Because of our quick decision to return to Caracas, our flight choices off the tiny island were limited. Most of the aircraft arriving were small 12-16 seater turbo props, punctuated by the odd 6-8 passenger helicopter. We were able to get seats on a 6:30 am flight on Thursday, June 26 and it was a bleary-eyed crew that arrived at the Rainbow Airlines office(pronounced ¨Rine-bow¨) at 6:00 am for check-in and a crew that soon turned surly when told that the aircraft´s departure from Caracas was delayed due to the fact that President Chavez was leaving that morning as well. As the sun fully rose, the fresh early morning breeze soon turned fiery as we all scurried around to claim whatever shade we could find while we waited. Finally, the plane arrived at 8:30 and we made the spectacular flight back to Caracas over the crystal blue waters of the archipelago.
We made our way into Caracas from the airport and found our hotel, the Hotel New Jersey (pronounced ¨new yarsee¨) which was located in the central part of Caracas – not the best part of town but not the worst either. While the boys and I settled in, Dan got organized to head back to the airport to catch his flight to Curaca to get US dollars.
First order of business was food, as we had eaten only one chicken arepa while waiting for the airplane on Gran Roque. We scouted around our hotel looking for something that looked interesting and quickly came across Pollo Caribeno, a restaurant that had a take-out chicken window as well. The place was packed at lunch-time which we took as a good sign. It took us a few minutes and some help from a waiter who spoke a smattering of English to order, but we were soon rewarded for our efforts with steaming chicken soup full of vegetables and chicken pieces for Robin and I, and a lobster bisque for Adrian. After that, our entrees arrived – a massive plate of spaghetti Alfredo for Robin, roast chicken for me, and some kind of meat roulade for Adrian. It was far more food than we could manage, but we were pleased to have been able to feed ourselves!
We rolled out of the restaurant and went in search of the subway to take us to the starting point for the self-guided walking tour we were planning to do. The tour was outlined in our guidebook and followed the life of Simon Bolivar, revolutionary extraordinaire and demi-god to Venezuelans.
Caracas has a large and efficient subway system, operating pretty much the way subways around the world operate. It was very fast, clean and efficient and we found our way around the city with it quite easily.
Anyway, a little bit about Simon Bolivar……
Simon Bolivar was one of the most important figures in the independence movement of South America from Spain. He is called El Libertador for his work in freeing Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Bolivia from Spanish rule. He ruled Gran Colombia, a nation created from several of these liberated nations for 9 years. In Venezuela, he is revered as a national hero with almost religious stature.
Our walking tour started with the birth place (naturally) of Bolivar in central Caracas. Interestingly enough, the museum was free, but I was required to provide my passport number to sign the guest book – go figure! From there, we continued on to the Museo Bolivariano, a museum devoted to the independence movement including all kinds of personal effects belonging to Bolivar. Unfortunately, virtually nothing in either museum was in English so we made a quick pass through each of them. We continued on to the Plaza Bolivar, the city´s symbolic heart according to our guide book. There is, of course, a huge statue of Bolivar in the centre of the square. We passed by the cathedral where Bolivar was baptized and on to the Panteón Nacional, a large building that holds Bolivar´s tomb as well as the tombs of 140 other prominent Venezuelans. The Panteón has the air of a church which underlines Bolivar´s almost saint-like standing amongst Venezuelans.
Our tour ended, we started back towards home. Our route took us by a large outdoor book market tucked snugly under an expressway overpass. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a hard time passing a bookstore of any kind by, but as these were all Spanish books, it was easy to walk by. The boys stopped to listen to CD´s from a CD vendor and we were all intrigued by the dozen or so tables of chess players absorbed in their games, the air punctuated with the slapping of the game clocks.
We found a massive clothing market with narrow aisleways and displays that reached high into the air. Jeans and t-shirts seemed to be the dominant ítems on sale, but there were also prom gowns, baby clothes, underwear, shoes and anything else you would want to wear. After looking around for a little while, Adrian pointed at a mannequin wearing super-tight jeans and asked ¨Aren´t those on backward?¨ And he was right….they were displaying jeans and other pants backwards on the mannequins so that the front of the jeans had the bum bumps sticking out…..really wierd looking! I noticed that the female mannequins are very different from home – they have the stereotypically large Latina bottom and very large pointy nipples. We found the market overwhelming and decided to leave but will most likely come back before leaving Caracas for home.
Hot, tired and sweaty, we headed for home. We were still pretty full from the massive lunch so we picked up some fruit and yogurt to have in our hotel room for dinner. Not much of a birthday for Adrian but we agreed to have a proper celebration when we get back home.