Thursday, March 26, 2009

crispy in the caribbean

Close to wrapping up the Venezuela-a-go-go-GO! tour, I'm on a speck of an island called Gran Roque, where the so-called streets are crunchy pale sand and the only auto seems to be a garbage truck. About half of the 1500 or so inhabitants walk around without shoes.
Like most visitors here, I spent part of the day on one of the archipelago's many islets. Some are only a few cartwheels across, treeless slabs of sand in danger of being swallowed up by the aquamarine Caribbean. Most have no shade, so as a Very Pale Person, I made sure to rent a big beach umbrella. I read while panting black chameleons took turns climbing onto my stinky leather sandals, and I swear that no more than a toenail protruded from that spot without 50 SPF or protective clothing.
Sun protection has been one of the sacred pillars of my life, and some of my earliest girlhood memories involve full body sunscreen greasings and being commanded to swim in a t-shirt. In adulthood, my closet boasts a magnificent collection of dorky brimmed hats, and still I wear a shirt in the water. So how the heck did I get cooked today?
The sun can bring you to your knees in the tropics, but now people tell me that the creamy white sand of Los Roques is incredibly reflective. Limping back to my posada after realizing the damage, I found a family kind enough to hack off a branch of aloe, which I've been reapplying every half hour. But it still feels like my legs are being ironed, and my final day here will be spent cowering indoors until dusk.
Besides the rocky hills capped by an abandoned lighthouse, my favorite thing on Gran Roque has been how well the locals entertain themselves. In the evenings, there's a game of lotería on one skinny street, a game akin to Bingo with an image-only board of vivid caricatures that resemble tarot cards. Players cover the board with coins, and someone calls out the spaces. Knife! Ladder! Avocado! I also saw kids shooting marbles, a trio of young women pitching bolas (like bocce ball), and a lusty soccer match. No doubt there's a hidden youth subculture engrossed in video game shootouts, but it seems almost anachronistic to see an entire community playing outside.

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