Sunday, November 08, 2015

Tourism in Venezuela: at your own risk

So I was away for a few days of beach, sand and surf. Not quite.

Take out the water and it is pretty much like this

I have a time share for a yearly week in Margarita which is why there are occasional pics of the area through this blog. Considering that the S.O. does not like the beach and was OK in health, I risked leaving. Next, all the problems I had to endure for a meager 4 days break.

Preparing for the trip:

-. Get your reservation. Since I did not take my usual time slot the resort only confirms my change two weeks ahead. As a consequence since it is difficult to find airline tickets in such short notice, I already lost one day as I could not find flights for the day the week started. Plus, the confirmation coming so late, I had some unavoidable engagement that made me lose two other days. So form the start I had to pay for 7 days while being able to enjoy only 4.  I know, I know, little bourgeois disgust, but as you will read they keep piling up.

- Since a lot of taxis will be involved, since you cannot pay them with plastic, since there is no high currency note, then you have to get yourself a big bundle of bank notes of 100, the highest available. The shortest ride will set you back at least 500 VEB so you will need at least 5 banknotes of 100, if you can find them. See, the problem is that there is such a demand for 100 banknote (about 13 USD cents, that is, 0,13, barely a dime) that banks will not provide them that easily. Your best bet is frequent visits to ATM the week before, maxing out your daily withdrawal until you get the wad you need. In my case I estimated 20,000 in cab fair so I had to get 200 banknotes. TWO HUNDRED. An ATM run not from my bank will give me only 6. At my bank ATM I can get 40 (if available). Do the math. And then visualize getting out a wad of bills when you pay your cab and counting patiently dozens of bills......

- Of course, you have to pack very carefully as you do not know whether a missing item can be replaced at your destination. And yet it does not help: in my case my beach tongues broke and I could not find a replacement to my size so I had to get an overpriced pair of Crocs......

The trip:

- Mistakes abound and you cannot correct them easily. My airline screwed up on my ticket and I had to pay an extra 20% at the airport or else. Sure, I can appeal, but that meant I could not board....

- Creatures comfort are scarce. There is no bottled water. So it is a soda or Gatorade for your thirst. I was hungry and I got inside the fast food court aiming at "¡Que Arepa!" which looked clean and appealing. Except that there were out of corn flour so NO Arepa.

- Harassment in miscellaneous ways is present. The worst offender is that in Margarita you have an immigration check point for all. Allegedly to protect the island form the arrival of criminals and drug smugglers. Ask the natives if they feel any safer.....

- You arrive tired and hungry at your hotel. Yet relief is not there. The Caracas office screwed up and you have to wait half an hour until they can finally untangle part of the screw up and give you keys to your room. But since the screw up was big I had also to advance 50 banknotes so I could eat that night until next morning things got settled and I could enjoy my plan as planned (and get back my precious banknotes!!!!!)

The stay:

- So there we are and there is water but the toilet does not flush. So before I unpack I go to the front desk to report and change room. It turns out that there is a shortage of water in Margarita so they dropped the water pressure to save. Since the toilets are of the high pressure type, without reservoir, well, you can only flush in the few hours during the day where pressure is set to normal.

- Flushing my toilet off hours required me to fill up the paper basket with the thread of water from the shower and lug it to the john.  5 stars it wasn't.

- And after the second day the water was cut outright 20 hours a day, so there was not even a water thread.

- Food was actually not bad. Usually I do not get the food plan as I like to go out on occasion, and I eat munchies so as to spend the week dieting and exercising (there is a fridge in the room and I bring a water boiler). Considering the food shortages I decided that this time around I'd better get them to deal with it. But if food was not bad it was showing a total lack of variety. In short, 50% of the offerings were the same all the time and the other 50% alternated one day each....  After 4 days I had already enough of the cafeteria.

- Drinks were included but you'd better have a solid liver. See, over are the days of fancy liquor. Now what you have is basic rum and local made vodka and gin which are, well, at least for me, a fast source of headaches and hangovers. Still, there is also creativity at the bar. Bailey has disappeared in Venezuela as way, way overpriced. So the barman invented a "Margarita Bailey" which is Ponche Crema (kind of bottled eggnog) with a dash of Venezuelan made whisky and coffee liqueur.  Well, it sort of worked and became my night cap....

- Of course, with the water crisis you could not have your towels, bed sheets, etc. changed at will. Since the AC was way too cold and too humid you could not dry them properly. Within two days all started to have a weird scent.....

- I went only once out, to make an errand and get a beach thong replacement. So I had to go to a fancy mall (La Vela) where luxury stores exist except that they have a very limited displays and no customers inside anyway. I paid my Crocs three monthly minimum wages (about 40 USD at black market rate, 4700 USD at the official 6,3),  But a pair of solid thongs my size, not nice, just solid, would have set me back a monthly minimum wage anyway.  If I caved in and bought them is that by experience I know Crocs last more than three times what a pair of solid thongs can last...  The question here, of course, is not whether I can truly afford them; the point here is how the poor masses that voted for Chavez and live on minimum wage can afford to put anything between their feet and the dirt.....


I 'll spare you more details, such as security, blackouts, etc.. I can only tell you that after 24 hours I seriously considered to go back home (the resort was rather empty, by the way). But the Caribbean is there and well....... even if the beaches are eaten up with oil pollution and look more like a Hawaiian volcano beach than a coral sand one........


  1. Boludo Tejano8:01 PM

    Daniel, you can rest up from your "vacation" when you are back at work. So much for a stress-free vacation.

    Does the Chavernment [still] offer PSF tours of Venezuela, the way that Sandalistas visited Nicaragua in the 1980s?

    1. Yes, they do. But we do not hear about them much. I suspect PSF are not as easily impressed.

  2. Mile HIgh Ben3:31 AM

    It is hard to understand how out of 30 million people suffering this way not even a handful lost it and went postal.
    What will it take?

    1. Boludo Tejano3:21 PM

      not even a handful lost it and went postal.

      Seems to me that a country with a murder rate of 50-60-?? per 100,000, one of the highest murder rates in the world, has a fair number of examples of people going postal.

    2. Mile High Ben7:21 PM

      Sorry Boludo but criminals committing crimes against unprotected people is not going postal. Going postal is when average citizens turn violent against authority figures they perceive rightly or wrongly are abusing them or are the cause of their current misery.

    3. But they are. Cops corpses appear regularly with dozens of bullets inside.....

  3. Daniel, I love your blog and read everything you post. But can you tell me what the Spanish word for "tongues" is? I think you are referring to sandals?

    1. Cholas. Chancletas.

    2. Anonymous10:03 PM

      I think the word you want is "thongs" in English.

  4. Damn spell checker.


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