Monday, July 23, 2007

A tank of petrol or a bottle of water?

Canaima aiport checkin
Angel falls from where we slept in hammocks

The boats we took 50 km up river to Angel Falls

One of the many strange bugs to be found in the rain forrest

A walkway behind the waterfall

A good spot for a swim...

Waterfall in Canaima


Angel Falls from the air, 979 m

Crossing the plains

Propaganda "Uh ah, Chavez is not going..."

More Propaganda, Chavez stuff in Caracas

Plaza Bolivar, Caracas

A friendly Iguana in Plaza Bolivar

The slums of Caracas


Pico Bolivar, Mereida

Pico Bolivar


Market, Merida
"Crazy Hour" at the wedding

Cheers to them...

Saying their vows....

Hammock maker

Rolling over to look at my clock I see that the time is only 1.30, after sleeping poorly for the next 4 hours I get up at 5, half an hour before my alarm. I gather my things and try to eat anything I can find in the kitchen. At 5.45, I hear a car arriving and the horn sounds...I unlock the double bolted door, open the security gate, then close it again and run to pass through before it closes completely. I reach for my seat belt but Juan says I won't be needed that. We race across town before the traffic reached it's normal epidemic levels. I hold on to the seat as we race through one red light after another, he turns to me with a big grin and says "I bet that is illegal in your country", I nod and at the same time notice that I can see the road flying past through a hole in the floor. We arrive at the Cable Car which will take us from 1200 m to 4700 m in order to climb the highest peak in Venezuela, Pico Bolivar 5007 m. Normally the bureaucracy means that tickets must be bought in advance, but Juan is a guide that who is a friend of the guy I am staying with and knows the right people, that's how it works here. We wait...finally the right guy comes, all is good...but no, the Venezuelan way, the boss of the cable car has decided to shut at 12 instead of 2.30 today, leaving us only 3 hours to do a climb that takes at least 5 hours! There is no explanation, only that he doesn't think that enough people will come that day. Totally gutted we return to the car, Juan is so disappointed, he tells me that this is as bad as his girlfriend leaving him after 5 years, just 3 weeks earlier.
This is a good example of how things (don't) work here. With a government that is hell bent on turning Venezuela into Cuba as quickly as possible, some things have become backwards to what we are used to. It costs just $1 US to FILL up your car, but a small bottle of water costs $1.50. This can simply be explained by Venezuela being the 5th largest oil producer in the world, other things can not be explained quite so simply. With the inflation rate hovering around 30 % per year, and the government speaking of radical plans to penalise the middle and upper class, a strange economy exists. The government has fixed the exchange rate at 2150 Bs. per $1 US. But on the street you can get up to 4200 Bs. per $1 US because locals, after filling in a lot of forms etc., can only take $5000 per year out of the country.
A car is Worth gold. The streets are clogged with every make a model, it is unsafe to travel in any other way they tell me. People can't get enough of them. It has become so difficult to get a car, that as soon as a car is taken from the car yard, it INCREASES in value by 20 %! Bizzare...
This is a hard country to explain, it abounds with an incredible array of natural wonders of all kinds...the pictures show some of it...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

One Sleeping Bag Short of a Stuff Sac

The view from where I am staying in Caracas for a couple of days.

Arriving at the airport in plenty of time for my 19.10 flight from New York to Los Angeles, I proceed to the check-in where I am promptly informed that I will not be able to board the aircraft because Qantas is not licenced to carry domestic passengers, great!!! I'll be having a word with my travel agent. As the sweat starts to build on my forehead, I'm told that it's my lucky day and I can travel with American Airlines at no extra cost! After a short jog, a train ride and a long jog, I check in on the legitimate flight, my bag is checked all the way through to Caracas, seems a bit risky since I have to change airline in LA, but I'm assured all will be ok!
On my last flight from Panama City to Caracas I notice that the flying time from New York to Caracas via Panama City would have taken the same time as the flight from LA to Caracas, an extra 5 hours of flying for fun? I really need to have a word with my travel agent...
Arriving safely in Venezuela, I am whisked through immigration and stand, as usual, directly in front of the conveyor that delivers the bags onto the carousel. The crowd appears and disappears, but I am still waiting...nothing...
I fill out the forms and go through customs with only my carry-on, my friend Angel has been waiting there now for many hours. We arrive at his place and make endless calls to the airport, finally it is confirmed that my bag spent the night in LA and will arrive the next day, and it does! I go down to the street to collect the bag and feel that it is considerably lighter than it was when I last saw it in NY....hmmmm...what's gone? Well, lots...I guess that's part of traveling!
One can only wonder what they were thinking as they unpacked my sleeping bag and took only the stuff sac, the GPS was out of it's bag, but still there, my boxer shorts reduced to 2 pairs, down jacket, leatherman knife, pants, shoes, rain pants and shaver - gone! But my tent, rain jacket, sleeping bag, stove, GPS, first aid kit etc - still there!
After a trip to the airline office and to the shopping mall (my worst nightmare, especially when traveling!) I am ready for action again...Next stop, Angel's wedding on Sat about 400 km from here. I will certainly have some nice photos by then!