Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Food, Fireworks and Baseball in Maracaibo

I’ve been to Maracaibo three times as one of my best friends is from there and I always love visiting Maria’s family, they are so warm and inviting and welcome me into their home just like I am part of the family. Even though I don’t speak Spanish and most of her family doesn’t speak English, we always manage to communicate and have a great time! I’ve even brought some friends from home as well as a friend from Australia and they all received the same welcome I did. I also love visiting Maria’s family because her mother is such an amazing cook. Everyday she cooks fresh, home cooked meals, including fresh arepas, plantain, and other Venezuelan favourites. I could get used to freshly squeezed raspberry juice every morning!  

Maracaibo is known to Venezuelans as an oil city, a big city and a hot city! I especially like the hot part. It is hot and sunny and 30+ degrees for 365 days of the year and most of the locals are so sick of the heat and sun (really, I didn’t know that was possible!) that we get the weirdest looks from people when we willingly sit outside. Not only do I like being outside because of the heat, but also because every single indoor space has the air conditioner on so high it’s like walking into a meat freezer. I usually pack some winter clothes when I visit! 
My visits to Maracaibo are usually very chill and relaxing. We spend most of the time hanging out with Maria’s family, drinking sangria and playing dominos – one of Venezuela’s national sports! I always enjoy a day at the park, Vereda del Lago, and visiting the old part of downtown Maraciabo – one of my favourite parts of the city but unfortunately also one of the most dangerous. The old city is beautiful, with small winding roads lined with the famous Venezuelan coloured buildings and the cathedral, Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Chiquinquira, looming in the middle of the downtown square.

My visits to Maracaibo are always over new years and I love spending New Years Eve in my Venezuelan home. It’s very different from the regular New Years Eve I’m used to  – we spend the day watching Maria’s mom cook, then we get dressed up, drink sangria, and entertain family as they come and go throughout the night. As the clock strikes midnight, we all cheer and hug and kiss, then follow the tradition of making wishes on grapes before eating them. Then, champagne in hand, we all rush outside to watch the fireworks around us. The entire city is completely engulfed by the sounds of fireworks and car alarms (because the alarms are so sensitive), it’s a sound you hear ringing in your ears for days!  

Another memorable experience in Maracaibo was going to a baseball game. Now THIS is Venezuela’s true national sport! I never imagined a baseball game could be so fun and exciting! The fans are cheering and yelling like their lives depend on it and the spirit in the stadium is completely contagious. The game we went to was a very important game, if the Aguilas won they would move on to the finals. And lucky for me, they won! The energy in the stadium was overwhelmingly exciting! The crowds actually rushed on to the field, screaming and dancing...even the military who was there to monitor security could do nothing about it. Go Aguilas!!! 
I can’t forget to mention our trips to the “Ugly Beach”, actually called Zapara. Well, it’s not so ugly, but in comparison to other beaches we’ve been to, we just decided that it deserved that name. A short drive and then boat ride takes you to a sand island, where you walk across the sandy desert (or you can pay for a donkey ride), where there are actually sand dunes and cactuses, for about half an hour until you get to the beach on the other side. It’s a simple beach with absolutely no vendors, no restaurants, no shopping, no bathrooms (well, except for the ocean ;). With good company and lots of sangria, a day to the “Ugly Beach” is always a great day!

Another interesting thing to note about Venezuela are the old cars. Oddly I hadn’t noticed this until my third visit, when we ordered a taxi and an old, beat up, brown car with white patches and the blackest windows possible drove up to Maria’s door. I gave Maria a look of fear that said “seriously? We’re getting into THAT????” She looked at me and said “don’t worry, it’s totally safe.” Given the history of Venezuela and the safety situation of the country, Maria is very cautious and I totally trust her, so I shrugged my shoulders and un-frighteningly got into the frightening car. This new observation intrigued me and as we drove around I noticed that the streets were covered with other old, beat up cars and I also noticed that the car dealerships had no cars in them! I immediately did my research and learned that due to the political situation of the country, old cars are actually more valuable than new cars. It is the only place in the world where cars actually appreciate due to the demand for used cars, since new ones are not easy to come by. There are strict laws on importing foreign cars into the country and therefore, the wait to purchase a new car is years, which makes used cars more desirable. I quickly learned not to fear the old sketchy car with the dark black windows!  
While Maracaibo is also one of the more dangerous cities in the world, I get sad as I miss my Venezuelan family and the good times I always have when I’m there, especially on New Years Eve. With the warm welcoming I always receive, to Maria’s mom’s home cooked meals (did I mention she also makes homemade eggnog?!), to the heat and constant sun, I always love my trips to Maracaibo – my Venezuelan home!

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