Thursday, December 21, 2000. 12:45 p.m. Hotel Union, Ciudad Bolivar.

This morning, I went for a long walk in search of the huge Simón Bolivar statue I saw from the taxi yesterday. I didn't find it, but I found a supermarket about a mile away from my hotel. Like just about everything else here, the store was disorganized and jammed with people. I bought: 1) A small box of Flips cereal, dulce de leche flavor. 2) A package of Roma Roscas Nevadas, like sugar-coated crunchy biscotti. 3) Imported Filis chocolate cookies, which based on the packaging, I first took to be chocolate donuts. 4) A box of Fit crackers 5) 1.5 liter of water 6) A can of Nestea 7) A can of Cuatro, a fruit soda 8) A can of Chinotto, like Sprite soda. By the time I was walking back, the sun was directly overhead and I was drenched with sweat. I ate some food back at the hotel and then took a taxi to the bus terminal to buy a ticket back to Caracas. Once again, I was quite lucky. In a busy time for travel, most of the bus lines had sold out of tickets for tomorrow morning. I got one from Rodovias de Venezuela for 12,000 Bs. The people running the bus line were quite helpful and seemed not to be trying to rip me off -- they charged the price posted on a sign, and offered nothing more. It's unclear at this point if this will be another high-tech bus without open windows. I hope not. I was unable to find anything that looked like motion-sickness medicine in a drug store here. This afternoon, I'm going to relax with a novel Susan finished and gave to me -- "Free Fall" by Robert Crais, an American detective story, perfect trashy vacation reading.

Thursday, December 21, 2000. 6:20 p.m. Hotel Union, Ciudad Bolivar.

I walked to Plaza Bolivar, a nicely landscaped square, and read for a while in the shade. Then I set off on foot in the hot sun to take a picture of the giant flag-waving Bolivar statue in Parque Central. This park is a mess, abandoned, partly overtaken by cheap buildings and dirt roads that seem to go nowhere. I saw a giant lizard there, however. Cool. The statue is well kept. Hot and tired, I walked back to Plaza Bolivar for more reading. This is in the historic district of Ciudad Bolivar, which sits atop a hill. The centerpiece seems to be a large, pink cathedral, ornately decorated inside with gold-colored items and stained glass. All the buildings in this part of town are painted in pastels. The streets are stone.

Later, I returned to Paseo Orinoco, the only part of downtown that seems crowded. It's pretty, but also dirty, with garbage everywhere, dogs running free and children peeing in the streets. After wandering a while, I ate a cheap plate of chicken fried rice in a Chinese restaurant. I walked along the water one last time to the western edge of the shops, where the road curves to follow the coast into a slight cove. There's a large mural here that shows the history of Venezuela. I stood by the rail overlooking the Rio Orinoco and watched the sun set behind a tall suspension bridge. (I evidently crossed this bridge on the bus, not that I could tell). Today was a relaxing day. This city is safe, pretty and designed for walking. It turns less pleasant in the concrete areas away from the river, but seems loud and lively everywhere.

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