“Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.”~That’s the recipe for coffee, according to the utterly French statesman Talleyrand (1754-1838).
Sadly, I’ve been out of coffee now for about 4 days. I know, I know. “What’s the big deal right?” The big deal is — I LOVE COFFEE!! My dad refers to my coffee as “Black Death” but to me there is nothing better than a cup or two of good, simple, strong coffee. Not only do I love coffee, but I feel I NEED coffee. I need coffee just to be me.
Way too much coffee. But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.
Secondly, it IS a big deal here in Venezuela. The coffee you can buy at the store is mediocre at best, it’s very expensive, and going to get good coffee often turns into a bit of a SNAFU because there are so many times that after putting forth extensive emotional effort you will drive through hours of traffic only to get to your favorite coffee place and they will be out. “No hay.” (Pronounced “no eye” meaning “Don’t have any” in Spanish) Yes you heard me, out of coffee. So I usually stock up from one of the local cafes and only go when I get close to absolutely running out. It’s just TOOOO exhausting and annoying to go get it. This week however was very busy and for that I had put it off and put it off again and therefore woke up to not having any coffee on this beautiful sunny Saturday.
A morning without coffee is like sleep.
So finally this morning I decided to try to make this exhausting but necessary act a bit of a treat, an early morning Saturday adventure. I would do this by going to my favorite cafe and having a nice breakfast with a good, simple cup ‘o joe and then buying the freshly ground Arabica that they sell there.
Sounds like a simple activity right? Wrong. Let me tell ya…
Here’s the 1st thing you should know about Venezuela. Traffic is always bad. (In the morning, bad, in the afternoon, bad, in the evening… well you get it). Aside from the traffic being bad, many times while driving you will be surprised by a closed road, a breakdown, a random person standing in the middle of the street or giant chasms that suddenly appear. That along with the fact that most traffic rules in Venezuela appear to be mere recommendations which make a trip anywhere a potential life-ending adventure.
To get to my particular favorite coffee shop you need to pass through what is known as the “triangle of death”. Here is a photo of this special spot.
It looks peaceful, green and safe. Look, there’s even a city worker cleaning up the area. How pretty. What you can’t see is that this triangle has cars that approach it from 3 different directions. The cars come and go from all 3 directions without slowing down because EVERYONE has the right of way. The rule here is that if you do not show fear…you win and get to go. It can be an exciting game and because I’m a girl who loves a good competition I have nearly been t-boned at this exact intersection no less than 3 times in the past year.
After the Triangle of Death you wind through a lovely section of town called Las Mercedes. The roads merge and converge in many different ways and again there are no stop signs so people just put up a brave face and jump on in. It’s a recommendation never to pause, just grit your teeth and go pedal to the metal. Once you get through Las Mercedes you cross under the freeway and hit Chacao. Almost there. (Re-read terribly dangerous driving conditions and input here.)
The 2nd thing you should know about Venezuela. My Spanish is bad (I know that this fact is not Venezuela’s fault nor is it even remotely about Venezuela but it still creates a problem for me in Venezuela).
I somehow manage to Spanglish my way through ordering an empanada, a freshly squeezed glass of patilla (watermelon juice – I know it’s not freshly squeezed but it just sounds fresher when you describe a juice that way), a café marron (very strong coffee with very little milk) and 3 kilos of freshly ground arabica coffee. Éxito!!!!
Please remember that I am from the United States and do not actually understand how much 3 kilos of coffee equate to in pounds or grams or whatever. Also I am pretty lousy at any form of math so would not even understand how much coffee I had just ordered in pounds. I will have to later tell my very funny story about ordering several kilos of meat and cheese for a small office party but for now, moving on.
The 3rd thing you should know about Venezuela. Paying for things can be rough if you don’t have the cash and need to use your debit card (which by the way requires you to remember 2 different random passcodes, which change every 3 months and using any credit/debit card is not recommended for security reasons anyways). These are the reasons I do not like going out for anything anymore.
So approximatley 3 hours later, after driving through the bowels of disorganization, stumbling through the intricacies of literacy in a 2nd language and managing to get through the technical and psychological act of paying an exhorbant amount of money (or very little for what I actually purchased – I’m not really sure as I am terrible at understanding the exact value of items in relation to the exchange rate from bolivares to U.S. dollars- as well as not understanding how much coffee I took home with me in relation to the cost vs kilos vs pounds) I made it home.. and just in time because the skies opened up and a torrential storm began to pass over and streets immediately began to flood.
I thought to myself, wow that was awesome. Good food, good juice, good coffee, no traffic jams and now I can sit down to a simple cup ‘o homemade joe in the comfort of my home. I heated up the water to prepare my cup.. and… wait for it… the electricity goes out and it’s slightly dark in my apartment and the coffee has not been prepared. What am I going to do now you ask? What can I do? All I have is hot water. So I light a candle and start thinking back to when I first arrived in Venezuela about 17 months ago. It was just as crazy but back then it was more exhilarating crazy then annoying crazy because everything was new and fresh and every unexpected annoyance was a great adventure.
As a matter of fact, today was quite amazing as well and it made me wonder why I stopped with this weekend routine. Good coffee, good breakfast, shopping at the local market for fresh fruits and vegetables. All of these great memories come back to me in a flood of vivid images. I do believe I will start up this weekend routine once again and quit taking my time here for granted. With a smile on my face, I open a good book and start sipping on my simple cup ‘o…. tea…
- ‘World’s Strongest Coffee’ Has 200% More Caffeine (adweek.com)
- The Urban Daddy’s 2012 – 4th Annual Coffee Rankings (urbandaddy.wordpress.com)