On the way to the car, the driver sent and received a few texts. I wondered if he was was notifying the bad guys that we were en route so they’d know where to pull us over and rob or kidnap me. I learned you can’t trust anyone in Venezuela, and my life was in this guy’s hands.
(SHORT ON TIME? If you don’t have ten minutes for the details, scroll down for the photos)
As I sit here at gate A8 inside Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport, I’m wondering when I transformed from a wanderlust into just a damn fool. When did I change from someone who wanted to vacation in exotic places, to a maniac who travels to countries no one in their right mind would? All I used to want to do was find somewhere to parasail and snorkel; somewhere with a neat pool and maybe some slides. Now I find myself craving to get inside rogue nations where few Americans nor outsiders dare to venture.
Cuba, twelve years ago was a little sketchy. I managed to brave all of Central America, including El Salvador and Honduras. Haiti was scary. North Korea gave me the shakes. But Venezuela? Now? Am I nuts? I think I am. I think I’ve gone crazy. Really.
I planned the trip about ten months ago, and even then, Venezuela was in dire shape, having its worst economic crisis of modern times. Worsening week by week, today, the country is on the brink of collapse. That’s no exaggeration. Besides winning the crown for murder capital of the world, the times are so tough in Venezuela, they are even looting grocery stores and bakeries for food, and actually pulling over and hijacking food trucks. Robberies and kidnappings are at an all-time high and have become a normal, day to day occurrence. And did I mention Venezuela was now the murder capital of the world?
So pardon my French when I ask myself, “Randy, what the @#$% are you going to Venezuela for???”
So really, why? Well, some time ago, in my early 30s, I made a personal challenge to see all of the Americas. Every country. There’s a ton! Well, I’m more than 39 and a half now, and time’s running out! I’m almost done with my challenge, however there are three more to go: Ecuador, Colombia, and unfortunately, Venezuela. The country was once a beautiful tourist destination. Today, it’s in jeopardy of total anarchy as Chavez’s plan of a socialist bliss has gone very wrong somewhere. Very, very wrong.
So really, how bad can it be? Consider this: Many countries get a bad rap: Colombia, Mexico, Brasil, Iran, etc. There are dozens and dozens of nations with crime and warnings on the State Department website; but then when you actually meet people from those countries, they’re the first to insist that “It’s not as bad as what you hear,” as they suggest you visit and proudly tell you all of the things you need to see and do when you come to their homeland. Venezuela, on the other hand, is the only country where their people tell you not to come! Every Venezuelan I’ve ran into and told I’m coming to their country immediately gives me a puzzled look and asks, “Why???” Not very reassuring when the people are saying, “Please don’t come.” Instead of national pride from people wanting to show off their homeland, it’s wagging fingers and shaking heads. They can’t fathom why this gringo would want to go the place they’ve tried so hard to escape.
To make it worse, recently the country has made it more difficult for tourists like me to visit, requiring a visa ahead of time. This visa has to be applied for in person, at the Venezuelan consulate. I had to actually fly to San Francisco just to visit the embassy and request a visa. Along with my application, I had to include proof of employment, my mortgage statement and bank records. I’m not even kidding. I mean, who in their right mind would go through all that nonsense just to visit a country in such despair? Wouldn’t they want to welcome tourists, and make it more easy to visit? The whole thing is puzzling, and even more puzzling is why I’d go, now?
I’d done about as much studying up on Caracas as I did for North Korea, combing through every youtube video, blog, article and message board that I could find. It was all bad. And unlike North Korea, where I at least went with an organized tour, who was responsible for my wellbeing, I was rolling to Caracas solo. A solo loco.
I’d learned from the numerous articles and chats with fellow travelers on TripAdvisor, that this wouldn’t be a normal trip for me. Things were so bad, and robberies and kidnappings were so frequent, that I had to really work on keeping a low profile. The lowest profile possible. This meant dressing a certain way: no shorts, no watch, nothing to show I had any money at all; just jeans, a tee or Polo shirt and sneakers. Possibly the hardest part for a photographer and blogger like me, NO camera, and I had to keep my phone away at all times. How was I going take any pics? I resigned that desire early, in favor of the more attractive “getting out in one piece” goal.
I hired a driver from a company I found online designed to keep their clients safe. They even offered packages that included an armored car, extra SUV (for diversion) and a two-motorcycle escort; they called it “The Extreme Protection Pack.” The fact that this was an option alone scared the bejeezus outta me. And then I wondered if maybe I should have booked the Extreme Protection Pack? Would the “moderate” protection pack that I had chosen be enough to keep me from getting killed? I even wondered if this cab company I found on the internet was really legit; what if it was just a clever ploy to lure unsuspecting businessmen and tourists into the hands of Venezuelan crime lords directly. Luckily the site had a page full of references from previous clients. I located and contacted several of them to verify their quotes, and these were indeed real customers who verified their reviews.
So why not just take a regular taxi from the airport like everywhere else in the world? Apparently, many of the cab drivers in Caracas are thieves themselves. Not one or two, but according to my intel, like half! They, themselves will rob you. Do you see why this is getting scarier and scarier, the more you find out about the country? It was more bad news on top of more bad news. One of the things that made me think about cancelling the trip altogether, was when I read that robberies on the highway from the airport into town were common. Apparently gangs will block the road and stop cars to rob them, or be disguised as police officers, pulling victims over to victimize them. And this isn’t just a one-off story or urban legend. Two weeks before my trip, a friend of mine in Curação told me this actually happened to his friend while he was on his way into town from the airport.
And finally, possibly the worst news ever: the police there are as crooked as the thieves, and you cannot depend on them for help. In fact, may articles pointed to victims purposely not getting the police involved, because it would just make things worse. It seemed like whatever precaution I could take, I still wouldn’t be immune to trouble. Now wait, why was I doing this again?
The overnight flight from Quito to Caracas was silent. Only 20 of the 100 seats on the Embraer 190 TAME Airlines jet were filled. I was happy to see one American aboard: a solo female backpacker who sat in front of me; so there are other Americans visiting Venezuela, I thought, some of my tension easing just a bit knowing I wasn’t the only one. The stress came right back after she told me she was just heading to Caracas to connect to her flight back home to the States. Yep, I was the only American fool on this plane.
The cabin being pitch dark and deadly silent for most of the flight didn’t help calm my nerves. I was sitting next to the emergency exit and I swear it wasn’t sealed right, as I could hear air escaping through the seal. I changed seats from the window to the aisle to avoid being sucked out should the whole door have been compromised. It was a lonely and depressing flight. Alone in the dark, with just my thoughts.
Hours later the golden sunrise on the horizon shined through the cabin like a welcoming friend who’d been away, but finally returned. Madrugada, or dawn; it was a new day. I only managed to get a few minutes sleep during the flight. The seats were too uncomfortable and my nerves were too high strung. The creepy guy two seats ahead of me kept staring at the American girl throughout the whole flight; the kind of stares that serial killers give their victims before they kill them and chop them up. This guy was weird. I was ready to tell him that I was staying with family should he have asked me what I was doing in Caracas. But he wasn’t interested in me; he wanted her.
Immigration was easy, but the agent was very cold. I wondered, with the country’s economic problems, why the female officer had a smart phone and those expensive, fancy nails, with all the patterns and jewels. Was she corrupt too? From my research, Venezuela was painted as a country where you didn’t know who to trust–anyone could be in on the fix. I imagined the things she was involved with to keep her appearance up so nice. I was overthinking everything.
My driver was to meet me inside the airport at 7:10AM, but our plane was thirty five minutes early, so I waited in the baggage claim, safe from the general public, before customs would lead me into the main airport hall. Yeah, that’s another issue I read about that had me on edge: the airport. Apparently it too, was a crime infested madhouse. Stories reported that the airport was full of pirate taxis, independent black market money exchangers, thieves and kidnappers. Not too long ago an Egyptian tourist was shot while being robbed, right here at the airport. I even read a story that warned against taking pamphlets handed to you–they’d be poisoned with some kind of chemical that soaks through your skin and knocks you right out. No, I wasn’t going to brave the main airport hall for thirty minutes while I waited for my driver to arrive; I’d wait behind customs where it was a much more controlled environment, and only exit once it was closer to my pickup time.
At 6:55, I took a deep breathe and walked towards the exit. They were actually checking people’s luggage claim checks, to make sure the bags people were leaving with belonged to them–I’d never seen this before. I was as prepared as I could be. My “fake” wallet was in my front my pocket; the real one inside my suitcase stuffed into a dirty sock, inside a bag of dirty clothes. The pretend billfold was filled with about 50 bucks and some expired credit cards and an old ID. I did everything I could to prepare to escape a mugging with the least collateral damage possible. My attacker would get a fat wallet, and hopefully I’d escape.
The main hall wasn’t as big as I pictured, and luckily, not as crowded. I think arriving at dawn helped; I imagine in the afternoon the place would be a zoo. I was quickly spotted by a forty-something man in boots and jeans who wasted no time approaching me to offer his taxi and money exchanging services. I’d been warned not to even say one word to anyone in the airport, so I shook my head no and kept walking, although I think I had just passed my designated meeting point for my driver. I pretended I knew where I was going, as I circled back around and once again was met by the same hustler. He asked me again what I needed and told me what he could offer me, as I walked past him again, looking straight ahead.
FUN FACT: Caracas’ Simón Bolivar International Airport is officially dubbed “The World’s Most Dangerous Airport.”
I stopped at the spot where I was supposed to see my driver and pretended I belonged there, waiting for a friend, hoping I wouldn’t continue to be hassled. Seconds later I spotted my guy, with my name on a sign, and we were off. We said our hellos and other than that the cab ride into the city was complete silence. That worried me. On the way to the car, the driver sent and received a few texts. I wondered if he was was notifying the bad guys that we were in route so they’d know where to pull us over and rob or kidnap me. I learned you can’t trust anyone in Venezuela, and my life was in this guy’s hands. The photo of Jesus and the baby shoe on the dash gave me some hope that this was one of the good guys.
I expected an official looking SUV or sedan, but instead was chauffeured into town in an early 90s brown Renault, with blacked out windows. This was probably smarter, as we’d blend in; instead of looking like a celebrity or wealthy diplomat in a fancy car.
The very first thing I noticed was the amount of old, 70s and 80s American cars on the road; much different from most other South American countries I’ve visited, where you mostly see newer, compact cars. I saw old Caprice Classics, Thunderbirds and Crown Vics like you might see in Mexico, but nowhere else this far south. As we left the airport, we headed for the hills; bright red hills of clay and desert brush.
It wasn’t but five minutes into the ride when we reached a military checkpoint, complete with soldiers wielding M16s. I prayed to God they were real soldiers and not bandits. At this point I honestly thought it was 50/50. I thought, “Great, that didn’t take long!”
The driver rolled our windows down, a soldier gave a look inside the car, I greeted him with a buenos dias, and we were waved through. If this was any indication of how the rest of the thirty minute ride to town was going to be like, I was already regretting the trip.
Because of all the reports of mayhem on the highway from the airport, I was a nervous wreck. It got worse when a motorcycle zoomed up close to our car and proceeded to cruise right next to us for a few minutes. I kept scanning the biker for weapons, wondering if we were going to get hit anytime, and how I’d try my best to lay flat on the floor when the bullets started flying. Finally, the bike turned off.
Later we passed a convoy of seven or eight trucks filled to the brim with soldiers in uniform, some with their legs dangling off the back of the open truck. We passed through multiple long, dark tunnels, as we cut through the hills and winded around mountains. Finally we broke through into town and were surrounded by colorful shacks lining the hills. They’re called favelas in Brasil; not sure what the name for them here is. As we rolled into town I saw my first Hugo Chavez propaganda billboard in the distance, and numerous paintings of President Maduro’s face stenciled along the highway walls, some with Xs marked over the leader’s face.
Soon we exited the highway and after a half-dozen turns, we were pulling into the entrance of the JW Marriot in the Chacao neighborhood of Caracas, and I was being ushered inside by the bellman carrying my bags. What a sigh of relief. I’d made it.
The Marriott here was a grand hotel; I imagine probably the best hotel in the city, with high ceilings, marble floors and gold fixtures. They were so nice to me at checkin. Oreanna was in her 20s and was so welcoming to me, taking time to explain all the amenities if the hotel. Thank God they had a room ready for an early checkin, I needed to sleep. Before heading to the elevators, I asked Oreanna if the neighborhood we were in (one of Caracas’ nicest areas) was safe to explore on foot. Her tone changed to a disappointed one, as she gave me a concerned look and tried her best to explain that it was best I stay inside–it wouldn’t be safe for me out there. I thanked her, as a young man named Kenny grabbed both my bags and showed me to my room on the sixth floor. Once my nerves calmed I fell asleep, catching up on the much needed Zs I missed the night before.
After some on-and-off sleep with Spanish TV in the background, I awoke at 12:30PM just in time to get dressed and meet my guide in the lobby for our 1PM tour. I was still tired, but my excitement overrode my exhaustion. My guide Anil was downstairs waiting for me. I’d sent him money before I left, through paypal, to exchange for local currency when I arrived; that was the safest way to do it. He asked to go to my room so he could give me the cash. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t just hand it to me in the lobby, until we were in my room and he takes this humongous envelope out of his backpack, filled with cash. It looked like a million dollars–it was so much paper–all because of Venezuela’s insane inflation. It only equaled out to about 100 U.S. dollars. It was unreal, and my first experience dealing with the sheer bizarreness of this topsy-turvy nation. It looked like we just did a drug deal.
After I locked up the jackpot in my hotel safe, Anil and I were off for an afternoon tour. I didn’t realize he didn’t have his car until we walked for a few blocks. I felt like a bird freed from my cage, or a prisoner who just got released from jail. It felt liberating to be walking the streets of Caracas, yet very vulnerable at the same time. I stuck by Anil every step of the way, like a timid child in the city for the first time; glued to his father. My senses were heightened like never before; I took in everything around me all at once: the people, the traffic, the tropical air and blue skies. It was a gorgeous day.
Anil told me we’d be taking the subway to the historic section and this elated me, although I didn’t show it. I was actually going to ride the metro??? This was something I would have never had the guts to do alone, but really wanted to–so exciting I’d have the chance now.
The subway was packed for a Sunday. Lots of people of all ages: kids, babies, old folks. We spent about eight minutes on the train before getting off and ascending up into town again; into the historic section. Anil took me to Plaza de Simón Bolivar and then over to see Simón Bolivar’s first house, while giving me a crash course in Venezuelan history, detailing the events that led to the country’s independence. After that we headed to Bolivar Museum for more knowledge. Why wasn’t it this fascinating when I was learning it in 7th grade? I couldn’t care less then…now, I had a million questions and was experiencing the result of Bolivar’s fight, first hand, standing on the ground he fought for. Hell, I was actually standing inside his house!!!
I liked the museums okay, they were nice. But what I enjoy most is seeing normal, everyday life; being immersed within the locals, seeing how they live life, and go about their every day activities. What I experienced after I left the museum left me speechless…
First I heard music…salsa. As we approached a small plaza, Anil informed me that the monument of a giant red rocket in front of us was a gift to Venezuela from Russia, and everyone hated it because it was so ugly. Then the music got louder, and as we approached I saw dancing. Four of five older couples, holding each other, dancing to classic salsa music. The music sounded like it was from the 50s…and the people dancing looked like they probably danced to these songs when they were new. Their moves were spectacular; they smiled as they cut the concrete rug underneath them.
It may sound silly, but I had to hold back tears. Really. My hairs stood up and my eyes got wet. Here you have a group of people that are having terribly tough times–probably the worst in generations, so, so bad–yet no one can take their music away. Despite very hard times with little hope in sight, they still manage to dance, and smile, and love; and do it all in perfect step.
I could have stayed there all day. The whole thing sent a chill down my spine and I felt so many emotions all at once. 20 minutes ago I was frightened. Now I’m filled with love, and romance from days gone by. I didn’t want to leave. But there was more to see, so we did.
Next up, we walked ten blocks to reach the Panteón Nacional de Venezuela…which is the final resting place for national heroes. Directly behind it, and a stark architectural contrast to the pantheon, lies the 140 million dollar Simón Bolivar mausoleum. Anil was a fantastic teacher, explaining to me that they exhumed Bolivar’s bones in 2010 for autopsy to put an end to the conflicting reports of how he died. He told me stories about Bolivar’s wife and mistress, and how he paired up with Antonio José Sucre to give Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela independence from Spain. I learned so much, and wish I would have paid more attention when I heard it the first time in school. I didn’t care then. I am absolutely fascinated by it now.
Next, another awesome surprise, as we heard music and a crowd near The Bank Of Venezuela. When we popped in under the alcove, we discovered a dance troop practicing their show. It was a younger version of what I saw in the plaza awhile ago. And these kids could dance! The music and the moves were incredible and the screams and hollers from the fans showed how despite bad conditions, music keeps hope alive. What a show! The best things in life are free.
After we watched the dancing for about 15 minutes, we continued our stroll down the avenue where we came upon a little park where there were dozens of old men playing dominos on little tables. You could hear lots of chatter and the clinking of the dominoes being clashed together. To the left were basketball and soccer courts and to the right was a playground and giant Hugo Chavez mural.
I mentioned to my guide Anil, that I’d read about a high-rise building in Caracas, that had been completely taken over by squatters. He asked if I wanted to see it, and of course I said yes! We jumped onto a local bus. It was time to put my camera away, and keep it away. We were heading out of the tourist section.
FUN FACT: There are lots of white people in Venezuela, and there’s a name for them: catires. I asked my guide if I could pass for a Venezuelan (after all, I read up on how to dress so I wouldn’t like a tourist). Anil said yes, I looked Venezuelan, until I opened my mouth, and then that surely would blow my cover.
Ten minutes later we were staring up at The Tower of David. Massive. 45-stories. It was a financial building, still under construction when all of a sudden the construction stopped, and the squatters moved in. I could give you the details, but here’s a seven minute youtube video all about it. Fascinating.
I was told that most of the residents have since left, and the building was bought by the Chinese and construction would resume soon. I had so many questions, the biggest one: how do the police just “let” things like this happen? Apparently that was every day life in Caracas, and what I was shown next made the Tower of David look like amateur night.
We were soon walking by what looked like a mall. Well it used to be a mall. Now it was the base of operations for “the mob,” as my guide explained it. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but according to my guide, here was a major shopping mall that was taken over by the cartel, and is currently used to house their operations, including holding their kidnapping victims. Again, I asked why the police didn’t intervene, and was reminded that they too were involved in all of this mayhem that is Caracas. The story of the “mobster mall” defies all logic and reasoning, but that’s what kind of upside down world this place is. Of course I tried my best to imagine what it must be like inside that “mall,” but even my imagination had trouble fathoming the scene.
We talked a lot about crime in Caracas and I asked a million questions. I didn’t ask permission to quote some of my guide’s personal experiences, so out of respect, I’m not going to repeat them here; but wow, my guide has been through a lot in Caracas. The things he told me that has happened to him are out of a Bourne Identity movie. Crazy, crazy stuff. And it happens a lot here.
We jumped on the subway again and I was back in my hotel by 4:30, now physically and mentally exhausted. I had learned so much, seen so much, done so much in such a short amount of time. I was also a bit relieved that we had no problems. And while I definitely didn’t feel immune to trouble, I was happy that I spent my first day without running into any. It all seemed so surreal, so unreal…like I was in a movie. I didn’t see one American. Not one. And that’s why I love these kind of trips; you completely get away from everything; you’re off the grid, escaping reality into another universe few Americans have seen.
By the way, the people of Venezuela are absolutely beautiful. In fact, I think their beauty rivals even Brasil. The country’s mix of African, European and Native blood all come together to offer some exceptionally gorgeous people! Anil tells me that because most people are mixed, racism simply doesn’t exist in Venezuela.
I did experience my first issue with the food shortage at dinner. When my chicken sandwich arrived, it had turned into two “mini” sandwiches. The waiter apologized and explained it was the food shortage had left them without regular sandwich buns. How could I be annoyed or upset at that, though–when I knew so many families were without basic food altogether. I chowed down, then went to my room and crashed out. My last day in Caracas was tomorrow, and if it was anything like the first, I’d need some rest.
Still groggy from the Excedrin PMs I took the night before, I stumbled upstairs for breakfast on the 17th floor before washing myself off and meeting Anil downstairs for our second tour. This time it was by car, and our first stop was the mirador (view point) at Arriba Valle. This was the wealthy area of Caracas and beautiful condos were all around. Fancy buildings, manicured landscape, no graffiti…this was a different Caracas then what I’d seen so far. We pulled over and took some pics of the city down below, while Anil pointed out the different parts of town. I couldn’t help but marvel at the two different worlds–so close to one another, yet complete parallel universes.
Next stop, Hatillo, a small town about thirty minutes out of the city. This was a quaint little area with narrow streets and colorful old buildings. Nothing spectacular, but away from the madness of Caracas, and safe to take out my camera for photos. We stopped in a giant craft and souvenir shop that was filled with a million hand-made Venezuelan products; not the tacky souvenirs you usually see in gift shops, but really cool and authentic crafts and artwork. I bought a few small things and had coffee with Anil at the adjoining café. The rain started and we hustled back to the car to head back to town.
As we were on our way back I got excited when I saw a huge sign that read “FM Center” on the top of a high-rise. Anil asked if I wanted to go there, and before he could finish the question I was saying, Hell Yeah.
“FM Center” was a group of radio stations on the bottom floor of a five-level shopping mall, in the base of the skyscraper. Four of the studios had glass walls that faced out into the mall so you could see into the studios. I stared through the glass like a groupie, and watched the DJs and news announcers do their thing. I wanted to go in and meet them so bad. I sent emails to a few of the radio stations before the trip, asking if I could stop by, but no response. Damn, if they only knew I was a nationally syndicated DJ and program director!
After a few pics outside the radio station (like a stalker), Anil and I cruised around four of the five floors of the mall, called Concresa. The shopping center was straight outta the 70s, with brown marble floors, a giant (dry) fountain, a bunch of little stores (many of them closed) and a food court.
After a busy morning, I was starvin’ Marvin, so we headed for restaurante Polar Del Este for my first taste of arepa. I’d been told arepa was the one thing I’d have to try while in Venezuela, and I’m so glad I was given this advice, or I would’ve never asked for it. It was amazing. How do I explain it? I’ll take it frame by frame it: it’s like a sandwich, made with a ground corn patty, that’s stuffed with various ingredients. I chose beef, and it was grilled with some kind of tasty veggie-salsa-mix, including avocado. Anil chose some kind of chicken salad with lots of avocado. It was hot, fresh, and filling.
It was eating with Anil at Polar Del Este when I realized I was having a legitimate Anthony Bourdain moment. Here I was, in a sketchy country, eating at a locals-only place with no other tourists around, commenting on the amazing food, while asking the local expert all about the food, history and lifestyle of Venezuela. All I needed were the cameras! It was pretty surreal and felt just like something Anthony Bourdain would do. He’s my hero, by the way!
Oh, and another sign of the country’s food shortage. I ordered a passion fruit juice, but they couldn’t make it because it required sugar, and the restaurant had none. Crazy, right?
After lunch, on the way to our next destination, we happen to pass a grocery store; and just like I’d read about, I witnessed a line all the way down the block, of people waiting to get into the store. Anil tells me that often people will wait in line overnight, not even knowing if they’ll be guaranteed food when it’s their turn to enter. This was world news–and I was right there, in person. I snapped a quick pic. And then I prayed for the people.
FUN FACT: (or maybe not so fun), Anil explained to me that the Venezuelan government has, and still is refusing aide from other countries (food, medicine, etc.)
Next up on the big show, a tour of the Central University of Venezuela. Anil cruised the car around the campus, showing me all the different buildings, halls and stadiums. How I wanted to get out of the car and run around the campus…go speak at an English class or something!
After the university tour, we went to Paseo Los Próceres, a monument near Fort Tiuna and the military academy. Next to the beautiful monument, which included multiple fountains and a shallow pool leading up to the statue, we toured some kind of “mall,” which I think was similar to the kind of commissaries we have on U.S. military bases. The most interesting part was the “military-only” grocery store, which, according to Anil, was totally full and stocked. He mentioned that the military gets everything first, while the people go hungry. There was a little stand outside selling national gifts; flags, Venezuela t-shirts, etc. I bought a Hugo Chavez bobble head.
We had a very busy second day, and it wasn’t just the sights and the sounds that were crammed into my brain; but all the knowledge, history and social information that I was fed over the past 48-hours…it immense; the kinds of things you read about in text books, hear about in lectures and watch on the news–but when you’re actually there, to witness it all: the past, the present, the future, in real life–wow, it’s heavy.
It could have been just a coincidence, or maybe this was truly my “reward” for braving and surviving Caracas; our last stop was La Praline Chocolatier, for some of Venezuela’s best chocolate. Again, kind of weird that grocery stores and restaurants were out of basic staples, but gosh darn it, here I am tasting some of the richest gourmet chocolate in the world, and there was tons of it. I sampled my favorite: a lemon filled truffle and a passion fruit truffle. So good, and a nice celebratory treat. Oh, wait…I still have to get to the airport tomorrow!
Like the day before, I returned to my hotel well before sundown and didn’t leave the building. I was again so mentally exhausted, yet so happy and relieved that I’d gotten through two days in Caracas unscathed. My eyes saw so much more than what I was able to capture with the camera. It was so frustrating being in what seemed like normal situations (on the street, in the park, etc.) and not being able to whip out even my cheap point-and-shoot camera to record the fantastic images I saw. Lots of Art Deco, by the way; but all in places not safe for the display of electronics.
I was awoken the next morning by a guy at the front desk, telling me my driver was here…he announced that news to me like a Spanish-speaking radio announcer, both animated and loud–I was so startled and confused. I made my way downstairs and into the car, ready for the journey back to the airport, a little more relaxed than I was upon arrival. Turned out, according to Anil, those highway robberies happen when crooked cab drivers tip off the bandits–collaborating the robberies when they have wealthy customers in the car. How horrible! I was pretty sure I was in good hands, after spending the last two days with Anil (it was his driver and car service that took me to and from the airport.)
My driver drove like a bat out of hell, on both trips to and from the airport; and the only thing on the way back to the airport that got me a little nervous was a slow down in one of the long, dark tunnels. But it wasn’t bandits blocking the road, just normal congestion. Sure enough, 27 minutes later I was at the airport.
I even felt a little more confident braving the airport this time, although I didn’t breathe a real sigh of relief until I was past immigration and at the gate. The flight out of town on Avianca seemed so much more normal than the flight in. I said my last goodbye to Caracas as the wheels went up and we sailed into the midday sun.
I probably won’t ever visit Caracas again, at least not until the country is fixed, and who knows if or when that will happen. I leave happy for all I’ve seen and learned during my short time there, and thankful that my stay there was safe; but I also leave with genuine sadness in my heart for the people of Venezuela, who deserve so much more. It’s one thing to watch disaster, chaos and injustice from afar, but once you’ve seen it first hand, it changes your life. We as humans deserve at the very least, the basic necessities: food, shelter, simple human rights, a voice. For a country that was once so rich, it’s a shame that Venezuela is crumbling, in so many ways. It’s going to take another revolution to turn the tide of this country, and I pray it happens soon, and with the least amount of casualties.
Here’s my podcast for Venezuela:
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96 thoughts on “Inside Venezuela”
Of course you would run into a radio station in Caracas! LOL! Great report on Venezuela. See, with a little common sense and heeding the advice of the locals, you were fine! Just a shame that the country is in such dire straights given how beautiful of a place it is for tourism. I want to visit myself to see Angel Falls and hike up Mount Roraima.
Awww, thanks for coming by! I’m not done yet though…you looked too early! Finishing this up tonight Weech!
LOL! Okay, well then I am looking forward to the rest of your report then. You definitely have me on my toes on what I have read so far!!
Alright, just read the rest of it. Well, glad to hear that you visited Caracas unscathed! Honestly, nowhere in the world is 100% safe nowadays – NYC, Dhaka, Paris, Brussels, Madrid, London, Orlando, etc.
But, you took all the precautionary measures that you needed to, and even though you probably didn’t get to take as many photos as you would have like to, I guarantee you will vividly remember this trip amongst all 193 countries once you complete your goal.
I honestly know the feeling. Like yourself, I love taking photos of everyone and everything remotely interesting on my travels. It pains me when I can’t do it due to explicit rules or safety concerns.
But, you know what? There was a point in time when cameras didn’t exist at all, so travellers had nothing but their words and stories painted a vision for others to “see.”
Ahhhh, exactly! And thanks again for reading! Where are you off to next? Where are you based?
Ramblin’ Randy, I am based in Toronto, Canada. The last International trips I did were in 2014 (Brazil for World Cup and Cuba for my friend’s wedding). Have done quite a few trips both domestically and Internationally before that. But, in the past 18 months, it has been Los Angeles and Indianapolis (for the latest Indy 500 – 100th Running).
Next trip planned is 2017 for my Honeymoon. My fiancee and I have been all over the map on this one – between Argentina and Indonesia (Bali to be specific). Who knows where we will end up, but it will be a new country for both of us for sure! 🙂
Talk with Jonny from DSL about getting my contact info as he has it. Easier to talk about my past travels that way instead of filling up your comment section here. Still have a ton of past travel stories to add to my blog, but as you know, blogs are always a work in progress. 🙂
Man, seeing that international airport brings back alot of memories man. I’m from Ottawa, Canada. This is one good piece of review and adventure of Venezuela. I was there last May 2015 and my girlfriend told me things are worst now and I cant return. But seriously I remember landing in Caracas waiting for my luggage. I was only Chinese guy there. I flew from Bogota and everyone was starring at me there already. (Not sure if they hated Asians or not lol) After almost 30 to 40 minutes waiting for my luggage. I was trying to connect to wifi in airport but was difficult to. I was walking towards the security to the other side and this guy I passed by just starred me down and said hello to me. I still remember that stare down from him. I was like fuck me. I thought he was going to come after me. After passing through security that’s when all the men came up to me. Crazy. The only person I spoke to was the couple that sat on the flight with me. He’s from Caracas and his English wasn’t great but he told me there was a national airport on other side and most likely my girlfriend was there. So he walked me out and I was telling him my girlfriend told me not to do that. He told me not worry. So I took the chance and walked to the other side. My girlfriend was waiting at the doors where the bridge connects from international to national, She saw me walking outside and she rushed down to the lobby as fast as possible. Oh man was that a great way to meet her lol At that time we were friends but now we together haha. To me I got lucky and was stupid for not listening to her. After that, we flew to Margarita Island. That place was “Paradise”. I guess you also didn’t get to try empandas? That stuff is soooooo good. I think it taste better than Arepas. But I love them both. Everyday I’m hoping for Venezuela to get better. I literally just search Venezuela and click news tab to see if any good news pop up. Only surpising news is that Venezuela holds the most lightning boltz records in the world lol. (Great news) Other than that a Canadian guy on the wanted list from Calgary is also caught which surprised me too. You’re american too. Not sure if you heard of the guy from Utah getting arrested in Caracas. Police said he’s a spy for USA and some resident says the police planted weapons in the apartment and made up the story. Miss Margarita Island alot and my girl. Hoping to one day marry her and bring her here to Canada. Hoping she has the patience for the long distance relationship and sponsorship application. By the way, look at this link on youtube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCpSRU1aMsg) It’s a prison in Margaritas. On the way to the airport you see it. I passed by it taxi driver and my girlfriend told me that’s where the San Antonio Prison is located. I wish I can go in and check it out lol. Dude, I might be just as crazy as you lol. It’s just so interesting.
Wow, just watched the video on San Antonio Prison, unbelievable! Stark contrast from Caracas’ Rodeo Prison!!!
I’m a Brit but married to a Venezuelan guy which means we go there every year.
A great country down on its luck, and then some.
Hey, thank you! Would love to hear your stories on your travels there. Let me know of any of my stuff was inaccurate too, please!
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Great blog! I found you through TripAdvisor.
My wife is Venezuelan so I’ve been a few times, but no more. Once we thought we’d move there when I retire, but forget it now. There are a lot of other places to visit and consider.
Oh wow, would love to hear some stories. You’re lucky you’ve been able to spend some time there. My trip was way too quick.
I legit cried reading this. 1) Because I feel so horribly sad for tee Venezuelan people and 2) this sounds exactly like something I would / have experienced. I am excited to read the rest of your blog and it would be awesome to have a conversation with you it person.
Thanks so much for this read! It’s the highlight of my week, so far.
Dude, this means a lot. Thank you Isaiah!
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I’m going to Venezuela December or January I ‘m also flying to the San Francisco Consulate in October. Last year I went to the New Orleans consulate such a hassle to get this visa! The visa situation is something new. Anyways it’s a shame you didn’t enjoy the nightlife there everybody says it’s so dangerous there but I never had any problems. Anyways nice story!
That’s awesome David. Do you have family there? When I was there, they told me that even many restaurants weren’t even staying open for dinner.
Stumbled upon your blog from the Venezuela tripadvisor forum. Really interesting read – thanks for sharing!
Ahhh,thank you! Going to Venezuela any time soon?
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I got bad news today. I just received my envelope from Venezuela and was denied a tourist visa. Does anyone know what my options are?
In reflecting, I provided them with everything they requested. I cannot understand why my visa was denied.
Any suggestion is greatly appreciate it.
Oh no!!! Did they give ANY reason??? I am so sorry to hear this.
No, I don’t think I gave them any reason. When I visited the Venezuelan Consulate in San Francisco, the lady told me that all my documents were in order. I am really baffle by this outcome. I am planning to revisit the consulate in San Francisco in the coming weeks to find out why they refused my application and what my options are for reapplying.
I submitted the following documents, as requested by Venezuelan consulate.
1. Filled out and signed the Tourist Visa Application
2. Submitted Original U.S Passport
3. Submitted copy of my U.S Passport
4. Provided Digital photos
5. Provided proof of employment. I am self-employed
6. Provided documents demonstrating ownership of prosperity. I provided my car’s lease contract and finance company information
7. Provided them with recent bank statement. Also provided signed letter issued by the branch manager
8. Provided flight information itinerary
9. Provided money order for $30
10. Hand delivered the documents to the Venezuelan Consulate in San Francisco
11. Provided Pre-Paid envelope
I tried calling the Venezuelan consulate in San Francisco but no one answers the phones. I send them emails, but they have yet to respond. I researched their website and internet, but cannot find anything on what my options are or what I need to do next.
My only solution is to visit the Venezuelan Consulate in San Francisco again. When I received my envelop, it contained my passport and small note stating that my visa was denied and that is it. No explanation of any kind.
I will keep you updated.
Man, bummer! 🙁
Thanks for sharing your experience. Any updates on your Visa Application? I too am self-employed, is that an issue for them?
Check the comments on this blog: http://www.ramblinrandy.com/blog/applying-for-my-venezuelan-tourist-visa-at-the-san-francisco-consulate/
A lot of folks have been there recently and have outlined their stories. Looks like it’s a little longer/difficult now. Just try and put together as many docs as you can…be as thorough as you can! Let me know how it goes.
This is such an intriguing read. Thanks for sharing your experience and exact thoughts and feelings. The first part was humorous and a little saddening at the same time. I successfully applied for a Venezuela Visa just in case I decide to visit during my South America trip. But unlike you, I can’t pass off as a Venezuelan: I’m Asian LOL. Anil sounds like a wonderful guide. Is there anyway to contact him?
Yes of course…sending you an email now! Let me know if you don’t get it. Thanks so much for reading!
Got it, thanks!
Awesome blog man! Good read for sure. My mom is from venezuela (dad is canadian) and am going back to caracas after 5yrs with my bro. Got family there and i speak spanish so hopefully no problems! Kinda nervous around the highway to and from the airporr but u gotta do what u gotra do!
Thanks Jason! Please send us updates on your trip!!! Would love to hear all about it. Safe travels!
Hi. It’s such a nice blog.
I’m a korean guy planning to travel caracas and colonia tovar this july.
I have my girlfreind in Venezuela. Do you think nothing gonna happen?
I arrive at about 4 pm at the airport. Do you think it will be safe at highway?
As I’m an asian I’m a bit nervous what the residents gonna think about me.
Hello my friend! My advice is to hire a driver ahead of time–make reservations. Unless your girlfriend’s family is coming to pick you up. Venezuela, right now, is just not the place to travel solo. If you’re with locals, I feel good about it!
Great blog Randy and one which has inspired me to travel to the country. Do you have contact details for Anil?
Jay, that’s awesome! When will you go? Did you get your visa? You can contact Anil through his website: taxitocaracas.com Tell him I sent you!
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Thanks for the link. I am from the UK so no problem getting visa on arrival. I am thinking of going in October 🙂
Safe travels my friend! Send updates!
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Hi Ramblin’ Randy!
I enjoyed a lot reading your post. I was born and raised in Caracas, and I have witnessed the decline of our country. But I also remember the good times, and I am sure that we as a strong people will recover from this tough situation and make our country great again (LOL)
I am surprised that your knowledgeable tourist didn’t take you to the Avila Mountain. There is an exciting cable car that takes you to the mountain, and you enjoy the best views of the city and also of the Caribbean Sea (as you get near the top you can see the city to one side and the sea to the other). Fresh breeze, good food and a nice walk…it’s by far the best tourist destination of the city.
I found some good information in English for your review…maybe you should consider revisiting our country just to live this experience!
Francisco! What a treat to hear from you and I am honored you read my piece on my short visit. As you could see, my visit was way too short, and I am looking forward to a return when I can spend more time. Where are you located now?
What was the name of the company that you used to hire a personal driver? Looking for a safe way to get around when I travel there this August. Any information would be great!
Ask for Anil at http://www.taxitocaracas.com He’s the owner and I highly recommend.
Good luck with your trip to Venezuela! I have been wanting to go on this tour to Mount Roraima for a few years now with this tour company that I have used to visit Peru and Brazil in the past. But with all of the protests going on in Caracas these past few months, the company no longer offers this tour due to the chaos with the government. If you have a blog, then I would love to read more about how your trip turns out!
My name is Christophe who is an American citizen. Thanks for sharing your notes and pictures of Caracas that I really enjoyed. HMMM, I would want to come visit Caracas one day, but more likely I don’t think so due to a high crime activity there, That is a big one problem. I wonder if someone in Caracas can tour me around the city as long as he would need to protect me there (or perhaps 2 or 3 persons to be with me)? I really don’t know how it would work out that way. Like I said, I don’t think I’ld come visit the city for sure. I wonder if I can get connected to fly to another city in South America through the connection at the Caracas airport? I didn’t realize that I would have to carry a luggage after the customs are cleared and I then bring it with me to go through the security before reaching the gate. My roommate flew to Seoul, South Korea and he was not required to go to the customs room and his luggage was transferred to the Bangkok, Thailand bound airplane as he walked to the gate for his flight journey to Bangkok, not like Caracas. Why is that in Caracas? Do I need to apply for a Venezuelan visas to just get off the airplane and to walk to the customs room to catch the next flight for a city in South America besides Venezuela? I wonder if I could use my debit card which is issued VISA by my bank to take some Venezuelan cash notes out of the ATM machine at the airport because collecting the foreign money is one of my favorite hobbies? Yep, I will use my common sense whenever I am inside the Caracas airport waiting to catch a flight. I can be reached at email@example.com and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Safe travels Christopher!
Well written. Definitely spoke to my most human emotions.
Great post. I have really enjoyed reading your experience man!
I was looking to visit Venezuela in February. Got few friends who are willing to pick me up in the airport. But it scary when you think if no one picks you in the airport you are screwed.LOL
i wonder if you can still keep in touch with your tour guide Anil? Also what was the rate per day if you would like to share?
Yes, I still keep in touch with Anil. I don’t remember the rate, but if you need someone, he’s the best. Then again, if you have friends there, even better! Contact me if I can help in any way, Elias!
My English writing is not so good.
But what a borring s story.
Just 2 days in Caracas.
And scared of nearly everything.
Thanks for coming by Edwin! Your English is great, keep at it. Cheers!
Hi Randy, I was taking a look at your blog and wanted to ask a couple of questions about travel to Venezuela. I am planning a trip to Anaco which is closer to Barcelona than to Caracas. As an performing artist, I I travelled throughout Europe last year and hope to figure out requirements in advance. I understand I need a visa to travel, is this correct? Can you make some recommendations on the most reliable way to do this? I did attempt to call the number I have for the consulate in Miami and Houston but wasn’t able to speak with anyone. Thank you for any information you can share.
Greetings Todd! Venezuelan visas are one of the toughest to get at the moment. You have to have all the required documents and go to the consulate in person. Don’t bother calling. More on the visa process here, you can also read the comments on the bottom on this page (link) to see how others are fairing. It’s tough, but not impossible: http://www.ramblinrandy.com/blog/applying-for-my-venezuelan-tourist-visa-at-the-san-francisco-consulate/
Im a 33 year old male from Canada, toying with the idea of going to venezuela in a couple months. Glad I stumbled on this blog, you;re a great story teller. Haven;t read it all yet, but you have me chuckling already. Looking for ward to reading the rest of this.
Awww Simon, thank you! Let me know if you decide to go and if I can help. Safe travels my friend.
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That was a damn good read! Thank you for sharing!
Thanks so much Billy!
Hi there! Could you give me the contact for Anil? How much was your complete Venezuela trip ? 🙂
Sure! His website is taxitocaracas.com and you can contact him from there. It’s been a few years; I don’t remember the cost–but I remember it was fair.
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Randy: Can you share your thoughts about how you feel about what’s going on in Venezuela currently? Are you optimistic about the possibility of change? I am hopeful, as I sympathize with the Venezuelan people, and would love to visit their country one day soon…
Oh, I think it is fascinating and horrifying to watch and I think it’s GOT to be close to a boiling point. I can’t believe it’s gone on this long. I’m disappointed Russia and China aren’t on the rest of the world’s side though. Something’s GOT to give soon. As for visiting–to date, it’s been one of my favorite trips. Absolutely beautiful country and I want to return so much!
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