Monthly Archives: November 2011

“Kindness is more than deeds. It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts another person”

As I was filling up my water bottle the other day during my break from class, a girl ran up to me and told me that she wanted to give me a gift. She was a bit younger than me, a Venezuelan student studying english at my school, and she reminded me that the week before, I’d helped her answer a question on her homework.

She smiled up at me and handed me a small truffle – a macadamia nut covered in chocolate.

When I say that I want to leave this country with me some of the qualities of the people here, this is exactly what I mean: the selflessness and the willingness and enthusiasm to go the extra mile to make someone’s day, to leave a good impression or to make a friend. It’s amazing…and it’s just a part of life here.

I have been challenging myself to adopt and internalize these qualities from my first week here in Venezuela, and I can honestly say that I notice myself reaching out more to people who I wouldn’t have necessarily thought to talk to before. Their responses always makes me smile.

The other day I was leaving the little in-home laundry mat in our neighborhood. On my way out the door, the owner of the laundry mat (a thin woman with pigtails and braces in her early 30s) waved at me saying “¡Chao mi cielo!” which means “goodbye my heaven” – a common term of affection used here. Then, as I was halfway down the block, her two adorable children yelled at me from the balcony, “¡Chao linda!”, meaning “goodbye pretty girl!” These “palabras de cariño” or terms of affection are the norm, even among perfect strangers. Oh, I almost forgot to  mention the kiss on the cheek I received when I walked in the door to drop off my laundry 🙂


As of now, I am officially done with my semester in Mérida!

What a great feeling to be done with school. Almost as great as the feeling of a hot shower this morning after not having hot water for a week 🙂

After writing five final essays, two of them on topics in Latin American literature, two of them on Spanish sociolinguistics, and one of them on Latin American Politics (no to mention my final exams), I am SO ready for a break!

Goodbye, VENUSA.

Goodbye, hammock!

Hello, two sunny (and homework-free) days in Venezuela!


Today, I’m buckling down. Believe it or not (I can’t), tomorrow is the last day of my semester!

Meaning: it is my last day attending school in Venezuela AND I will only have one semester left of college. AH!

Other meaning: I will be drinking too much coffee today.

I have 3 final essays to hand in tomorrow and I’m almost done with all of them, minus the rigorous editing process (which sometimes results in me basically re-arranging my whole paper). But we’ll see. Being a perfectionist might come in handy when I get my grades in a couple of weeks.

I’m somehow justifying this blog post by reassuring myself that writing clears my head, after all, I only have 4 days left to blog from Venezuela! But I can only convince myself that this is productive for so long 🙂

So before I go, here’s the recipe of the day (yes, I might have been browsing recipes too…don’t judge me.)

Red wine-braised short ribs over goat cheese mashed potatoes, the perfect winter meal.

It’s probably time to get back to my essays, wish me luck!

Yesterday my friends and I went on an adventure up to la culata (the valley) about a 45-minute drive up into the mountains from Mérida. I’ve been up there before, and I love the drive up because it gets colder by the minute. You get in the car wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and then about 20 minutes up into the mountains everyone is putting their sweatshirts on. Another 20 minutes goes by and the windows are rolled up and some people are getting out their gloves.

We stopped in la culata, but if you were to keep driving for another hour or so, you’d reach el páramo, which is a place high up in the mountain peaks where it’s freezing cold and snowy. I’ve been there once at the beginning of the trip and it was absolutely beautiful. Anyways, the drive up to la culata is on a winding mountain road that passes through little pueblitos (towns) on the way. They are so quaint – the road is lined with colorful little cottage-like shops that sell home-made raspberry wine and candies. It is a popular weekend day-trip for Venezuelans to drive up to la culata to drink wine and admire the beautiful scenery. There are also hundreds of little family owned cabins in la culata that people rent out for the night. My group of friends and I have done that too – it’s a nice get away spot for the weekend, and it’s especially pretty if you can get up early enough to see the sun rise.

On our drive up, we were almost to our destination spot (a quiet spot at the end of a dirt road that is popular because of its beautiful view of the mountains), when we saw a little sign off the side of the road that said “Pueblito Sueño del Abuelo”, which means little town called Grandfather’s Dream. We were curious, especially after following the arrow on the sign down a tiny twisting dirt road that disappeared behind a line of colorful houses. We decided to take a detour and check it out.

We clunked along the dirt road and eventually drove over a little wooden bridge that spanned a babbling creek. We could barely see in front of us due to the fog (clouds, really, we were pretty high up in the mountains at this point) and thick greenery surrounding the skinny dirt road. We wound around another bend and climbed up a steep hill (thanks to 4 wheel drive) until we saw this sign:

“PUEBLITO SUENO DEL ABUELO, Un Rincón para Soñar…” Translation: Town of Grandfather’s Dream: a corner for dreaming…”

So, we parked the car and set out to explore this tiny dream town, tucked away in a corner and hidden by the clouds and mountains.

A woman met us at the gate and opened it for us without saying a word. We all walked through the heavy red door, as a little girl stared silently from her perch on a stone wall amongst a blue hydrangea bush. We walked along a skinny maze-like pathway, under a trellis covered in roses, and over a tiny bridge and trickling stream. And then we were inside the pueblito. It was full of miniature-sized houses and buildings in every color – there were cafes and castles and stores, but no people in sight. So we set off silently with our cameras to explore.

I felt like I was in a dream.

After visiting the pueblito, we continued on our journey further into the mountains to catch the view we’d been waiting for – my goal was to be high enough into the mountains to see the clouds rest on the ground around me. And we did it. We got there before sunset and even met a man on the way who let us take turns riding his horse. I’d say it was a successful trip! Now take a look at what I mean when I say “I felt like I was in a dream” and “we had our heads in the clouds”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I literally had my head in the clouds almost all day today.

My friends and I spent our day climbing a mountain (if you asked me which one, I wouldn’t be able to tell you…Venezuela is covered in them). Anyway, it was beautiful. We left in the afternoon with a bag of rations – pan de guayaba (sweet bread filled with guava fruit) and pan de queso (cheese bread), and we drove up into the mountains a ways and parked the car. From there, we didn’t know exactly what we were getting into, but we were determined to get to the top. We weren’t completely in the dark about our adventure though (don’t worry) we had one of our Venezuelan friends with us who has lived in these mountains with his family his whole life and had climbed this stretch many times before. When I say we didn’t know what we were getting into, I meant how steep and muddy the climb would be. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be going on a run in my tennis shoes tomorrow.

We followed a path up the mountain, and it got skinnier and skinnier as we went. We pushed vines aside, trudged through the mud, and climbed over rocks. After a couple of breaks to stop and admire the view, we finally we reached the top. It was a giant plateau where we ate guava and cheese bread, played catch with a football…and where I stepped in a gigantic mud puddle 😦

The best part about it, though, was that we were surrounded by clouds. I looked up and saw clouds swirled with blue sky, I looked straight ahead and saw mountain tops peeking through a thick layer of fluffy clouds, I looked down and I saw…MORE clouds. What a surreal feeling.

At some point, though, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:30 and asked everyone if we should be heading back soon. You know how I said earlier that we “weren’t completely in the dark” about our adventure? Well…that’s only partly true. We headed back down the mountain, our socks squishing in our shoes from mud and water, and when we were at about the half-way point, it was so foggy that we had trouble seeing. And it was starting to get dark. We hurried though, and it was more exciting than anything. We reached the bottom safely just as I was starting to kick myself for leaving my flashlight at home, and then only had to sit in Venezuela traffic for an hour or so before we reached home 😉

All in all, it was a good day. I climbed a mountain!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


¡Feliz Día de Gracias! Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m not sure if Venezuelan turkeys exist or not, but regardless of whether I’ll be eating turkey tonight (or just more arepas), I’m excited for my untraditional Venezuelan Thanksgiving dinner experience. This will be my first Thanksgiving away from my family, so it does make me miss them, but I’m so thankful that I’ll be coming home to them in one week! Actually, I have exactly one week left here in Venezuela as of today, because I’ll be leaving for the airport early next Friday morning. It’s hard to believe that 3 and a half months went so fast. After my classes today, I will officially begin my last weekend in Venezuela, so I definitely want to make it count!

Tonight, VENUSA (our school) is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for all of the students and their host families. Thanksgiving isn’t actually celebrated here, but they are having the dinner for us, so we can feel at home 🙂

Some of the students went to the market yesterday (while I was studying for 2 final exams) to buy fruit for tropical fruit pies. One is piña colada, coconut and pineapple that is, and another friend of mine who loves to bake is making a guava pie. Needless to say, I’m excited for the dinner tonight…it’s going to be an adventure! I’m hoping there will be a pumpkin pie tonight too – squash and pumpkin (which are considered the same thing here) are called “calabaza” or “auyama” are pretty popular ingredients in soups, so we’ll see if someone is brave enough to transform them into a delicious home-made pumpkin pie tonight! Unfortunately I have a final paper due this morning for my politics class, and then 4 classes to attend throughout the day. That’s a total of 8 hours of class (my Thursdays are always busy) and then the dinner starts just after my last class gets out, so I have no free time for baking 😦

Oh well, I guess I’ll just eat and photograph. I can handle that! It’s weird knowing that it’s Thanksgiving and I still have class…and not seeing all of my Mom’s festive decorations. But I’ll make the best of it, study the day away, and then enjoy dinner and be thankful for all of the wonderful people I’ve met here and get to spend Thanksgiving with!

…even though I’ll be thinking of all of the wonderful people crowded around a Thanksgiving table at my house eating together. I miss you guys and I wish I was there with you! Happy Thanksgiving, and eat lots for me.

Love, Sarah

Coming soon: a post about tonight’s Venezuela-style Thanksgiving dinner!

Dulce de higo, or candied figs, are a traditional Christmas treat in Venezuela.

They are whole figs cooked in water and tons of sugar until the liquid thickens into a syrup. We tried them after our dinner tonight and they tasted just like I thought they would.

 A simple, delicious and very sweet dessert!

Every once in a while, I see something here in Venezuela that gives me a flashback to Uganda.

When I pulled the instant coffee off of the shelf today, for a second I was back on the porch of a guesthouse in Uganda, making instant coffee to drink with my breakfast before heading to the elementary school to work. When I snapped out of it, I started thinking about all of the similarities that exist between Uganda and Venezuela. That seems unlikely, right? Well, I’ve found that it’s not, even though they are on different continents, speak different languages, have different climates and very different people. There are a number of things that are similar, so I dug through my photos for some examples.

Uganda – Avocado, banana and passion fruit.

Venezuela – Avocado and banana (we also drink passion fruit juice here!)

Uganda – Colorful streets.

Venezuela – Colorful walls.

Uganda – Outdoor market. Colorful, busy and beautiful.

Venezuela – Indoor market. Cluttered and colorful.

 Uganda – Purple hanging plant.

Venezuela – Purple ground plant.

Uganda – Fiery sky over the Nile River.

Venezuela – Fiery sky over el Rio Chama.

I love it when I smell cinnamon or instant coffee and it takes me right back to being in Uganda, even if it’s only for a split second. It happens every once in a while, and it always makes me smile. Three months later, it almost seems like a dream that I was ever there. I would love to go back someday to re-experience that unique feeling of excitement and wonder that came with being in such a different world…and then I could smell the cinnamon and instant coffee for longer than a few seconds and really take it in.

%d bloggers like this: