|We arrived in Caracas after taking an overnight bus from Merida. I´ve begun taking the leftover seasickness pills from the sailboat trip to Panama to help me sleep on the bus. It´s working quite well, and is handy because it saves us one night in a hotel. This is especially important in Caracas as it is definitely not set up for backpackers. Hotel prices are triple the cost of other places in Venezuela. (At least for the relatively safe areas.) Caracas is known as one of the most dangerous places in South America. Now after these glowing endorsements you may wonder why we went to Caracas. Truth is, Canadians require a visa to enter Brazil, which is where we were headed, and the nearest Brazilian consulate is of course in Caracas. So we found a hotel near the consulate and hoped we would be out of there soon. Unfortunately, it being near Christmas time, the Brazilian consulate was very busy and the normal wait time of 3hrs was now 5 business days. Luckily, one of the workers spoke English and we were able to convince him to reduce the time to two business days. However, it being Friday, that meant our visas would be ready on Tuesday and we´d be without our passports til then, so we were stuck in Caracas.
Anyways, we decided to make the best of it and visit as much as we could, during daylight. Venezuela is the home of Simon Bolivar, the hero of much of northern South America for driving out the Spanish. Therefore there are many monuments, museums, etc that we could visit. My Spanish is getting pretty good, so I was able to understand most of the interesting information. The second day, I decided we should try to find a cheaper hotel and managed to get a slightly cheaper one in the same area. At this hotel, there was a Trinidadian woman who offered to take us on tours of the city and surrounding areas. We finally relented on the next day as we were getting bored and she also offered to help us change money. As we mentioned earlier, the only way to visit Venezuela is to use the black market to exchange American dollars or Euros for Venezuelan money (Bolivars). But in Merida, it was not a problem. Our hotel was quite willing to change our money in plain view, despite this practise being illegal. In Caracas, however it was much more difficult. There must be more police or whoever watching as our hotel wanted nothing to do with it, let alone talking at a normal volume in public about it. So we decided our Trinidadian friend was our best option. It was all very clandestine as she made a call to her contact as we waited in a coffee shop. It felt like we were in a movie. She arranged a decent exchange rate and we took the metro downtown where we could meet with this person. We then meandered down the streets and back alleys to a small pawn shop where only one of us could meet with ´the contact´. Lisa stayed in the front while I went to exchange the money. We had a good bye kiss just in case. (Just kidding). I changed the money that I had in large American bills, but the rate for the smaller bills ($20s) wasn´t very good. But our friend knew of someone else who could change it for a good rate. So again we went through the alleys to a Chinese merchandise shop. It was owned by a former Chinese American who sold cheap plastic goods in Venezuela. Since he travelled a lot, he was in need of American dollars and was willing to exchange. We crawled through the myriad of boxes and bags of plastic jewelery to the back office and made the exchange. By this point, we were getting tired of Caracas and Venezuela.
Anyways, the work done, we started our tour. But since we had since most of the sights downtown in the previous days, there wasn´t too much left. We saw a natural history museum which had some cool stuffed animals, including a giraffe. We went up one of the highest towers in Caracas to see the view. It´s a bit like the twin towers in New York were, though not nearly as high. Our guide told us how the other tower actually caught on fire in the eighties and it burned for days, but didn´t fall. People had to be airlifted off the roof. It has been restored, though I´m not sure I´d want to go in it. Caracas to me feels like it was a prosperous city in the seventies, but has declined since. It has many buildings that look they used to be nice, but not much has been done since then. I think the current government is harming it´s country with it´s rejection of the west and most people we talked to seem to feel the same. Though there still is a lot of propaganda against the US in terms of graffiti, most of the newspapers and people tend to disagree with their government. Although, one day we were walking down a sidewalk in Caracas and a guy said `f*** off´ as he walked by. I almost started laughing, it was so ridiculous. So I guess the propaganda is still working.
We didn´t do too much else in Caracas. We bought some new hiking shoes as our old ones were worn out. After six months of hiking and walking much more than at home every day, they were done. Though prices here for shoes are cheap generally, for good quality brands, the prices are double of that at home. Luckily, we found a two for one deal at the Merrell store and paid similar prices to that at home. The next day we picked up our passports with Brazilian visas and hopped on a night bus for Puerto la Cruz. The nearby Isla de Margarita with it´s white sand beaches awaited us for Christmas.