A 6:15 am departure from McDonalds is delayed as Ellis and the Baxters arrive late. Billingham finds his last piece of toast for 2 weeks at Toronto airport. The first of many card and dice games get underway to help make a long day shorter. A big mall, cheap hats, wall ball and Spiderman Billingham climbing pillars highlight the New Jersey stopover. Mooch gets condemned to 5 hours of Petherick on the flight to Caracas and is driven to Gold Bond to relieve the stress. Wilson tries out the puke bag. Despite our anxieties, we are greeted at the airport by a welcoming party, our interpreter Winston and an air conditioned bus. BooBoo gets through customs despite looking much like a Peruvian terrorist. We miss the exit for McDonalds so we settle for a late night meal of fresh fruit, not too fresh chicken and wet cheese at a roadside hacienda. After a gruelling 6 hour bus ride with blaring Spanish music, bright lights and a brush with a military road block, we finally arrive in Barquisemeto where we are greeted by the local rooster. We then enjoy a Venezuelan tradition of standing around the parking lot for 40 minutes for no apparent reason. More than 24 hours after leaving Milton we finally check into our rooms to meets several species of 6 legged roommates. The air conditioning is already on as someone has removed most of the glass from the windows. While many are somewhat taken aback by the less than luxurious conditions, the Fergus boys think they have found Shangri-la.
After a refreshing 3 hour sleep and a less than refreshing shower in the worlds worst shower stalls its lunch time. We enjoy a plate of roots and rice. We meet the cook, waiters, family dogs, pet turtles and a bunch of others who just seem to hang around at the restaurant or house or whatever it is. Practice begins at 4 as the temperature in the dome drops to 35. Carroll is the first to get hurt while Wilson gets horny as he gets beat up by the National women's champ. Boo stays back to guard the fort and hears gunshots.
Banging, whistling, photo opportunities, pepsi girls, Polar, Coach and his smuggled in bottle of Scotch, escorted washroom trips and peeing in the bushes are all part of Besabol Venezuelan style. Kevin is dubbed a Backstreet Boy ( we're not sure why ), the girls think the tweens are cute while the boys think Wawa is cute. The crowd goes wild as Luis Soho gives Lara the win in the bottom of the 10th. Losing all sense of responsibility, Wadeson does not call home.
We continue to be educated as to South American culinary delights. We have an interesting breakfast with stinky juice, a type of meat called meat for lunch and black beans, shredded beef and fried plantain for dinner. Even Billingham and Prickett are learning to eat some native food but Lumb continues to starve like a spoiled brat. Petherick makes faces but doesn't dare complain with Jaws standing over him. Yogi, like a good bear, eats all and everything without batting an eye. We drive by the first of many Bolivar Squares we will encounter. The boys endure 2 tough practices and get shown up trying backflips. Ellis proves he is not quite ready for the cockfights. The evening features the first of many Euker Nights on the balcony.
A non-functional alarm clock causes us to miss our 5:30 am wake-up call for the beach but it doesn't matter since something is going on. We spend the good part of an hour dealing with some sort of unexplained confusion in the parking lot. While the team endures a breakfast of brown, mushy stuff on the bus , Mooch makes contact with civilization as he gets a call through to the Wadeson residence. It's a good thing as the Wadesons were getting ready to leave for Venezuela in search of the missing Andy. Mooch assures Viv that Andy was fine the last time he was seen alive. An interesting boat ride through the islands takes us to our own semi-private beach. It's a great day of snorkelling except for coral cuts, sunburn and a near swarming by the natives when Moore spears an endangered species. The bus ride home is highlighted by a visit by a labamba band at a gas stop. The Venezuelans are entertained by a Righteous Brothers act and a dancing McCart. Ellis suffers sunstroke. Many of us top off the day with tasty, grilled sandwiches at the cantina.
Another morning of confusion leads to yet another change in plans. Instead of shopping for Indian artifacts, we go to a Venezuelan Price Club. Wilson is thrilled that he finally has a place to spend wads of cash and Lumb has his 1st meal of the trip at a McDonalds (or is McBolivars). The afternoon takes us to Quibor for a native shopping spree. Although we are not very good a bartering ( no help from Winston and the deal-breaker) we do come away with some fine bargoons. After a short S,S &S .(shit,shower and siesta), it's off to New Years eve. It's an eventful night from start to finish, including the ride home in a death cab supplied with a drunken driver. Events include Crazy Coach blowing up explosives in the backyard, a dancin' BooBoo , a series of presentations and the famous Stephen Ellis Spanish speech. The translation is as follows.
Hello, my name is Stephen Ellis. I am Canadian. This is my first trip to Venezuela. I need a bell hop please. I have a stomach ache. Danger, I'm slippery when wet. I would like to report a robbery. There's something wrong with the beer. It tastes like water. I'd like to pay the bill now please. Thank you and good night.
Newfoundland New Years is greeted in at 11:30 with a rendition of Stompin Tom's Hockey Song. At mid-night it's Auld Lang Syne by the Beaver Tail Memorial Choir belted out under the rockets red glare. An outstanding mid-night meal of sheep meat, possibly a bit of goat, roast pig and something called hallaca, a rolled up turnover filled with lots of stuff and boiled in banana leaves. At 1 am the locals look on with confused amusement as the choir celebrates Ontario New Years with a verse or 2 of Oh Canada. The party starts to fade by 2 am even though Ellis is still raring to go. There is some concern for Heffron as he is spending quite a bit of time with a pretty looking gentleman who is heard to say, " Do jyew want to come home weeth me? " Black Baxter and Bing take a shot at Venezuelan romance but suffer heartbreak instead. It looks like Heffron would be the only one to get a New Year's kiss.
Feliz ano. We start the New Year by sleeping in for the first time. Mooch becomes the grinch who stole New Years when a leisurely jog turns into a vigorous 1 1/2 hour workout in the heat of the mid-day. McCart is not well to start with, then he hits his head on the obstacle course and then falls in a hole. The demons of 2000 are expelled from the systems but Simon's demons come back to haunt him as he collapses after practice suffering severe leg cramps. Was his obstacle course victory really worth it ? Most of the evening is spent at the Grand Hotel for the most unorganized dinner in history. The food ( except for the deep fried chicks) is good if not all that quick or exactly as ordered. Wilson is saved from a life of slavery when Wadeson and Wawa stop him from getting in a car with a shady trinkett salesman. Gangster Moore gets the young lads in crap but BooBoo gets saddled with the blame. Ellis entertains the grads on the balcony with a long drawn out story about something. The rest are entertained by exploding rocks. Prickett becomes exhibitionist with a big shadow. It's a tough night to sleep on the 6th floor as hot air, dirty sheets, biting bugs, a moaning dog and Heffron shitting every 10 minutes disturbs our rest.
Clean sheets and a new ration of toilet paper gives life a fresh new outlook. Even a pre-practice practice doesn't seem so bad anymore. The toilet paper is especially welcome as many are starting to suffer a case of Bolivar's revenge. Lumb gets tossed around like a rag-doll in the Greco portion of the practice. After lunch and a less than successful search for currency exchange we enjoy a trip to the zoo to see loose Iguanas, duck killing monkeys, and primates with boners. Heffron passes Chad for the trip shit lead.
Freddy appears on the scene speaking almost normal English. Him and Simon become closer than we could ever imagine and begin a lifetime friendship.It's a double practice day and we introduce calf roping, horse and rider and bulldog to the hosts. Billingham draws blood and sends one of the locals for stitches. Petherick, after making fun of Ellis and Wilson for the past week gets beat up by a girl himself. Between practices we visit downtown Barquisemeto where for the first time we are allowed to wander without our " guardian angels ". Is it because they trust us to be on our own or because they are trying to lose us ? Lumb takes a bus trip into the burbs with one of the locals. Another night at the ball park for the playoff home opener. BooBoo gets frisked at the door. We change seats and get to talk with Kelvin Escobar in the bullpen but miss out on the dancing girls in our old section. Soho gets tossed out of the game leading to bottles, firecrackers and a live chicken being tossed on the field. Chad gets picked up, first by a jyew and then by little kids who want Canadian autographs not to mention an English speaking daddy. Lara wins it in the bottom of the 9th on a Miguel Cairo sac fly. The crowd goes loco.
We trip off to the rainforest in Yacamba National Park. Everybody splits up in search of their own adventure. One group climbs up a waterfall and end up on a restricted military reserve. Another group climbs down a waterfall looking for John, Wawa and Mooch while john, Wawa and Mooch go looking for a make believe pond. Instead they confront two truckloads of Spanish looking types with red bandana's. Luckily they were not seen as very valuable hostages. Nothing like red sausage, Spanish Kieshka and grilled meat after an afternoon foraging through the forest. The Baxter's are threatened with exile from the team after they compose a rather emotional love poem on the bus ride home. We retreat to Barquisemeto for one last night in the Barquisemeto Hilton. Following an extremely long goodbye with our hosts (thankfully without any poems) we visit the cantina for one last polio and polar. We meet Ronan ( not Jesse) who speaks Anglais and get into a hardcore Baseball talk with upset Lara fans after a 3-1 loss. Mooch awakes in the middle of the night to find all his roomies sharing the lower bunk. They say it's so they could spend the night giggling. Is that what Freddy calls this sort of thing ?
It's another early morning departure after more good byes and gracias with our final few well wishers led by Freddy Boy and more unscheduled stops including the delivery of a microwave. We arrive in Caracas only to run into members of the Venezuelan National team. We also find out our hotel has no running water but it will soon be fixed. We're still waiting. We take a muggy bus ride, long walk and surprisingly good subway trip through Venezuelan Harlam. We get to witness a mugging, finally find cigars and finally get to exchange money. Luckily we make it back to our waterless hotel just before the night people begin lurking on the streets. Many enjoy a Spanish Chinese dinner which is a pleasant change from roots and beans. Moore gets charmed by another Jyew, this time one with Montreal connections. Perhaps they can meet for a drink at Chez Paris someday.
Our final morning begins with you guessed it, parking lot confusion. Something was happening but leaving on schedule was not it. After being loaded into a variety of shady vehicles with shady drivers ( at a price of 75000 Bolivars!), most of us get to the airport more or less intact. Chad, Wawa, Heff and a Baxter get the taxi from hell and are lucky to get out of the country alive. They eventually make it to the right terminal after considering highjacking the vehicle in a flight for freedom. Yogi begins checking the help wanted ads after losing his plane ticket. Bing's skin mags entertain the security staff but that's doesn't stop them from hauling in Mooch for an inspection. ( at least they restricted it to feeling the hockey bag ). Goofy Petherick after losing his passport in Barquisemeto, loses his plane ticket on the plane and than his wallet in Newark. Simon is detained at customs but it's OK because he has friend back in Venezuela if they decide to send him back. The final leg of the journey is for the first time uneventful. We arrive home to clean beds and running water with lots of memories and a rash of tropical medical curiosities.
After a long restful sleep we wake up in the midst of a cold Canadian winter and for the first time in 2001, nothing is happening. Great trip Luchadoro's, it was a blast.