I visited the Mérida zoo, with a small waterfall, camel, a lion, monkeys, birds, etc. An evil ferret bit me, so I got vaccinated for rabies just in case. Then I visited the botanical gardens, with pretty flowers, strange plants, a cute bridge, dense tree clumps, and even tree forts!

That weekend, I visited a quaint set of cabins near some hot springs and a cute graveyard with some friends. The hike to the hot springs was amazing. We made shish kabobs and pasta and fruit smoothies. We had an awesome time hanging out, playing cards, and drinking.

I spent Carnaval week in Colombia. First, to Santa Marta, with some nice beaches, islands, huts, spiky trees, cow statues, cool trees, suds spray wars in the streets, and of course lots of garbage.

But the crown jewel was Cartagena, especially the walled colonial city, with its great colonial architecture, cute little doors, crumbling amphitheater, homeless people, and cheap shaves. Then there’s the castle, cannons aimed downtown, with its many (and sometimes water-filled) labyrinths. The hilltop convent provides an excellent outlook of the city. Did I mention the massive boots? A one hour boat ride took me to La Playa Blanca, a postcard-perfect beach paradise.

Rumor has it I got a bit drunk in Maracaibo (video), on the way back to Mérida.


It’s great here in Venezuela! Every day brings new experiences and challenges.

One day, we students traveled to a national park in the mountains. I stripped to my boxers and climbed up about 200 yards of river rapids, then tried to cut back to the park through the jungle on one side of the river. Eventually the forest floor disappeared, and I was walking on vines on branches on rocks on branches on streams on ground. I was clawed my way through vines and branches. I came to a chain link fence, but it had barbed wire at the top. I tried to follow it, but ran into a ton of thorns, so I headed back towards the river a ways and followed it. I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I went back to the river and climbed back down its rapids. It was hard on my bare feet. I tried to cut through the jungle again and came to a road. I walked about 300 yards – people staring at me and my underwear – until I ran into a bunch of people from my group. They led me back to where my clothes were. At one point, I was at a stream with light shining through and a million vines hanging straight down over the stream. It was gorgeous and I wish I’d had a camera.

VenUSA (my school) hosts many events. People love to have fun here, including the staff. One night, we learned to make arapas, then danced. Another night, there was folk music, then dancing. Another night, there was dancing. One night, there was la paradura de niño Jesus, a Catholic ceremony with guitars, singing, a procession, candles, wine, cake, a nativity scene and fireworks (which we lit on the sidewalk outside VenUSA). Then, Venezuelan and U.S. students and staff went to Cafe Calypso, a lounge bar with good music and great drinks. I got more tipsy than ever from my new favorite drink, the aptly titled Cirrhosis (brandy & amaretto). Half a dozen chicas bonitas (Venezuela has more beauty shops per capita than any other country, and it shows) wanted their picture taken with a tall pale American, and I was happy to oblidge. Other nights, we’ve gone to “dancier” clubs and sports clubs. Baseball is more popular in Mérida than fútbol.

A shopping mall in Valencia (near Maracay) was half as big as Mall of America and just as American – and you could buy a 12″ American-style pizza for $5.

Of course, there’s festivals, street vendors, signs for Chavez everywhere, sub-par bathroom facilities, rampant piracy, Catholic churches, and most importantly, great-looking trees.

We went to a beach near Choroni, a tropical paradise. Our beach was an hour’s boatride away from Choroni, and very tranquil. The tiny beach town had one small store and one hotel. We had to fit 8 coeds in each of its two rooms. Everything there was a stunning display of God’s beauty. I played in the sand and made some Liechtensteinian friends.

But in fact, the trip through the mountains to Choroni was my favorite experience so far. Photos cannot capture the intense beauty I witnessed. And in fact, seeing shacks and gardens nestled in the steep mountains – along with all the trash – was even more beautiful than virgin nature. Humanity + Nature can’t be beat.