Americas

A short history of travel disasters

Wasting time in Caracas Airport

So, as you may be aware I am a girl in possession of very possibly the BEST TRAVEL JOB EVER. Working for Gap Year organisation The Leap, I am basically employed to roam the most exotic corners of the world, road testing grass-roots development projects and once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences for our volunteers (we call the ‘Leapers’ though if in a hurry, typing with fat fingers Lepers unfortunately slips out now and then).

This would be an unbelievable job for anyone, but is made all the more incredible considering my reputation among family and friends for disorganisation and a long, documented history of missing flights, losing luggage and forgetting to pack the basic essentials. The curse has become known as an unfortunate case of ‘Aliceism’ and in recent times has included such idiotic mistakes as thrice being the victim of a (possibly the same) pickpocket, having an airline lose my bag five times on a trip of just 10 days and many a fruitless search for feminie sanitary protection from Malawi to Cambodia!

My reward for 2 days of travel

Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks in a very sunny, very sweaty, very manic Venezuela researching a new volunteer project we’re launching which combines marine conservation on the Caribbean coast, teaching local kids, reforestation and adventure expeditions. It was a great trip, though not without it’s inevitable Alice-isms.

Here’s a glimpse at my first few days diary:

Day 2: After setting from London Heathrow 2 DAYS AGO(!) I am finally here in Playa Colorada, a Caribbean paradise that makes the many many hours of flying, wasted hours spent in airports and heated rows with airline staff that claim not to speak English/care for customer service totally worth it! You can see the first photo I took from the beach above…bliss!

Wasting time in Caracas Airport

To sum up the last two days, I set off from Heathrow at stupid o’clock on Friday, via Madrid and landed in Caracas International airport the same afternoon. Thank God for the 7 hour time difference as it saved me from dwelling in land of the Zombies. First impressions were pleasantly surprising, it was a bright and clean terminal with an air conditioning system that actually seemed to work (novelty). Once I’d had cleared customs and evaded the many offers of ‘change money’ and ‘taxi’ I staggeringly managed to meet up with my friend, also called Alice (yes, I know- Alice y Alice, a source of hilarity for the locals all week) and check in for the internal flight from Caracas to Barcelona, the nearest airport to Playa Colorada. With 4 hours to spare and clear instructions from the air steward about which gate to go to we went and found ourselves a seat feeling muchos smug and organised.

Sadly, due to a last minute change of gates (apparently the norm, unbeknownst to us), an incoherrent tannoy announcement in Spanish which completely passed us by and the fact that staff has decided (in their wisdom) to use the announcement screens to televise highlights of Venezuela’s most recent Soccer triumphs, the flight left without us. Cue two hours of complaining with the full use of my 30 word Spanish vocabulary, a lost bag (found the next day) and an eventual night spent dodging knife crime in a Caracas motel at the expense of Aviar Airlines (power to the people!).

Hanging out with the world champion female bodybuilder in Caracas...as you do!

In an amusing twist of fate, which pretty much sums up the ‘journey is the destination’ catchphrase I’ve managed to coin, the taxi we were bundled into by the airline to reach our freebie motel in Caracas was shared with a couple of burly and slightly greased Venezuelans. It turned out they were World Champion female body builders returning from a competition in Canada and were kind enough to let us play with their trophy and quiz them the entire journey with inane questions about their favoured brand of body grease and dating issues. Despite their impressive local celebrity they asked us to pose for photos and the following day, after putting up with a few more rounds of inane questioning allowed us to bask in the jubilant reception in their honour (think ticker tape tossing and trumpets!) at Barcelona airport. Truly bizarre!

In fairness, part of the reason for my visit to Venezuela was to test out the transport system that Leapers will be using from January so it’s not been in vain…at least my experiences can spare volunteers the hassle. Plus I got to meet a world champion and have learnt some great tips for getting that all over muscular shine, so all was not lost!

More to come in my next blog…

abaines
Self proclaimed ‘Queen of the Gap Year’ Alice took her first great leap into the unknown at 18, heading to East Africa to work as a hostess in a remote Kenyan Safari Camp with gap year organisation ‘The Leap’. Six wonderful months and several run-ins with Hungry Hippos later and she was hooked. After graduating in 2006 she high tailed it to South America to ‘shake her jungle coconuts’ once again, joining a team of Leap volunteers in the Amazon Rainforest and working on a mix of conservation and teaching projects with the local indigenous community. Since then her backpack has barely touched the ground! Now she’s living the dream by working for the volunteer organisation that opened her eyes to the world and spends her days planning life-changing adventures for others…and of course road testing gap years in Africa, Asia and Latin America whenever she can. It’s tough, but someone’s gotta do it! Alice manages a daily blog for Leap volunteers.

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