Birthday Week – a fairly normal week in my life…

Yesterday it was my birthday, so now I am 27. I am assured by my sister who I skyped earlier today that this is the age when most  people commit suicide, Amy Winehouse, Jimmi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain etc.. are all members of the 27 club, comforting to know especially as I am pretty rock and roll. I had a super chévere (Venezuelan for awesome) day, although it wasn’t quite as planned…

About 2 months ago my girlfriend Carla booked a trip to Venezuela’s premier destination Los Roques. It is basically a Caribbean paradise where one goes to enjoy life. Sit in the middle of the Caribbean with a cold beer and contemplate how life has worked out so well.

Los Roques

The plan was to slip out of school a bit early on Friday, jump on our short flight out to Grand Roque and kick back. However as you might have guessed things over here, or perhaps just with me, or most likely a combination of both things didn’t go so straight forwardly.

Things started to go out of sync exactly a week ago. It was Sunday evening and Carla and I were going to head over to her place to spend the night. It is a 20 minute walk from mine and I have made it on countless occasions. En-route is one of the biggest supermarkets in Caracas.

Venezuela_long_que_3185436c

It is kind of iconic as it is often used to show the incredible queues in world media and It also happens to be my local. So we popped in to pick up a few things. Bread, (no milk), Yogurt, (no butter) and whatever else they happened to have. These couple of bags totaled around 4,000 Bolivares, a princely sum for locals and as we left Carla berated the state of her country. With average monthly salaries around 14,000 B’s, this was a substantial chunk – although at the current black market rate only about 10 dollars.. The economy is pretty messed up but that is another story. We turned left to head for Los Palos Grandes where her apartment is, It was 7:30 PM so dark but not too late and she was in full flow. What were we doing here in this country where shoppig is so expensive and you can’t even buy milk?

Suddenly I became aware of someone behind me and next thing I know a guy has just whacked me in the back of the head with a black satchel with something heavy in it. A gun apparently as he motioned towards it. Although I have been completely prepared for such an eventuality the reality is somewhat surreal. I dropped the two shopping bags and put my hands in the air, rather like a TV style police arrest. I don’t remember much about the gentleman other than he appeared dark, with darker areas around his eyes. He was shabbily dressed and it would appear that life hadn’t worked out particularly well for him. He wanted my bag and didn’t need to ask for my wallet and phone (a new to me I-phone I had recently purchased from a colleague), they were in his hand before he knew it. He wasn’t done though and wanted Carla’s stuff too. She was less forthcoming and told him she didn’t have her phone – my Spanish stretches to ‘mobilo’ and ‘no’. He then said something to her and put his hand in her rather large handbag – which did contain her I-phone. It later transpired he had told her that if he found her phone he would kill her. Fortunately he came up dry with a make up bag and decided that he had probably best be getting off. He did just have time to ask for my watch. His luck had well and truly ran out though as the cheap Casio snapped as he tried to take it from my wrist and eneded up on the pavement in amongst the onions and breakfast cereal.

As he made his way off into the night it dawned on me that he had really taken everything; phone, wallet, laptop, keys, school ID, camera, watch. Although hugging Carla I was glad we were both okay. We pulled what was salvageable from the street – the yogurt had exploded although the glass ketchup bottle was fine – and continued on our way.

That night and the day after weren’t great but once you get through all the cancelling  of cards, changing locks etc.. you realise that at least we were both okay and everything was replaceable. That was until I realised that my passport wasn’t in my safe and the last time I had had it was to weeks previously on a sports trip to Maturin, another state in the south east of Venezuela. I couldn’t believe I had been carrying everywhere in my bag since then but where else could it be… So that was a downer. When you are living abroad your passport is a pretty useful item and getting a new one is not so straight forward. I spoke to some friends from the British Embassy, fortunately 3 of the guys play on my football team, however they news wasn’t great. Venezuela no longer issues passports so my application would have to go to Colombia and this would take some time. Being in the process of booking my summer trip meant that this was a real spanner in the works – and the trip to Los Roques, Carla wouldn´t be too happy…

Well she is pretty great and kind of understood, although she was a bit mad. There was two rays of light which was that my Venezuelan ID was meant to be ready 2 weeks prior and they had just needed the plastic to make the cards. If they had finally managed to find some plastic I could travel. The other possibly was to have an emergency passport issued by the embassy but I was going off on camp with year 5 Wednesday- Friday and i’d need to fill in a million bits of paper. Neither came through. Still no plastic in Venezuela and the embassy needed one more piece of paper than I had.

So grudgingly on Thursday afternoon she cut her losses and cancelled the trip. We would re-schedule it for another weekend when I had sorted out my ID issues. Half an hour after filling out the cancellation document she got a knock on the door from one of the school security guys, apparently he had something that might be of interest to her. Although she had no idea what it could be she went to check it out and would you believe it it was my passport on a school clipboard. A bus driver had handed it in after cleaning his vehicle. In my defence travelling with children here is crazy! Each student needs a file with every piece of paper you could imagine including parents birth certificates and a notary stamped by a lawyer. I had managed to keep track of all of these but then left my own passport on the bus coming back from the airport. As one would imagine this didn’t wash and I had a double whammy on my hands. Depressed to be going back to school and weekend of nothing planned in Caracas and an irate Latino girlfriend to deal with. To rub salt into the wounds I received an E-mail from our cedula lady saying that we could pick up my new ID on Monday. Great. Although on the plus side I did have my passport back.

Anyway my birthday worked out really nice. I had croissants with Nutella at Carla’s place, went out for some sushi and then watched the champion league final. Our local sports club – Clube Catalan was packed with Barca fans and it was a pretty exciting match. I then headed straight off to play a football match myself with some nursing students. We had played a friendly against them the week before with our British Ex-pats team and such was the impression my sliding tackles had made they asked if I wanted to join them for a match at the government military base here La Carlota. Although we lost 2 – 1 I managed to get in a few crunching tackles and generally played ok. I then got to arrive back to Carla and her birthday cake. She had attempted to bake something the  night before and it had been a disaster – 4 eggs, hadn’t risen and was generally a mess. This one was much better!11297016_10153265364963260_527114296_o

So I have my passport back, a brilliant cake and loads of lovely Facebook messages from friends around the world. Life is pretty good and we can go to Los Roques next weekend : )

Thanks to everyone that took the time to send a message or post on my wall. I will endeavor to stay out of anymore trouble and write more regularly, although hard to promise either.

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