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Published: January 25th 2013
Wednesday was a funny old day. In the hotel lobby for 5:00am for someone to take us to Havana Airport for a 9:00am Caracas flight. The airport is only 30 minutes away but the guide insisted on a pick up at 5. After two heated calls someone eventually shows up at just before 6.
Getting out of Cuba is a laugh. It takes 2 hours to check in, pay departure tax, clear emigration, get past security etc.
The national airline is broke so it runs old Russian made planes. My chair is broken, the toilets are disgusting and abysmal would praise the in-flight meal. But the plane does make it to Caracas.
Met at the airport by our guide Ludwig. He tells us he’ll change our dollars to Bolivars. The official rate is $1= 4.07 Bolivars. He offers us 13 to the dollar. He speaks good English with a strong German accent. Are you German we ask? No but his mum and dad emigrated from Germany straight after WW2.
It doesn’t take much time to work out the problem here. We drive on the motorway for 30 minutes and all we pass are slums (barrios) in the
hills surrounding the city. There are enormous murals of Hugo Chavez on the walls. Then we come to the east of the city. It is another world. Modern offices and apartments. Affluence abounds.
Spent the afternoon at the buzzing Sambil shopping mall. It’s excellent with lots of well-known store names and one of South America’s largest.
Ludwig meets us at 9 for a half day city tour. The traffic is bad but the city is interesting. The affluent bit is full of office blocks. There are some big houses with barbed wire perimeters and some with guards. There are lots of gated blocks of flats. Ludwig won’t drive us to the barrios ‘not a good idea’. Then we park and go on the subway, it is packed. We see some squares and government buildings etc. No one is the slightest bit interested in us.
At no time do we feel threatened.
Here are a few one liners about Venezuela.
The poor love Chavez – his pictures are everywhere. He is hero worshipped.
The rich hate him.
90% of the economy is oil based.
The police are corrupt. A lot of crime is
traced back to them. No point in reporting theft to them. If they do find what’s stolen they are likely to keep it for themselves.
Here is the best bit. Petrol is not taxed – it is subsidised. It is the cheapest place in the world for petrol. The cost is – wait for it - £1 will buy you 100 litres of fuel. That explains the traffic problem
Tomorrow we fly to Merida. A small town in the Venezuelan Andes.
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