I keep reminding myself that I DID come for the adventure of it all… And that I wanted to see how people live in Venezuela… And that’s certainly what I got. I guess I secretly hoped that it would be slightly less of a bumpy ride than it has been.
Anyway, I came back to Caracas on the 23rd and got to experience my traditional Venezuelan Christmas… It was actually pretty low key, but nice. I got invited to Yordano’s place to spend Christmas with his friends and family. We just ate the traditional foods: hallacas, pan de jamon, potato salad … and of course plenty of rum and music. I must have had more rum than I thought, because most of my photos from the night were extremely out of focus! Here are a couple that survived: Hallacas wrapped in leaves from Plantain trees and the Ham bread.
The night was interesting too in that I got to see the “other” side of Caracas, or at least one of the “other” sides. When I first got to Caracas I was raving about how nice it is. Lonely Planet doesn’t know what it’s talking about, I thought!! People were quick to point out that I was staying in a very affluent area and that other parts of Caracas not like the cozy and comfortable Los Palos Grandes. They weren’t wrong. Although most of Caracas and Venezuela looks quite shabby and deteriorated, once you step out of the east part of Caracas, the deterioration and shabbiness gets a whole lot worse. The shanty towns and “bad bits” aren’t confined to certain areas either. You can be in a relatively OKish place, then quickly go round the corner and you descend into a kind of scary post apocalyptic world. Yordano’s area is like that. It’s about ten minutes walk from Plaza Bolivar and the downtown area, which looks relatively ok. The area beyond Plaza Bolivar toward his place, isn’t beautiful but not THAT bad either, by Latin American standards. However, crossing the road from his place is stepping into a post-apocalyptic hell hole. It’s scary.
It’s also not far from “El Helicoide” and could be easily seen from the living room window. The Helicoide was an ambitious building project that started in the fifties but was never completed. It was like an architectural sculpture designed to be a giant commercial space and shopping mall with a road that goes around it spiralling upwards. It was intended to have shops, exhibition areas, discos and even a helipad but was eventually abandoned before completion. It’s had various uses in it’s time but is now used as a prison. It currently houses various political prisoners, the leader of the opposition being one of them. You can see part of it in this picture…
It doesn’t rate quite as high on the convenience factor though in so much as there isn’t anything directly outside the front door, unlike in the other place. The problem with Caracas is that once the sun goes down, EVERYWHERE is a no-go zone. The nearest restaurant is only one block away, quite literally only a two or three minute walk, but once the sun goes down, it’s taxi only… Even to go only one block!
Taxi drivers are funny lot. I got a cab from the hotel next door the other day… I think the cab drivers there get paid a regular wage rather than on a “per trip” basis so aren’t overly enthusiastic, to say the least. Actually, the words “enthusiasm” and “Venezuelan service” don’t generally belong in the same sentence, but this guy was over the top. He was really annoyed that he had to go out at night and insisted that I give him directions on how to get there. I pointed out that he was the taxi driver, not me and he was a local, not me. He didn’t care and it was a very stressful trip.
Other than, it’s just been the usual money issues, dealing with banks everyday and trying to get cash.I caved in today and went and changed some dollars at the official extortionate rate of 672 bolivars to the dollar at the government Italcambio office. It was the only way I could get enough cash. After the whole fiasco with recalling the 100 bolivar notes, the ones that I got today were obviously newly printed and never used. They’re just pumping more worthless cash into the economy.
It’s been a good ride, but I’m ready to get off now.