It was New Years Eve, and Vero and I needed to wake up early to continue the journey back to Caracas. A roadside desayuno criollo washed down with coffee is about as Venezuelan as it gets, and, together with the blue sky and fresh breeze and the all important sol, we were ready to continue the journey to Vero’s home. On the way there I desperately tried to learn some new words and phrases, and began to speak in the past tense for the first time. I was anxious to be able to show I could speak and understand Spanish a little better, for I knew that tonight I’d be amongst many Venezuelans, many of whom can’t speak English much, and with me being a guest, I had to be the one making the effort with the language.
We got back to Alto Prado in Caracas, and Vero’s lovely home. There was already a party going on next door, thrown by the Colombian maid who had invited all her friends for a good ol’ knees up as the owner of the house was spending New Years Eve in Miami. A plastic snowman and father christmas were still in Vero’s grassy, sun-washed garden, and they looked somewhat out of place there, like they were missing something. Cold weather. Snow. Ice. That kind of thing. After chatting about my trip to Merida with Vero’s parents for 20 minutes, I’d run out of Spanish, so sat in the garden next to Santa and studied more Spanish verbs, as my current resource is painfully limited. There was a buzz of excitement in the house. People were dropping by every half hour or so. Vere’s mum was busy organising things with her sister, at who’s house tonight’s party would be at. Christmas music was blaring out from the neighbouring houses. Happy, Latin xmas songs, full of horns and trumpets and happy singing. Thank God there was no ‘Silent Night’, or even worse, George Michael’s ‘Jesus to a child.’ No wonder the suicide rate in England shoots up at xmas with miserable songs like those.
After a light lunch it was time to get ready to go. Vero had successfully booked me on a flight to Quito, Equador, for Jan 2nd, so I had a day to get over whatever I needed to get over before heading off to continue my adventure. In a relaxed frame of mind, then, I got ready to go out, as did Vero. But all was not well in my bowels. At first there was mild pain and discomfort. Then I started to feel weak and likely to throw up anytime soon. I took some Panadol Cold and Flu tablets, and hoped for the best. I heard streams of people arriving, excited voices speaking Spanish, and I felt a little nervous, as there would be a lot of people to meet tonight, more than on Christmas Eve. Vero came to fetch me to dinner. Everyone was dressed formally, and everyone from Xmas Eves’s dinner was there, along with a few of Vero’s other aunties. After welcome drinks had been served (red wine or rum) we sat down to an incredible feast that Vero’s mum, Sengora Ligia, had spent all day preparing. Rosada salad, various meats, and a delicious hallaca, a traditional Christmas and New Year dish made from chopped beef, pork and chicken with green peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes, raisins, olives and various herbs and spices all mixed into maize dough, then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Fantastic. The problem was that I was feeling terrible, and I knew that a bout of food poisoning was going to hit me. It had probably been the old pork I had eaten in Merida before the drive to Barinas. It could have been the breakfast that morning at the Roadside cafe. My stomach was doing somersaults, but I had to be strong. Allehandro and Roddy had some fireworks, which we took great joy in setting off outside. Soon enough it was time to drive to the big party further up in the hills, at Vero’s Aunts place, the place I’d visited a week earlier, the place with the big garden and swimming pool.
We got there and it was full of family, a beautiful occasion. There was more food here, and we were stuffed to bursting. There was also plenty of rum, and I got stuck in, hoping it would take away my feeling of imminent death. Colin was here, the South African bloke I’d met the last time, and we had a good chat. The garden was full. Some people were in fancy dress. Grace had brought some huge fake plastic bottoms and breasts for those in the mood to wear them. People had horns, fancy hats. It was a truly festive atmosphere. Vero had bought some ‘instant snow’ from a joke shop, which was a kind of white powder you mix with water and it creates something that resembles snow. You can throw it at someone like a snowball. It proved a huge hit to the Venezuelans not used to seeing snow, though impressed Colin and I a little less. Then the countdown came.
Venezuela has some interesting traditions around New Year. For the countdown, everyone must pick up a glass of sparkling wine or champagne, and also 12 grapes. For each chime counting down from 12, you have to gobble a grape. That’s pretty difficult. The countdown came, everyone in the garden had their grapes, everyone tried their best to gobble them down. I managed 3. The grapes are big and it’s not easy. Hugs and kisses followed. It was amazing, here under the Venezuela sky, invited to experience such an important time. I felt blessed, and very thankful to Vero. Then, the fireworks started. The house next door and this house have an annual fireworks competition, and we were treated to spectacular displays from both houses. Then, another New Year tradition. We all took turns to pick up a suitcase and wheel it out of the house and then back in, for a year of safe and happy travels I imagine. Back in the garden everyone was writing wishes on pieces of paper. It is tradition in Venezuela to do this, then to throw them into a roaring fire in the hope they come true in the New Year. I can’t remember what I wished for. Perhaps for some Lacteol Fort.
The party continued well into the night, and I felt increasingly worse and had to visit the toilet with increasing regularity. It was incredibly embarrassing. There I was, suffering from food poisoning and diarrhea on a night where I should have been feeling on top of the world. The last time I’d felt this bad was in Goa, India, on Christmas Day. I had spent 2 days cooped up in a little wooden hut on the beach with nothing but bottles of water for company and the world’s worst toilet. Now I was surrounded by Venezuelans all in high spirits, pouring me drinks and speaking to me in Spanish as I struggled to focus, feeling nauseous and clenching my spincter. I don’t know which was worse.
The time came to leave. It had been a great party, despite my worsening food poisoning. I hadn’t mentioned to Vero my problem, didn’t want to make her worried. I went to bed, still silent about my rapidly deteriorating condition. The sleepless night was spent between the bed and the toilet, and I struggled with the worst diarrhea of my life so far in those hours, feeling like I wanted to be sick at the same time. At least I had the Lonely Planet Equador and Galapagos next to the toilet to read. I’d read every page come 9am. At around this time I had to disturb Vero and inform her that I needed to see a doctor. I knew that if I didn’t take antibiotics soon I was in serious trouble. I couldn’t eat, I was weak and had to couldn’t even keep water inside me for more than 2 minutes. Happy New Year. Vero phoned her family doctor and rushed to the clinic to pick up some medicine for me. She spent the whole of New Years Day looking after me, popping in every 30 minutes or so to make sure I was comfortable. I’ll never forget that. I felt ashamed, lying in her house on New Years Day, unable to see anyone who was visiting. Vero’s mum was distressed, convinced it was her food that had poisoned me, which wasn’t the case at all. New Years Day 2012 was a very miserable day indeed. I drifted in and out of a troubled sleep all day, not helped by the banging Latin music coming from next door, where the Colombian maid and her friends’ party was still going strong. It took me until late at night before I had the energy to creep downstairs and sheepishly say hi to people. Vero’s mum made me a heartening chicken soup, that boosted my energy levels a little. It would be another 3 days before I could take a decent solid meal though. I then had to pack as I was leaving for Quito, Equador at 5am in the morning. What a start to the year!