Carnaval is a crazy time of year in South America, people all over the continent are celebrating. Jobs get put on hold, school work is pushed to the back, and everything shuts down to party. Merida, Venezuela is no exception. The streets become crowded with tourists and the party doesn’t stop for about four whole days. The majority of local Merideños head out to the beach to beat the tourists, the traffic, and unfortunately, increased crime. I really wanted to stay in the city and experience what Carnaval had to offer, however I had a strong desire to go to the beach. So, a bunch of Americans from my study abroad program got some Venezuelans to accompany us to the beach. We rented a bus, basically a school bus with a door that didn’t close all the way and windows that were permanently gone. This is something I would not advise doing as driving through the mountains at night is very cold and packing for 35 degrees and 90 degrees is difficult. We drove about 14 hours through the mountains and the plains until we finally reached the coast.
The house we had arranged to rent was already taken (I honestly still don’t know what happened or why), but we found ourselves trying to find a place to stay during the busiest time of year. Luckily, one of our Venezuelan friends knew someone and they rented us their house. When I say house, I mean a two bedroom with a mini kitchen and bathroom. I’ll start with the bathroom, it was nasty. The shower wasn’t really so much of a shower as it was just a shower head stuck into the wall next to the toilet. There also happened to be a window that people could see in from the back alleyway where there were chickens and stray dogs that lived. The kitchen had a “deep freezer” with a dead chicken frozen to the bottom. This chicken had been de-feathered, cut up, and just thrown in the bottom to be forgotten about. There was no fridge, no oven, of course no microwave, and no table. There was a sink, which happened to be our saving grace. Keep in mind we had about 16 people staying in a two bedroom, the guys got one room and the girls the other. Each bedroom had a queen size bed and we found an extra mattress somewhere. I still have scars from getting bit by unknown bugs in my sleep.
We rented a boat and headed out to one of the cayos (islands) for the day equipped with enough alcohol to go around. Needless to say, we didn’t really think beyond the alcohol and thus had no food, no water, and there was no place to buy either of these items on the island. Luckily, that night our boat came and got half the group and brought them back to the house. The other half, myself included, ended up being stranded on the island because it got dark and the boats have no lights. One thing you learn about Venezuelans is that they are extremely kind and generous. We were immediately taken in by a group who was camping on the beach, they shared their tuna and ketchup sandwiches with us and gave us fresh water to drink. Traveling is about learning and one thing you definitely learn is how kind people really are.
The next day the rest of our group met us back at the island and we laughed about what had happened and then were immediately angered that they hadn’t brought sufficient food and water for us. Our stay didn’t end there, we had plenty of other adventures as pretty much everything went completely wrong. Yet somehow I had the best time of my life.