Bye Bye Bucaramanga…

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high...
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high…

So the last few days at the ULibro book fair put on by the Universidad Autónoma de Bucaramanga were just awesome: Bucaramanga was a real revelation, and the fair itself was wonderful.

It was inspiring to see the drive, the energy, the intellectual ambition this little Andean university is able to muster. Real debate on real issues by real intellectuals, day after day, before packed houses full of eager students, put on by university leaders determined that “provincial” shall not rhyme with “mediocre”. It’s sad to say, but it’s impossible to imagine ULA, say, or even UCAB trying something on this scale.

And the city itself – for a Venezuelan with virtually no previous experience of Colombia – was hallucinogenic. It’s hard to know how to put it into words. So much of it is so familiar: the people, the cityscapes, the last names, even the accent wasn’t as alien as I’d expected. (Turns out Santandereanos don’t sound like Tachirenses at all.)

Yet, within this familiarity, so much of the bullshit that makes Venezuela insufferable these days is weirdly absent: everyone is unfailingly pleasant and polite. College kids go out to party at night with minimal concern about crime. Service standards are miles apart from the typical sour-faced-standoffishness Venezuelans have somehow come to accept as normal. Streets are largely free of the deep grime and squalor that now defines Venezuelan cities. That ever-present sense of menace that now pervades the urban experience in Venezuela is just…absent.

Plus, y’know, there’s the properly exotic shit such as just walking into any bank with pesos and walking out minutes later with dollars. It’s just weird out there!

I don’t know how to express it…it’s as though Colombia is the normalcy of which Venezuela is the fucked up dystopian alternate-universe version. They’re the same, but so, so different…

I’m on my way back to Canada now. BTW, my layover in Houston has been a hoot…

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