Sunday, 25 November 2012

Venezuela - Week One

My flight over was with TAP. The service isn't great by any means and the part of Lisbon airport that we changed planes in was under renovation, but the security checks at Heathrow and Lisbon took about 10 minutes, so it beat flying via the US hands down. I feel the onboard movies must get a mention. One of them, The Watch, had all the slightly rude words replaced. But it had been done by the same guy, no matter which character was speaking, and at a much louder volume than the rest of the dialogue. It was actually funnier than the film itself.

My plane got in at 8pm local time, which is 4½ hours behind London, so I was pretty tired. I'd booked a hotel near the airport, the Hotel Catimar and they do free pickup. It had cost $60 which is pretty expensive, but there aren't many choices.

Next day, I couldn't be bothered to hang around waiting for their restaurant to open which I was first told was 7am and then was 8am. So I asked if they could get me a taxi to take me into Caracas. He wanted 300 Bolivars. Now the official, fixed rate is 4.3 to the dollar. This is what you'll get if you take money out of an ATM. The unofficial rate ranged from 9 to 13 to the dollar depending on how much competition there is locally. Unfortunately, it does mean bringing quite a lot of cash with you in advance.

The ride was fairly uneventful. The best moment was when he noticed a big pothole and swerved at the last minute to hit it dead on. There was a loud bang and he then proceeded to lean out of the window looking for damage whilst almost side swiping the car in the inside lane. Steering wasn't really his strong point.

I was staying at the Hotel Altamira. This was costing me 720 Bs a night. It definitely wasn't worth that. It had AC and a TV, an ensuite bathroom and the world's smallest shower with a inadjustable shower head pointing right at the curtain. Sadly there isn't much choise in Caracas and you have to stay in a nice area as most of it is just too dangerous. The hotel was just down the road from the Canadian embassy that looked like Fort Knox. There were various other embassies up the road including the UK one.

Night life was a bit sparse. There was the Greenwich English pub just across the road. Other than the fact that it didn't look anything like an English pub, didn't serve any English drinks, didn't serve draught beer and no-one spoke English, it was pretty authentic. La Naturista was a nicer bar and had free wifi to boot.

I did the various touristy things. I went to the Museo De Bellas Artes, the Museo Bolivariano and visted the Panteon Nacional where Simon Bolivar's tomb is. It's a impressive building somewhat spoilt by the crumbling concrete steps and the over pass just in front of it. Caracas is a city with lots of tall, concrete buildings. The piece de resistance was the mural on the overpass featuring a gurning Chavez. They've just had their elections. His face is everywhere,

I went to the Rodovia bus station near to the Collegio De Ingeneros metro station to get my ticket. Whilst queueing I noticed the guy behind me had got awfully close, so I moved my rucksack down to in front of me and the woman behind the desk saw and told him to stand behind the line. Even the safe bits of Caracas are a bit dodgy, Two teenagers came up to me in Altamira saying somtething about food to eat and one put his hand on my shoulder. I quickly knocked it off and walked off, but it was clearly some sort of scam.

Still, safely out of Caracas and on the bus to Puerto La Cruz. The bus had aircon, lots of aircon, so you'll need something warm. The seats recline a lot, so I managed a couple of hours sleep that I didn't really need to start with. The Rodovia terminal is outside town, so you need to take a cab to Paseo Colon. I found a room in a posada for 400 Bs, which also included breakfast of an arepa, a maize cake that came with beef and cheese to wrap in it. It's a bit like a kebab, only for breakfast. Seriously, what's not to love?

In the morning I headed off to the bus station to try and get to Mochima. The previous day, I'd been told I'd have to get a “carrito” as the buses didn't go there. This literally means “small car” in Latin American Spanish. In Spain, when they say “carro”, they mean a cart or a child's buggy. So I wasn't really any the wiser.

Anyway, I arrived, told some guy who looked semi official I wanted to Mochima. He pointed me at someone else, he said 175 Bs and we went over to his car in the road which already had two people in it and off we went. So clearly a “carrito” is a shared car. Incidentally, a “bomba” is neither a bomb nor an atrocious Italian disco hit, but a half litre bottle of fizzy drink.

He dropped me at the exit of the main road where I then had to get another ride into the small of Mochima. A guy jumped on me as soon as I arrived, said he had a room and I've paid 150 Bs a night for 4 nights, which is much more like it. The village is pretty small though it does have a couple of dive shops.

I did a couple of days diving, which I'll do a full dive report on later. Other than that, there's not a lot to do in Mochima unless you fancy going to the beach on a nearby island by boat. There are a couple of bar-restaurants but everywhere shuts at 9pm. I've never had so much sleep in all my life. I keep waking up at 4am.

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