Venezuela...not a country that I had pondered much in the past. I knew that they were big into Oil in the 70's and that they were considered one of the wealthiest countries in South America. As usual, I was right and wrong at the same time. Let's start with the arrival. Depending on what map you look at, Caracas appears to be right on the coast of Venezuela. Well, that's not exactly true. I arrived at night on a flight from Miami. It was very strange indeed to look out the window and see the lights of many cities on the way south (I mean, hey...this flight is supposed to be over water, right?). Apparently the flight path pretty much follows the line of the Antilles Islands for most of the trip (Kinda like 'island hopping' in the Pacific, but closer together). Then all below went dark. The pressure in my ears told me that we were descending, the trouble was, to my eyes, there didn't look like there was anything to descend into (unless you count the Gulf of Mexico...not a very reasonable objective for a jet aircraft). Suddenly there was a dock below. Then as we progressed further inland, I began to pick out mountain peaks to the left and right of the plane. Then, there were buildings. The peculiar thing was, the plane was at a lower altitude than the buildings and I had yet to see anything resembling an airport. Well, it turns out that the Simon Bolivar International Airport (everything in Venezuela is named after this guy) is on a plateau.
At last on the ground. Like any international adventure, there remained the somewhat grueling task of finding transportation to the hotel (or as I found out, to Caracas itself which was on the other side of the mountains...those crazy map makers!). My traveling companion and I had arranged (or thought we had arranged) transportation with the hotel. Alas, this was not to be. In keeping with Venezuela's history of Oil, the taxi that took us to the Hotel was a gas-guzzling circa 1970 Chevy (it's exact model was obscured by age and a very dilapidated paint job). The cars in Venezuela seem to be a kind of patchwork quilt of auto parts. I don't think there was one original Chevy part on the Taxi, but hey...that's OK: It's kind of cool to ride in a muscle-car taxi. The ride over the aforementioned mountain range took about 40 minutes. The terrain reminded me very much of Northern California, albeit much more moist. After cresting the peaks of the mountains, we began the journey down into the high valley that Caracas rests in like a sparkling jewel amid mounds of green velvet. This jewel was not without flaws, however. We passed many a hillside covered with shanty-town clusters without electricity or other modern conveniences. As I was to discover, there is a considerable class disparity in Venezuela: You are either well off, or poor - there doesn't seem to be much of a middle class.
We finally arrived at the Tamanaco Hotel. After the luxurious experience of removing one's shoes after an 18 hour plane flight, we decided to head down to the Cabana Bar by the swimming pool for a late night cocktail, only to discover that today (it was about 12:10 am) was an election day, and thus no alcohol was being served (this would be an interesting experiment to try in the United States!). The election actually turned out to be a vote on whether or not to give the President broad and sweeping power to deal with the corruption present in the government. In an interesting and somewhat frightening twist of fate, Martial Law was declared a few days later, which resulted in no change that I could detect. Forgoing the traditional adult beverage, we had a few bottles of water and turned in.
The next day (after sleeping 'til nearly noon to get rid of the jet lag), we amused ourselves by the pool. The restaurant at the Tamanaco had an interesting specialty: They brought you a hot rock and raw meat or fish for you to cook yourself. On waking, the first thing that I did was throw open the curtains in my room to one of the most spectacular views anywhere. There was no way to truly appreciate the magnitude of the mountains during the late night drive into the city. Every direction had a spectacular view of what I estimated to be 6,000 foot lush, green mountains. The tops of most of the peaks remained shrouded in a mist, but even so, it was an incredible display of mother nature. We had planned a hike up one of these peaks, but hey, the lure of the the pool was just too much. Because of the altitude, the air was remarkably dry (once again, much like Northern California). The temperature was also very moderate: I don't think the temperature varied by more than 6 degrees from day to night...an almost constant 85 degrees - very comfortable when the low humidity was factored in.
The company that we were working for in Venezuela was incredibly hospitable. They sent a car in the morning for us, driven by on of the guys from the office, Julio. Julio was also one of our translators in the office, and answered all of our eager questions about his country. The company we were working for is pretty much run (at least in the area that I was working) by US expatriates. I had a lot of fun working with Mike and Allen. They knew our business and were very helpful in getting things done. One of the coolest aspects of working there was that all business meetings were held outdoors...on the roof of the building under the shade of satellite dishes. Satellite dishes are a fact of life in Venezuela. In fact, there are so many of them that Mike christened them the "National Flower" of Venezuela! All of the scenery in the world cannot make a destination unforgettable unless the people are warm and friendly. This Venezuela has in spades. Some of the folks in the office, especially Lorena, Julio and Sandy were absolutely fantastic to work and hang out with. I won't bore you with the details of the job there, but things went relatively smooth.
At night, we often hung out a Mike's place up in the hills. He had just moved in to this palatial house, and we had a lot of fun sitting outside on the porch, picking mangos and listening to music late into the evenings. The dining room (at least I think that was this room's original intention) was turned into a dance floor in the evenings. It was amazing to see Lorena and Sandy dancing to salsa music. The intricacy of their movements was incredible (sorry if I stepped on your toes while trying to look like I knew what I was doing!). One of the last nights that I was there, we all went out to dinner at this outdoor restaurant that was part dining experience, part zoo, and part Rodeo. As you ate, musicians played Latin music and South American "cowboys" rode (or should I say "pranced") horses down a wooden walkway between two halves of the dining area. In addition to the horses there were Llamas and other animals as well.
The drive to and from the Restaurant brings back fond memories of traffic jams in Northern California. They see to have some unique driving customs. One such custom is (as coined by Mike) the idea of "dynamic lanes" . If you want to make a right hand turn across three lanes of highway at very high speed, you go for it, because everyone else seems to. When you reach an exit, the goal seems to be to try and make as many lanes as possible: If there's room for your car next to another car, go for it, because if you don't, someone else will! It seems that policemen in Venezuela are not there to enforce traffic regulations, but to clean up and manage accidents. Even though there are posted speed limits and traffic signs, the rules seem to be generally ignored by the population. Even red lights are readily ignored as long as nothing is coming the other way.
This is definitely a country that I will visit again (gotta go back later this summer for more work -- ::sarcasm on:: I really hate my job ::sarcasm off::), as long as my Visa is still good. I really want to get out into other areas of the country. My next job should take me to Margurita, and island just off the coast. As I said before, the scenery is only one reason to go back. Even if it were totally desolate there, I would still go back to hang out with my friends: Julio, Lorena, Sandy, Mike, Alan and the gang. So until next time...
[Lunch at the Tamanaco] - a shot of me and my friend, Dedra having lunch at the Tamanaco's Cabana, complete with bibs so that the raw meat and fish that we were cooking on the grill would not splatter on our clothes (how thoughtful...see 'Additional Photographs' below)!
[Lounging in the room] - don't know why I put this one up here. I actually do work on these business trips and need time to relax (I only stay in Hotels that provide clean robes for their most important guests!
|Big Sur, California||Lisbon, Portugal||Paris, France||Madrid, Spain|
|São Paulo, Brazil||Caracas, Venezuela||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Arnhem, Netherlands|
|Nassau, Bahamas||London, England||Curaçao, Netherland Antilles||Santiago, Chile|
|Edinburgh, Scotland||Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada||Hyderabad, India||Rome & Florence, Italy|
|© 2003 - Todd L. Holsopple
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