I’ve never really been a “five star resort” kind of a guy… I travel to experience life in different parts of the world, to see a different culture and how people live in different parts of the world. So, whatever the experience, whether it’s good or bad, it’s interesting for me. I came Venezuela because I really like Venezuelan people but I wanted to see for myself if the economic, social and political situation is as bad as the media makes out. It’s been an interesting week in Caracas and I got to see what I wanted, but now I’m ready to move on!
As far as the economic crisis goes, for Venezuelans, it sucks the big one! As a foreign visitor with dollars though, and staying in Los Palos Grandes, it’s kind of a case of “Crisis? What crisis?” My timing couldn’t have been any better… The president had just flooded the economy with freshly printed cash, thereby causing the bolivar to nosedive… Changing at 4000 to 1 as I did, I made a killing. Everything is CHEAP! Changing at the official rate would make Caracas quite an expensive city, not outlandishly so, but it wouldn’t really represent very good value for money. There are no obvious shortages in Los Palos Grandes either. It’s pretty much business as usual and you can get more-or-less everything you need. Most transactions are done by EFTPOS so you don’t really need to carry wheel barrow loads of cash with you. The only thing is that the EFTPOS terminals are slow and paying by cash is slow, so there are often long lines at counters. This was the payment for a meal (just one plate of food) at the restaurant downstairs the other night:
I’m trying to use up my cash so I don’t have to lug it on the plane tomorrow. I have been noticing the inflation… I use the “ham and cheese pastel” inflation index measure. I have two of these for brunch everyday:
The first day , the pastels were 900 bolivars each. The next day, they were 1000 bolivars each. Then 1200, and yesterday they were already 1500 bolivars a piece. Prices will continue to go up until they align more closely to the parallel exchange rate. Then the president will print some more money and the cycle will repeat. For those will dollars, it’s not an issue but for people like Senõra Liza it sucks. She’s a full time university lecturer and earns just 50 000 bolivars a month. You do the math. This arepa cost 5500 bolivars…
The bigger problem here is the security situation, or rather the INSECURITY situation. Everyone has a story to tell you about being mugged at gun point and the warnings from everyone have made me absolutely paranoid. There’s a default curfew in the city. No-one is on the streets after dark and even in the daytime, I’ve been too scared to venture out of the relative safety of Los Palos Grandes. Of course it’s better to be safe than sorry, but I feel a bit like I’m under house arrest. I’m too scarred to go anywhere. I wanted to go out sightseeing the other day… Everyone is extremely cautious and worried about my safety so Yordano arranged with the father of Senõra Margarethe (who was “the dealer”) to take me around to see some sights in the safety of his big black SUV. It was extremely kind of him but the reality is that most of the sights we saw were just of traffic, congested Caracas highways and shopping malls because those were safe.
Anyway, yesterday I thought I can’t bear this anymore… I decided to take the bull by the horns and I escaped from Los Palos Grandes! I went down to Altamira station and caught the metro to Capitolio, the “downtown” of Caracas. Caracas gets such a bad rap. Even Lonely Planet says, “A sprawling metropolis choked with traffic, Caracas incites no instant love affairs. The political and cultural capital of Venezuela is densely overpopulated and hectic with a solid dose of crime and pollution. Few sections of the city are pedestrian friendly and most are downright dangerous”. Safety aside, I think it’s one of the nicer Latin American cities I’ve been to, and downtown Caracas doesn’t really look any more dodgy than downtown anywhere else on the continent.
Anyway, I caught the train to Capitolio to see some of the sights there. I was walking up the road from the station to Plaza Bolivar, and just here…
Two of the ugliest, nastiest, fattest and rudest policeman pounced on me from behind and proceeded to shout and point “Gringo! Gringo! Gringo! Gringo!” at me. The tone was ferocious… Kind of the way you would shout the “C” word at someone who did something REALLY BAD to you. I was quite startled and taken aback… I whimpered back at them, “NO SOY GRINGO! NO SOY GRINGO!” I was scarred though, because the biggest criminals here are the police. They grabbed my bag and made me empty it out and went through everything. They read my passport like it was novel. Eventually they found nothing in my bag worth stealing so they gave it back to me. But then it got bizarre… One of the officers starts barking and pointing at me again, but this time he was saying “Donald Trump! Donald Trump!” … He then screwed up his face, stared me in the eye and interrogated me, “Are you family of Donald Trump?” It’s like there are only kinds of people in this world: Latinos or family of Donald Trump.
Of course I answered “no” and pointed out that I actually live a very long way away from him. Satisfied that I was in no way related to Donald Trump, he continued his interrogation. “Did you vote for Donald Trump?” “What is your opinion of Donald Trump?” I wasn’t quite sure what the right answer to that question was, but I figured it probably wasn’t the best time to pull out my “Hillary For Prison” T-shirt and start chanting “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” So, I rather timidly answered “él es loco”, hoping that that was the answer they were looking for. They laughed and let me go after that.
A bit shaken by that incident, I hot-footed it back to Capitolio metro station and retreated to the cozy safety of Los Palos Grandes and called up someone to chaperone me around town. As I said, I think Caracas is a nice city. Admittedly there isn’t a lot of Spanish Colonial architecture and most of the “modern” architecture is a bit dated and run down,… but the setting… ABSOLUTELY STUNNING!!!
La Asamblea Nacional and Plaza Bolivar…