Ducking next door to Venezuela

Arriving in Venezuela to collect D after his summer holidays with his mum I was struck by two figures hogging the limelight. Hugo Chavez and Simon Bolivar. One is dead and the other is potentially on his deathbed if the conspiracies prove true.

Simon Bolivar, plastered larger than life on a building wall

Simon Bolivar is an important figure in Latin American history leading the revolution and liberating Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Bolivia from Spanish rule. He is forever linked with Santa Marta because he died here 182 years ago but he lives on in Venezuela with incredible monuments, museums, pictures and in Venezuela’s official name of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, changed by Chavez in 2000. Just about everything seems to be Bolivar this and Bolivarian that.

Inflatable Chavez

Hugo Chavez, the much-loved and much hated president of Venezuela, is omnipresent. From the giant inflatable Chavez in the centre of Caracas to everyday conversations and the “I am Chavez” billboards you see evidence of him everywhere except in person as he’s currently convalescing from complications due to cancer surgery in Cuba. We arrived on the day of his supposed inauguration as President for the sixth time, but given that he hasn’t been seen publicly since before Christmas, the ceremony has been delayed until he is recovered.

I felt uncomfortable in Venezuela, and not just because we had to borrow money of D’s mum because we hadn’t changed enough at the border and didn’t know it was so difficult to change inside the country. I got a sense of great disorganisation. I looked around and saw election propaganda from the elections last year, but felt as though nothing flowed through to benefit those living around the painted walls. We were told that it’s not safe to venture out in Caracas in the dark of night or early in the morning and this was verified by people arriving by bus in Caracas pulling up seats in the terminal to wait for the sun to rise when they would start making a mass exodus to the taxi ranks. We bought skinny empanadas from a lady who told us that flour was being rationed and they could only buy 2 bags of flour. We endured more than 5 army and police checkpoints on the way in and out of the country, compared to just one on the way in to Colombia. I froze on the overnight buses that have the air conditioning locked onto a temperature even colder than Colombia’s overnight bus.

I might still be suffering from memory burn of our 11 day bus trip in October, but the 3 nights out of 4 we spent sleeping on buses and the good 16 hours spent in bus terminals were extremely uncomfortable. Thankfully we did have a lovely day at the beach near Caracas with D’s maternal grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins who were so welcoming and hospitable up to the point where D’s cousins started calling me tia which means aunt.

Neither mi novio or I am keen to return to Venezuela any time soon. I still want to go to Angel Falls and do the Simon Bolivar history trail in Caracas, but I think that can wait until I’m ready to tackle the challenges Venezuela throws up. Right now, I’m super happy to be back in Colombia. It’s like a breath of fresh air.

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