“It’s hot here. 100% of the time.” Yeah, no shit, coach. Thanks for telling me something my balls knew as soon as I got off the plane. Maracaibo, where all the oil is produced, is the second largest city in Venezuela, and year round the daily high temperature ranges from 35-40 degrees Celsius (too many degrees F) with anywhere between 50 and 75% humidity. Not sweating is not an option.
So, a sweaty Coach Stein-Ross, eh? Well, this is how that turned out. Our school has a co-curricular obligation for the teachers which amounts to one hour a week for one trimester in a year. If one exceeds that minimum then stipends are paid out. Not a bad deal considering that anyone who coaches a sport ends up exceeding the minimum and gets a free trip to another city for a VANAS tournament. (VANAS stands for Venezuela Association of North American Schools and is basically the sports league for the international schools here.) Though it has been a bit difficult coaching a sport during the first trimester of my first year abroad, I thought it’d be worth it to fulfill the obligation early. Moreover, since this is an election year and the elections are in October, the softball tournament was scheduled earlier than it otherwise would have been to account for the fact that most of our students’ families leave the country during elections. So it came down to eight middle school softball practices and a tournament in Maracaibo? I thought, “hell, why not.”
Anyways, we got stomped at the tournament. Baseball is the national sport of Venezuela and the other VANAS schools have a significantly greater native student population than our school, so their players have grown up with the sport more than our players. It’s no surprise then that we went 0-5. However, we did receive the sportsmanship award and though the kids don’t regard it as much, I was thankful for it.
I was also thankful for the lodging and activities. To start, our school put us up in a very nice hotel. Then, we spent three hours on Friday afternoon at a water park with the other teams and there was a dance that night in the auditorium of the school. The dance felt like being in an actual discotheque save for the hundred or so giddy middle schoolers. The dance was fun, but not as fun as the water park. The park wasn’t particularly large, and as two of eight water slides were not running for whatever reason, it wasn’t particularly functional, but there were a couple slides that would certainly be considered too dangerous in the US…which made them awesome. The first of these we named “marble works” since you are shot out into a funnel that you then circle several times before being dumped, usually head first and backwards, into a pool below. One of our girls actually sprained her wrist on that slide and had to go to the hospital for an x-ray. The second is a very steep, and therefore very fast, red slide that you can see alongside the four-lane racing slide in the pictures below. There was also a lazy river in which the water barely moved so you just had to paddle yourself around. And to finish it off, there was a wave pool sans waves. The little kids area was well done but I didn’t spend much time there since G was at home with Kat. He undoubtedly would have had a blast if he were there. And there might be a chance for that in the future because near Maracaibo are the “Catatumbos” — the only place in the world where thunder-less lightning strikes every 5-20 seconds around the clock. It’s definitely on our to-do list.
On Friday night, after the water park, I had a couple drinks at the top floor restaurant, which happens to be the only rotating restaurant in the country. Pretty fancy, right? Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that it was a rotating restaurant until halfway into my second drink when I took a long glance at the ground and became suddenly uneasy about what the bar tender may or may not have put in my glass. I discovered though, upon closer inspection, that indeed part of the floor was moving ever so slowly while another part was not. My fears were assuaged.
Soon thereafter — a moment of peace. It might have been the fact that I had twenty minutes to just sit and think, or the fact that “Blue Moon” was playing in the restaurant (you might remember that song as the soundtrack to a similarly lonely scene from Joe vs. the Volcano), but whatever the cause, as I gazed out across Lake Maracaibo upon the lights of the oil refineries and a huge, solitary, orange, Olympic-like flame burning off some unknown petroleum product, I experienced a moment of grounded perspective and grateful contentment that had evaded me since our arrival abroad. I thought with deep gratitude: “I live in Caracas with my wife and son…I coach a softball team…damn, I live in Caracas…and everything that comes with it is real.”