a pass made a turn and got off the Black Gap road and headed back to the highway where I could ride to the VC.

When I got back to Desert Sports, I told Mike of my trip. I told him about "The Heart of Darkness" and his jaw just dropped. He said something like, "Boy if there's anyone who needs to live down here, its you! You're tuned into this place. That is exactly was we call that place, "The Heart of Darkness". Trippy!

I finished up that 1997 trip across the border in Mexico where I camped and in the morning met a little girl named Marina and her little sister Serina. In 1998, I met them again, took them Christmas gifts in my panniers and was invited to stay with the family for a couple of days and nights. It was really neat. They heated their home with a tiny stove made from car rims. They were proud they had running water.