Pretty much every country we have travelled through has marked its Independence Day whilst we have been there. Flags wave from windows and children march through crowded streets banging drums in a demonstration of unity, liberty and democracy. Personally, I can't help feeling a little bit jealous¡ having never been oppressed, we in England have no cause to celebrate being liberated. We have also missed out on the opportunity to venerate a national hero. Sure, we have Nelson, Churchill and Shilton - all great defenders, but none who could rightfully claim the title of ¨El Liberator¨, not like Simon Bolivar anyway.
Venezuela is batty for Bolivar. Its airport - Simon Bolivar International, its currency - Bolivars, the main square in every town - Plaza Bolivar, the highest mountain peak - Pico Bolivar, its largest state - Bolivar and the capital of that state - Ciudad Bolivar. If Bolivia wasn't already a country I'm sure Venezuela would shed its colonialist tag in a second. Maybe they'll choose to rename it ¨Chavezuela¨ instead, seeing as their love for the red beret toting populist is almost as great.
Chavez is everywhere. Huge banners and posters over buildings and roadsides boast his promises to win 10 million votes in the forthcoming elections and even though the electorate only stands at 16 million, his target doesn't appear to be entirely unrealistic. We've been on buses where people cheer billboards as we pass them. We've been in bars where men have been teaching parrots to sing ¨Chavez¨. We've been in jeeps, boats and even aeroplanes where his face has been stuck to the back window in the same way that Garfield's was when we were kids. From what we can see and what we have been told, the adoration is well deserved as Venezuelan oil money finally seems to be reaching even the furthest corners of the country.
But enough of politics (I'm sorry but it is so hard to avoid here), unlike Simon Bolivar in 1817, we weren't in Ciudad Bolivar to declare the end to Spanish colonialism, we just wanted to book a tour to the world's highest waterfall, ¨Angel Falls¨ - named after the American pilot, Jimmy Angel, who crashed his plane there in 1937. I suspect that, if Chavez wins his 10 million votes, it will soon be renamed and reopened as ¨Bolivar Falls¨.