How did I get here?
Trip Start Apr 25, 2006
76Trip End Apr 25, 2007
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I wandered down into town to talk it over with the airline, but had no joy changing the ticket for a more desirable destination (ie. anywhere else). Giving it some serious thought, I decided to wear it as a loss and buy another ticket straight to Quito - my next destination. It soon all became very hard - I would have to spend a night in Caracas for the connecting flight blah blah. I had a browse through the Venezuela chapter in my guidebook, and made the executive decision to have a proper crack at seeing a bit of the country. The girl at AeroPostal (an airline unlikely to fall out of the sky, but equally unlikely to ever run on time) quoted me $277 for the tiny flight, so I called her bluff and eventually got it for $165 which was probably still a rip-off
The taxi driver to the airport was completely mad - on par with the infamous hit-and-run taxi driver of Phuket. Apparently he had another pickup to make, so asked me if it was ok to drive "a bit faster". My 20/20 hindsight is fantastic, but at the time I didn't think he could do much damage on roads congested with 1950s relics. Yeah, I was wrong! Swerving and weaving with hand permanently attached to the horn, he chose his side of the road at will and created lanes where there simply were no lanes.
Getting out of the country was also eventful. Immigration were extremely interested in my passport for some reason, and after two supervisors had come over for a peek I was consequently shown into a side room. Bricking it at this stage, an English-speaking lady asked me all sorts of questions about my stay in Cuba and even about other countries. Finally they sent me on my way, but not before battering me with a few more nasty stares.
I sat at gate 10, but didn't notice my plane out the window as the departure time closed in. The deadline passed - still no plane. Could one of those Spanish announcements been for me but I just didn't know it? I walked briskly to the information desk, handed her my ticket and was informed my flight was slightly delayed but due any minute. In reality, it was 2 hours away and she was just trying to get rid of me. Boredom set in, crossword book just wasn't cutting it and my iPod battery was dead. So I did it. I promised myself I wouldn't be so lame, but they were right there and I had some spare pesos to part with. I bought a Che Guevara t-shirt, or more specifically, a wife beater ("singlet" to the uneducated).
Anyway, as fate would have it the delay in my flight allowed just enough time for a massive electrical storm to set in - lightning flashing every few seconds, thunder booming like the doof-doof of a Northbridge bog-lapper. This didn't please me too much, but the plane eventually showed up so at least it could supposedly survive a storm. No announcements about my flight, so I had to go to the information desk again - this time I was told to head to a different boarding gate, so glad I asked!
The storm had passed before take-off, and the flight was disappointingly uneventful. Chatted to the bloke next to me once I discovered he was an English teacher in Peru - we traded English/Spanish language tips for the journey. I jumped off at Caracas, he headed onwards to Peru but left me his email to catch up with him later.
Caracas airport was hell - the sort of thing you don't need at 9pm. Firstly the baggage was delayed and the screens didn't show which carousel our bags were supposed to appear on. Then the ATM wouldn't give me any cash. Then I walked through the arrival doors only to be swamped by all manner of "taxis" offering their services. I headed to a phone, called all the hotels in my Lonely Planet guide, but all of them were full. That's right, I arrived in Caracas with no accommodation booked. Apparently Caracas is such a classy place that on Friday or Saturday nights a lot of the cheaper hotels prefer to operate hourly rather than nightly (if you know what I mean). Thanks to the delayed flight buses had already stopped running so my only option was a taxi. In the end I found a taxi driver "Ali" who could speak English thanks to 12 years living in the US. My guide said about $20 to get to the city, but everyone was yelling $50 at me and then Ali offered $40 so I just took it - part of the deal was to include his services finding me a hotel somewhere in the city. He soon explained that the increase in taxi fee from the airport was because the main bridge had collapsed in January. He had a government brochure with an artist's impression of the proposed replacement bridge, plus we actually passed the building site so I believed him. The price didn't end up being too bad because the whole trip was 2.5 hrs mostly in gridlock, he told me a lot of interesting stuff about Venezuela in the unbiased way most taxi drivers do, and he also talked to various hotels to find me a room at midnight on a Friday.
I may have been stung with an expensive-ish hotel room, but I sure took advantage of the English movie showing on one of the channels. Even better, each ad break showed an upcoming Television Special Event: A Dedication to Steve Irwin. Sadly, it seems they dub over his voice apart from the "woo" etc. After that, there was usually a Coke ad that used some fantastic backing music: John Farnham's "You're the Voice". I have it all on video just in case anyone thinks I'm full of it.
The next few days were spent basically in prison. I moved across the road to the more friendly (and cheap) hostel, had some lunch and then used the internet for a while, but never sought to venture outside of my area to do sightseeing thanks to all sorts of reports and warnings I'd been bombarded with since arriving. Fortunately I met a couple of German chaps, Jan and Bjorn, and we all plotted to get the fuck out of there the next day as we peered over the balcony at the crackheads and prostitutes operating next door. Apparently not much to see in Caracas anyway. Lots of grey shitty highrise housing to go along with the sprawl that creeps its way out of the valley in all directions. Ali told me that people just build where there is land, providing it's not too steep and not part of the protected parks. Landmarks tend to be vandalised and not maintained anyway. Not a nice place. My guide describes it as "the least secure of all Venezuelan cities. Petty crime, robbery and armed assaults are increasing, especially at night."