Sunday, 23 January
Monday, 24 January
Our arrival in Venezuela was just after sunset, due to an hour delay getting off the ground in Bogota. Even in the dark, it was obvious that Caracas was not going to win any prizes for being a great place to visit. Tony, a cab-driver and tour-guide who was lounging around the hotel information desk at the airport, gave us some local advice on hotels and a 45 minute ride into town.
Hotel Cumberland, in the Sabana Grande district, was in an area that was at its best some 25 years ago. It was quiet, but the surrounding area is dirty. People we talked to in the walking zone told us to hang on tightly to our valuables.
Connecting my laptop to the Internet was a problem for the first four service providers I visited. Some refused to allow me to try to connect and others told me that connecting a laptop was prohibited. When I finally found a place that would let me connect, downloading the latest edition of Barron's magazine was as fast as at any location found during the trip, about 4 minutes for 12 Megabytes. Picking up mail was easy, but sending by SMTP was impossible. I could ping the SMTP server, but not send mail, except through the HTML capability offered by my service provider in California.
Wednesday, 26 January
New, shiny, Jeep Grand Cherokees are everywhere. The number defies the imagination. Every 20th car is a Jeep.
It's very common to see a vehicle's license plate number etched into the glass of every window in letters an inch tall; auto theft is a serious problem. The price of gasoline, at 100 Bolivares per liter (US$ 20 cents per gallon!!), makes huge old US gas-guzzling cars very attractive.
Anti-American sentiment was obvious from signs scattered around the city, wishing muerte to Bush and Condoleza Rice. The Four-Seasons Hotel, situated across the street from a park where numerous demonstrations took place, is now closed. A few days after we left the country, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cautioned other South American countries to be alert for "American Imperialism."
After our city-tour, Tony dropped us off at the Hotel Continental in Altamira, a much nicer area, but noise from blasting car horns in bumper-to-bumper traffic below our 6th floor window rendered the advantage moot. The cable TV system went down in the middle of the afternoon, with no hope of immediate service, adding to our sense of futility.
Once again, I hit the street looking for an Internet connection. It took three tries to find a place that would allow me to connect. I still couldn't send mail easily.
Thursday, 27 January
To avoid the street noise, we moved from a regular room, very close to the road, to the "Santiago de Chile" suite at the back of the hotel. The bathroom sink faucets leaked all over the floor until Elsa put a wastebasket under the drain. The shower squirted out only enough water to hit the knobs below the shower-head, but it didn't matter; the water heater had been broken all week. In the final analysis, our move was out of the frying pan, into the fryer.
Friday, 28 January
Tony, who couldn't make his planned picked-up to take us to the airport (he sent another driver), aproached us at the Avianca counter, where we were completing the check-in process and preparing to pay the departure tax of US$48.00 per person. Tony took US$80 from us and exchanged it for Bolivares with a friend on the street, bringing back enough to pay the tax in the local currency. I gave him the difference, about 10,000 Bolivares (US$5.00), since his help saved me US$16.00.
The only good thing about Venezuela was our tour-guide and taxi driver, Tony Garcia. Call him at 0414-3115354.
Caracas, Venezuela... Not Recommended.