Dusting off the blog again

Good morning São Paulo!!
The view from my room…

And here I go again, off on another adventure!!!!

So far everything has gone very smoothly… It was my first time flying on LATAM and first time flying on a Dreamliner. Somehow every time I think of Dreamliner, I get that Mariah Carey song “Dream Lover” stuck in my head. But other than that, it’s been a smooth ride and a surprisingly nice experience starting from check-in through to arrival. I did think for a moment though at the check-in counter in Sydney that there needs to be a mandatory IQ test or some kind of travel quiz for anyone buying a ticket on a plane and one of the questions needs to be:

Which of these is NOT an acceptable form of container for your checked luggage?

A. Hard suitcase

B. Soft suitcase

C. Duffel Bag

D. GLAD garbage bag.

Yes, that’s right…Abuelita rocked up to the counter and had decided that putting all her belongings in a garbage bag was a far better idea than putting them in a suitcase. It slowed things down considerably… If it was all Aussies, they would’ve just told her to “Get f***ed” and pushed her aside but since most of the passengers were Latinos, the other passengers at the other two check-in counters had to stop and help her repack her stuff.

My travel arrangements had all been moving along nicely in the weeks preceding my departure but then hit a couple of speed bumps just recently. The first speed bump was trying to book internal flights in Venezuela. At first glance it seemed that it would be the same as booking flights on any other airline. However, even though the various web pages are in different languages, they’re set up in such a way that they only accept Venezuelan credit cards, ID numbers and phone numbers. So now the challenge was trying to find someone to buy me a ticket.

I’m renting an apartment in Caracas from a lady named Liza Lopez and she put me on to her travel agent Francoise to help me book the ticket. Of course, Francoise just had to be French didn’t she. As well as being French, Francoise writes all her e-mails in capital letters. What sort of normal adult person does that? I mean, it’s like the net equivalent of shouting. Anyway, the short story is that she agreed to book me a return ticket from Caracas to Porlamar and asked me to transfer her US$28 to the company bank account. After I transferred the money at a cost of $30, she tells me she can’t accept US dollars after all and the bank is sending me the money back, again at another cost to me of $30. Now, could I please just pay her in person when I arrive in Caracas. Of course I not-so-delicately pointed out that it was her mistake and would not be paying her again since I had lost all the money. Eventually though I relented because I thought I may need her help again in the future. It seems though that the damage has already been done because when I asked her to book me another ticket she flat out said, “NO”!! She’s probably gone and cancelled the ticket to Porlamar just to spite me.

The second speed bump is the money situation. I’ve basically been banking on having a “black market” holiday for the five weeks in Venezuela. Hence my underpants are stuffed to the brim with greenbacks. Again, this part of the plan had been going OK until recently. One US dollar on the black market was fetching a thousand Bolivars. The biggest banknote in circulation is only 100 bolivars. Even still, I wasn’t going to let that be a deterrent. I’d just be like a “trummerfrau” I thought, risen from the ashes of the Weimar Republic, wheeling my barrow of cash round the streets of Caracas. Then suddenly about two weeks ago the bottom fell out of the Bolivar and is currently at 2400 to the dollar. Because the country has run out of cash, the government has placed a cap on cash withdrawals and the daily limit is now 10 000 bolivars. This basically means, I’m screwed.

There is always the government and the “official” exchange rate, but that will easily quadruple my travel costs. So now, I’ve been fishing around madly looking for options. I have one contact who works in customs at the Simon Bolivar airport and whose name is Libya Gomez… I wonder what inspired her parents to name her “Libya”. Anyway, she claims to have enough banknotes to do the exchange in cash. Another guy I’ve tracked down by the name of “Charly” claims he can open up a Venezuelan bank account for me and do the exchange via transfer and I’ll be able to pay for everything by card (no need to channel my inner trummerfrau and get a wheelbarrow). Another two people have offered to lend me their bank accounts and IDs for the time I’m in Venezuela. Apparently not having a picture that looks like you on your ID in Venezuela would only be a very minor problem. Hmmmmm… I know what you’re all thinking!

Anyway, I’ll cross all of those bridges next week when I come to them. Hopefully everything will work out fine. And now off to explore São Paulo… I’m still determined to Bikram tonight! Fingers crossed!

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