The Trip Thus Far

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Hello from Taganga, Colombia. If you have read my prior posts, you are aware that I have already been here. It´s just as nice now as it was then.

So, we began this journey May 17th, Sunday. It is now Thursday, the 21st. We began in Caracas…

We arrived late on sunday, around 1130 p.m. Before we left, the department of state website painted a lurid picture of the airport road at night. The warnings said, basically, that there was a good chance of being kidnapped or robbed. Au Contraire, nothing happened on the way to our hotel. We did, however, see a terrible car accident where–our driver assured us because of the forensics team on the scene–there had been deaths.

We didn´t have any water with us when we got to the hotel, and we were fairly parched. I did not want to start off the trip with problematic bowel movements, so I filled up a pot with water and boiled it. Yum, hot water at 1 am in the morning.

The next morning, there were important objectives to be reached, like getting some worthless bolivares so we could feed our gringo mouths. I must explain the nature of exchanging money in Venezuela, it is quite a pain.

In Venezuela, the government imposed an artificial, official exchange rate for their currency–the bolivar. My rough understading of the reasoning behind this is that the gov´t didn´t want all Venezuelans to have their money in Dollars. The dollar is preferable there because of the volatilty of the Bolivar. So, the government set the rate so that one dollar would be worth two bolivares. However, in reality the dollar is worth much more than two bolivares. Six or Seven Bolivares per dollar is the real value. What this translates to for us tourists is that we cannot exchange money in official channels–banks, exchange shops, etc. We had to bring cash, in a theft prone country.

Anyway, I went to the front desk of the hotel to ask if he knew anyone to exchange money for us on the black market. The clerk made a phone call, and a short 15 minutes a man was at our door and we had our bolivares.

Caracas has to be the ugliest city I have seen in the Americas. There was a permanent layer of clouds hovering above from smog and the surrounding mountains that keep it in. There were dozens of bleak gray skyscrapers scattered throughout the city. Instead of reminding me of other places in the Americas, it was more akin to the ugly, communist buildings in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The beautiful, colonial architecture that existed in the past was almost completely gone. In its place were the aforementioned buildings and an abudance of chubby Chavez billboards saying things like”Socialism or death!” The only structures worth looking at were the memorials of the great liberator Simon Bolivar, who, by the way, Chavez wants to be but never can because the guy lived hundreds of years ago. It was called El Panteon, which is pantheon, which is a great big memorial for Bolivar. It was a cream colored church-like structure, with two grand spires reaching towards the dirty sky. Beautiful, but its surrounding environs did not do it justice.

After our touring for the day, and lots of cigarrettes on my part, we ate some grub, went back to the hotel, and after that, went to a bar at the top of a luxury hotel. At night, from above, Caracas was actually pretty. Lights glimmered in a 36o degree view. Then, we went to bed and took an early bus ride to Maracaibo, a grueling 12 hours.

The long ride was not without its entertainment. I met a friendly priest, who met the pope while studying in Rome! More to come as I catch up.

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