Out of the blue, the government of Nicolas Maduro decreed on Monday that after Wednesday 100 bolivar notes, which up to now are the largest denomination banknote, will no longer be legal tender. New higher denomination bank notes are being introduced, although the exact date is still not known. There really is no logic behind this. The government has put out it’s own propaganda as to why this is happening, something along the lines of “The United States is stealing the banknotes and hiding them in Eastern Europe” Mind you, after everything that has come out of WikiLeaks recently about Hillary Clinton and the US, this theory is not really that far-fetched.
Anyway, whatever the reason for the banning of the 100 bolivar note, there has been a mad scramble across the country to get rid of them. You can either try to spend them or you can deposit them in your bank account. You can imagine what the banks look like at the moment with absolutely the entire population going to the bank on the same day… It’s worse than an Apple store on the day of the release of a new iPhone. So, naturally, I opted for the “spending” option. The reality for me is that even if I lose all the money, it doesn’t make any difference. I’m just in it for the sport of it, but for Venezuelan people it’s yet another insult on top of many injuries. Fortunately though, the government allowed an slight extension. You could use the notes in shops until Friday and you have next week to deposit them in banks.
Baby, I don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight… I love cheap thrills! Baby, I don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight… I love cheap thrills! That’s kind of been my theme song of this week as I’ve gone on a mission to get rid of all my 100 bs notes. It’s interesting that the abbreviation for bolivar is “BS” as in “bullshit” … Because the daily withdrawal limit had been capped at 10 000 bs, Yordano went to great pains to stock pile me with cash. I’ve been using it pretty sparingly so I wouldn’t run out. As a result, I still had a lot left. And, let’s just say… This week, I’ve been having a REALLY good time!! It’s such a buzz too, to be able to shout anyone drinks, meals or whatever. I managed to get rid of all but about 14 000.
It’s funny how quickly you adjust to prices and how slowly old habits die. When I arrived in Caracas, I really lucked out an managed to changed my dollars at 4100 to 1 (the black market rate is now 2500 to 1), which has made everything absurdly cheap. Yet over the last few days, even when I’m desperate to spend my money, I still find myself haggling over prices. The other night we took a cab up to Playa Parguito, to engage in some more “dollar criminality”, as Nicolas Maduro refers to it. It’s about a thirty minute drive from La Caranta to Playa Parguito. Initially, the driver quoted us 4000 bolivars for the one-way trip, which after my windfall in Caracas makes that less than US$1. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to try and bargain him down to 3000… About 70 US cents. We finally settled on a price of 6500 bolivars to drive us there, wait while we do the deal, and then to drive us back. That’s about US$1.50 and yet I wondered if I had been too extravagant.
I ran into a bit of a sticky situation on Thursday night. I had to give someone some money but they refused to accept my 100 bolivar notes. Even though it wasn’t Friday yet, many people and shops had already stopped accepting them. There are no new notes available yet. If you want to pay in cash you have to use 20 bolivar notes or 50 bolivar notes. Most transactions are done by either direct debit, or transferring a payment from one person’s account to another. The direct debit for me isn’t a problem but I don’t have the app on my phone to make a person to person transfer. So I was stuck. As bizarre as it seems, the only thing he would accept as payment was gambling chips from the Casino Del Sol in Porlamar.
After driving around for two hours trying to trade my now useless banknotes in every disco, bar or shop for … hmmm… well, anything really, we admitted defeat and decided that the Casino Del Sol was our only option. We soon arrived and entered the gambling room. The whole place basically looks like the opening scene of the next episode of Banged Up Abroad. We felt a little uncomfortable just buying the chips and then walking out so we played a half-assed round of Black Jack and then left. I think I’m more adventurous than a lot of people but even still, I spent most of the time in the casino thinking to myself, “What the f*** am I doing??!!!” Anyway, we got our chips and made our payment. Everything was fine and we went home.
And in other news this week, I managed to get locked out of my maximum security fortress. Last Sunday, I was at the beach all day and arrived back at Punta Ballena at about 9 pm and couldn’t get in! The security guy at the gate was either unconscious, dead or had just packed up and gone home. There’s no buzzer or intercom either… So, after screaming and shouting for a few minutes, the only option I had was to jump over the fence.
Considering this is maximum security, it’s a pretty easy gate to jump over. There are no spikes or barbed wire on top and there’s a horizontal bar that goes across the middle so it’s very easy to get a footing. I had had a few rums, so climbing up was very easy… I thought my jump down the other side went smoothly as well until I woke up the next morning and found I had two toes swollen bigger than a Zika baby’s head and a floor covered in blood. So it turns out, it wasn’t quite the smooth operation I had thought. Hobbled and completely cashless, I am now well and truly under house arrest.
Venezuelan people are truly amazing people. I don’t know if it’s out of a sense of duty or out of a sense of pity but people here have been so incredibly kind, helpful and friendly towards me. Without their help I think I would’ve been eaten alive. Having no cash now means that I can’t take a taxi anywhere. A few people have offered to ferry me around in their cars when I need to go somewhere. There’s a real sense of camaraderie here… Perhaps having a common enemy (i.e the government) helps to bond people. Whatever it is, I’m a fan!