‘Russian’ gourd

Russian gourd

When I started painting my third gourd, Kris commented that it resembled the painted wooden spoons and other kitchen utensils from some province in Russia.
Russian gourdTo heighten that effect, I took some inspiration from Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin when I painted the faux woven red and gold band around the rim of the gourd.
Russian gourdBut then I was told I had ‘ruined’ the traditional Russian colour scheme (black, red, gold and green) by adding purple, orange, metallic copper, slate blue, and white. Hee. Couldn’t help myself.

The End of The World is a Butterfly

Estamos en Venezuela!

“What a caterpillar calls the end of the world we call a butterfly.”
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

I had better get this post out before you all do something crazy, like raise $12,000… LOL

Thanks to everybody who offered to send money, one way or another, for a new laptop. Money is not so much my problem (I just got ALL my tax back from last year…woo hoo!) as there is simply nothing to buy here.

I don’t want to spend good money (mine or other people’s) on some stop-gap device that I wouldn’t normally buy…when I eventually replace my laptop, it will be with another Macbook, I’m afraid, as I am most comfortable with that, and need to think of my work and graphic arts stuff for the years to come, and not just the remainder of this trip. There are no Apple shops in this country, because the rate of inflation sets the local price for a Macbook at 3 million Bolivares, and NO ONE in this country can afford such things…and I would feel criminal buying one, for that money, anyway. That is what one person earns, on minimum wages, for THIRTY YEARS in Venezuela. You get the picture.

Aaand, the crappy tablet works! So long as I keep it plugged in (and, fortunately, I have the gear to charge it, even on the boat, via 12volt and solar panel) so I will make it work. I mean, I will work with what I have. I don’t mind so much…so long as I have e-mail, and a way to deal with urgent things like banking, government notices, news of family and close friends, and so forth, I will be fine. No reason why I shouldn’t keep on blogging, if I can do these other things.

Thank you again, you’re fine readers, and generous to a fault…I can’t believe you feel so strongly about a blog! Its not as though I put as much work into it as, say, brainpickings!

I promise I won’t just “drop out”, though there will be long periods of silence (and you get those, anyway, when we’re at sea).

I don’t know how to explain this, but I do not feel right, calling for help and depending on others to provide me with something so First World as a new laptop! Nobody dies if I don’t blog, after all. :)

I don’t even know you, personally! Yet, here I am, sending you my love and a hug,

(Status) Quo tablet

So I bought the tablet yesterday…some small, unheard of brand (QuoTab). The shop didn’t have any new ones in stock, I bought the display item, and the owner gave me a small discount.

Looks like I was ripped off, anyway. The earphones are missing, and the battery holds a whopping 8 minutes when fully charged. I looked the product up on the manufacturer’s website, and find this:

The Battery of our Tablets QUO have not feature removable.

Back to the shop today, with my “scary” face on, to try and menace them about the battery, though I doubt I’ll get anywhere, if the batteries in this tablet aren’t replaceable.

I have been had.

If you know what you’re doing, you get what you pay for. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you get what you deserve.

I am using Kris’ laptop, at the moment, though that is on its last legs, as well, and will probably up and die in six months’ time. I don’t want to commit anymore money, while in Venezuela, to this problem: you just can’t trust the stores, it’s impossible to get service or spare parts.

I need to think about what I’m going to do.

painting gourds

painted gourds

         After Francesco Clemente’s Indian Miniature #16

The sun-face looms over me, gigantic-hot, smelling
of iron. Its rays striated,
rasp-red and muscled as the tongues
of iguanas. They are trying to lick away
my name. But I
am not afraid. I hold in my hands
(where did I get them)
enormous blue scissors that are
just the color of sky. I bring
the blades together, like
a song. The rays fall around me
curling a bit, like dried carrot peel. A far sound
in the air—fire
or rain? And when I’ve cut
all the way to the center of the sun
I see
flowers, flowers, flowers.
Cutting the Sun by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I was in the Puerto La Cruz marketplace last week, wandering the labyrinth of crowded alleyways between busy stalls—skirting the glacial section of raw meat and poultry, hurrying past the small hills of briny fish and molluscs, stepping carefully over the wet patches of ground, sleeping dogs, and raw garbage—until I came to the relatively quieter section of herbalists and natural medicine vendors: dried tubers, colored powders in bottles, snake oils, bunches of fresh herbs, unguents to attract love, money, or bring ruin to your enemies, sachets of dried leaves, bundles of unidentified twigs for making special smoke. One or two of the women shoppers—dressed, from head to toe, in the pure white clothing of Santería initiates, with white turbans, bead necklaces, and large hoop earrings—were quietly negotiating over small, wizened knobs of dried rhizome. Shade cloths stretched over the paths between the stalls, shutting out the fierce sunlight and the noise of the city, giving that area the cool, dappled peace of a forest.

painted gourdsI found a lady selling nothing but gourd bowls (tapales or tapares), from tiny coffee-cup-sized bowls, to massive, pumpkin-sized things. I bought a dozen, roughly medium-sized, gourds for $2. A couple were elongated, and the rest were more round.
painted gourdsInspired by the painted terracotta plates of Lucretia Chavez, an artist whose work I saw and admired in Merida (but whom I never managed to meet in person), I thought I might try my own ideas out on these unusual, spherical canvases.
painted gourdsI gave the painting surface a light sanding (especially the exterior of the bowls, which are a bit glossy) and a coat of binder medium, to seal the absorbent surfaces and help the paint adhere. Then I drew a design using a fine Posca pen, and filled it in with acrylic paints and a #00 paintbrush.

painted gourdsKris made one, too…just dashed it off, without any preliminary drawing! I’m jealous of the variety of fish shapes and characters he can draw, without having to look at any pictures of fish. You can tell he’s worked on fishing trawlers and looked at lots of different fish, before!
painted gourds

They’re pleasant to work with, these hollowed-out gourds. The couple I’ve painted, so far, have opened me up to experimenting with all sorts of different objects as canvases for acrylic paints. I bought a couple of little terracotta dishes, shortly after the gourds, to see what I can make of those. (Although I think I prefer things like gourds…easier to store, lighter to carry and handle, less likely to crack or break).
painted gourds

As soon as I let go of the idea of a flat, smooth canvas, it seems that everything cries out to be used as a painting surface. Will see what else I can find, to cover with paint and doodles!

Dead laptop

So my Macbook is dead…the morning after my last post about Los Nevados, it refused to start up again. All backed up, no worries, but I won’t be able to get another till I’m back in Australia, employed and earning.

Will see if I can find a cheap no-name tablet at the shops tomorrow. If not, it may be very quiet around here for a loooong time…Our next stop (in three weeks’ time) will be Haiti, then Jamaica…don’t expect many internet encounters in either place (we are not going to the capitals or big cities) I sure hope this doesn’t mean I’ll have to wait till an internet cafe in Cuba! That’s not happening until…May? :(

I’ll take this opportunity to say thank you for following this blog, for all your lovely comments, for the encouragement and enthusiasm you’ve shown-some of you, for years!–and the lively discussions we’ve had, on occasion, around here. I will let you know how I fare in my search for an affordable and acceptable substitute blogging tool.Fingers crossed!

Posada Guamanchi


The posada we stayed at in Los Nevados deserves a post of its own (if only because I have so many photos of beautiful little details!) We liked the Guamanchi Posada in Merida so much that we decided to stick with the same mob while we were in the Andes.

John Peña, the founder of Guimanche Expeditions, was a passionate mountaineer. Before “adventure tourism” came to Venezuela, John worked for the mountain rescue services of Merida. But he longed for more adventure, so for a couple of years he went to work as a mountain guide for tour companies in Baños, Ecuador, and learned the ins and outs of how to run a small outdoor adventure company. He went home, and opened Guimanche Expeditions, which very quickly grew from a one-man tour company into the passionate team of mountain and outdoor adventure guides that it is today. (Tragically, John died in a car accident a few years ago. His wife, children, and loyal team of dedicated mountaineers and sportsmen, keep the business going, in the same nature-loving and passionate spirit.)


However, we hadn’t come to do white-water rafting, bungee jumping, or rock-climbing. We just wanted to stay in a lovely bed & breakfast, and go for long exploratory walks, so we were grateful that John and his team had lavished as much love and care on their posadas, as on their adventure packages.

Guimanche Expeditions’ Los Nevados posada was built around the core of an original Andean house…you can see the difference when you look down on the buildings from above, where the old, lichen-covered roof tiles of the former sit in the center, surrounded by a more recently constructed roof.


Thick adobe mud-brick walls have been rendered smooth (but not perfectly flat…a beautiful, handmade finish) over the years by numerous coats of thick white lime.

Wooden rafters hold up sturdy terracotta tiles, set into a thick layer of squishy mud. Tiled floors are endearingly uneven, and the stone walls of the back courtyard have been fit together without mortar.


When John built his extensions, he stuck to the traditional building materials, rather than switch to modern alternatives (like “gluing” the roof tiles onto a sheet of galvanised steel with globs of concrete…things we’ve seen on other “restored” houses). Old and new blend together seamlessly, and there wasn’t a corner of the posada that I didn’t exult in for its rough, unpretentious beauty. I loved every crack in the plaster, every crooked beam, every mossy tile.

posadaThe place had also been decorated with a loving and judicious eye. Hanging from rafters, the walls, or sitting on ledges and in the corners, were antiques from the pueblo’s 400-year-old farming history: mule trappings, wooden ploughs, aluminum water flasks, sheaves of wheat, old iron shovels, and ancient stone mill wheels.


Little objects of folk art added colour and whimsy.

I was especially taken with the painted terracotta plates by Mérida artist Lucretia Chavez, whose characters were a little bit Miro, a little bit Matisse, and also reminded me a bit of Marita Alber’s happy, colourful paintings.

(N.B. Incidentally, Marita has just opened a brick and mortar art shop, The Salty Mermaid, in Queensland! It looks amazing, though I’m scared that if I ever visit it, I’ll start foaming at the mouth and have a fit on the floor, overwhelmed by gorgeousness!)

Run by a friendly, indefatigable couple, Jorge & Zoraida. Jorge is a wealth of information about the area (when you can catch him! It was potato harvest time in October, and Jorge often drove quietly out to his fields at 3 in the morning, and we wouldn’t see him again till late in the evening!) and I always found it so comforting to sit and write in the dining room while Zoraida bustled around in her large kitchen (which was pretty much all day). This laughing woman, mother of two university kids, is a legend. She made everything from scratch…down to grinding her own wheat to make flour for arepas andinas! I once helped her make an atol de churri…pumpkin pudding, thickened with corn, sweetened by slabs of crude unrefined sugar, and spiced with cloves and cinnamon. It took several hours. I turned the crank on an old grinder for ages, arms aching, as the soaked kernels were ground into meal. I commented on what a lot of work she must do to prepare 3 meals a day for so many people (she also cooked the meals for 10 farmhands, and two young mountain guides who were doubling as carpenters, doing repairs in some of the rooms) and she pulled her pink sleeve up to reveal really well-defined biceps! I gasped at the sight of that maternal little woman, her head in a floral kerchief, sporting Popeye’s arms!

These last four photos are taken by Guimanche Expeditions. The first two show Jorge & Zoraida (standing together) and Zoraida in her kitchen.
Posada Los Nevados//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsPosada Los Nevados

John Peña was also a good photographer, and Guimanche Expeditions’ Los Nevados Album on Flickr is a great gallery of images from around this pueblo. I couldn’t resist posting a couple more of Guimanche Expeditions’ photos: the verandah, with all the hamacas up…


Posada Los Nevados

and this one, of two men climbing the steep, steep road past the posada, in the bright morning sunlight. Looking at these makes me wish I could be back there, and wonder whether I’ll ever see the place again.

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