The Venezuela Trip
This is a narration of a trip that my friend Peto and I conducted during the summer holidays of the last year. This trip is embossed in my mind and memory for its uniqueness. I finally got a chance to explore first hand a different cultural practice from what I have been used at back home in Colombia.
The idea of going to Venezuela was actually initiated as a joke. My eccentric friend, Peto, in his vivaciousness dared us to make bets while playing the game of ‘Texas hold em poker’. In this group of youth, Peto was the only guy who had not gone to high school. The others, Maya, Pedro, Sasha and I were already in college, and out of session for the summer holidays. However, despite this, Peto seemed to possess an insightful mind that landed him into trouble many times than he could count. However, he also knew how to talk his way out of trouble. He was street smart and everybody who knew him called him habla, a shortened version of the Spanish word hablador which implied that he had problems with keeping quiet. Generally, he was a likable guy who never lacked something up his sleeves. Having grown up together, we found ourselves hanging out together once we were out of school.
As usual, after the initial excitement of being out of school for a while died down, we found ourselves at a loss on what to do. Since neither of us has been blessed with a particularly knack for working, we were on the lookout for something interesting to do. Peto suggested we start playing poker. To keep the game interesting though, Peto suggested that whoever wins the highest set of games by the fifth round should be allowed to bring up a proposal that the others must agree to. We reluctantly obliged and soon enough, Peto had won all the sets. How he did that I do not know, though, I suspected a foul play. With a mischievous smile, Peto suggested that we conduct a two days trip into the wilderness. We immediately accepted that bet, since we all loved nature but when he said that the forest he had in mind was in Venezuela, we had to rethink the offer. Finally, he still got his way and we came into a compromise that each one of us was to factor things out with our parents before we leave in two days’ time.
My mum obliged grudgingly to my going to Venezuela after assuring her I was accompanying a food relief mission as a volunteer. I do not know how the others did it, especially Maya whose minister father had a special loathing for anything that would be described under the category of ‘fun’. Later, I learnt that she had told him that the lord had spoken to her and asked her to accompany us in a bid to bring us ‘closer to the light’ and since the minister had no authority to question God’s instructions, he had to let her go.
The Macizo Guayanes (Guyanese Mount)
We went past Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela and headed straight on east to our first destination: The Macizo Guayanes (Guyanese Mount). In this region, one can find one of the biggest and oldest rock formations in the world. The views were breath taking. Armed with a video camera, we took some really wonderful photos. Before we reached the Guyanas Mount, we had passed by a small school where we managed to convince a number of kids to take a few shots with us. Pipi, the sweets in Venezuela worked like a charm here. Then we passed by a church and took some more. Maya had to have some evidence to convince her dad about the spirituality and holiness the trip had been and I had to convince mine that the relief mission had been immensely successful. We bought some beer at a dilapidated shack of a bar before proceeding to the mountains. Our streak of luck ran out when the land rover we were in broke down even before the first climb, and we had to do more than an hour’s climb with our back packs weighing us down. We managed to reach the peak eventually and found a place to pitch our tents. Then, we took our beer and laid down to rest.
Woke Up in a Reed Bed
I cannot recall the earlier happenings and my memory seemed to be failing me. When I woke up, the first thing that I saw was this aged face of a man, pierced in a million places looking down on me with curiosity in his eyes. And then he smiled and the mouth opened up like an Illana’s. As I swept my eyes into the whole room, I saw that it was full of around twenty people, all dressed scantily and speaking in suppressed tones in a dialect that was unfamiliar to me. The first thought rushed into my head was that maybe I was dreaming. I tried to sit upright but my head ached so bad that I fell back onto the bed. The man who had been standing by me tried forcing something terribly bitter into my mouth and I vomited it all out.
“What happened? Where am I? Who are you? And where are my friends?” I asked in English. When there was no response, and I repeated the question in Spanish. Another man rose from among and approached me. The older man paved the way for him. He spoke to me in slow Spanish. What he told me baffled me.
The man told me that he and his party of two more men had been coming from a hunting mission in the sprawling grasslands in the dead of the night. They had met another party coming from the hills carrying four people. From that piece, I gathered that the four people must have been me and three of my friends. They had fought with them other party in a bid to rescue them, but apparently, they were outnumbered and overpowered. Somehow, they managed to prise me out of these hooligans and brought me to their village. That had been two days earlier. According to the man, we must have taken some poisoned drinks or food. I had been lying asleep for two days. I asked of the fate of my friends and I was told let the gods have their will. When I asked to leave, I was told that in the culture of this community, no guest was allowed to leave before a week was over, countable in seven moons.
In the week that followed, despite the trepidation of not knowing of the fate of my fellow friends, I was exposed to a culture that I had believed had already been extinct. The kind of foods this community ate was astonishing. To them, anything that had four legs and it was not a car was edible and it was not an absolute necessity to cook the meat. Eating the meat raw worked just fine. I had a feeling that they were cannibals trying to fatten me for some special occasion. Every morning and every evening, they performed rituals to the gods as a means of asking for richness in spirits and abundance in the hunting grounds. The women wore short dresses that covered their loins only, leaving their breasts flapping around. The men wore shorts made of animal skins. Every person I came across had a piercing of some kind, done in a special way resembling a crescent moon. When I enquired, I was informed that it was the community’s way of knowing how old a person was. Each person was supposed to get an incision after every year, measured in form of seasons. One season was synonymous to one year. Nobody went to school and marriages were conducted internally. They did not allow other tribes to marry them as a way of preserving their culture.
After a week was over, they finally allowed me to leave, to my relief. I was given two escorts who escorted me to the nearest town, a two days’ walk. Then they disappeared back into the bush. I went to the police station, found an officer, explained my situation and was assisted to get back home to Colombia. To my great relief and excitement, I found all of my three friends alive and well. They had a much stressed week trying to give their account of how I had disappeared to my parents.
As for their rescue, their story was as unbelievable and full of drama as mine. Luckily, according to Peto, they had been rescued by a platoon of police officers who, by chance, had happened to be driving along the route of the bandits who had kidnapped us. According to my friends, who had been unconscious when it had happened, the bandits had been shot commando style, the hostages rescued, revived and assisted to get home after assurance they would look for me. All I could say was that though I was back home in one piece, I had had an experience that had been eye and mind opening by being offered a firsthand experience on the culture of one of the few primitive tribes still existing in the world.