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Published: January 10th 2013
Happy New Year from Caracas
Day 443 Thursday 27th
Our alarm went off at 4.00am, which is just the most ridiculous time to start a day. Our flight isn’t till 7.30 but the woman at the hotel suggested we should take a 5.00am taxi to the airport, we both thought this was way too early but being a local we thought she knew best. We finalised our packing and got ourselves together just in time as our taxi arrived ten minutes early. The airport on Curacao is on the other side of the island but it was still only a twenty minute drive. The taxi drive once again cost us 70 guilders ($40), which is pretty steep but it got rid of some of that currency.
Of course at 5.15am the airport wasn’t operating but there were a lot of people waiting for it to happen. Nothing really started moving till 6 and we soon discovered that our 7.30 flight was put back till 10.30…..all that sleep time now lost.
We checked in our luggage and sat around with a lot of other zombies waiting for flights before moving through customs and immigration. Had to pay 140 guilders
Typical sign around caracas stores, hotels and restaurants
as an airport tax which only left us enough money for a coffee and a souvenir. Around 9 we had to line up for half an hour and were given a voucher for a feed at one of the airport cafes as compensation for the delay. Around 10.45 we noticed some other people who we knew were on our flight lining up at one of the gates and when we went over we discovered that our flight was boarding. There hadn’t been an announcement and nothing on the board so we were lucky we spotted the others.
We were in the air at 11 and landed at Caracas at 11.45 but Caracas was 30 minutes behind so it is now 11.15. At the airport we got through immigration and then customs without a hitch. Inside the terminal with huge posters of Chavez beaming down upon us we went in search of an ATM machine to get some local cash. Lucky for us a guy who worked for the airport was able to point us in the right direction and we soon had 600 bolivarinos in our hand. Then went in search of the prepaid taxi booths that were supposed
to be somewhere and instead got caught with a guy who said he would take us to our hotel for 300 bolivarinos. This was almost double what the Lonely Planet reckoned it should be so we politely fobbed him off with a “thanks but no thanks”. Before leaving this guy, he passed on the good advice that without American dollars, this was going to be a very, very expensive country for us.
At this point we should explain that Venezuela has this weird currency exchange problem, where the official rate is 4.5 Bolivarinos to the dollar, while at the same time you can get 16 Bolivarinos to the dollar from black market currency changes. We still do not understand how they can change it for this rate but apparently it is how this place works. If we had large sums of US cash (which we don’t) and we could find the black market guys (which we had heard there are plenty but we never saw any) we could in theory reduce the cost of everything by three quarters. Today we were going to learn the lesson (the hard way) that Venezuela is perhaps the most expensive country in the
Statue of Simon Bolivar in main plaza
world and getting money on the black market is perhaps the only way to make it affordable.
We did end up finding the pre-paid taxi booth where we got a taxi for 290 Bolivarinos (that is $64 ATM money or $18 black market money). This cost came as a big shock to us but more were to follow. Caracas airport sits on the coast 35 kilometres from Caracas which sits in an inland valley. It was a 45 minute drive along a huge freeway with heaps of tunnels and bridges before hitting the traffic of downtown Caracas. We arrived at our hotel at 2pm, meaning it had taken us 10 hours from waking up for this short flight to Venezuela. We got a nice room in our hotel except it is a bit odd with a full glass wall between the bed and the bathroom, giving next to no privacy on the toilet…glad we know each other well.
By this stage we were feeling hungry and wanted to get out on the streets for a feed and a look around. First impressions are good and the city does not appear to live up to its horrid reputation
Our toilet with a view
and is just like any large metropolis, with traffic, crowds and noise. By chance we found ourselves at the Sambil super mall, which is reputed to be the largest shopping mall in South America, and once inside we tended to believe the hype. Made our way up to the food court and that is where the real shock hit us, Venezuela is so bloody expensive. The restaurant meals were all about 200 Bols ($50) each and drinks were about 30 Bols ($7), even stuff like KFC and burger joints were over the top. We just about had a panic attack wandering around looking at the prices not knowing how we were going to afford Venezuela. We ended up getting a Pizza Hut, pizza and two tiny waters for 230 Bols ($50), but we walked away with half a pizza in a box for dinner tomorrow night, thus making it almost affordable.
We walked around the mall a bit absolutely stunned at the prices on things, with most things double or 4 times as expensive than even Australia. Despite the prices all the locals were out in droves and there was a queue at every ATM so we can only
Unique Caracas buildings
guess the wages here must be HUGE. For the first time on this trip we felt like the poor as we wandered around with shell shock. We later read that inflation is officially running at 40 percent although it may be as high as 60 percent. Headed back to our hotel and on the long walk back we didn’t see a single shop selling water, but a block away we discovered a kiosk selling small 250ml waters for 10 bol ($2,50)…this place is going to kill us.
This has thrown a huge spanner in our plans as it would appear we would need to double our budget to do what we want…something we cannot afford. We desperately needed to get on the net to check our options and research possible further costs but of course our hotel had no internet and claimed the whole area is disconnected. Lately we have felt that our plans haven’t exactly been going too well and that our timing on things has been absolutely the worst, and so today has been like another kick in the guts. It had been a long hard day and so we went to bed not knowing what the
Streets near our hotel
hell we were going to do.
Day 444 Friday 28th
Went to bed feeling bewildered and unsure what we were doing and woke up less certain. Thankfully breakfast was included in the cost of this expensive hotel and although it wasn’t much we pigged into it. Still no internet today and the staff at the hotel claimed it was because a truck ran into a pole…..that’s a new excuse. Went for another long walk and thankfully discovered a small supermarket that sold large bottles of water so at least we weren’t going to die of thirst. Passed a lot of local dodgy looking restaurants and found their prices no cheaper than anywhere we have seen. Even the guys selling burgers on the street corners want 50 Bol ($11) for a tiny burger. Ended up at a bus terminal where we discovered bus tickets were now double what the LP reckoned what they should be but we weren’t ready to buy them till we did some more figuring out on what we could afford to do.
We ended up back at the huge Sambil mall in search of an internet café
Church in downtown Caracas
but found nothing more than ridiculous prices on things and queues at ATM’s. It started to rain so we headed home for a while in the hope we might have internet…nope. In the afternoon we went in search of an internet café once again, but only found that the ones that were around were closed. Ended up having a late lunch at Subway because it looked the cheapest. Unsure what the stuff costs at home but one foot long sub cost us 80 Bol ($17). We desperately need the internet to try and plan what we can afford to do in this country, but it would seem we just won’t be getting it at this hotel.
Day 445 Saturday 29th
When we went down for breakfast we discovered that there was hardly anything left on the buffet and things got worse as more people came in. When glasses ran out a guy went over to the nearby bar to grab some when all of a sudden our waiter sprung up from behind the bar where he must have been sleeping…guess that explained the lack of food.
Gates on Government building
First thing this morning we enquired about having another couple of nights at the hotel as we have resolved to stay here for New Years and take off to Ciudad Bolivar and then onto Angel Falls afterwards. We had hesitated in going as we are running short of funds and Venezuela is expensive and because we cannot get internet we can’t confirm costs, but in the end we just opted to just go for it. The woman at reception told us it wouldn’t be a problem as they weren’t booked out and we could have the room for the same rate we were paying for the other nights. The place is way too expensive and the staff are way too laid back but to save us shifting we just decided to stay.
Now that we had our room sorted we walked back down to the bus station to get bus tickets. We opted to go with a smaller, expensive more secure company that had a terminal about 2 kilometres away. When we got down there I had yet another one of my classic dummy spits when we got stuffed around endlessly. Of course we didn’t get the tickets but
Fountain in town plaza
Shelley was entertained as I stormed off swearing…..after 14 months I think I am just about had enough of South America.
Shelley walked and I stormed off to find an internet café, which was located in a mall near our hotel. It was great to actually get to check our emails and finally look into costs of a possible Angel Falls tour. The café was about to close for the weekend so we were lucky we got in, and I now felt better about taking the plunge down to Ciudad Bolivar. Once again we walked the 2 kilometres down to the bus terminal and this time I held onto my temper and we got tickets. Couldn’t get them for Tuesday but the woman sold us tickets for Wednesday….well that is what we thought. Usually we would check these things before leaving but for some reason today we walked out without looking at the ticket date. Anyway at that point we thought we were leaving on Wednesday which would mean yet another day at the hotel so we walked back again to check on yet another night.
This is where we sort of fell into a Monty Python sketch
Statue of Simon bolivar weeping over parents and wifes grave
except we weren’t exactly laughing at the time. When we enquired about another night we were informed rather than getting the room for the rate of $140 a night (yes we know how stupid it is to be paying this much) we would have to pay $400. Now to start with the cost was already over 3 times what we would normally pay but this was the cheapest place we could book online in an area that is regarded as safe. We could get rooms in the nearby suburb of Gran Sabana but warnings are out on that suburb in both the Australian and British Government websites. Anyway the women at the hotel told us the only way we could have the room for $140 rather than the absolutely stupid price of $400 is that we would have to book the room online rather than at the counter. Of course what made the situation more comical is that because the hotel didn’t have internet the woman suggested we go find an internet café which was about 3 blocks away so we could book the room. We don’t know exactly how they would know we made the booking when they claimed
Simon bolivars tomb
they had no internet, but this is what they wanted. Argued with them that they should give it to us at the old rate because they should have internet and don’t but they wouldn’t budge and so we basically told them to stick it and had to head out to look for another hotel.
The first place we stopped at we enquired about a room and the guy was really friendly explaining how great the place was before telling us the room would cost 3000bol ($670) a night. We stood there and didn’t flinch and then told him we would think about it before running out as quick as we could. Ended up once again walking almost all the way down to the bus terminal before we found a hotel with almost reasonable rates. The guy tried to upsell us into a large expensive room but we took the cheapest he had and after pleading we got the rate down to a level we could afford. Whilst negotiating a price and when we needed the room till we discovered that our bus tickets were not for Wednesday but Thursday, which was an extra day we couldn’t afford. Still had
Unique Steel sculpture
our old hotel for one more night so we wandered back where we could confirm that we were checking out tomorrow.
For dinner we headed out to a restaurant we spotted earlier that looked a bit cheaper than most. Shelley wanted a grilled chicken and salad but they couldn’t do it and she ended up with the house specialty fried chicken.....she is trying to eat healthier but isn’t very successful at it.
Day 446 Sunday 30th
Our breakfast today was less than yesterday with our half asleep waiter barely managing to keep upright as he stumbled around in a daze. We took our time packing our bags and at midday we checked out and got them to get a taxi for us. The taxi that turned up I think was driven by a relative of the people running the place and wanted to charge us 70 bol ($15) for the 5 minute ride but we haggled him down to 50 bol…still a rip-off.
Our new room is bloody fantastic with a floor to ceiling window overlooking Caracas, and cable internet. As soon as we were booked in we jumped
Simon Bolivars tomb
on the net and started trying to work out what the hell we were going to do. After an hour we headed down to the bus terminal to see if we could change the date on our bus tickets and besides not having any luck with that we also had the pleasure of having the people at the counter laughing at us….always gives you a warm feeling. Ended up getting a refund on our tickets and then headed home to look into buying plane tickets. Got onto a website but after going through the payment process the site crashed and we were left not knowing if we have tickets or not. Got no confirmation email and so once again we were left in limbo on what we were going to do, so we worked on a backup plan on just moving onto Cuba.
For dinner we walked down the road to a pizza joint and got a fairly good feed of the favourite food in South America. The place was really popular and it was good to be out and feeding with Venezuelans.
Day 447 Monday 31st
Up early today and our
Simon Bolivar mural
new hotel has a great breakfast and fantastic coffee which made us even happier with our choice. After our feed we got our stuff together and picked up a bottle of champagne and some beers for tonight before heading into the city. To get there we jumped on the metro, which was fast, safe and cheap. It only took 15 minutes to travel the 8 stops into the city, where we discovered a rather sombre mood had settled over the city prior to New Year.
The president Hugo Chavez has been battling cancer for 18 months and as of writing was in a bad way in a Cuban hospital. We discovered that the planned Government New Year concert had been cancelled and all Government buildings and historic sites were closed. Been sort of a fan of old Hugo Chavez with his very outspoken opinions and huge anti US stance. Over the years he has implemented what he calls 21st
Century socialism to his country and encouraged other fellow countries like Bolivia to follow. Being a fan of Chavez is probably easy for me as I don’t have to live with the realities of his policies and after being here
I am unsure if he is as good as he thinks he is. Unsure if he has had any impact on helping the large level of impoverished people in Venezuela but do know that under his leadership crime has skyrocketed along with inflation. From what we understand he is either loved or loathed here so I have refrained from getting into any political discussions with locals.
There isn’t a lot to see in Caracas but the main plaza named after Simon Bolivar is beautiful leafy space and the nearby cathedral is fairly small but nice. Inside the Cathedral is the sarcophagus of Simon Bolivars parents and wife, which has a bronze statue of Simon Bolivar weeping over their graves. Up the hill was the national pantheon where Simon Bolivar himself rests but that was closed. The building behind it was an amazing shaped building, clad in rusting steel panels and looked incredible and we sort of wondered if this may have been an extension for Chavez. Also in the city was a lot of run down and deserted apartment buildings and the whole area did have a feeling of decay. We had heard that a lot of Chavez memorabilia
With Chavez we are everything, without him we are nothing
could be bought in town but we hardly saw any although I did manage to find a T-shirt. Lots of fireworks were on offer throughout the town so despite poor Chavez being possibly on deaths door some people were going to be celebrating.
We only spent about 3 hours in town before getting the metro back to our hotel. For dinner we ended up heading out at 5 in case places started closing early which was a good idea because we only just got a feed before our pizza restaurant closed around us.
Back at the hotel we sat up watching television and the firework display outside slowly building to a midnight frenzy. Because everyone can buy and let off fireworks the whole town was ablaze of colour. It was a great way to see in the New Year.
Day 448 Tuesday 1st
Woke to find Caracas enshrouded in a thick smoke haze and the streets littered with firework debris. Being New Year’s Day nothing was open and so we spent the day hanging in our room trying to work out what the hell we were going to
Old abandoned building in downtown Caracas
do. We still didn’t have a confirmation from our flight to Ciudad Bolivar and so Shelley tried to call the airline without any luck so she got the help of the guy at reception. After hanging on hold for an hour we all sort of guessed they may not be working today. We needed to plan what we are doing tomorrow so we are going with the hope our flight to Ciudad Bolivar wasn’t booked and so we reverted to plan B which is moving onto Cuba. We sort of felt that with both bus and plane tickets being a disaster that maybe it was an omen for us not to go to the Angel Falls. Booked our flight to Havana for tomorrow and did some enquires into accommodation and started some research into Cuba. We booked a flight to Havana with Cubana Air and also a flight from there to Panama as you need an onward ticket. The ticket to Panama came through OK fully confirmed and paid for but the ticket to Cuba we only got a reservation and payment was not taken out. We did not worry too much as sometimes it can come through the next
Residential building in downtown Caracas
day. We then booked our accommodation with Casa Particular which is staying in a home, these are like a B&B. So we should be all set for moving on tomorrow.
For dinner we wandered down the road and discovered the only place open was hamburger stalls on the footpath. Got a weird hamburger filled with chips, lots of cheese, and sauces…wasn’t exactly the best burger but at least we got a feed. Trying to leave Venezuela tomorrow was going to be one of our more stressful days of the trip and one we won’t forget.
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