Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Well, apart from about two hours of shut-eye on the flight to Miami, I've been up for a day and a half now. I'm about to go to bed, but I wanted to jot down some impressions first.
Miami and San Juan were blurs. As my plane was approaching Caracas, the woman next to me asked me "Caracas?" I took that to mean, was I planning to stay in Caracas, so I said yes; and she said "se cuida!" (or some such; my Spanish is almost non-existent). Subsequent hand-waving established that meant "be careful!" So that's my second warning from a Caracas native, the first being from my friend Leo.
For a brief but panicked interval, I thought they had lost my big checked bag in Miami; when I got to Caracas it never came off the conveyor. A very helpful young woman from Colombia helped me find the desk at which to inquire, and there, for who knows what reason, was my suitcase. Imagine my relief. So I changed a bit of money, and got out through customs without problems.
Then getting a taxi was the usual third-world bustle of dozens of random strangers grabbing my arm and grabbing my luggage and urging me towards their cousin's car and offering to change money and so forth; but I followed my guidebook's advice and got one of the "official" taxis, big black SUVs with yellow decals on the side, and that seemed like a good decision; the driver was really nice and spoke a bit of English, and pointed a few things out to me on the way in, and I felt quite safe. (Supposedly getting mugged on your way to or from the airport is fairly common. I have no idea how seriously to take such warnings.) The taxi driver who took me in to town emphasized how dangerous most areas of Caracas are (three warnings and counting...). He kept pointing out hillsides and exclaiming "barrios!"
And they were barrios; I haven't seen neighborhoods that run-down in a long time. At the same time, the houses were perched on hillsides with gorgeous views out towards the ocean; Americans would pay a pretty penny for such views. I guess there just aren't enough wealthy Venezuelans to drive gentrification of such neighborhoods; apparently all the ricos are concentrated in two neighborhoods of Caracas closer to the downtown (with no ocean views, I think).
The traffic got worse and worse as we got close to my hotel, and eventually it became clear that there was a big anti-Chavez rally happening a block from my hotel (the street next to my hotel is pictured). My taxi driver eventually gave up and dropped me off about a block and a half away, and I hoofed it from there. I'm quite surprised by the amount of anti-Chavez sentiment here; not just that rally, but signs up everywhere and people in the park shouting about what seems to be politics. I was under the impression that Chavez had just gotten re-elected in an election that was thought to be fair, but the discontent here is quite strong. My guidebook warns me not to talk about politics with anyone, but I'm doing a walking tour with a guide tomorrow who speaks good English, and I think I'm going to try to gently broach the topic and see if I can't find out what's going on.
I wandered around for a while. Took a few photos of what I think was the house where Bolivar was born (pictured); it seems to have been made into a bit of a museum, with huge paintings of events from Bolivar´s life on the walls. A mime was working a big crowd in front of what I think is the capital building (my taxi driver pointed to it and said "Hugo Chavez" as we drove in); the mime was imitating people walking down the street. One woman he was walking close behind suddenly noticed him and was so startled she screamed, and then collapsed laughing, along with the crowd. I didn't see any sort of money collection for the mime; I'm not sure why.
Ate a slice of pizza, which had corn on it, which reminded me that I really am in South America; it evoked nice memories of pizza in Brazil. Figured out how to place phone calls; you go into these little shops called Movistars (I'm not sure if they're implying a "movie star" image, or what), and they give you access to a numbered booth (one of perhaps forty), and you place as many calls as you want on the phone in the booth, and then you come out and pay for the whole thing. Now that I've figured it out, it's really quite nice, considering my cell phone doesn't work here. (I think I could get a SIMM card for it or something, but I'm not here long enough to bother). Set up my walking tour for tomorrow, bought a bunch of bottled water, and now I'm about to collapse from exhaustion, so... signing off! (No idea when I'll actually be able to post this, I'm not sure if there are any public Wi-Fi access points here...)

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