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.
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.