Saturday, 10 August 2013

VENEZUELA (Part 2). Fifty liters of fuel or a small bottle of water

No age limit while paying last respect to Chavez
Yes, he is dead. And for real this time.
Chavez is dead. long live Chavez!
A month later I was about to enter my favourite country in South America again, the country that impressed me so much, country of absurdity and paradoxes but also of beauty and uniqueness. There is no other one like Venezuela. It´s not touristy at all probably because tourist and backpackers are scared to go since it´s being recognized as one the most dangerous places to visit but also due to the lack of information. Most of the backpackers I´ve been meeting along the way in South America didn’t plan to go there, simply because they had no idea what the country offers. Neither did I. 
One thing was definitely different this time, just a month later after my first visit and I knew it would mark my trip drastically – Chavez´s death. When I was there in January, no one knew if he was dead or alive and there was lots of speculation about it but this time it was official. He died right when we were at the border, coming from Maicao,Colombia, 5th of March 2013.  After two year battle against the cancer, the commander of Bolivarian Revolution met an early death. Here is a link to my post about the first time I came in Vz:  Venezuela with Chavez alive.
Ben from UK, who I travelled with in Ecuador joined me on my last days in Colombia. Imagine our surprise when at the immigrations he was the one not be let in. Usually Im the person with the wrong nationality and passport. He was told that he needs a visa to get in according to the new law. I asked to see that law and of course we started being ignored, no one wanted to talk to us or explain anything. Apparently UK, US and Canadian citizens need an invitation letter from a Venezuelan, notarized and in original in order to enter Venezuela. And a bribe of course. After 6 hours going back and forth to the Colombian side where the internet and printer were, working out a few fake reservations of a flight and a hotel during the whole 3 weeks we were supposed to stay there and “donating” 10 US$, he got the entry stamp in his passport. Thank God because we were stuck there cos it was my last day of my Colombian visa..so we couldn’t neither go back to Maicao and spend the night there, nor get to Venezuela. It was dark already and we were ready to spend the night at the border which is quite dodgy but the girl at the internet place said we could set up the hammock at her house which was an option too. And then an empty bus going to Maracaibo appeared and we hopped on.
In Maracaibo, we stayed with Luis again (he hosted me the first time I went there). Since he was employed by one of the gigantic petroleum companies that belonged to the government (which means Chavez), he left to Caracas on a company bus to see his body before the funeral. Venezuela declared a week of mourning which was extended to 3 weeks later. All the schools, universities, bars, etc.







Somewhere in Maracaibo
Ben cutting Luis´hair. Didn`t really work.
We stayed an extra day in Luis ´flat order to organize ourselves, changed money and relax after the exhausting border crossing. The exchange rate was 22Bs for 1 US $ which was 5Bs more compared to the one when I left in January (17Bs). It was incredible how fast the local currency was devaluating. It was good for us but I felt bad for the locals, the inflation was horrible.
Probably only 20 $ in my hands. The biggest note is 100 Bolivars.
After Maracaibo we headed to Choroní again. I really liked the town and the beach when visited in January but didn’t get the chance to go to any of the islands. This time we stayed for 5 days in a nice little guesthouse where we could cook and even had WIFI. Went to Cepe, one of the islands – took a boat for 50 Bs per person, it was a nice little beach with a bar on it and Oh my God, they had beer. After Chavez´s death it was “Ley seca” (Literally Dry Law, no alcohol during the mourning) so no alcohol was supposed to be sold anywhere. You can still find it at places but bars were usually closed, at least in big cities. The liquor store was open though so we bought a bottle of rum. Buying beers was more tricky, that’s why I was so happy when found them at the little bar at Cepe. After 5 days in Choroní, we took the same colourful bus with the biggest speakers I´ve seen in a vehicle and made it back to Marakay to take another vivid bus to Okumare.
Cepe beach
Another flashback from my home country
Even I had the urge to join them
In one of the nearest villages on the way to the river pool
Okumare – the shittiest beach i´ve been to Venezuela, actually the only one. Took us a while to find a decent place to stay and at reasonable price and when we went to the beach next morning were struck by the amount of rubbish that was on the beach. Found some rocks to sit down on but didn’t even think of dipping our feet in the water or laying the towels on the beach. Later on we were told that we should have continued further where much nicer and cleaner beaches were. But well, not everything could be perfect. Left to Marakay and Caracas afterwards. 
The bus to Ocumare
Can´t really imagine why I´m so happy on that filthy beach
Still happy
Caracas surprised me nicely. I skipped it the first time cos everyone was telling me how dangerous and crappy it was. But it turned out nice and friendly, only we couldn’t see any of the night life because of the mourning. We stayed with Leo and Aida near “La California” metro stop, very hospitable and generous couple. There was a Russian couple surfing their couch too and despite being very Russian, we still exchanged some ideas what to visit in the city, where to change money (it’s a bit tricky since its officially illegal and because of the political situation and the inflation it was even trickier) and how to see Chavez´body without queuing up for days. The exchange rate was pretty good so apart from the must do walking around, we dedicated some time to shopping (real shopping actually, in a mall and everything).
Had to pose for at least 5 precious minutes to get the that blurry effect



Kids getting new laptops
Juice (smoothies) mania
Waiting for my smoothie




Some schoolgirls really wanted a photo with us


One cool thing to do in Caracas is to visit barrio San Agustin which is the equivalent of “las favelas” in Rio, means one of the poorest neighborhoods in Caracas) but in order to win the inhabitants Chavez built this super modern and expensive cable car that goes all the way up through the Barrio. The views are pretty nice but I dodnt think that changed much the life of its inhabitants. Actually it´s quite similar to the one in Medellin (on the way to Parque Arví), Colombia.
Super modern cable car over the poorest neighborhood in Caracas
Barrio de San Augustin
Reminds me of Bulgaria

Panelki
San Agustin
Friday was the last day that Chavez´body was exposed to the public before it was moved to the Military museum. We decided to try our luck even though we heard stories how people from all over the country were waiting on the line 36 hours and still didn’t make it. Of course we didn’t get in (even our sad story - the foreigners who came specially to see him and whose flight was next day, didnt change their mind). But the whole euphoria, people dressed in red with Chavez´face on the t-shirts and caps, the endless line and crowds of sad faces, the music  was worth to be seen. 



These people probably have been waiting at least half day and they are not even half way

Paseo los Proceres
Part of the never ending queue

Annoying orange-blue stripe T-shirt messing with my photo
Probably angry that they didn´t let us in without queuing up for 2 days
Parque Mochima
It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Venezuela and I´m convinced it is. The beaches get crowded at the weekend but during the week there is no one. Actually in the town of Mochima aprat from the regular Argentinians, we were the only foreigners. You usually take a boat that take to to the islands and beaches you wanna visit, the price is per boat so it´s better if you travell in a group or find people to share it.
Stayed in Villa Vicenta in Mochima, on the roof top in a cozy room for just 200 Bs (8 US$) a night with an amazing view over the bay and two very comfortable hammocks on the terrace.
I wish I had one of these hammocks back home! Ups, where is home?
Before getting there I contacted the only couchsurfer in town who was a dive instructor. I didn’t get his reply in time but while walking around the town, he recognized me and we ended up scuba diving with him at Burbujas and playa Maritas. He gave us a huge discount and I think that all we paid for the 2 dives, tanks, food and transport was the equivalent of 30$ each (the black market rate of course). Together with his girlfriend, Martin traveled all around Central America by bicycle on a very low budget (like most of the Argentinians  selling bracelets or making bread) so they had some tips for me.
Another beautiful beach
Between the dives
The boat driver
Little mermaid at Playa Marica
Playa Marica
Sunsets at playa Manare were always unbelievable
After that we went camping on playa Manare, Martin lent us a tent and water containers and cooler for the ice and drinks. It was just us on the whole beach, apart from the fishermen at the other end of the island. You can even walk around naked if you wish, no one would disturb you. The snorkeling was amazing too, all kind of corals, colors and fish…The plan was to stay just one night but it was so paradise like that when Martin came to bring us bread and tomatoes next day we were so happy that we could stay longer. Got more fish from the fishermen and spent another night in front of the fire and lots of Cuba Libres. Basically all we did those 3 days was to lie in the hammock or on the beach, playing Yahtzee or Rummie, snorkel or sleep. What else one needs?

Playa Manare, the snorkeling here was simply amazing
Playa Manare
Another sunset is about to begin...and Rexy is watching it of course :)


Ben and Rexy making the fire


Even here we found the slogans "Vota por Chavez". Well, he is dead!

Life is good!
The menu for tonight is fish + bread + tomatoes + rum + limes. Same as last night. But we have plenty of ice! Luxury!
Rexy


We came back to Mochima for another night and next day set off to Caripe. When I say set off someone would probably think we got up at 8 so we can leave at 9….but hey, not me. It was at least 12 o´clock when finally we were on the rod trying to hitch a ride or at least get any kind of transport to Cumaná.
Its so complicated to travel in Venezuela because the small towns are not very well connected and you have to take millions of buses and carritos until you get to your final destination. And we are not early birds so always leave too late and get to places in the dark, worrying if we gonna make it or not. We made it to Caripe long after down of course, I counted 9 vehicles (buses, camionetas, busetas, carritos) that we took from Mochima to Caripe…for the ridiculous distance of 150 km! There is no other way unless you get on a shared taxi from Cumaná which is at least double the price. Caripe was a bit overrated so next day we decided to go straight to Piu Piu, another not easy to get to destination.
But first we stoppes at Cueva de guacharo, which was pretty cool (and I´m not a big fan of caves). Oilbirds  (Guacharo bird) are fruit-eating birds that live within the first section of the cave; they leave at night in search of food.  We had to do a 1 hour tour but it wasn´t that bad, I actually enjoyed it. There is a beautiful path through the forest just across the road that takes you Paila waterfall. It is a very pleasant walk and don´t know what it was but it smelt so nice.
I got the window seat! (in a Venezuelan camioneta, it´s regular public transport actually)
New style mobile speakers...and quite powerful actually
In Caripe. Had to take a photo of it.


The cave

I guess the guachaco scared me







After the cave, we got a ride with a school bus to Cariaco which was quite fun, the kids were dancing and singing along with their teachers all the time, definitely felt the latino vibe there, that wouldn´t happen in Europe.  We realized that wouldn’t make it to Pui Pui that night so instead stayed in a hotel in Carupano that one of the teachers recommended. 
A church the kids stopped at
Kids dancing
We got to sit next to the door which was open of course
Walking in between rides towards Pui Pui
Cactus dryer

Pui Pui is a very hardly accessible beach on the way to Guiria (where you take a ferry to Trinidad and Tobago). Got lucky with the rides and for the final stretch we hitched with a nice Venezuelan couple in their 4x4. There is another beach before Pui Pui called Playa Medina, it´s much closer but it is way more crowded. And Pui Pui still feels untouched by the tourists. It has only three posadas and lots of camp space along the 3 kilometers of beach. We had lunches at the little restaurant next to our posada and there is an alcohol shop too.
Amazing beach, a bit overpriced accommodation unless you have a tent. Played heaps of yatzie, rummycub and drunk lots of rum. There was a cozy little restaurant where we had pretty good fish dishes every day at very reasonable price.
Pui Pui
Pui Pui
A present from the locals
Hammock time (somewhere between the rum and rummicub time)
Last photo of the beach ..we are off
Some people can´t live without air conditioning, even in the tent
Playa de Pui Pui - simple and beautiful
When was time to leave, the same couple that took us here, gave us a ride to Rio Caribe and then we were back to bus-carrito-camioneta odyssey. We were taking our time with all the rides enjoying the views of secluded beaches and turquoise water and just wished we had more time to stop for a day or two to another beach. Was dark already when we finally made it to Cumaná (surprises, surprise!) so there was no more transport to Mochima. Somehow got a ride in  camioneta going to Santa Fe for free until the turn off to Mochima and then were lucky again cos there was an emergency camioneta called by someone stuck to Mochima so we got on that one. 

Passed by Martin´s dive shop to collect our backpacks and stayed another night in Villa Vicente. It was just before Easter but people already were on holiday so the whole village was full and so different from a week ago. There was street stalls everywhere, food, drinks, hand craft, loud music… Unfortunately our lovely room was taken so we stayed in another one, missing the view and big TV but it was just for one night. 
Martin in Mochima filling up the bottles
Last stage of the trip was to make it back to Puerto La Cruz and Barcelona. Stayed in Posada Copacabana at plaza Boyaca in Barcelona and next day we had our flights, me to Panamá and Ben to Bogota. On 27th of March, almost a year after I made it to Santiago, Chile, I´m done with South America and ready to move on. Central America here I come.

The cheapest flights in Europe