Euro 2008 in Caracas with Piero and Ana, this isn’t Spain we are in is it?

21 July, 2008

In life sometimes things are a bit surreal, sometimes they are just totally surreal, our weekend in Caracas with Piero and Ana definitely was one of the more surreal.

The gang enjoying the game

We were in Caracas Venezuela as Cath had to work there for a couple of days; Greg got a cheap ticket and joined her, writing in the hotel room while she worked in the office.

This was our second trip to Caracas; in the newly renamed “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” you would think things have to be going pretty well in a country for the government to have time to rename the country, but as of January this year the country was renamed to reflect the importance of Simon Bolivar( the first bloke to attempt to unify South America) in the country’s history.

As we noted on our first arrival to Caracas, it’s a pretty shocking city to arrive in, as soon as you step through the arrival gates into the public part of the airport you are heckled by blokes wanting to change money, offer cheap hotels, car hire – you name it. It’s the only airport we have visited outside Zimbabwe where you get the same level of touting.

The drive into town is up a large range of hills, on the second part of the drive the hills are covered in ramshackle buildings, the amount of slums in Caracas has (according to locals and friends who visit their regularly) been steadily increasing since Chavez came to power.

There is amazing amounts of homelessness and poverty visible in Caracas, much more than any other South American city we have visited (though we haven’t visited that many), but pictures definitely stuck in our heads of people making houses on the banks of the river that runs through the city, building houses underneath the motorway fly over’s and in any other patch of land that is free. You see homeless people in all South American cities – but not in the numbers we saw in Caracas.

During our times in Caracas we didn’t hear a single good thing about the President, most people are quick to point out how much they dislike him, and how he only wins elections because there is compulsory voting, and so many of the country’s poor people vote for him the hope that he will make things better. The international press certainly does him little favours, his reputation as a loud mouthed slightly crazy leader is almost universal; he is probably the most famous South American politician at the moment – and usually for all the wrong reasons.

But what is actually happening in Venezuela at the moment?

Are things getting better under Chavez, or are they getting worse?

It’s really hard to tell, but the fact is Chavez has made more money than ever thanks to high oil prices, but he also faces a massive challenge, though always a wealthy country Venezuela never had much in the way of wealth distribution, and from my quick look on the internet this morning it appears that the number of people living in poverty in Venezuela has been steadily dropping.

Even the CIA world fact book shows that the percent of the population living below the poverty line in Venezuela has dropped from 67 percent to 37 percent in 2008 which anyone would have to admit are pretty staggering statistics (if they are in fact true)!!

But enough about politics, what about hanging out with Piero and Ana and watching football i hear you ask?!!?

So Pesty and Spana were just finishing up another adventure around South America and luckily our paths crossed in Caracas, they were about to head over to Barcelona where they are setting up home for a while (remember 2008 is officially the year of “moving somewhere Latin speaking”)!!!

So we headed out to watch the final of Euro 2008, we headed to a part of town that was in easy walking distance of the hotel but of course as this is Caracas, its apparently not safe to walk anywhere so we got a taxi).

The taxis in Caracas are pretty amazing, as a dedicated car nut, Greg loves it, it appears that anyone who has a car can stick a taxi sticker on their windscreen and heh presto they are a taxi driver, this fact combined with the super low petrol prices (around five cents US per litre) means that a lot of the taxis are massive old American sedans from the 1970s.

Here is just one of the beauties i snapped from our hotel window:

Caracas Taxis – your choice a tiny battered Daewoo or an ‘merican muscle car?

So we drove around the suburb of La Candelaria trying to find a good pub to watch the match in, we eventually found a place called “Wassup! Bar and Fun Place, since 2002”

Wassup!!?!?

So of course we knew instantly this was our kind of bar, we love fun, and have done since long before 2002! Hanging with Piero and Ana is great as they both speak pretty good Spanish, but the Venezuelan version of Spanish is pretty difficult to follow, so we were all confused when the bar tender said he couldn’t sell usthree beers and a Smirnoff ice, but he could see us either six, fifteen or twenty six beers and a Smirnoff ice… totally confused we decided to go with just fifteen beers (to start at least) and then the mystery was solved as the barman dragged out a bucket filled with beers and ice and handed us a bottle opener. Pure genius, he doesn’t have to waste time serving us, and we didn’t have to wait around for him (which was lucky):

Waiting, waiting, waiting for a drink!!

I just wish we had ordered twenty six beers, then you get it served in an Esky/chilly bin. Of course for our readers who are used to being served in English or Aussie or Kiwi pubs – remember this is South America, you never, ever, go up to the bar yourself – anywhere that serves drinks always serves to your table – something we are getting quite accustomed to now!

So we settled down with our fifteen ice cold beers and one Smirnoff ice for Ana. Let me just say that Venezuela has without a doubt the worst beer of any country we have visited. We were stuck with no choice in the bar we drunk at – there was only Brahma Light – kind of like XXXX gold, a tasteless mid strength horrible beer – served ice cold which is good as it stops you noticing the lack of taste.

We settled down with our beers to enjoy the game, we were amazed to find that the whole place was 100 percent supporting Spain, it appears that Venezuelans still look back fondly on their colonial heritage, there were some German supporters (including us) but we were in a tiny minority.

Everyone had dressed up in their best red and Spanish gear, and unfortunately for us, the game went with the Spanish – though it was all very well mannered… This lady at the bar particularly caught our eye, she had a butt that would make Beyonce proud and man she loved to shake it and her boyfriend loved to grab it!!!

Beyonces twin sister shakes her thing!

After the game, the streets filled with 1,000s of honking flag waving Spanish supporters, this unofficial victory parade went on well into the night:

Just part of the never ending Spanish victory parade

So it appears that no matter the state of the economy, at least these folks really know how to party!


A lovely weekend in a land where petrol is cheaper than water…

26 February, 2008

After only two days in Caracas, we knew we couldn’t spend a weekend in the city (it’s not that exciting or safe) and our hotel, like many in Caracas was just a shambles… more things didnt work than did work, and the place seemed to be running out of food…. Aparently due to the loss of value of the Bolivar Fuerte (or strong bolivar – the currency of Venezuela is named in honour of the great south american leader Simon Boliviar, and just in case you were wondering the country named after him uses the Boliviano as its currency) . Sorry i ramble, back to rapid currency devaluation, so the currency has lost at 30% of its value in the last year due to rampant inflation, so things are getting to expensive to buy, so businesses have just stopped buying stuff – like ingredients for food on the menu for example! But more on the Venezuelan black market later….

At least our hotel looked good:

Hotel Tamanaca, Caracas

Hotel Tamanac

So our initial plan to fly out to the island of Los Roques, but this cunning plan was quashed by the fact that in late January one of the two planes that services the island ‘got lost’ with its 35 passengers and 3 crew onboard, to date it’s still ‘lost’ though they have ‘found’ the body of the co-pilot. Poor beggars, it hasn’t been a good start to year for Venezuelan air travel, with another plane crashing while we were there killing 46 people flying out of a town high in the Andes.

So that was enough of a sign from the travel gods that this was probably not the best place to have a weekend involving a flight in a small plane, so instead we headed west of Caracas to a tiny little town called Puerto Colombia:

Porto Colombia, Venezuela

Porto Colombias main street

The town is at the end of a very very very very windy mountain road, the road is so windy they have a race up it every year, running or cycling, the road up has 360 corners on the upward drive, and climbs well over 1800 metres, from just near the equator warmth at the bottom, to nice and chilly at the top. Of course the road is rough and ready, often only one lane – especially it appeared around the blind corners, so all the cars, motorbikes, buses, tractors and trucks that drive the road spend the whole time honking, reversing or just barging their way through, exciting if somewhat scary stuff!

Road to Puerto colombia, Venezeula

The road up through the mist

So we stayed at a beautiful little hacienda just on the edge of town, the hacienda was a converted cocoa plantation house, really cool, olde worlde rustic, with a great swimming pool, and a little restaurant/bar serving fresh seafood straight off the boats.

Hammocks outside room

Must have a hammock to live here, my kind of lifestyle

The town itself was tiny and crazy, the oldest port in Venezuela, with just a couple of streets of old Spanish style houses and lots of little restaurants and bars, I imagine it is like Port Douglas (in QLD) was like before the resorts and developers arrived. I think the two taxi-buses that service the town and nearby Choroni pretty well sum the place up:

Puerto Colombia to Choroni Taxi

Thomas the tank engine – taxi

Puerto Colombia to Choroni Taxi number two

Postman pat post van – taxi

Local fishing boats were used to ferry sun seekers to the nearby beaches for a day of sun and surf, so on the Saturday morning we took got a 15 minute boat ride – no life vest, so safety briefing, just get in, sit down, and shut up, the waves were massive, each boat that made it out of the harbour without capsizing was accompanied by a cheers from the onlookers on the harbour, scary stuff, but the boat trip was definitely worth it, the beach was great, we were finally on the Caribbean!!!

Puerto Colombia harbour

The harbour – on Sunday morning, much calmer than Saturday!

The beach we went too had no land access, but like all the beaches along this coast, it was still full service – a family lived on the beach where they had built a little kitchen and bar – perfect for us, so we spent the day taking dips in the warm water, drinking ice cold beers and we had a cracking lunch with a german family we got talking too, fresh fish straight from the ocean grilled, with fried plantain (a kind of banana – but for cooking) and salad – the perfect meal for a beach, and only US$5 each including the beers!

After a relaxing day we headed back into town for another swim, some more ice cold beers – the only problem with their beers is the normal bottle is only 225mls, a mere nip of beer for people used to drinking a good English pint!

So Sunday we packed up and headed back to Caracas, a journey which had taken 5 hours on Friday, luckily it only took 2.5 hours on Sunday, we got talking to our driver and i asked him why everyone drove 4x4s in Venezuela, where as in Brazil and Colombia people just drove small hatch backs. He explained that petrol was cheap as chips in Venezuela thanks to the wonderful President Chavez, it was currently about US$10 for him to fill up his Toyota Landcruiser, but as he regarded this as still too expensive he usually bought his fuel on the black market, so to fill the 90 litre tank usually cost him US$2 – that’s US$0.02 a litre…. cheaper than a litre of bottled water, you can imagine his horror when we explained we were paying nearly a £1 a litre in England….

Ohh welll back to work..

also thanks for the correction info on the Chavez post, Chavez was infact a military leader, not a union official prior to becoming el presidente – must have got my south american dictators mixed up for a moment!


Lessons learned from travelling in South America part 956.

22 February, 2008

No matter how good a “Chicken Madras” may look on a room service menu in a hotel in Caracas, only a fool would actually order one right?

Visions of a rainy London night, a couple of Banghla beers, some popadoms and nice hot, thick rich gravy, chicken madras momentarily filled my head….

But it can only lead to disappointement… the chance of a Venezuelian chef being able to cook a good Indian curry would have to be about nil right?

Well i can now confirm after last nights room service dinner, thats right, what was described as a Madras curry was actually a capsicum loaded chicken risotto with a dash of curry powder, a liberal sprinkling of parmeasen cheese, and a decidely funny belly as a result..

Ohhh well you live and learn, back to steak for dinner tonight me thinks.