South America travel blog

Hillside slums

Simon Bolivars' birthplace

Pomegranite tree


Black Squirrel



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Our ship docked at La Guaira so it was a short ride to get to Venezuela ‘s capital city of Caracas. We passed a number of slum housings attached to the hillsides.

With their precarious position, and the prevalence of mud slides, it looked like a disaster waiting to happen. The city was designed for a population of 500,00, but the discovery of oil brought a surge in population to 4 million today, causing traffic jams and smog, also a lack of essentials like water and electricity.

We learned that oil and oil-related products is the chief industry. You can fill up your car with 11 gallons of gas for about $1.00. Next in importance is aluminum and iron. Another product is an element that is used in the newest computer chips, unfortunately, the guide could not think of its name. Venezuela (named by Amerigo Vespucci as “Little Venice because of the houses built on stilts reminded him of home) produces the best cacao in the world. It also grows strawberries year round and tropical plants.


Our day in Caracas began with a visit to Simon Bolivar’s birthplace, considered a national shrine.

The original building was demolished by an earthquake, but a colonial home is a modern reconstruction that takes its place. All of the furnishings were reproductions, since other families lived in the home after his birth. Huge paintings covered the walls illustrating his life. A pomegranate tree in the courtyard is to bring health and good luck.

We have really had Simon Bolivar’s image around us everywhere. He was the liberator of Panama, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Columbia so each country owes him a debt of gratitude and it is displayed in monuments, streets, parks, currency, and of course, a country’s name, Bolivia. I don’t know of anyone in the US that is as revered as Simon Bolivar is in South America.

We walked to Bolivar Square, the center of the city, with a similar statue that we saw in Panama. Surrounding the Square are government buildings and a beautiful theater. .Black squirrels are common in the park.

And then it was time to pile into 4 x 4s for our ride up Mount Avila and Avila National Park at an elevation of 7,000 feet. We had five guides that would be with each jeep group. The climb into the jeeps was not graceful. There wasn’t a platform so some people had to be boosted into the rear of the jeep. And those with limited mobility really had a problem. But eventually we were all situated with the bird fanciers grouped into one of the jeeps. I didn’t fit into that jeep, besides, those people were really avid bird watchers and the park boasts 500 bird species. No way could anyone make that climb without a 4 x 4. A guard is posted near the beginning of the climb to make sure the vehicle meets the requirements, otherwise the driver has to turn back.

We made a scenic stop, but the scene was pretty disappointing; fog was rolling in and it was very difficult to see anything, and perhaps it was the smog as well. As we climbed, the temperature dipped to 59° from about 85° in the city. We kept climbing to a little village called Galipan with a general store and restaurant.

The specialty is a ham sandwich that is made with uncured, unsmoked baked ham, lettuce and tomato on a crisp toasted bun. That was served with a thick peach nectar. For dessert we had fresh locally grown strawberries in whipped cream. I’ll have to wait for strawberries like that until June!

Unfortunately, we did not see any of the park with its 100 butterfly species, 500 birds species, 120 animal species and 1800 plant species. The bird watchers were disappointed.

The fog was very thick, but it would have been nice to have been able to drive through some of the park before heading down on a cable car. We had rain on the drive back to the ship, but it cleared when we got there at about 4:00 PM.

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