9 Things You Didn’t Know About Venezuela

After asking 20 teenage boys and girls inside a classroom in Panamá what they knew about Venezuela, I decided to write this article. I felt sad and almost ashamed of the image my country has taken inside their minds. A picture based on what they see on TV and what they listen to from the thousands of Venezuelans living in this country now. Not a beautiful picture to be honest.

Many of their answers included “economic problems“, “bad government” and “crisis“. These were not surprising, and I passed through them like surfing in a wave of bad news. Others were stronger like “hunger”, “people are dying” were two frequent answers, which touched my heart and had me sighing heavily. There was one that gave me goosebumps “it is a country that needs from God”.

What kind of things does a teenager need to know to think a country needs to look for God? To be heard by God? I suddenly felt there is some part of my own picture missing. For a second I didn’t recognize the country they were describing. There are so many beautiful things in Venezuela to be shared with the world, that I couldn’t believe they knew only the ugly and sad current truth.

Venezuela is going through a terrible time. We don’t have a clue of what is going to happen next month, next week or even tomorrow. Uncertainty defines us right now. But there are beautiful and surprising things that also happen here, and I have found some of the coolest facts about Venezuela to share them with you and add some color to our sometimes gray news.

1. Mrs. Medarda de Jesus

Mrs. Medarda de Jesus may not have the coolest name, but she certainly has the longest career as a teacher. She started teaching in 1911 and finished in 1998, 81 years being a teacher in Caracas’ schools. I would like to think her patience with students was a trait she was born with, a Venezuelan thing.

2. Named Street Corners of Venezuela

In Downtown Caracas, you can find many beautiful squares, the Cathedral, Simón Bolivar’s house and more. The fun fact about this particular area are the corners and their names. The names have been used for years in Caracas to give an address; for instance, you can go from “Peligro” to “Pele el Ojo” (literally “danger” and “open eyes”). These corners convey great stories behind their names and Venezuelans have found a way to feel proud about this, to own the city and cherish it.

3. Wood Escalators

Caracas first escalators were made out of wood! And they haven’t been removed, although they don’t work anymore. It is just a reminder of how modern the city wanted to be when oil was newly discovered, and our economy started to grow due on it.

4. It is Home to the World’s Largest Rodent

This may not sound like great news but, wait, there’s more. We eat it. Yeap, it is called “chiguire” in Spanish, its English name is Capybara, a huge cute hamster! It can grow to 134 cm in length and 62 cm in height! In some special seasons, we like to hunt and eat it, which is not very good news for the capybara.

5. The Best Cocoa

Venezuela produces the best cocoa in the world (Theobroma Cacao) but not the best chocolate. There has been some controversy around this point since many other Latin American countries produce good quality cocoa. Besides this, we only have the best raw material, not product. And most of the times it is the product that becomes famous, not what people used to create it.

6. The “Arepa” Was Selected as the Best Breakfast

Arepas, I can only smile when I think of it. This is our bread; it is what we would like to have for breakfast every day of our lives, it is what our mothers fed us with since infancy, there is even a saying for them “as Venezuelan as an arepa”. It is true that we share the recipe with a few other countries: Colombia has arepas as well. But Venezuelans have taken arepas to a whole new level, stuffing them with multiple flavors and colors; they offer a great and nutritious dish for everyone.

7. Coromoto Ice-Cream Shop with 860 Glavors

There is a small city in the Venezuelan Andean region called Merida. There you can find a very famous ice-cream shop called “Coromoto”. They were included in the Guinness Book of World Records because they had 860 flavors available to the public. They have the traditional sweet ones: chocolate, strawberry, cookies and such. But they also have some other more daring flavors such as onion soup, beans, avocado, and seafood. It started in 1981, and now has a second shop in Portugal.

8. The Old Guy in Pixar’s “UP” Traveled to Venezuela’s Waterfalls in his Adventure

Even though in the movie they do not mention the country, Paradise Falls is inspired by Angel’s Fall, the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall in Canaima National Park in Venezuela. This is a trip that will change the way you connect with nature immediately, you will feel and understand it is alive, it has its language, and you need to know how to read it. The story says that the first settlers that saw Angel’s fall thought the mountain was made of gold and they went to explore it. This could be because the walls of the mountain reflect the sun beautifully, and a golden shine covers it completely very early in the morning. A natural sight worth seeing.

9. The Diamond Scalpel was Invented by a Venezuelan

Many Venezuelans have achieved memorable goals all around the world. We may not have the most famous or the highest number of them, but we take each of them with pride and try to follow their example as a reminder of how great a nation can be. Humberto Fernández-Moran Villalobos was the inventor of the diamond scalpel, and after many other contributions he was nominated for the Nobel Prize, but he rejected the nomination because to accept it he would have had to change his nationality and become American, something he was not willing to do. I don’t know which part of this to love the most. I suppose I like his contribution to humanity more, but his willingness to stay a Venezuelan until his last days touched my heart deeply.

These are just some of our good news, a little bit of color and calm in the middle of the storm. Things are getting worse each day, and we have to hold onto what once was admirable and pleasant to look at, hoping that soon enough, we may be able to go back to that.

About Isabel Matos

Isabel is a Venezuelan translator that struggles to find a voice and to prosper in today’s political turmoil and tension. She is also an undergraduate English teacher and is currently pursuing a Master’s in English as a Foreign Language. Translator, teacher and always student, she is interested in how language shapes reality and how women and men negotiate power through discourse.

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