Akko

Meanwhile, I made the trip to Akko despite my Tel Aviv host’s discouragement  “It’s a dirty Arab town and not really worth the time and effort to get there” he claimed. It indeed did take a while to get there and I can understand… When people tell me they are going to go by train to the Blue Mountains, I’m like, “Whatever the hell for?” But as a tourist, it’s not like you have to rush off to work or anything.. So, I threw caution to the wind, threw on a pair of shorts and off I went.

Akko is in the north of Israel on Haifa Bay, about another thirty minutes on the train past Haifa.  Along with other cities, it claims to be one of the oldest continually inhibited cities in the world; about 4000 years apparently and is the holiest city for the Bahai faith.  It was initially meant to be part of an Arab state during the UN partition plan for Palestine, but it was captured during the war and annexed along with other parts of Palestine.  It then became a development town for thousands of Jewish immigrants mainly from Morocco and then later Russians and Ukrainians from the USSR.  However, the old city of Akko still remains very Arab Muslim and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From a distance, the walled old city of Akko is quite attractive.  It sits on a peninsula surrounded by water that comes up right to the city wall.  In the centre of the old city is the very attractive Al Jazzar Mosque… and no problem entering in shorts either!  The rest of the town is a labyrinth of covered walkways, part market and part residential.  There are a lot of sweets and spices at the market and also an open fresh fish market.  I’ll pause for a minute, so you can fully imagine the aroma of fish wafting around the labyrinth in 40 degree heat…

 

To be honest, Akko was a bit shabby and it was mainly a case of take some snaps, tick it off your list and leave.  One good thing about going to places like Akko is that it makes Tel Aviv look a whole lot better when you return.  It makes it easier to appreciate what it has to offer and overlook the ill-mannered and entitled Tel Avivians and the horrible service you get in shops and restaurants.  At the better end of the spectrum, the service in Tel Aviv can be quite stern.  At the other end of the spectrum, it’s just downright rude.  I was tip shamed the other day at a club.  The barman shouted at me, “It’s usual to tip in Israel!” as I went to pick up my change from the tray.  I’ve worked in the hospitality industry so I totally get tipping and I generally DO tip … But at bar, when you’ve just paid an extortionate 65 shekels (that’s 24 Australian dollars!!) for an extremely ordinary drink and the barman doesn’t speak to you… He just scowls at you and flicks his face upwards as if to say, “What the f*** do you want?” … Can you explain to me WHY I should tip you?

And now from one extreme to the other:  From a dirty Arab town to staying in an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Jerusalem… More to follow!

Haifa and Nazareth

As I mentioned in the previous post, I haven’t really been diggin’ the Tel Aviv scene as much as I thought I would, so I decided to make a quick two day trip to the north. I had originally planned to see Haifa, Nazareth and Akko but in the end had to scale it down.  On paper, it all seemed quick and easy… Certainly travelling in Israel is easy, but by the time you factor in walking to the station or bus stop, getting lost on the way, waiting for and getting the train or bus, traffic jams and so on, it all takes a lot longer than you think.  Getting lost here at least isn’t a big deal.  Most people you stop on the street are genuinely helpful.  Usually when you stop someone on the street to ask for directions, no-one knows a thing.  Here, however, people know where things are and are able to direct you with military precision.

Israeli trains are good.  The train to Haifa is very comfortable and takes one hour.  I had initially planned to drop my bag off quickly and continue on to Akko, but that didn’t happen.  I arrived later than I though and the extreme heat makes everything that much more challenging.  So, I decided just to take a look at the Bahai gardens.  The Bahai gardens are stunning, one of the most beautiful and well maintained gardens that I’ve ever seen.  One thing to note is that all of Haifa, including the Bahai gardens, is built on the side of a mountain.  Yes, that’s right… The side of mountain … Mount Carmel to be precise.  What this means is, that the only two ways you will ever go in Haifa is extremely steeply uphill or extremely steeply downhill.  Downhill is not a problem except that it generally involves an uphill return journey at some point.  Walking up to the temple was a test of endurance.  Imagine doing Step Aerobics in your jeans in searing heat and humidity.  Or for the bikram enthusiasts who may be reading this, imagine doing a triangle pose that never ends.  So after traipsing up and down the mountain for a while, I was ready to relax.

Haifa is known as the city of coexistence and unlike Tel Aviv, there is a very strong Arab presence there. For the two nights, I rented a room from Hanna, a Palestinian Christian.  The Christian part is only significant because he told me to help myself to anything in the fridge once I arrived ( he wasn’t home at that time) … There was no food, but there was a bottle of gin, so I was able to help myself to that.  It was interesting staying with Hanna to be able to get a different perspective of what life is like in the “promised land” for Arabs.  He was reluctant to talk politics but I pressed the issue… And didn’t I just open up a can of worms!  You can pretty much imagine what he said… “I hate this fucking country!!” he shouted… Arabs are second class citizens in their own country who are continually discriminated against only because they are Arab.  What’s more they are banned from travelling in much of the Arab world because they hold Israeli passports.  Double whammy.  According to Hanna, Israel has simply recreated the Holocaust.  This time however, the Jews are the Nazis, the Arabs are the Jews and Gaza is the Warsaw Ghetto.

Beyond politics, Arabs are very genuinely hospitable people and I was made to feel very welcome. When I went to a restaurant he recommended for dinner, he phoned ahead and made sure I received special treatment.  I was even given a Palestinian desert on the house; kanafeh, which is a kind of sweet cheese and pistachio pastry soaked in sugar syrup.  It was really delicious but the portion they gave me was like the size of an extremely large main course.  Not wanting to offend anyone, I ate the lot!  Then, with that and a couple of araks under my belt, it was a very long and slow stagger back up the hill.

The kanafeh in question:

20180710_213231

The next day, I made the bus ride out to Nazareth.  It was very simple.  For anyone who is reading this and might be interested in going, you take bus number 331 from Haifa HaShmona station and  get off at the last stop in downtown Nazareth.  It’s only 30 kms but takes between 60 to 90 minutes to get there.  I had read about Nazareth before I went, so I knew what to expect once I got there.  You imagine this kind of peaceful, rustic village surrounded by rolling fields of green.   The reality is that Nazareth is a large traffic choked Arab town full of kebab shops… Not that there is anything wrong with large Arab towns or kebab shops.  The Basilica of the Anunciation, Mary’s Well and St. Joseph’s church are right smack in the centre of town and beyond that is the old town with its souk.

The Basilica of the Anunciation itself is relatively new but it’s built over the site where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear the son of God.  When you go down the steps to the lower level of the basilica, you pass the grotto which is believed to be the remains of the childhood home of Mary.  While I’m neither Catholic nor particularly religious, I could feel that I was in a very special place.  I posted a couple of short videos on my Instagram (martinkoskins).

And now back in the beachy city of Tel Aviv … With regard to not diggin’ the scene here, another point to note is that there  are aggressive, biting fish in the water at the beach here.  If you stand still for even the shortest amount of time, the fish come and bite you on your heels or ankle.  I know I could put it down to having a free spa treatment, but it completely freaks me out and I scream like a howler monkey every time it happens!  The only way to avoid being bitten is keep swimming or treading water.  It’s a great workout but doesn’t exactly make for a peaceful relaxing time!

Tel Aviv – Yafo

Meanwhile, I left the Istanbul penthouse last Thursday and flew to Tel Aviv.  Things went very smoothly again, although flight-wise it was yet another regret.  Just like Asiana Airlines was the cheapest ticket to Istanbul, the 7.55 am flight to Tel Aviv on Pegasus, Turkey’s low-cost carrier, was also the cheapest.  I wish I had spent the extra in order to fly non-Korean and I wish I had spent the extra so I didn’t have to take a taxi out to the airport at 4.30 am.  Oh well, what’s done is… But make a mental not to do it ever again.

 

The arrival into Tel Aviv went smoothly.  The airport was virtually empty. I got through customs and immigration in a flash, found a cab a shortly arrived at my final destination in Rashi Street in downtown Tel Aviv.  It was a bit spooky at first… Seeing all those Jewish grandmothers, I had a momentary PTSD spin-out moment and felt like I had time-travelled back to 1997 to Pier 5 Hickson Road Walsh Bay, when I worked at the Wharf Restaurant.

 

This is my third visit to Israel, the other two times being in 1999 and 2000.  I was obviously 18 years younger and I also stayed with locals on those two occasions.  It was also pre-iPhone and pre-social media.  I mourn the loss of pre-iPhone travel when all you had to do was go to the travel agent to get your ticket and the bookstore to get your lonely planet guide.  Then, if you wanted to rent a cheap room in someone’s house, you just approached an old lady sitting in the train or bus station holding a sign.  Unlike these days, you didn’t have to ask for a list of included amenities, cross-check her on multiple platforms or stalk her on social media.  No-one needed to be smiley and happy in those days, for fear that the other person would write a bad review

 

Rent and hotel prices in Tel Aviv is on par with    with a surname of the host.  It makes social media stalking that much more time consuming when you only have a first name to go by.  Anyway, my stalking paid off.  Everything here is fine, but still, sharing an apartment is sharing an apartment.

 

As I mentioned before, the last time I was in Israel was in 2000.  It was 18 years ago and I was obviously 18 years younger.  You experience life and the world differently in your thirties as you do in your fifties.  I think also distance and time lend a certain enchantment.  We tend to romanticise and build things up in our minds  when we are away from them.  I had also at that time travelled solo through Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, so arriving in Tel Aviv was like seeing an oasis in the desert.  Bottom line is that I’m not getting the high pitched buzz out of Tel Aviv that I was expecting.  The food is indeed delicious, even simple street food is amazing… And the nightlife is better than Sydney’s.  What does that even mean, “the nightlife is better than Sydney’s”… I’m sure even Damascus and Bagdad have better nightlife than Sydney these days.  Nonetheless, I don’t think the reality of Tel Aviv as this amazing 24/7 party and foodie destination quite lives up to the hype (or at least my expectation).  As a result, I’m escaping Tel Aviv and heading north to Haifa for a couple of days.

 

Shortly I’m heading for the train station to make the one hour trip to Haifa.  My main reason for going there is to visit the mosques and old city of Acre and the biblical sites in Nazareth.  I’m not sure how I’ll go… The heat is absolutely.  It makes walking extremely difficult and what’s more you’re expected to wear long pants to enter the mosque.  If the same climate of political correctness whereby the locals need to adapt to ME and being offended is my greatest weapon were present here, I could just enter the mosque in shorts carrying a four litre cask of wine and claim it’s all religious.  Shorts are acceptable in my religion and wine is given at holy communion.  But hey, let’s see… Maybe just seeing the outside will be enough.

 

Here are a few random snappies from around Tel Aviv and Jaffa.  Tel Aviv and Jaffa are not exactly a photographers dream, especially after Istanbul.  But hey, here’s Jaffa

 

 

And Tel Aviv…

Lazy days

Hmmm… So, I’ve been giving this vlogging thing a go.  I’m not entirely convinced though. Seeing myself in video is way too confronting!  It’s like, “Do I really look and sound THAT bad and no-one has ever told me??”  Anyway, I’ll ignore the voices in my head for now and post it anyway…

 

And by the way, here are those purple beauties in colour:

20180705_073134-01.jpg

 

And some of the photos from the gallery:

 

Friendly Istanbul

P1000014 (2)

It seems that I’m on the Rainbow Tour… Wherever I go, the universe keeps sending me rainbows!  Is it a sign? … I hope so! Certainly so far, aside from the small speed bump of leaving my luggage on the airport shuttle bus, things have been sailing along very smoothly.  Istanbul is indeed a friendly place, and what’s more, people actually seem genuinely friendly.  The last couple of days have been smooth sailing except that my plan of having a wild and crazy weekend in the bars and clubs of Taksim never came to fruition due to extreme exhaustion and severe jet lag.  Damn you jet lag!  It’s probably a good thing though.  The days have just been spent staring out at the view over the Golden Horn from my apartment or going for walks along Istiklal street and over the bridge to Sultanahmet and having random encounters.

 

As I mentioned before, the people here, with the exception of the carpet sellers of Sultanahmet, appear to be genuinely friendly.  It’s sad, but after so many years of travelling, you just automatically assume that anyone who approaches you in the street is either a prostitute, pimp, drug dealer, scammer, thief, wants money or all of the above.  However, that hasn’t been my experience in Istanbul. People approach me on the street just wanting to chat and then offer me cigarettes and alcohol.  I wish I was a smoker.  I even got one invitation to attend someone’s work cocktail party, but alas, jet lag got in the way of that one.  The upside of the jet lag, however, is that I’ve been up very early and managed to go out sightseeing at dawn’s crack, before the swarms of tourists and midday heat arrive.

 

This morning as I was walking to the Suleymaniye mosque, I stopped in a café to have a coffee.  One of the other customers began chatting with me and offered to drive me on his motor bike the rest of the way to the mosque and escort me inside.  It was a small gesture but extremely kind and helped to restore my faith in humanity.  The mosque itself is truly a breathtaking piece of both architecture and interior design.  After having a look around, I thanked him and continued on my way to Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet Mosque.

 

Suleymaniye Mosque:

 

Hagia Sophia:

 

The Blue Mosque:

Interestingly, or not so interestingly, another random encounter I had was with Javi, a Venezuelan from Maracaibo.  Javi is fleeing the revolution in Venezuela by way of doing a PhD at a Turkish University.  The PhD is very useful in escaping a crisis: economic, political or personal or else it is given in pity to ex-prisoners.  It would be interesting to see Javi in a couple of years… Will he still be passionately embracing the PhD or will political oppression and food shortages suddenly start to look more attractive?

 

The down side of all this smooth sailing and healthy living is that it doesn’t make for interesting blog writing.  I did, however, manage to make an attempt at my first vlog.  It’s about the apartment and  surrounding area.  The internet here is insanely slow, so the quality isn’t great.  Nevertheless, here is the link.  Look if you’re game!

 

 

 

One night in Incheon

This is only my second time flying on Asiana Airlines and second time passing through Incheon. The first time was 14 years earlier in 2004 and proved to be so traumatizing that I vowed never to return to the Korean peninsula ever again.

 
Let me first take you back to 2004 when a couple of young, happy-go-lucky chappies landed in Seoul on a stopover from Tokyo to Sydney. I was living in Tokyo at the time and flying back home for a holiday with my friend Shinya. My choice of flying Asiana back then, like today, was purely financial: It was the cheapest airline flying that route. Nevertheless, I decided to embrace this opportunity to stopover in Seoul and have my first experience of Korean culture. I booked a hotel in Myeongdong online. Everything was set and so off we went.

 
After a short flight to Incheon and then a bus ride into the city, we arrived at our hotel in Myeongdong, the so-called “Shibuya” of Seoul. No doubt a lot has changed in 14 years, but back then, clearly the person who drew the Shibuya comparison was using strong hallucinogenic drugs. Like the rest of Seoul, it didn’t have immediate aesthetic appeal. Unphased by our grim surroundings however, we proceeded to check in to the hotel, only to be greeted by the three hotel receptionists from hell, who had obviously misunderstood “hospitality” industry for “hostility” industry. They were clearly not as enthused by our presence in their hotel as we were about our holiday and embarked on a thirty minute passive aggressive dialogue (emphasis on the word “aggressive”) about why we wouldn’t be happy in their hotel. They obviously did not want us there, but didn’t have the courage to straight out say it. Although we did manage to stay at their hotel in the end, the damage had been done and I was scarred for life. As far as I was concerned, all Koreans were horrible. The final nail was hammered in the coffin of Korean hope when some years later I was working for a Korean employer who managed to cheat me and all the other staff while playing the victim himself.
Fast forward to 2018: I’m flying Sydney to Istanbul on Asiana Airlines with a one night stopover at the Best Western Premier Hotel Incheon Airport. A lot was riding on this: this was to be a return to the past and an undoing of the past. It was up to the Best Western Incheon to right the wrongs of their Myeondong predecessors.

 
The flight on Asiana Airlines was fine and we arrived at Incheon at about 8 pm after a ten hour flight. Five minutes in a shuttle bus later, I arrived at my hotel, the Best Western Premier Incheon. Much to my surprise (and relief) I was greeted at reception by extremely friendly, smiling and welcoming hotel staff who this time had clearly received the memo about “hospitality not hostility”. The room was comfortable, the shower was hot, the Wi-Fi was strong … and the staff were pleasant! Wow… winning!

 
After a good night’s rest, I got up, had breakfast, hopped back on the shuttle bus and arrived back at Incheon airport. I proceeded to the baggage drop-off area only to become alarmed by the realisation that I had left my suitcase on the bus. Despite all the yoga that I do, it didn’t count for a thing in this moment and I rapidly went into meltdown and turned into a hysterical screaming maniac. I ran out to the street but couldn’t see my beautiful purple case anywhere. I jumped in the first taxi and went straight back to the hotel. I raced into reception and in blurted out, “I left my case on the bus and now it’s gone… I can’t find it anywhere!!! Help me!!” Sensing my panic and desperation, the two hotel receptionists mobilized into action like two superheroes, Batman and Robin. Robin got straight onto his mobile phone and started calling all the shuttle bus drivers while Batman whisked me out the back to the Batmobile and we zoomed back to the airport. We located the shuttle bus in question but shockingly, there was purple bag in the luggage hold. Back into the Batmobile and after a sweaty 15 minute loop around Incheon, we managed to locate the purple beauty on the side of the road. Thank God it was Korea because in Europe or the Americas, an unattended bag outside an airport would have brought in the federal police and the bomb squad. Thankfully though, the Koreans weren’t concerned. Suitcase in hand, I expressed my gratitude to Batman and I was ready for the next leg of the journey: Non-stop to Istanbul!

Choroni and Chuao

Seeing in the new year in Caracas was like Christmas… It was nice but pretty low key. Isaias, who I met in Pampatar, came to Caracas from after spending Christmas in Cumana and we saw in the new year together. It was “Spag Bol” and red wine for dinner followed by watching the fireworks go off in the shanty towns on hills from my balcony in Santa Eduvigis. I assumed they were all fireworks, but there could have been some gun shots in there as well. I had planned to go to Plaza Francia for the countdown. Apparently with the crisis now it’s greatly reduced. Even though it was supposedly “safe”, hanging out on the streets of Caracas at midnight didn’t have a lot of appeal so the balcony was fine. And watching fireworks in the barrios was a truly Caraqueño experience.

Actually, I have to admit there were a few days in Caracas during that time when I was secretly counting down the days till it was time to go home. When you first get to Caracas, after everything you’ve read, you’re like “Wow, it’s really not THAT bad! What are they on about… This is OK!” And it’s true… While nothing in Caracas or Venezuela is THAT bad, the problem is that nothing is actually THAT good either. Every individual thing is not that bad but all the little annoyances just kind of add up and after a while get under your skin. People are justifiably tense and unhappy and being surrounded by such negativity gets under your skin too after a while. I knew all of this beforehand but I guess I thought I was a bit tougher nd wouldn’t take so much of it on board. And… To top it all off… I was robbed three times in Caracas during this time! Fortunately it was more of a “swindle” than a mugging so that was good… And it wasnt a lot of money either, but didn’t exactly help to cement my relationship with the city and its inhabitants.

Fortunately though… The whole trip ended on high note. I spent the last week from Monday to Friday in Choroni, a little “pueblo” on the coast within Henri Pittier National Park. From all the beaches I saw in Venezuela, Playa Grande in Choroni was without doubt the most beautiful. Truly postcard stuff. Henri Pittier National Park is stunning as well and in order to get to Choroni, you have to drive through the forest, up the mountain and then down it, along a very narrow winding road. This being Venezuela and not Australia, the road is essentially a series of hairpin bends, in parts only one car wide and with no barrier or fence on the sides of the road.


With buses, cars and motorbikes all sharing the road, there were a couple of crashes.  


Can you imagine if it happened in Australia? All motorbikes and buses would be banned. But in non-Australian parts of the world, people move on with their lives.

The only negative about the drive to Choroni was that we were stopped twice by police on the road and searched. My bags got the “fine tooth comb” treatment and the driver’s paperwork was carefully scrutinised. Supposedly the police are just doing their jobs… They’re looking out for people smuggling food and stuff or whose documents aren’t in order. Everything was fine, they let us go and didn’t try to extract any bribes or plant drugs. Nevertheless, Venezuelan police are scary and even though it was only a few minutes, my heart was pounding.

Because it was just after new year, Choroni was pumping… There’s not much to do except go to the beach, eat, drink and hang out at the Malecon at night and drink moe. Our posada was a little far from the Malecon. Although the distance itself wasn’t an issue, walking along the dark road at night was a BIG issue. Venezuela is the land of “constantly look over your shoulder”. The last stretch of road just before the posada had no lights at all. It was pitch black. Isaias took his shirt off for the walk back because he thought it made him look more like a thug and therefore a less likely target for a mugging. I don’t know if it was thanks to that, but anyway, we didn’t get mugged.


We made a side trip to Chuao, a fifteen minute boat road along the coast and just a little further along Henri Pittier National Park. Chuao is allegedly home to the best cacao in the world. That is, cacao the fruit and not any chocolate products that they produce there. Apparently the quality of the flavour is the best all the best chocolate companies in the world come to Chuao to buy their cacao beans. The “pueblo” of Chuao is very pretty… The only thing is that it truly is a very poor pueblo and for the people who live there, there is virtually nothing to do. You can just see people sitting around unhappily waiting for “something”… And for me this gave the place a rather menacing edge. We didn’t stay long.

Even more crackers now…

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…


I’m staying in Santa Eduvigis this time, just a couple of minutes walk from Los Palos Grandes. It’s a beautiful place with amazing views to all of Caracas.  


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.

Morrocoy National Park

After I wrote that last post, I immediately regretted it! I had just arrived in Chichiriviche and was feeling soooo tired and soooo sick. All I needed was a couple of days rest and recovery, which I got, and now I’m feeling a hundred times better. The whole point of enduring the mosquito ridden dump that is Chichiriviche, is to enjoy the magic of Parque Nacional Morrocoy. Morrocoy is absolutely the perfect place to chill out. It’s kind of Gilligan’s Island out on the cays. Pretty much the only thing there is, is fish and coconuts and youre stranded on the cay until your boat comes to collect you. I spent only two days there and went to two different cays: Cayo de los Pescadores and Cayo Sal. There are a whole lot more and you could easily spend days going to all of them.

Two days in Morrocoy was great, but I kind of overestimated my ability to sit on a beach and do nothing. I had originally booked seven days but quickly realised that that was insane. The funny thing is that I never go to the beach in Sydney at all and haven’t been in years, yet somehow I thought in Venezuela I’d want to sit on a beach for seven days straight. It’s always the same with the clothes too… I have a ton of clothes that I don’t wear but I always bring them along on my trip, just in case this is the time that I start to wear them again… I’m soooooooo “just in case”.

The best part of going to Morrocoy, and generally going to the beach in Venezuela, is the whole Venezuelan beach culture. You get your friends, you load up your esky with ice, rum, coke, beer, you get your music and you really have fun on the beach. You get completely smashed, you blast your music at Mardi Gras level… And no-one complains and no police come to arrest you or kick you off the beach. Then you get in a taxi to go home, completely drunk and still drinking, covered in sand… Not only does the taxi driver not mind, but he joins for a drink. This I like.

Anyway, two days in Morrocoy was more than enough and somehow the Venezuelan Christmas spirit took hold of me and I decided that I wanted to be among friends and eat traditional Venezuelan food (hallacas) after all. I was lucky that I was able to get transport back to Caracas. David, the guy that brought me to Chichiriviche was also able to take me back but only at 8 pm last night, after he had spent the whole day driving around. I’m generally not a nervous passenger, but… 

The drive to Caracas is about four hours. That’s four hours if you drive like a racing car driver. A good fifty percent of the road to Caracas is PITCH BLACK. You can’t see anything! Fortunately, there were very few other cars on the road. David sat on 120 km/h pretty much the whole way, with one hand on the wheel and with the other, texting and making calls. Not just quick 30 second texts, but he was texting for like ten minutes at a time. In order to ensure he wouldn’t fall asleep, he kept both windows open. The night wasn’t exactly warm to begin with and with the wind chill factor, it felt like about minus 70. All I could do was suck on a bottle of rum all the way to Caracas. I had planned to sleep on the way there, but felt that it was probably wiser if I kept an eye on him. Anyway, we arrived safely and in one piece and all was fine.

Here are some snaps from my two days in Morrocoy National Park.

Chilling in Chichiriviche

I just arrived in Chichiriviche this morning. I was hoping to spend a week having some alone time and just chilling but it seems that my chilling will instead be replaced with just having the chills (as in cold sweats). I’ve got some kind of flu. I hope it’s not Zika. I’m worried that I created bad karma with those jokes I made about Zika babies heads and it’s now coming back to haunt me.

Anyway, I can definitely use the “alone” time. As interesting and wonderful as the experiences of the last four weeks have been, the stresses and strains of it all are starting to take their toll. So much so that in the last few days in Punta Ballena, I was pretty much in permanent melt down mode. Ever since the 29th of November, I’ve been in a never-ending 24 hour a day Spanish Conversation class. In other Spanish speaking countries, I spent a lot more time by myself and also met other English speakers, so I didn’t feel the strain of it too much. Here in Venezuela, I’ve been with people for the most part of every day. Being around people in itself is exhausting and often the people haven’t really been from my “tribe”, so to speak. I’ve been very reliant on people who are not always so reliable. I’ve had the worst cough. I’ve been hobbling around on foot since jumping over the iron gate. I’ve spent the best part of two weeks running around the house filling up buckets and trying to find drinking water… AND THEN… To top it all off, the madness of this currency fiasco. Nicolas Maduro gave everyone 72 hours to get rid of their 100 bolivar notes, which they did and then he changed his mind. Now there’s no cash and the entire country is screwed.

It all came to a head last Sunday at Playa Parguito. A French Canadian woman by the name of Sylvie copped the brunt of my melt down. A couple of us decided to go to Playa Parguito. I wanted to see that beach anyway but the added bonus was that a bar there, creatively called “Beach Bar”, allowed it’s customers to swipe their debit cards at the bar in order to pay for the taxi home. Remember no-one has any cash any more. I needed to engage in more dollar criminality and Karen, the black market money dealer, was going to be there. So it seemed like a perfect plan. Karen, despite being French, is reasonably nice but she was with a about five other people who were French Canadians. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never liked French Canadians… English speaking Canadians yes, French Canadians no. If ever you’ve ever seen an interview with Celine Dion, to me, she comes across as a bit self important and egotistical and thinks she’s way more interesting than she actually is. These people were basically a bunch of Celine Dions, equally boring and unattractive but without the musical talent. Then another group of friends showed up… So we were three different groups but all hanging out together. It was one of those weird situations where the group didn’t really gel. There was no reason to be all one group but no-one wanted to be the one to suggest all doing our own thing.


A couple of the French Canadians, Sylvia and Mario, dominated the group. Mario is totally Celine Dion. He is extremely egotistical, constantly talks about himself, craves attention and bizarrely thinks he’s really funny and interesting. Sylvie is just your classic drunken, dumb, fat bitch. Unfortunately, I suffer fools terribly badly… I can fake interest for maybe five minutes but then it REALLY shows on my face. Sylvie and Mario though, are the type of people where everyone can be sitting around them, heads tilted back, eyes glazed over and swallowing their tongues but they still don’t get the message.

Finally it was time to go home. We supposedly had arranged a lift with another guy but he mysteriously disappeared. And then, the next thing I know is, I’m in a car with the two guys I came with, and Mario and Sylvie, headed off to Mario’s place. Suddenly, Sylvie turns around and bellows out “Why you don’t smile? What is wrong wiz you? I sink people who don’t smile is because zey don’t have good sex…”. And so it went on and on and on. Finally I suggested that the reason I wasn’t smiling may have something to do with the company I found myself in. The narcissistic Mario heard that, turned around and immediately threatened to throw me out of the car. I got scarred because not only were we in the middle of nowhere, we were in the middle of dangerous nowhere with no cash and no cabs. Scarred I’d be turfed out, I now was forced to suck up to the narcissist and the fat bitch. Once we got to Mario’s, she wouldn’t leave me alone… She just kept talking and talking and talking. As well as being drunk, she was now extremely stoned… So you can imagine what it was like trying to endure her.

I, by the grace of God, discovered a secret stash of 100 bolivar notes so we were able now to get a taxi and escape the clutches of the two French Canadians. We get in the cab and all of a sudden Sylvie gets in too and wants a lift home. Still, she wouldn’t stop. She was yabbering and bellowing on and on and on… But I had had enough by this time and let Sylvie know. I can’t remember everything I shouted at her but it included “Shut the fuck up. We’ve had enough of you”… Eventually Sylvie got out of the cab and all was fine. One of the things I love about Venezuela is that you can have a screaming match inside a cab and the taxi driver doesn’t even flinch. He just kept on driving. In Sydney, you’d be kicked out and the police called.

So yes, I kind of had mixed feelings about leaving the island. Sad in some ways but I also breathed a bit of a sigh of relief. I flew into Caracas last night and spent the night in Catia La Mar just close to the airport. My forty minute flight again turned into an eight hour ordeal. I was at the front of the check in queue but still the wait was over an hour long. Then the plane was delayed for over three hours. I arranged for a guy to come and pick me up and I was so paranoid that he’d leave and I’d be stuck in Maiquetia on my own in the dark, that I texted him every step of the way. I texted him when I landed and ten minutes later he texts me and asks me what is taking me so long. I’ve been here for three weeks and I’ve realised everything is SLOOOOOOOW. Yet a person who has lived here all his life is surprised that I wasn’t out the door ten minutes after the plane touched down.

As I said, I arrived in Chichiriviche this morning… Chichiriviche is really only a gateway town. It exists only because of Morrocoy National Park and as such, there isn’t really a lot here. I knew this and had kind of accepted it in my head. Nevertheless, I did have a bit of shock when I arrived. I know I’m sick and grumpy, but I’m just going to call a spade a spade here. It’s a dump. And a dodgy, dirty dump at that too. The mosquitoes here are the most vicious blood thirsty monsters you’ve ever encountered. The only mosquito repellant they had here effective enough was to burn jars of petrol that gave of big black fumes. Yeah we got rid of the mosquitoes for a while but the petrol fumes weren’t fun.

Anyway, I’ll have a look at Morrocoy National Park tomorrow. I might feel better about it. Otherwise I might head back to Caracas early. I walked down to the sea this afternoon and this sign kind of summed it up for me…