I've come from Toronto - recovering from a major ice storm - to South America. My first day in tropical Venezuela where am I but an ice rink?
The delightful teenage couple preparing for the pista de hielo are Axel and his girlfriend Sarai. Fortunately for Axel, no expert on skates himself, Sarai needs manly assistance. This allows for plenty of reassuring handholding.
How do I come to be in, of all places, a Venezuelan ice rink? Four days ago, in Barbados, I boarded the Minerva (of which more in a later posting). She'll take me through the Panama Canal, down the west coast of South America, under Cape Horn, to the Falklands and Argentina. Here's Minerva in Bridgetown harbour.
Minerva's first stop is La Guaira, separated from Caracas by a mountain range. This is a northeastern offshoot of the Andes, which I'll follow all the way to the Magellan Strait and Beagle Channel. The picture gives some idea of what La Guaira was like in the Nineteenth Century.
Now those same hills are covered by barrios or favelas, shantytowns.
I'm in the land of the late 'Eternal Commander'.
Hugo Chavez even keeps watch from the dashboard of this old Mustang.
Anti-American propaganda's a local industry.
But so, if you look into the distance, is McDonald's.
In Caracas, I take a cable car hoping for a city view.
At the top, no business for this telescope ...
... which is why I find myself in in a mountaintop skating rink (beyond the windows) supported by 'A Bank born in Revolution' and not taking panoramic photos of Caracas.
Hugo Chavez often spoke of the 'Bolivarian Revolution', economic and political independence, especially from the United States. What is 'Bolivarian' about revolution? Who was Bolívar? Why is he on Venezuelan banknotes?
Along with Che Guevera's The Motorcycle Diaries, I've brought a recent biography of Simón Bolívar, the 'Great Liberator,' about whom I knew little.
'Bolívar was one of the shapers of the modern world, leading his ragged band of followers to take on what was then the longest enduring empire, that of Spain, which disposed of some 36,000 troops and 44,000 seamen, to preserve an entire continent in its iron grip. He liberated no fewer than six modern countries from the Spanish stranglehold - Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Panama.' (Bolivar - The Liberator of Latin America Robert Harvey, Skyhorse Publishing 2011)
Although I've previously - briefly - been in Colombia and Brazil, my experience, and knowledge, of South America is limited. This journey - I hope - will go some way to correcting that. My postings are certainly not comprehensive history lessons, so you must look elsewhere for studies of Bolívar, Chavez and the impact of the 'Bolivarian Revolution'.
In Caracas, I visit the house where, in 1827, Bolívar attended a ball in his honour. It was to be his last night in his native city.
Wonderful door knocker.