The day after we got to Venezuela we took a taxi back to the airport and rented a car. It only took a couple of hours including the translation time to get it. We were supposed to have taken the car right back to the hotel, instead we promptly missed the turn off of the autopista for the hotel in Puerto Viejo and ended up having to go halfway to Caracas before we could get turned back around. So much for the first full day.
The next day we packed up and headed out to meet up with the rest of the experiment. After a small directional malfunction and a short unscheduled tour of the west side of Caracas we got on to the right highway and made it out of town. I guess the roads are marked OK -- if you know where you are going. On the maps you see road numbers. On the roadways all you see are signs with place names -- and they're all in Spanish.
Our destination was the La Victoria/San Mateo, Aragua (the state) area about 75 kilometers southwest of Caracas. 75 kilometers!? Why did it seem like it took about eight hours to get there?? The area has about 110,000 people nestled in the Rio Tuy valley to the south of the Cordillera de la Costa mountains. Up to this point the only driving I ever did in Venezuela was along the road between Ciudad BolÍvar and Barcelona in the eastern part of the country...at 2 o'clock in the morning. Daytime driving was much more exciting.
Huh. Even in places like former East Germany the stop signs say "Stop", not "Halt".
We stopped for lunch in La Victoria at an ice cream shop/restaurant and after a lot of Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) translations, and much hand waving, we found out that the hotel we were looking for was not in the town of San Mateo (another 10 kilometers or what would probably seemed like 2 hours away), but was actually just on the other side of La Victoria from where we were.
The Hotel Hacienda El Recreo was just a hop, a skip, and a few detours away from the ice cream shop and out on the west side of town. The hotel, in addition to the hotel part, also had a restaurant, a bit of a bar (or you could just sit at the restaurant tables and drink), a large pool and bar area, and a large room for meetings. We took over the large room and used it as our instrument center for programming, downloading, and processing data. I'm not sure how, exactly, but I didn't seem to get any pictures of the pool. Below are the grounds looking out of my room window, though. The building was the restaurant.
Below is the patio area of the restaurant. Pretty nice, huh? However, looks can be deceiving. There is always danger lurking in the jungle. While it looks like it was a nice place to sit and relax you had to be on a nearly constant lookout for falling mangos coming out of the two trees that must have been at least 20 meters tall. Some of the mangos fell on their own, but others were helped by local birds like parrots. Fortunately if the mangos fell from high enough you could hear them coming as they crashed through the trees on their way down.
When the world gives you mangos...make mango daiquiris. Obviously.
Late into the evening the night before the equipment was to be deployed the instruments were programmed and split up into the right number of instruments for each group. There were about 15 teams of deployers. Keeping track of the instruments and the data is what we folks from PASSCAL are there to do.
Not everything went as smoothly as was hoped during the experiment. It was on the fringes of the rainy season and most, if not all, of the sections of the deployment lines were along dirt -- mud if you prefer -- roads. Below is one of the rental vehicles (they were all rental vehicles) that wasn't going too fast or anything, but whose driver got just a little too close to the edge of the road. The vehicle started slowly sliding sideways down the embankment and calmly rolled onto its side.
Plenty of computing power you say? "No", I say. We had two Sun Microsystems workstations to crunch on and convert the data from its raw format that is offloaded from the Texans to a format that other programs can recognize. Very little, if any, data was processed from the first two deployments that were done before I got there and with more coming in every few days these machines, their lack of disk space, all of the tape drives that failed, the power outages, and the sheer number of sites and all of the information such as exactly which instrument was where when, kept us from being able to keep up with demand. A lot of the finished data products had to be made back in Socorro weeks after the project finished.
I'll never use a Colgate product again. "They" came in for a meeting in the conference room where we had all of our processing equipment. It wasn't good enough for "them" that we just hide all of our stuff in a corner of the room, so we had to break down all of the Texan computer systems and the workstations and move all of it out for the day, and then move all of it back in at the end of the day. What a pain in the gums.
One of the main intersections in La Victoria was dug up for repairs. We called the street that crossed the town's main street at this intersection "Dirt Street", because you could easily see the piles of dirt from the other streets that paralleled the main street. It was a handy reference. When you saw the dirt you knew where you were even if you didn't know where you were. When coming back on the main street from somewhere at night the traffic was usually light enough that you could just drive around the piles of dirt by driving up on the sidewalks and continuing on.
La Victoria was a pretty nice town. It was founded in 1593, but, because of the history of the area must have been called something else before the early 1800's. La Victoria ("The Victory") refers to a battle waged in 1814 during South America's fight for independence from Spain. There were plenty of nice restaurants and shops and the natives seemed pretty friendly. Below is Plaza Ribas. The church on the edge of the plaza is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Victoria.
DIRECT LINKS TO PAGES:
RETURN TO THE JUNGLE
LA VICTORIA/SAN MATEO
BACK TO CARACAS
DRIVING WITH EAGLES
ON THE ROAD