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VENEZUELA | Wednesday, 3 December 2008 | Views [1193]

Rafael´s family and I

Rafael´s family and I

It´s really just hit me how politically intense and dangerous this country really is.
As I was leaving San Cristobal on the bus, while being video´d in my seat (as they do here and in many other Latin American countries for security reasons), everybody on the bus began laughing and chatting about a few women who had had their seats double booked by the bus companie´s office. Nothing like making light of an annoying situation!! After taking this bus from San Cristobal to Maracay, which cost me 65  Bolivares and took me 12 1/2 hours, I took another bus to Palo Negro, a smaller town about 20 minutes outside of Maracay. 
In Palo Negro I met Rafael, a cool guy who works for the mayor here, and has been planning, for the past six years, to hitch-hike his way around the world to 78 countries in 5 continents. http://venexpedition.blogspot.com/ I´m glad I have had the chance to stay with him, because he is just about to leave to begin his journey, in which he will also be visiting many NGO´s including Unicef and Greenpeace. His mum, dad and sister also seem pretty great, and have welcomed me warmly into their home and culture.  
Palo Negro can be quite a dangerous area. There are many poor people here also, living in tin houses, and a bit further out in the rubbish tips, people live in cardboard houses. Rafael wouldn´t take me to the area of cardboard houses, as it is way too dangerous... it is like running into the arms of robbery. There is no NGO or government support at all for the people living in these areas... they have basically just been forgotten about. 
On the first day in Rafael's house, he told me some pretty wild stories...
When Rafael was ten years old, his brother found a snake on the street near their house. His brother then told Rafael to go and tell their neighbour, who supposedly liked animals. When Rafael walked into his neighbours house, a lion jumped out and attacked him!! He went to hospital, but the doctors wouldn´t believe him, and so he had to tell them... ok... yes, it was a dog. I asked Rafael if the lion was still there, but he said that a few years after this incident, the neighbours wife was bitten in the stomache, and so he gave it away to a zoo. 
Rafael also told me about a military fude that happened around his house in 1992, when he was 13 years old, and which nearly broke out into a civil war. Soldiers, tanks, fighter-jets, guns and grenades filled the streets for a day... many people were killed. One of his neighbours across the street was even killed by a helicopter shooting bullets! His whole family lay on the floor of the house for over an hour, scared to bits. The soldiers where those of the government and of those of Chavez (who was a rebel, up until 1998 when he became the president of Venezuela). This fude can be watched at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyXRTiVDMZ0
When I woke up and went to eat breakfast (arepa, a typical dish) in the kitchen, Rafael told me that something terrible had happened. His work mates were in the office until 6pm the previous night, and someone called the military thinking that they were robbing the office, as people normally finish work at 4pm here. The military went to the office, stole some documents, and arrested Rafael´s friends and threw them in jail.          
I can sometimes hear the Russian strategic nuclear bombers that arrived only a month ago in Venezuela, and are only three minutes walk away from Rafaels house. Chavez plans to fly one of the planes himself... so frikin scary!! To see this go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pfc2qxkF84c&feature=related   
Rafael took me to Choroni to see some of the beautiful beaches, which are surrounded by forest and mountains. To get there, we took a rainbow coloured bus, which wound through mountainous rainforest for about two hours. The bus blared reggaton and salsa music the whole way until we reached the terminal. We then took a boat to another beach and camped there for the night, before hopping on the back of a truck full of locals, which took us to another town in the jungle that was filled with brightly coloured houses. This trip relaxed me a bit, as there is so much political tension in the big cities... except for when the locals caught a huge shark from the nice warm water, after Rafael had told me there were no sharks!  

If you want to follow Rafael´s journey as he hitch-hikes around the world and visits many ONG´s on the way, visit http://venexpedition.blogspot.com/  

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