Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 1] - The Long Journey

Jason Mraz - I'm Yours

I spent August 2009 in a small town in Venezuela called Santa Elena, volunteering with under-privileged children for an organisation called Aldeas de Paz. I had the most amazing time and I feel compelled to share my experience with as many people as possible. Since I was doing the same kind of things every week, rather than just publishing a diary, I thought instead I would just write about the different aspects and activities to avoid it just getting boring and repetitious. In this series of hubs I have added some of my photos and also add some songs that remind me of my time in volunteering in Venezuela, so you can listen to them as you read.

This is where the poorer people live who are looking for work in Caracas!
This is where the poorer people live who are looking for work in Caracas!
A markerSanta Elena -
[get directions]

Getting to Santa Elena

I live in the South East of England, near London, so I flew out from Gatwick airport to Madrid which took about two hours (you can’t fly directly to Caracas from London). From Madrid I then flew to Caracas, which took another nine hours! I was sat next to this little girl who insisted on talking to me the entire way there, despite the fact that I had told her that I didn’t understand Spanish (in the few words of Spanish I did know ... and my dictionary) and thus didn’t understand a word of what she said. And yes, I know it would have been a good idea to at least try and learn Spanish before I spent a month in a Spanish speaking country, but I optimistically thought that I would just pick it up (which actually I did).

Santa Elena is in the very south of Venezuela, virtually on the border of Brazil and to get there I had to get the bus from Caracas (on the north coast of Venezuela). The bus wasn’t until the next day so I had to spend the night in a hotel in Caracas. I had been told repeatedly how dangerous Caracas was, so even though I was only there overnight I was very nervous, although the lack of sleep probably stopped me from freaking out. The nerves were not helped by my driver giving me directions to the nearest supermarket saying: “walk on this side of the road. Do NOT cross over to the other side. Do NOT take a shortcut. Walk ONLY down that sidewalk.” Luckily there was another girl who was going to Santa Elena with me in the hotel and she’d been travelling around South America so was less overwhelmed than I was.

On route to Santa Elena. The view from the front of the dirty bus!
On route to Santa Elena. The view from the front of the dirty bus!
A little village on the way to Santa Elena
A little village on the way to Santa Elena
The Gran Sabana!!
The Gran Sabana!!

So the next day was the bus journey, the TWENTY-ONE HOUR bus journey that took three of us from Caracas to Santa Elena. I mean, there were more than three people on the bus, but there were three of us that were going to volunteer at Aldeas de Paz! Now you’d think that a twenty one hour bus journey would be just about the worst thing in the world. Luckily it wasn’t so bad. I did something almost unheard of for me ... I slept! I wasn’t feeling great so I slept on and off whilst listening to the other two talking about their travels through South America. We all eventually fell asleep until about 1am when I was woken by a soldier poking his gun into my shoulder. I’d already been warned that soldiers often come on board to check passports so it wasn’t as terrifying as it might otherwise have been. (On the way home a soldier came on, looked at my passport, and TOOK IT AWAY! It must have only been ten minutes that he was gone for but it felt like forever to me. That was terrifying).

After that I didn’t really sleep much. We got stopped several more times for passport checks and stopped for food. We’d gotten seats upstairs at the very front of the bus so we could see where we were going and we had a great view, which would have been better if there weren't dead bugs smeared all across the window.. I managed to take some photos out of the filthy windows of little towns that we went through. Then we entered the Gran Sabana, which is the large region in the south and also a national park. It was crazy, you could see for miles. Just green, stretching as far as you could see. We finally arrived in Santa Elena around lunchtime and met one of the employees who took us up to the Aldeas de Paz site.

You can learn more about volunteering and about Venezuela in: Walking With Lions by Alistair Mirfin

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