Written by Jodeci527 on 04 Mar, 2013
If you're interested in staying at a low budget accommodation 'Posada', I advise you to book in advance. The cheaper rooms tend to sell out beforehand, probably due to the small number of budget rooms on the island. Margarita Island is a popular tourist destination,…Read More
If you're interested in staying at a low budget accommodation 'Posada', I advise you to book in advance. The cheaper rooms tend to sell out beforehand, probably due to the small number of budget rooms on the island. Margarita Island is a popular tourist destination, and is mostly dominated by large scale resorts.I recommend visitors to not only print out the directions to their hotel, but also the telephone number for the establishment. Our taxi driver wasn't too aware of the location of our hotel, and after arriving in the general vicinity, he had to call the owner to get better directions. Thankfully, I had called the owner the day before, so the number was still stored in my recent call log! If you're arriving by means of air, you have the option of renting a car or hiring a taxi to get to your hotel. When hiring a taxi, I actually recommend using the local drivers who wait for visitors in the airport arrival hall. These drivers will not only offer you a decent price, but will also act as good currency exhangers. They changed my US dollars into Bolivares at the 'Black Market' rate which is 8 Bs for 1 USD, as opposed to the official rate of 4 Bs for 1 USD.In the event that you didn't bring enough foreign cash with you, and you need to make a withdrawal from the ATM, there are two things to know. The first is that you're going to be charged the official local rate of 4 BS for 1 USD by default. Secondly, most of the bank ATMs on the island don't accept foreign cards. Only Banco Bicentenario accepted my Visa card, but when asked for a 'code' my hotel owner advised me to enter four zeros (0000) and it worked!If you're staying outside of the Captial of Porlamar, getting a taxi is not as easy as walking into the hotel's parking lot and hiring the first one who calls you. In Juan Griego, we had to ask our hotel owner how to locate a cab. Taxi stands are usually located in the communities, so don't be afraid to ask the locals to point you in the right direction. Also, many taxi drivers cruise around looking for patrons, so you could also just wait outside your hotel's gate until you see a car with a 'Taxi' sign, then flag it down.It is easy to become carefree when on the island, because of the relaxing atmosphere, but never drop your guard. Two of my friends were scammed when a guy on the street offered to change their USD for local currency. They ended up losing about $50 USD, and never saw it coming. The scammers and pickpockets that you read about in the warnings are real, so always use caution.Close
Written by Jodeci527 on 23 Feb, 2013
Juan Griego is a small harbour side city on the Northern side of Margarita Island. During my short stay there, it was very easy to fall in love with the old world charm which encompasses the entire neighbourhood. It's one of those places on this…Read More
Juan Griego is a small harbour side city on the Northern side of Margarita Island. During my short stay there, it was very easy to fall in love with the old world charm which encompasses the entire neighbourhood. It's one of those places on this planet where you'd swear simply morphed out of a history book into our present day and age.The most noticeable feature of Juan Griego is the harbour itself. The small cove is home to countless small wooden fishing boats, docked while awaiting their return to the Caribbean Sea. The water in the harbour is very clear and of a light blue colour, due to being sheltered by a mountain range to the West and cliffs to the East. The subsequent absence of waves make this a prime feeding ground for hundreds of brown pelicans who make this harbour their home. They dive into the water from great heights at rapid rates and it's a real sight to see. When the pelicans aren't fishing for a meal, they simply hang out on the roofs and hulls of the fishing boats, which seem to suffice as their nesting spots.Further inland, is the quiet but formidable town where most of the locals shop, eat, work or simply pass the time away. The numbers of old school vehicles which drive on the streets are staggering, from small VW beetles to rusted trucks. Apparently, mechanics on the island must make a pretty good living!The culinary side of the town focuses on seafood, seeing as the fishing industry is quite large. The prices are very affordable, and meals are prepared with local seasonings and herbs which provide a dinstinct yet pleasant flavour. For breakfast, my friends and I ordered as much arepas as we could possibly eat. This spanish staple consists of a flat corn flour bun with different types of meat in the center and grated cheese. I tried the fish, chicken and beef arepas and each was extremely tasty! The cost was approximately $1 USD, and two would provide a filling meal.Another specialty of Margarita Island which became very obvious to us during our first day there, was the abundance of freshly made fruit juices. The bartenders and shopkeepers actually throw the fruits into the blender right in front of the customers, and within seconds, you're being poured a tall class of watermelon, canteloupe, orange or peach drink. This is what the locals mainly drink, and it took a considerable amount of effort to find a can of soda in Juan Griego!Further down the street has several stores, shops and vendors selling trinkets such as magnets, keyrings and wooden jewelry. I bought a few, but found the prices weren't as good a bargain as I was hoping for. I guess we had finally arrived in the tourist district! Anything from clothes, electronics and tools can be bought downtown, and bargaining is allowed.A few churches and old buildings are scattered throughout the community, and they are kept in great condition. The European influence is apparent in the number of small town squares which have stone statues, trees and several benches for relaxation. I had a glass of coconut crush with milk and sugar while staring out at the harbour from one of the benches. The entire area is really laid back, and before I knew it, the morning was over.Juan Griego really grew on me, and I absolutely enjoyed my stay there. I spoke enough Spanish to engage in a few conversations, and every local I spoke to was not only helpful, but very friendly and welcoming. Venezuela may have a bad reputation in the travel industry, but Juan Griego is another world all on its own!Close
Written by onesundaymorning on 27 Apr, 2007
Before arriving in Venezuela, I heard enough bad things to make me reconsider what I was going there for. Only a month before Chavez won a very controversial election (think Bush-Gore election of 2000), Venezuela was one of the countries on the State Departments list…Read More
Before arriving in Venezuela, I heard enough bad things to make me reconsider what I was going there for. Only a month before Chavez won a very controversial election (think Bush-Gore election of 2000), Venezuela was one of the countries on the State Departments list of places not to travel to, and the airports were an area to avoid due to recent terrorist related activates. My ship was scheduled to arrive in La Guaira only four days after leaving Brazil. Warnings were broadcasted along the PA systems and during pre-port meetings. “Don’t talk politics to anyone”, “after 9pm cars don’t stop for anyone; it’s to dangerous,” and “under no circumstances never venture near the favelas.” On top of that came the ‘what not to do list’ which included; Caracas, the highway, the airport, any taxi, near the ocean where pirates lurk, to any tourist area, or anywhere in the shipyard where we were docked…this greatly limited my options for even leaving the ship.When I arrived, I was determined to avoid Caracas like the plague. My first day, I was given the opportunity to teach English at a school in the middle of Caracas. I battle the idea for hours and almost turned back when I saw an Interpol car only a few hundred yards from my ship. I was about to break at least 30 of the 752 things on the list of ‘what not to do’; I got a taxi and set off to find the school. My group negotiated the taxi fare for a mini-van that looked like it came out of the war and took off on a 2 ½ hour ride from La Guaira to Caracas; this is where my reeducation began. Along every road, bridge, wall, or any surface for that matter I saw graffiti; not the average “T-dwag wuz here”, but passionate statements made for and against the current political direction of the country. After 45 minutes of avoiding the topic of politics we couldn’t help ourselves; we asked about the graffiti. This set the driver off onto a 2 hour speech about Chavez, his intentions, his victories for the people, the American backed rebels who were causing the resistance against the current presidency, the election, but most passionately how Chavez was a the pillar that kept Venezuela strong; that he was the breath, the pulse, the heartbeat of the country. His statements weren’t attacking us, but more of a plea for us to hear what Chavez had done for Venezuela. As we pulled up to the curve in Caracas our driver reassured us that he wasn’t a political man; his friends were much more passionate then he, and he rarely followed the news. When the taxi stopped, I was apprehensive about getting out, but my group wasn’t turning back. I took a deep breath, held my bag tight, and stepped out of the car.We found the school after a few wrong turns. Once inside, we were greeted by an employee of the school and were assigned to a classroom. Three of us quietly entered the room and sat in the back. We were in an advanced class, where we got to observe the students. At the end of the class the teacher asked them if they could go anywhere in the world where would they go and why? They all had different answers, but one group talked about how they wouldn’t go to New York because it is twice the size of Caracas and much more dangerous. I was surprised that they thought this. I was constantly warned about Caracas, “the murder capital of the world”, and my mind started to turn. After the class was over we asked the teacher about this. She was born in Venezuela and spent many years in Texas. She said the difference was that in the US people kill because they are crazy, but in Caracas people kill because they are hungry. This stuck with me all day. Several people in the group decided to stay for another class. The second room that I was in was with children who were around 10 years old. They were excited to interact with us and even wanted to play a game of win, lose, or draw. These kids were bright and vibrant, and so happy.After leaving, I was overwhelmed by the experience. I realized that my fears were preventing me from experiencing the beauty of this country. Venezuela’s is truly a diamond in the rough for traveler who seeks adventure not through how many beaches they visit, but through the eyes of the people who occupy the land. The story of the country is found everywhere. The streets of the city are filled with the words of the people both supporting and bashing their political stance, Simon Bolivar, aka El Liberator, a well educated leader who was born in Caracas who worked to free South America from Spain, is celebrated through out the country, and the kindness and openness of the people can be found in the outside the city as locals open their doors for tourists to use a bathroom, eat, or just to sit and share stories. Venezuela is also and ecotraveler’s Mecca. Rain forests, famed waterfalls, and 1,800 miles of coastline form the country. 1,300 species of birds, 30,000 recorded species of flowering plants, as well as monkeys, caimans, jaguars, and anteaters call Venezuela home. Fifteen percent of the country is set aside to make 43 national parks some of which are so preserved that they can only be reached by plane.Looking back I realize that my fear, my misconceptions, my ignorance almost made me miss out on seeing what Venezuela had to offer.Close
Written by onesundaymorning on 26 Apr, 2007
Nestled in the hills in the Central Mountains, Colonia Tovar takes you out of the beauty of South America and makes you feel like you have entered the Black Forest of Germany. The nearest city, Caracas, is 60km away. Although Tovar seems much like Germany,…Read More
Nestled in the hills in the Central Mountains, Colonia Tovar takes you out of the beauty of South America and makes you feel like you have entered the Black Forest of Germany. The nearest city, Caracas, is 60km away. Although Tovar seems much like Germany, this is no accident. Germans founded it in 1843. German immigrants arriving in Venezuela were quarantined to the coast after diseases broke out on their ship. Once the quarantine was lifted, the Germans moved into the mountains to avoid the locals who were hostile to them. Until recently, the town has remained isolated in the hills.Arriving at the entrance of the city, we saw horse-drawn carriages on the sides of the road. The houses had beautiful red roofs that reminded me of Heidelberg. Even some of the residents were dressed in German clothing.Along the main street are stores packed with over-priced souvenirs for tourists. These stores are worth a look, but it’s the stores off of the main street where the amazing deals are. I happened into one store full of the most beautiful pottery that I’ve ever seen. The clay for the pottery came from a nearby town. They had everything from pots to incense burners. I picked up a beautiful vase with a handle. Around the neck was three clay flowers attached by hemp. Almost afraid of the price, I turned it over and found out that this vase was only $3.50. Most of the other clay items in the store were priced even less.One of the things not to miss here is the hot chocolate. I didn’t catch the name of the place, but if you find the church—it’s off of the main street and everyone knows where it is—there is a little café across the street with a patio and chairs facing the church. The chocolate they serve is unlike anything that you’ll find in the US. They make it with much more cocoa, so if you’re addicted to US chocolate, the stuff you’ll find in Venezuela is enough to make a chocolate addict go through withdrawal.It’s hard to take a bad photo in Colonia Tovar. Everywhere you look are lush mountains with farms cut out of the sides. The buildings are beautiful and well kept.Close
Written by onesundaymorning on 20 Apr, 2007
Squeezing 10 people into the back of a truck, we set off into the Venezuelan jungle for what our tour guide called "costal explorer." We drove though La Jolla and were given told a little about the history. In 1999 there was a horrible flood…Read More
Squeezing 10 people into the back of a truck, we set off into the Venezuelan jungle for what our tour guide called "costal explorer." We drove though La Jolla and were given told a little about the history. In 1999 there was a horrible flood where 30,000 people went missing. Still to this day the damage that was done to the city can be seen. Five years later areas that were hit are still waiting to be declared by the government safe to rebuild. Many of the stops that we made were in areas that couldn’t be found on maps and the name was never divulged to us. The first stop was in the village in the middle of nowhere. We were taken to see Peppy, the town monkey. He was chained to a tree and looked sickly, but the locals took great pleasure in feeding him chips.
The next stop on the trip was a beach with houses on the sand. The one advantage about traveling with a guide was that he knew where the safest beaches were. The people who live on the beach open their houses up for the tourists to change and use the bathroom. I felt strange when I was told to use their house, but when I found out that they had an arrangement made with the tour guide I felt better, but I still didn’t go in. The beach was still dangerous, because the further you go out into the water the rockier it gets. The locals showed us what was safe. Regardless of how safe the beach was or wasn’t it was glorious and we were the only tourists there.
The rest of the tour we were shown out of the way destinations. The first being a waterfall that was only a 2 minute walk from the road, but not visible to passing cars. Lunch was in another town where our tour guide had a deal with one of the restaurants owners. The small, unnamed restaurant was in the home of a family of three. While our food was being prepared the couple’s toddler entertained us by hiding and running laughing from us. On a side note the food was amazing. We were served fresh fish and fried plantains. Dessert was in another town where our tour guide grew up. The guide got us all homemade ice cream that tasted much like Italian shaved ice.
Although most of the tour guides offer the same tour but visit different places I would highly suggest getting one to show you out of the way places. They know all of the great information that you just wouldn’t know if you tried to go at it alone. At one point of the tour the guide even had us get out of the truck so that he could point out all of the flora and fauna that we saw along the road.
Written by PatandCorinne on 22 May, 2004
There are several operations offering excursions into the delta. We chose Tucupita Expeditions, which has been operating the Orinoco Delta Lodge since 1993, after doing some research on the Internet prior to our trip.
It has an office on Margarita Island, where we booked our…Read More
There are several operations offering excursions into the delta. We chose Tucupita Expeditions, which has been operating the Orinoco Delta Lodge since 1993, after doing some research on the Internet prior to our trip.
It has an office on Margarita Island, where we booked our trip, but you can also make reservations online.
Tucupita offers excusions of various lengths.
2 days/1 night:
One popular trip for visitors to Margarita Island is the Orinoco Delta/Canaima and Angel Falls two-day/one-night tour, which gives visitors a taste of the delta on the first day (overnight stay in the delta) and a taste of Angel Falls, the world's tallest waterfall, on the second day. It costs US$260 per person - this was by far the cheapest we saw. Others were above $300 per person. Tucupita Expeditions claims to have created this particular package, which was soon copied by other operators.
We decided on Tucupita's two-night/three-day expedition in the Orinoco Delta for US$249 per person, because we felt one day in the jungle just wouldn't be enough.
Much of the first day was spent travelling from Margarita to the delta. We arrived at the lodge at 3pm, had a quick supper then spent three hours on the water fishing for piranha and exploring different channels before the sunset.
We had a full day of activities on the second day, but had to leave the lodge by 7am the third day to catch the 10:30am flight back to Margarita, the only available flight.
We were definitely disappointed we had to leave so early the third day.
Tucupita was the only tour company we found that offered a three-day/two-night package.
If you wish to stay even longer, you can visit Tucupita Expedition's recently built Simoina camp, which is located in an even more remote part of the delta about 2.5 hours north from the Orinoco Delta Lodge.
The camp is much more rustic than the lodge.
It consists of a few Indian-style dwellings -- one big thatched roof house for sleeping (in hammocks covered by mosquito netting), a dining room with a bar, a kitchen and shared bathrooms. There are no showers -- just the river.
A three-night stay (first and last night at the lodge) is US$299 per person.
A four-night stay (first and last night at the lodge) is US$360 per person.
No other tour companies we checked with (on Margarita Island, at least) offered any similar packages.
Longer stays can be arranged for an extra charge, of course.
The prices quoted above include airfare from Margarita Island to Maturin, transporation to the lodge, all excursions, all meals, soft drinks on excursions, accommodations, and guides. What's not included in the cost is drinks at the bar and tips.
For further information on Tucupita Expeditions, visit Orinoco DeltaClose
Written by PatandCorinne on 21 May, 2004
Moments after spotting the anaconda gliding across the water, our local guide, Rafael, pulled on his rubber boots and hopped out of the boat in pursuit.
tanding in foot-deep water along the river’s edge, he searched the floating vegetation for movement, or a flash of olive-coloured…Read More
Moments after spotting the anaconda gliding across the water, our local guide, Rafael, pulled on his rubber boots and hopped out of the boat in pursuit.
tanding in foot-deep water along the river’s edge, he searched the floating vegetation for movement, or a flash of olive-coloured skin, before suddenly turning around and running back to the boat.
“Grande! Grande!” he shouted in Spanish, holding his arms out wide and pointing at the silty brown water. “Tres metros!” he exclaimed -- the snake was three metres long.
Our other guide, Christophe, a lanky Frenchman, grabbed a stick and jumped into the water with him.
Together, they poked at the water hyacinth for several minutes, but with no luck - or maybe luckily for them.
The stealthy snake -- known to swallow cattle, deer, and wild pigs whole -- had disappeared.
The excitement over, we continued our journey into the unspoiled wilderness of Venezuela’s Orinoco Delta.
Located on the country’s northeast coast, the delta is a vast system of tangled waterways that weave through the steamy swamp forest and carry the waters of Venezuela’s largest river, the Orinoco, to the Atlantic Ocean. The web of more than 300 rivers and countless streams and channels covers 28,000-square-kilometres. Subject to the ocean tides, the water levels rise and fall one to two metres a day, changing directions every six hours or so.
My boyfriend, Pat, and I, had arrived in the delta via Margarita Island, a little-known Caribbean getaway 20 kilometres off Venezuela’s coast.
A 45-minute flight to the city of Maturin, followed by a two-hour drive and a one-hour boat ride, put us in the midst of one the largest intact wetlands remaining on the planet.
On land and in the water, the delta's ecosystem supports a huge diversity of wildlife.
During our three-day excursion we saw toucans, hoatzin, parrots, flocks of scarlet ibis, capuchin monkeys, diving anhingas, fresh water dolphins, giant frogs and lizards.
Electric blue morpho butterflys fluttered by across the water and furry grey bats swooped past our heads.
While fishing for piranha in a narrow inlet, a troupe of howler monkeys peered down at our group from the jungle canopy overhead. As we moored the boat along a stand of mangroves and dangled our baited hooks in the water, the howler's eerie calls echoed through the still morning air, protesting our invasion.
There was only five of us in a boat big enough for 20 - myself, Pat, Christophe, Rafael and Joyce, an adventurous, 75-year-old Brit who was on a tour of several South and Central American countries.
In the delta, boats are the main form of transportation for the local inhabitants, the Warao Indians, which translated literally means “canoe people.”
The tribe of hunters and fishermen travel by dugout canoes and live simply in wooden palafitos -- crude log houses raised on stilts along the riverbanks.
With no walls, their hammocks and belongings hang from the rafters for all to see. There is no running water although some of the small villages had electricity.
For lunch, we stopped to visit a Warao family - Rafael’s relatives. Eight barefoot children -- five girls in dresses and three shirtless boys, aged four months to about 15 years old -- watched us with curiosity, crowding around to see the images from our digital camera. Such technology is rare in the delta, although the family did have a 21-inch television sitting in a box next to a generator, with what appeared to be a home-schooling video sticking out the top.
After a meal of tuna salad and el pan - flat bread prepared by Rafael over an open fire - the younger children brought out a selection of handicrafts for sale, made with fibres from the moriche palm tree, also known as the tree of life.
The Indians have more than 40 uses for the tree, Christophe told us. They eat its fruit, make wine from it, use its pulp to make bread, build fishing tools from it and build their homes with it, amoung other things.
One of the girls demostrated for us how the moriche fibres are woven to form rope, which is then woven into hammocks and baskets. I asked her family if I could take her picture, which they okayed. She seemed quite embarrased by all the attention, but proud to show off her skills.
We asked Christophe if he know how old she was. He asked Rafael in Spanish, who in turn asked her parents in Warao.
After much discussion, Christophe replied that she was "around 11." They didn't know her exact age. "For them, it's not important," he said.
For 60,000 Bolivares, or about $30 Cdn, we bought two large hammocks from the family to take home with us.
Back on the water that afternoon, we stopped to talk to an elderly Warao fisherman, paddling by in his dugout canoe, a pile of gurbinata fish and a bowl of water hyacinth laying in the bow.
In Warao, Rafael asked him what the plants were for.
“My canoe was too fast and I needed the weight to slow it down,” he said with a grin. For a glass of cold Coke, he let me to take his picture before heading off down the river.
After a morning on the water, we headed into the jungle to take a closer look at the dense vegetation.
Enormous leaves nearly blocked out the sun. The only sound was the quiet hum of mosquitoes.
As we slogged through the marshy landscape, Rafael pointed out medicinal and edible plants, chopping up a snack of fresh palm hearts with his two-foot machete and breaking open a palm nut so we could sip its bitter juice.
Cutting into the bark of a sangrito tree, he showed us the red sap bleeding out, which is used by the natives to treat foot fungus.
Using his machete again, Rafael fashioned a firestick from tree branches and, using dried coconut husks for fuel, he and Christophe set about making fire the old fashioned way. After a few minutes of intense rubbing, smoke began rising into the air. Sweat poured down our guide's faces from the exertion and the humidity. But their hard work was rewarded when small flames started flicking up.
Back on the water, fires were starting to dot the shoreline and the air smelled of smoke as the Warao women began to prepare the evening meal.
With the sun sinking into the horizon, Christophe mixed us up Cuba Libres and we headed back to our base camp, the Orinoco Delta Lodge, for the night.
After a supper of fresh catfish and vegetables, we sat by the water’s edge and watched a full moon rise over the river, gazing at a million twinkling stars and planning our return visit to this exotic paradise.
Three days was simply not enough.
Written by Jose Kevo on 14 Nov, 2004
From day I was born, it's been in my blood to annually come alive every March in Spring's early stages. Chance for renewal through authorized rowdiness likely began with Spring Breaks in gradeschool but wasn't honed until college discovering likes of South Padre; Daytona…Read More
From day I was born, it's been in my blood to annually come alive every March in Spring's early stages. Chance for renewal through authorized rowdiness likely began with Spring Breaks in gradeschool but wasn't honed until college discovering likes of South Padre; Daytona and Fort Lauderale. But as time went on, there became a burning desire stronger than Spring Fever.
Cause to celebrate as an adult devised posting milestone markers skiing in Winter Park, parasailing in Nassau. Eventually crossing the pond netted even greater achievements hiking around castle fortresses in Sintra; rockin' the Kasbah in Tangiers; tracing the apostle Paul's footsteps through Korinthos, dumb-founded at the Vatican complex. Now, Venezuela was hosting my latest March Madness culminating with plans for an extraordinary adventure in Maracaibo.
The final day in destinations has always spoiled me with opportunity to go back rediscovering new-found favorites mingled with the I'll come back for that laters. Promising to sleep-in was surrendered by 7:00 am. Shortly later with extra-large coffee in hand, watching Maracaibo come to life around Plaza República was revitalizing as professionals and athletic-types pushed for one more lap around the park before heading off to officially begin their day.
At this point there was nothing specific to do except indulge. And with still all day to accomplish task, a second cup of coffee seemed a great way to start; wired mind roaming farther than feet ever could...
Unrealized Recognitions of Self-EvolutionOld Town had baited an encore reappearance. Not so much because other options were limited, but gritty city environments reinforce my element. Uninterrupted strollings on a weekday morning were original compared to chaos found two days before as Maracaibo geared-up for one of the largest celebrations in decades.
At times, looking up is the only way to find best perspectives for hidden details otherwise missed through life in general. Crowning statues, towering spires; second chances. Getting my first head-on view of the unveiled Chinita accumulated chilling goose bumps...eventually extinguished by burning in my pocket.
Enduring previous day's hassle of retreiving cash had been part of today's master plan. With a wad of 100,000.00 Bolívares, an indulgent shopping spree at the Outdoor Market was befitting for unloading US$53.79. I was enthralled to find conditions just as crowded and chaotic as Sunday; trying to remember where I'd eyed my must have's amid the masses an even greater challenge.
Engaging outdoor market's is one of my favorite travel experiences, and Maracaibo's was the motherlode! Books of classic Latin literature, local pro-league baseball jerseys, and hand-made artifacts were parts of the haul. Dispersed tables with piles of homemade sweets also irresistible with still enough room for feasting like a ravished peasant.
Sights and smells were always mingled with sounds of merchants conducting business while accompanied by young chulos blaring the hottest local hits on downloaded cd's sold for 50-cents. With little resistance, purchasing stacks of music was the perfect accessory for the icon chosen to summarize the Venezuelan experience. After much diligence searching for the perfect fabric, color and fit, bartering price was no object for the most redefining acquisition ever made; a double-wide beach hammock.
It's my Party, and I'll Dance if I want to...Traffic was creeping along Avenida Cuatro when signaling driver to let me out at the corner. Weighted down with plunder for the short walk back to hotel, a host of local police redirecting traffic initially set-off an uneasy feeling heightened by frenzy along crowded sidewalks. Plaza República was completely sealed off making way for hordes of vendors scurrying to set-up boothes in vacated streets.
Investigations were in order once unloading back at the hotel for what could possibly be happening on a Tuesday afternoon? As it would turn out, Maracaibo was amidst an election year and the incumbent mayor was hosting another block party with enough makings to rival any NYC street festival! By this point, a long siesta and shower were the only rsvp appropriately needed.
Fashionably late is the norm even though eventual reappearance was rushed by 6:00 pm. Crowds were pouring into the plaza jockeying for position near the concert stage which blockaded Calle 77. A festive, light-heartedness was settling in with the sinking sun; más tarde was only explanation for whatever was going to transpire.
Returning to the Astor, the bartender was indifferent whether soaking in his killer Cuba Libras inside, or dragging a chair out front to the abandoned patio. By round two, others had followed suit moving outdoors for front-row seats to all unfolding. I'd stopped counting lime wedges by time dinner finished and was waiting for dessert-round when an overwhelming roar prompted settling the tab.
A familiar latin tune was echoing through the night when asking quién es? The guard excitedly quipped, Omar Enrique before breaking into a beat-supplementing shuffle. By now, there was barely room to push through the crowded plaza; trees concealing the distant stage but sound enough to wake the dead from one of the hottest Merengue stars on earth!
There were no inhibitions constraining the fevered multitudes swept away in the spontaneous rave. Age was not a factor for appreciating the revelry that roused everyone like ants on a hot rock. Every song was cause for celebration anew right up until sonic booms ushered in the current hit saved for last and accompanied with a firework show that emblazoned the night.
A vacated bench relieved weakness in my knees. With head down and eyes closed, there was no processing what was transpiring. Crowds had thinned a little, but most appeared eager to keep the party going with tradition I was yet aware of. They opened with the headlining act and follow with equivalent of warm-up bands.
My head was still spinning by time Juzt 2 Brothers from Puerto Rico opened with popular House-music hit Que Bonita Bandera. Warm fuzzies had overwhelmingly numbed far greater than partakings. More than pesonal limits had been surpassed.
Two weeks in Venezuela had certainly been questionable, but this final day in Maracaibo had transcended the highest expectations of travel experiences and celebrating life. The clock was ticking towards midnight and alarm had already been set for 5:00 am.
Sounds of music were still bouncing off high-rise buildings as my semi-concious stages passed unto sleep, and silence. An eventual roar was accented with a melodic trill of the "rr" in Puerto Rico before the salsa hit began running through my half-dazed mind. I wasn't dreaming when Bailando immediately followed.
Frankie Ruiz was dead...or so I thought? The clock said 2:07 am scrambling to half-dress for gracing hallway balcony. Glimpsing people through the trees still dancing fired a contagious movement into barefeet. Frankie was dead, but I wasn't; the cover-band authentic as the real man. What the hell, and I laced up my shoes...
First Day of the Rest of My LifeRegardless of how endearing times have been, when it's time to go, it's time to go! Final three days in Maracaibo had erased previous twelve, but there was no desire for more. I'd had my fill more than ready to head home.
Sleeping on the plane was futile thanks to entrancements beyond the window; the Caribbean shimmering in full glory at height of day. Dreaming with eyes open had a soothing affect despite interruptions from the chatty gentleman wanting to practice English. Recapping state of the country's turmoil was no longer a pertinent issue, though his profuse apologies appeasing encountered mishaps unknowingly justified both our causes.
Restlessness often spawns desires for travel, but a foreign concept was working in reverse process. Never had there been such anticipation for returning to the States, placing journey behind with little thought, and getting on with routines of everyday life. At this point, who knew?
Whether it was Venezuela, experiences beyond the obvious, or just one of those unexplainable points of time, something internally had majorly shifted; a moving forward that requires advancing to the next plateau in life. Months later, I'm still not sure exactly what constituted such a drastic new outlook on life, but Middle-of-Nowhere, Missouri suddenly didn't look or seem so bad.
It's said stages of mourning when suffering great loss can be a three-year process. Perhaps they're right. March 2001 was when decision was made to leave New York City; a surrendering of almost nine-years worth of living which had consumed my identity. The loss was immensely devestating.
Unknown at the time, that final day in Maracaibo was a wake only befitting for a guy like Jake Ryan; likely snuffed-out by smoke inhalation from 27 candles in addition to the original 16. Illusions of bright lights, big city living, and access to three major airports had vanished. A changed, domesticated person was in the works later confirmed by the road trip to Galveston.
Down-home country had been reincarnated with an island peculiarity; roots that never died now flourish on planet Jose Kevo. Where's that? All-inclusive travel details coming soon...
Written by Jose Kevo on 07 Apr, 2004
Ears were somewhat burning as coworkers suspiciously whispered. Eventually, one called me over directing attention to a copy of USA Today. There, buried in a world events sidebar column, was picture of a young woman on her knees with arms lifted upward in…Read More
Ears were somewhat burning as coworkers suspiciously whispered. Eventually, one called me over directing attention to a copy of USA Today. There, buried in a world events sidebar column, was picture of a young woman on her knees with arms lifted upward in surrender while an armed soldier held rifle at steady aim. Background was a haze of smoke and confusion from the streets of Caracas.
There was joking about eventually finding my picture in the paper based on my upcoming trip. I self-assuredly quipped about being the potential photographer who takes and sells a similar shot. Later that weekend, I wasn't as cocksure when the same coworker hurriedly rushed me off to witness a news report about a travel advisory issued by the U.S. government for Americans traveling to Venezuela...two days before departure.
In a nutshell, current president Hugo Chávez was elected in 1998 after obtaining popularity from a failed coup attempt six years earlier for toppling a corrupted government. Once in office, he immediately rewrote the constitution giving himself full power and control over everything like a dictatorship.
Private enterprise began to collapse including banks and the oil industry, the economy began to spiral downward; protests and rioting ensued led by the country's suddenly pinched wealthy and avidly backed by 85% living in poverty. I knew these things long before, but then why go to Venezuela?
Similarities of FamiliaritiesMonthly promotionals with my Citibank credit card statements, linked to American Airlines, ran the enticing special one too many times - round-trip award flights to Maracaibo for 25,000-miles; a 15K discount. Mileage savings were also offered to Dominican Republic's airports, but I was ready for a change; something different that I'm not sure I found.
There's no denying I'm terribly spoiled, biased when it comes to the Caribbean...which Venezuela wasn't despite their 2813km coast bordering a dirty, angry sea with tides forceful enough to suck the trunks right off your waist! Otherwise, it was a similar cheap adventure, foods/drinks were basically the same, and obsessions with Salsa & Merengue blasting everywhere brought things too close to home in the islands.
Perhaps this won't make any more sense to you than it does me, but I went looking for something different - which is why I didn't particularly care for Venezuela overall because it was too much like the DR...and at the same time, because it wasn't DR.
What I did encounter was kindling hatred towards the U.S. masked behind an element of culture that strives to materialistically emulate everything about us. A poor economy and lack of knowledge or professional know how keeps local proprietors from competing with international investors and transplanted expats which are threatening over-development in catering to once wealthy Venezuelans; biggest segment of the country's tourism which has kept it so inwardly focused.
Again, familiar critical issues but this time more overwhelming than ever before. Never have I been so ready to shed consciousness of responsible travel and put blinders on for simply being able to selfishly enjoy a trip without assuming levels of concern, responsibility for local environs and conditions. It wasn't long before even I was struggling to answer the question everyone else had already asked, "Why Venezuela?"
Against All OddsSecond only to Miami, Venezuela's sequestered wealth and knowledge have given birth to a booming entertainment industry through television productions for the Latin American world. Infamous, trashy Novelas are almost entirely filmed here; significance dictating to the state of daily affairs.
Entering local bars/restaurants regardless of time, at least one television will be tuned into these Spanish soap operas. Whether music is actually turned down to hear what's going on is at the owner's discretion but these days the TV mute-button worked just as well.
Second and third television sets were on channels always broadcasting daily riotings and chaos in Caracas and throughout the country, or tragic aftermath from the train bombing in Madrid, or war in Iraq; potential video clips from hell on earth if watching long.
While it didn't take common sense to know talking politics with a local would be asking for trouble, especially coming from a gringo, these topics crept into too many conversations amongst limited foreigners who found ourselves clinging together for added senses of safety and security.
Whether the season or problems, travelers were at a minimum and solely from Europe. Never before have I been so quick to dodge local experiences in lieu of enjoying time with other travelers; an unspoken, welcomed element all seemed willing to embrace based on situations within country and entire continent.
South America has that reputable unsettled, last frontier-feel of a forbidden outlaw waiting to be called out by the gutsy traveler. Hacienda-styled posadas and buildings looking like transplants from Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid only reinforced this untamed environment.
Green and vulnerable was how I often felt compared to traveling comrades I crossed paths with; people I came to appreciate as "hardcore" sojourners blazing new trails where they knew they often might not be wanted. Two weeks paled in comparison as no one I encountered planned on staying less than three...or at least three months.
One older couple from London's outskirts were on their third consecutive year spending winter gallivanting around South America; something I commented was very admirable since American society is not conducive for allowing such. As they shared tales about adventures through Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana and other countries, Randall and Estelle always reemphasized the message any of us vagabonds are really searching for.
It wasn't about freedom from time, job or other commitments but rather having what you really want out of life. According to them, it was cheaper to come spend UK-winters half the world away. As if to prove sincerity, they'd even both quit their jobs this time, subleased their flat, and were anticipating arrival of family members coming to spend April before all returned in early May.
We randomly were together through two similar destinations which only increased my curiosity; especially after they'd hooked-up with a middle-aged Scottish couple on the same type of escape mission fueled by the same outlook. Neither pair had encountered any types of problems, had anything lost or stolen, and seemed all but oblivious to conditions wherever they'd temporarily chosen to call home. They encouraged those who hadn't been so fortunate.
Alexander, a young man from Slovenia, was on a month-long adventure which immediately started with being driven off in a taxi at Caracas's airport and being robbed at gunpoint. He'd since been mugged again and was enduring quite well hassles of no one willing to accept traveler's checks. For him, Venezuela's adverse conditions were no different than turmoil he was used to growing up with in long-troubled Yugoslavia.
Long-waiting for boat pick-up on one of Morrocoy's cays, I was in good company with a couple of pals living on opposite sides of the border dividing the Czech Republic from Slovakia. Just finishing a 3-day camping stint on the deserted island, these guys were obviously having the times of their lives.
As they began detailing their weeks of explorations, they'd pretty well covered the entire country while experiencing about every kind of travel-related woe and misery along the way. Generously passing around what was left of their bottle of Aniversarío rum, the Martin & Lewis-type duo could only laugh at their misadventures through a leisure they'd once been denied.
Travel was a luxury! Not because of wealth, time or even desire but solely on freedom of opportunity. Both expressed being too young for detailing what life was like growing up when their countries were united under communist rule, but Zdenek recalled youthful anticipation of his family planning to visit relatives in neighboring Hungary.
They waited over three years for visas to be approved; the trip never taken because documents for his sister were denied. You just felt these fun-loving guys were not only globe-trotting for themselves, but also for families and fellow countrymen who'd long been deprived these opportunities.
So Why...or Why Not Venezuela?Perhaps this was the longest two weeks of travel I'd ever braved, but it certainly wasn't enough to begin exploring all this diverse country offers. It's untamed, wild and waiting beyond anything I was able to accomplish. But even greater than the Venezuelan experience was finding new outlooks on basic concepts of travel inspired by those who shared the passion.
Destination, and conditions found once arriving, were not issues at hand. Learning to take extremely good days with the bad, just as life is in general, was a travel twist needing embraced. It was about opportunity, experience, and being able to cross one more place off that travel Wish List; thankfulness for living another day in a different place a different way.
Would I consider returning? Absolutely, but not before the government and economy have stabilized. But I can promise one thing: the next time I set out looking for something different, I'll be heading back across the pond to Europe!
Arepas - cornmeal cakes shaped like a hockey puck, go down like a rubber biscuit, and served everywhere with everything costing hardly anything. Actually, they're rather decent and filling when served as mini-sandwiches stuffed with meats or seafood and cheeses costing about 50-cents.Enjoying an…Read More
Arepas - cornmeal cakes shaped like a hockey puck, go down like a rubber biscuit, and served everywhere with everything costing hardly anything. Actually, they're rather decent and filling when served as mini-sandwiches stuffed with meats or seafood and cheeses costing about 50-cents.
Enjoying an inexpensive meal one night, one of our fellow travelers commented about tiring of always having to eat arepas. Unless you're a glutton for punishment, there's absolutely no need to base your local diet around these - regardless of how tight your budget is! Venezuela serves up a wealth of inexpensive dining opportunities with plates piled high of appetizing local cuisine for under US$5. Splurging in an upscale joint including drinks averages $12
Churrascos serve the best of traditionally South American grilled meats, but you're just as likely to find an abundance of beef, pork, poultry, goat and seafoods in creolle versions accompanied by basic staples of rice, beans, and plantains. Lettuce seemed to be in short supply so expect salads to be sliced tomatoes, onions and cucumbers with oil and vinegar, or a sassy concoction of creamy coleslaw.
Usually listed with the inexpensive pastas, Pabellón Criollo is the national dish which usually ran about Bs4,000/roughly US$2. You'll get a plate piled high with shredded beef stewed in a Creole sauce, rice, black beans topped with shredded cheese, and fried sweet plantains - a very filling meal.
Panaderías are deli-geared bakeries easily found and great for any meal of the day. Ham and cheese with raisins wrapped and baked in a buttered sweet bread will set you back 75-cents; small loaded pizzas about US$2. These places also have pastry cases emitting aromas that engulf you the minute you step through the door. Slabs of cakes, pies and other local flans and specialties cost under $5; the sugar-based candies and hand-dipped chocolates guaranteed to make your teeth hurt!
Street Vendors have rigged carts to provide inexpensive snacking for anywhere on the run...whether a charcoal grill with meat and seafood kabobs, kettles with boiling ears of corn and veggies, or popcorn exploding over an open fire. "Perros Calientes," hot dogs, were also very popular. Stands with mouth-watering tropical fruits are just as abundant as were others with huge blocks of regionally produced soft cheeses which also show up in some version on many restaurant plates.
Surprisingly, beaches provided some of the best dining/snacking opportunities thanks to locals selling homemade foods in a non-threatening manner. In addition to ice cream, candies and what you'd typically expect, the best buy was a jar of minced shrimp, calamari, crab and clams in a thick tomato based salsa generously seasoned with onion and cilantro. A smaller jar was Bs. 8,000 and the larger 12,000. They throw in the spoon for free.
Others pass with buckets of oysters, steamed lobsters or clams and include lime wedges and hot sauce to garnish your plate. Kiosks in back of the beach sell grilled fish with all the trimmings for around US$5 as well as fruit juices and pina coladas for less than US$2.50,. And for dessert - Obleas; a sweet cream with a peanut butter texture slathered between stacks of thin wafers and then coated with chocolate syrup; 75-cents.
Water will likely be the most expensive drink you purchase but was sometimes the hardest to come by. Smaller bottles cost Bs800-1000, and a liter ran Bs1,500. Considering the heat and physical activities of travel, constant intake was powerful based on sweat and lack of need for finding the limited public toilets.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I took a local's advice in the coastal town of Puerto Colombia and filled my bottle with water from a garden hose - supposedly fresh mountain water trickling down from nearby Henri Pittier National Park. It didn't make me sick though you wouldn't want to try water from the local bathroom sinks or showers which is piped in from rain-storage towers on top of establishments.
Residents of Maracaibo also claimed there was no problem drinking their tap water, and there wasn't. But remember Jake has a cast-iron stomach, so I'd recommend you stick with the bottled water though there's never any real guarantee on where it's coming from either.
Coffee, the strong South American version, is sold everywhere including roving street vendors. Thimble-sized cups hint the potency with a small running Bs300 and a large Bs600. Panaderías are great places to find regular-sized servings for dining in or carry out costing Bs1000 or more. Whether you drink it black, or with cream and sugar, expect to be wired for action the better part of the day!
Beer is inexpensively sold everywhere - on the streets and in Cervecerías for Bs500 and often jumping to Bs1000 in restaurants. Bottles are 222ml and go down in about 4 hearty gulps. Polar is the country's most popular brand with regular in brown bottles tasting more stout than Polar Ice in the clear bottles. Regional was the country's secondary beer and based on taste, you'll know why.
Liquor for cocktails can easily be found in most bars and Licorcerías cheaply selling all the well-known international brands. As you might expect, rum is the most popular but I was not impressed with the local brand. Cacíque had way too much of a bourbon-bite to it which might explain why many bars generously dashed their Cuba Libres with bitters which proved to be a great discovery for trying at home. A very tall rum with a splash of coke averaged Bs2,000. Shots of Aniversarío, the higher quality Venezuelan rum great for sipping, ran Bs3,000.
Guarapita is the locally produced concoction equivalent to any Central American or Caribbean country's voodoo juice, and definitely deserves mentioning. Made from a base of fermented sugar cane, this catastrophe waiting to happen comes in citrus and coconut blends and cost Bs8,000 a liter. It's home-brewed and unofficially sold out of homes and small businesses - not liquor stores.
Based on the high sugar content and potential dehydration from the day, expect to be waylaid by any amount of consumption. Shady locals are also counting on this, too often targeting travelers for theft when they're seen drinking this in public. Beware!
Final tidbit Looking around anywhere serving food and beverages while traveling in poorer countries, there's always the question of cleanliness. But even when this appears not to be an issue, there's no denying the questionable practices of food storage and preparations that violate every health code in developed countries. What's the traveler to do?
Again, I dove in face first with mouth open willing to devour anything placed before me and had no bacteria-related sickness at all. That is, until returning to the States and so-called normalcy only to get my "revenge" within 48-hours - just as I always do!
Upcoming journals will list specific dining options in the various destinations covered. The VATax is included in prices listed on menus, but all restaurants add a 10% service charge to bills which covers the tip.
Menu Glossary - Lonely Planet's Venezuela guide has a separate dictionary section covering key words and phrases you'll find on local restaurant menus. It's a whole new vocabulary based on what's found in many Spanish-speaking countries.