- People there are afraid to venture outside
-Gas costs ten cents a gallon
- There is much trash in the streets
- Taxi drivers are afraid that you will rob them (and you fear they'll kidnap you, or, kill you with their kamikaze driving )
- I was the only gringo in town
- Driving a car is out of the question
- Red lights mean nothing
- Many people support the Presidente-for-life, Hugo Chavez
- The huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots (which is probably the reason for most of the above)
Considering this, You may wonder why anyone would want to go there. Perhaps it is because,
- Angel Falls is amazing
- Gas costs ten cents a gallon and you'd like to take a lot of it back to your country
- You enjoy dangerous living
- Many of your wife's relatives live there and it's time to go meet them
- One of them, Maria Andreina, is marrying Carlos Alberto Perez Otoala
The last two got me and away we went. It was a world largely unfamiliar to me. Most of the time was spent looking and listening, trying to understand life on this northern edge of South America.
We attended the wedding and met Francesca's southern family. They have lived in South America for many generations. Some have left (for Miami!) but many remain.
We stayed in a highly secured condominium. Venturing out, we were told, would "put our lives at great risks". One day I got a break when a cousin (knowledgeable, armed and fluent in English) asked me to tag along on a day trip.
We drove two hour east to visit his former nanny, Patrica. "I love her dearly", said Ramon, "She knows me much better than my mother ever did".
Above: Private residence's machine gun nest
As we drove past the brown Rio Guaive he pointed out, "You're looking at Caracas' sewage system. All of the s--- goes into canals which lead to this river which flows into the sea". Miami had the same system for years.
It was a delight to reach Santa Theresa, a small town complete with dirt streets and roaming chickens. Patrica and her 77-year-old husband, Ambrosio, greeted us with hugs, smiles, mangoes, and frosted bottles of Polar beer. Everyone was speaking a language that I did not understand but that was fine. I got to experience something simple, safe, and new.
Ambrosio showed me the wooden wall sculpture he made of his tools (he still works as a stone mason). Above them is his father's hat.
Below was the Clothes Washing Basin That Time Forgot.
In one of his three ancient refrigerators (who cares about electricity when energy is cheap?) he showed off bags of frozen pigeon. Meat, unlike gas, is not cheap so he hunts these birds. Beating his bare chest he gloated, "Pigeon makes you strong!" (My brother-in-law's translation).
After two hours enjoying this happy couple it was time to head back. On the way home we stopped for gas.
It is so cheap you pay for it with coins, the ones you save for parking. We filled up for $1.75.
Crazy. If Chavez ran for U.S. President on the Cheap Gas Ticket he'd get millions of votes. Many Venezuelans joke about it being less expensive than water.
I also noticed that the gas station was selling roof-top taxi signs. With this twelve buck sign, a dollar for gas, and an old Toyota I realized that I could become a kamikaze Caracas cab driver.
Oh, the possibilities!