Friday, December 22, 2000. 7:15 p.m. In the Sabana Grande Wendy's, Caracas.

Wendy's again? I was hungry, tired and it was right across from my hotel. This after a 9-hour bus ride. I was able to beat the motion sickness this time by keeping my eyes shut basically the entire trip. I missed nothing. This time, the window coverings were green instead of purple. Other than that, this bus was identical to the last one, a behemoth with a tiny hydraulic door on the side and comfortable reclining seats. On the TVs, they played music videos and a dubbed version of the American live-action movie "Pinoccio." For whatever reason, it was called "Pinocho." The bus reminded me of the scene when Geopetto and Pinocho are in the belly of the whale.

Getting on the bus was fairly easy; it arrived at the Ciudad Bolivar terminal exactly on time, bearing the word CARACAS and the logo of the company that sold me the ticket. It had the number "147" on the side, as the man who sold me the ticket said it would. The terminal in Ciudad Bolivar isn't the most pleasant place, and I was glad to be on my way. Before the start of the ride, oddly, a woman climbed on the bus and handed everyone two booklets -- one about STDs and the other explaining various sexual techniques, illustrated with detailed photos. She asked for donations and got none. Then she left. It was unclear to me whom she represented; perhaps some health organization.

At 6 p.m., getting off the bus in Caracas, I was startled again. This was Caracas alright, but not the familiar Terminal de Oriente. This bus company unloaded at another station. It was a smaller, freshly painted, clean terminal used exclusively by Rodovias de Venezuela. Seeing my confusion, three taxi drivers came at me, but I told them no thanks. I went up to a second-floor snack bar with large windows to get my bearings of the city. My plan was to walk toward the center of town and look for a Metro station. By chance, I started off in the right direction and found the Colegio de Ingenero Metro stop less than a block away. I rode it one stop to Plaza Venezuela, walked to the Hotel Tampa and checked in. This place will be expensive to stay in for the next two nights, but I know it has comfortable beds, cable TV, AC, drinkable water, hot showers and secure doors.

Today was the only day so far with rain. We had a refreshing shower in the morning in Ciudad Bolivar, and I could hear some more showers on the bus ride.

Here in Wendy's, I'm on the second floor in the "no fumadores" section. This was the first meal I've ordered without apologizing for not speaking Spanish. "Big Classic Combo -- numero uno por favor -- aquí -- con Pepsi -- gracias." While I was eating, a small girl, perhaps 5 or 6, came over and began talking to me. I tried as best I could to play along. She wanted to trade some stickers for my Pepsi. Then she wanted to sell me the stickers for 10 Bs. I smiled and didn't say much, and she returned to her parents. Despite several hours of sleep and rest on the bus, I'm tired. It's dark. Back to the hotel. I'll do some final sightseeing tomorrow.

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