Oh, sweet Venezuela

Trip Start Oct 08, 2007
Trip End Dec 16, 2008

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Flag of Venezuela  ,
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My first Spanish lesson starts with a long lecture on how Chavez is running this country into the ground. My teacher, wonderful Mere, has just had her second child 2 months ago. She is feeling uncertain what the future holds for this country and her life, which happened to take place in here. I know where she's coming from. The situation in Venezuela, based on my observations of Merida and Caracas is more unstable than I imagined. It is in fact fukced up. The latest official number for inflation is 19%, which means that real inflation is probably much higher. Prices are ridiculous, even for a foreigner. After the initial shock of paying $70 for a taxi from the airport, I discovered that the prices in Venezuela (based on the official exchange rate of 2.2bolivares=$1) are indeed higher than in the US. But wait, there is a black market. Unfortunately, for me, the value of the $ in the black market crashed by 50% from $1x6Blv to $1x3Blv, solidifying Venezuela as the worse value for money tourist proposition in South America.
Merida is supposed to be hip and artistic university town perched in the foothill of the Andes. Down the alleys it is - a street artist here, a museum there. And yes, there is a mountain and my window at the home stay is facing it. For the most part however, Merida is square concrete buildings, narrow straight streets with tiny sidewalks, arranged in a perfect grid and busy with huge American cars and people going about their business. It feels polluted. There are small red plastic stools on random corners offering mobile calls. Four or five plastic mobiles lay on the table, chained with long shiny chain usually to an umbrella above - just in case I suppose. There are run down Arrepas (local specialty) and Enpanadas shops. Copy services are advertised on A4 printouts glued to first floor windows everywhere. Shoe shops are on every corner. How much does a Chinese pair of all plastic shoes will cost you, in case you forgot to pick them up from a street market in New York for $10  - anywhere between $35-$80. It looks poor. The town looks poor despite the expensive cars and freshly repainted haciendas here and there.
The street fashion has not changed in decades, I bet. All, I mean, all women are dressed in skin tight jeans and tops that stretched over their bosoms. In Caracas, women are stick thin, some, many, with surgically augmented breasts that make them look top heavy like lollypops. In Merida however, tradition takes over- save the young and the bold, women just overflow over their jeans, podgy bellies framed in tight tops, big juicy asses squeezed in denim like boiled hot-dogs ready to pop. As they walk, breast, bums and bellies move in a rhythm that makes me think of gell-o. It is clear that sports are not as popular as fried
food round here. I wonder how many people expire prematurely because of tradition and home cooking. I mean, everybody knows that saturated fat and deep fried foods are bad for you. No mother would insist on their child having a cigarette after lunch, but serving Empanadas for breakfast every day - that's a whole different story. I donīt want to sound disgusting, for all people I met in Merida are just lovely, and beautiful in their curvy ways. Still, I am just fascinated by the site. That's the word. Fascinated.
There are two types of cars in Merida - huge old American classic that are literally falling apart or huge brand new American SUV. With price of oil almost for free, something tells me that Venezuela will be the last country in the world to go green. Have you noticed how many new cars there are in Merida, my other Spanish teacher, hip and cool Carolina, had asked me earlier:
"Where do you think they get the money?"
"Tourism?", I through a guess. Carolina smirks. "Corruption?"
"That too, of course, but mostly drugs", she says.
 "Really?!", my eyes opened wide.
"Yes, really. There are 3 cartels in town and a lot of people involved."
"So you have, like, a lot of crime as well, or that's just between the cartels?"
"Ah, no, the crime is for everyone to share", she says with a black humor so untypical for this part of the world.
So in a way, despite the unreasonable prices, I'm getting more experience worth for my $ than I'd hoped for. I'm thinking of cutting my trip short.
WORLD CHANGE STARTS WITH EDUCATED CHILDREN! Give a girl the life long gift of education! Support my appeal 100 GIRLS BACK TO SCHOOL! Donate at: www.justgiving.com/100GirlsBackToSchool
Hugs & Kisses, Vik
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