We’d heard a lot of negative things about Venezuela on our travels and one hostel owner ever planned a route for us through Colombian Amazonia just so that we could avoid it! Colombia takes some beating and admittedly Venezuela is more expensive especially for food and accommodation even by changing dollars on the black market! The official exchange rate is 2.15, set by Chavez, but by selling dollars here we generally get about 5! We’ve changed money with fish mongers, restaurant owners, shop owners and a woman on a bus because we couldn’t afford any food on a night journey! For those of you that are like us and did not know about this but cannot fathom how it exists, here’s our take on it. The 2.15 is a mythical value set by Chavez for tourists and international trade (Venezuela is a top 5 producer of oil in the world!) but the true value of the Bolivar against the dollar to locals is about 6 to 6.5 from what we can tell! This means that locals can undercut Chavez and buy dollars from tourists for between 4.5 and 5.5 generally and make a tidy profit when they sell them for around 6, 6.5. The bit that we still cannot really explain is where do all these dollars go? They are not allowed to sell dollars in their own country so what do they do with them? Imagine in England we could buy Euros from European tourists at a good rate but we could not sell them back to banks or foreign exchanges. Yes we’d probably store a few away for a cheeky booze cruise to France or whatever but what about the rest? Any answers please stick them on the message board because I’m far too preoccupied, sitting in a hammock in the Caribbean drinking beers in our villa about to cook a kilo of meat, to find out! Don’t worry Dad we’ve paid $6 each for the room, 50 cents a beer and $2 for half a kilo of beef each! Brazil is where the money’s going to disappear I’m afraid!
Anyway, back to Venezuela and my opinions which hopefully you guys enjoy reading and tough if not because they are the basis of my blogs! Many people we’ve met have said it’s a bit dangerous and the people aren’t very friendly. As with Colombia I want to set the record straight...Venezuela is completely different to any other South American country, it’s a bit brash and we’re often not the centre of attention like in Colombia but the people are generally friendly, helpful, funny and very accommodating. You have to be a bit bold and to have a sense of humour to take a few comments as a joke but in no way do you feel unsafe or that you could get stuck anywhere. I know I seem to say this in every country but I really want to make a point about South America that yes it has risks that other places do not but it’s one of the best experiences of my life and feel that it has a very undeserved opinion by many countries. Many people are poor and many a lot worse off than the people visiting their country yet they treat us with so much kindness and help us on our travels. Many people in Europe would either not give foreigners the time of day or feel they should just manage on their own. Friendliness aside they are mental...they are absolutely crazy and even full grown adults seem to act like teenagers at best. The best example is the state of their cars and buses...I mentioned in the last blog that a guide book mentioned that ‘the quality of a Venezuelan bus is determined by its sound system’...that didn’t even come close to prepare us for what we were about to experience when we arrived in Venezuela. The bus journey between Maracay and the beach town of Puerto Colombia is one I will never forget and one that I would love you all to experience for yourselves but take no responsibility for your wellbeing! It’s probably the most dangerous journey we’ve been on and the best bit was this town has one way in and one way out so we had the same to look forward to a few days later. At the bus station we were directed to this old school American yellow school bus sort of thing that was built in the 70’s and it was rammed with people and had no luggage compartments. We put our bags in the aisle and tried to squeeze onto an overcrowded bench seat but mainly sat in the aisle holding on to a pole with my knee! I looked round and saw about £5000 of Halfords audio centre installed onto the back wall of the bus; no joke, subwoofers, 6x9’s, tweeters, amps you name it. I thought ‘pheww...at least it’s 4am, that would be a nightmare in the daytime!’ Literally that second he grabbed the head unit from somewhere, plugged it in and set the volume to 15 of about 30 and Kunaal and I looked at each other and just laughed. It’s the loudest thing I’ve ever heard, the whole bus was shaking and most of the people were singing, jumping about and drinking rum and vodka, at 4am I remind you! Then Schumacher’s third brother started driving...we flung from side to side through a petrol station just getting out of the bus station and then headed for the two hour windy mountain pass!! I hadn’t slept properly in two days because we’d been on buses since Colombia so I kept drifting off somehow but woke up very quickly when I was almost sat on top of the guy on the other side of the aisle! The relief two hours later was immense and extremely rewarding. Most buses are not quite that insane but nearly all have half of Halfords inside them but haven’t seen a repair garage since they were built. The cars people drive are even funnier, we spend so much time in towns just staring at cars and wondering how they are still on the road and trying to guess what car it used to be! They have very American cars here, all the old school sedans you see in 70’s films as well as the new huge pickups, mixed with European cars like a ford fiesta, which is bizarre. All by the way have at least £2000 of ‘genuine’ Sony, Pioneer, JBL audio equipment in them and make sure everyone knows about it. At this point I should make it clear that the Venezuelans have an appalling taste in music and it ALL sounds the same; a weird mix of bass, drums and a 5 year old on a Casio keyboard. In one hostel I was trying to get to sleep at about midnight and the whole room started shaking and it sounded like an explosion outside but it was just a car going past. Another thing to mention is the Venezuelans like to drink and suggesting that they should not drive after a few drinks definitely has not happened yet. I even saw two guys on a motorbike struggling to keep it upright because they both had a beer in their hand.
You are probably wondering when I am going to tell you about the places we’ve been to, well we’ve only really been to three and they’re all beaches! Venezuela does have more to offer but firstly we don’t have the time or money to do things like Angel Falls (the highest waterfall in the world) or to see all the nature at Sierra Nevada and go up the longest cable car in the world (about 30km!). We even decided not to visit the capital Caracas because we’ve been told it’s a dump and personally I’ve seen enough cities knowing we’ve still got Rio and Buenos Aires to see. So what we decided to do was pick 3 places on the coast and just spend a couple of days on the beach at each. The first was Puerto Colombia...what an experience that was and I’m really glad we went. It was the first weekend of the month and apparently that means people go mental! We got the party bus there and walked into town to see scores of people just wandering around drinking beer, dancing, shouting and playing music. By night cars would turn up at the beach front and play music (not all Venezuelan thank god) from their ridiculous stereos and everyone would just drink and dance around the cars. We found a car with some music we liked, got a few beers and chatted to some Venezuelans. That was a pretty messy one if I’m honest, you’d better ask Kunaal for any more info on the night after about midnight because I only remember the next day and god was that a long painful day sat on the beach with a big bottle of water! From Puerto Colombia we got the bus to Puerto La Cruz overnight and then the Jetcat straight away to Isla Margarita, a huge island 3 hours off the coast where you can even get direct flights from the UK! It’s a big holiday destination for both Venezuelans and foreigners because of nice beaches, resorts and fantastic windsurfing. We stayed in a little town called Juan Greigo for two nights (so we could watch the Arsenal – Utd game) but explored the Island quite a bit. After Isla Margarita we got the half price ferry back to Puerto La Cruz but definitely got less than half the quality!! I just put my roll mat down on the filthy floor and slept for a few hours but it was a good reminder of how hideous our trip down the Amazon is going to be (4 days sleeping in hammocks on a filthy boat in one of the most humid and wet places in the world!). From Puerto La Cruz we got the bus to Playa Colorada in the hope of hiring a boat and going snorkelling with dolphins but we plan to do that tomorrow so if I don’t mention it then I guess it didn’t happen! We have some children’s snorkels that our Swiss hostel owner has lent us. I say hostel; we’ve got a nice room in her villa with a kitchen, patio and hammocks outside overlooking the beach and we bartered her down to $6 a night each which is unbelievably cheap for Venezuela! We’re going to stay here again tomorrow night and then hopefully get an overnight bus to Brazil and down to Manaus ASAP! We’ll do a little bit of jungle trekking in the Amazon and then the dreaded sweat-a-thon down the Amazon to Belem on the coast of Brazil. 5 weeks left and we are just about as far north as we can go with a long way South and East to go and plenty to see including the Amazon, Rio de Janeiro, Iguaçu Falls (Iguazu to you and me but Word is being pedantic!) and Buenos Aires but somehow I don’t think I’ll have quite as many stories about that as I will about the Venezuelans!
Anyway, I’ve written a lot and knowing most of you you’ll have either fallen asleep reading it (those at Uni!), got bored and done something far less interesting (probably you lot again!) or decided to crack on with some very important work that you’ve been putting off all day (any number of you!).
Toodle pip for now and I’ll see you all in a matter of weeks!