That´s what my home city of Swansea was once called and it´s an apt description of Caracas I´d say, although Swansea is a lot prettier. I flew into Caracas, after a one hour stop in Colombia, got my backpack and rode an expensive taxi into the city centre after dark. Caracas is a kind of edgy, freaky, bustling, modern, dirty, loud and dangerous city that probably deserves its reputation – though you´ll be OK if you use common sense and take the usual precautions of not going certain places after dark and not flashing your swanky Ipod and new camera around. It is like most big Latin American capital cities with salsa and hip-hop music absolutley blasting through the gleaming speaker systems of cars and buses lurching their way through the city centre at all hours of the day. It has brand new shopping malls in most districts and a very efficient metro system. The couple of nights I spent in Caracas, I spent at a place called ´the backpacker´s hostel´(also called El Nuestro). Now, this place certainly isn´t a typical, laidback backpacker´s hostel. It´s a shithole with three noisy parrots in the basement and a greasy little wisp of a man on the frontdesk with milkbottle glasses, but the cheapest in town with 30 minutes free internet access per day. They rent rooms by the hour to Venezuelan couples – so much so that us backpackers have to wait until about 8pm for our f**king rooms!
I met up with the guide I mentioned, Miguel, and he showed me and two other travellers ( Viard from Israel and Patrick from Holland) around Caracas for a day or two. He showed us around the city, places like the art galleries, the bars, the parks, the markets and the theatres. And, it was great, I do genuinely like Caracas – apart from its dangerous and noisy side. It reminded me very much of Cuba with its socilaist sloganeering on walls, posters, lamposts and buildings, and the ever-present pictures and images of Che Guevara and the national hero Simon Bolivar (liberator of many Latin american countries from Spanish rule). It´s all part of the burgeoning socialist revolution that´s slowly taking place there, with the bonkers Hugo Chavez at the helm.
After these few days in Caracas, me and Patrick decided to head for the Northern coast of Venezuela – for a few days at the beaches. Here´s a rundown of the last two weeks:
Ocumare De La Costa
We spent a few days here at the beaches, just chilling out and drinking some rum, getting burnt and listening to Coldplay and Aretha Franklin. Ocumare is inside the Henri Pittier National Park, a small town of about 7000 people with a laidback feel to it. The beaches are very nice and a have a backdrop of the mountains behind them which are home to record numbers of bird species. It takes two hours to get over the mountains to Ocumare from the nearest big town of Maracay. It was from here that we decided to partake in a 10 day jeep trip into the Gran Sabana (great savannah) region of Venezuela, with a local guy, Christian from Germany – who´s lived there for the past eight years.
The Gran Sabana
Now, this place, in the south of Venezuela, had been described to us as a beautiful, vast rolling wilderness, with fascinating indigenous cultures, great wondrous waterfalls and table-top mountains dominating the gorgeous landscape. I´m sure all this was true, but I must have had my f**king eyes closed for a week! I was not alone in finding this place an immense dissapointment of gargantuan proportions (again! I know!). Maybe I am becoming miserable in my old age or just a lot more critical of these tourist attractions/excursions on which I spend my hard-earned money? I found the Gran Sabana, located in the canaima national park, to be a rolling land of nothingness, with sparse grass, no animals, too many shops, lots of admittedly nice waterfalls, a heavily traficked main road running through it, lots of pointless military checkpoints and a tourist infrastructure that will soon rival disneyland I fear. I know I am moaning about it being too touristy and it´s hypocrisy because I am a tourist, just like all other backpackers – we are the problem, we´re just more snobby about it because we wear a backpack and dirty boots. But, this place really was a drag, they even wanted tips for us looking at the waterfall! Along with all the hideous souveniers on sale and being constantly bitten by the Puri-puri insects, it was rubbish. Don´t go there. On top of all this, our guide Christian was just as big a problem, obssessed with penny-pinching at every opportunity, only talking about money ALL day long and how peanuts are sooooo expensive in Venezuela, his over-bearing personality quickly began to grate with us on the trip and we were glad to get away from him in the end. The 10 day jeep odyssey only materialised into a 7.5 day head torture. We came back through the Amazonas region and planned on doing a 1 day river trip into the outer reaches of the amazon, but this was rained off and we headed back to Ocumare early. I was glad. I feel like I have wasted 8 days of my life and the money spent on it… (the waterfalls were beautiful, but after the 6th one they become ordinary and we didn´t get near any of the mountains) But, yes it could´ve been worse.
Oh, lest I forget, it was worse… On the way back we stopped in a town called Ciudad Bolivar for the night. The next morning on the way back from breakfast, I, like an asshole, walked into a head-height air-conditioning unit on the street!! I cracked my head on the corner of the unit and it felt like a punch from Mike Tyson with shooting pains from my skull through to my jaw and neck. It started to bleed pretty soon but didn´t need stitches thankfully. I have been walking into things all my life, as my mother would happily tell you, since a child I have always walked with my eyes looking at the floor and therefore have been in numerous clashes with postboxes, lapmposts and walls. Long may it contiune.
After getting back to Ocumare, we quickly packed our bags in the morning and headed for
This place is again a Carribean beach town in the north. We arrived on Saturday afternoon and it was teeming with holidaying Venezuelans, thronging the streets with their thongs, flip-flops, beer, kids and general noisyness. The beach here is fantastic, clear white sand and turquiose waters lapping at your feet, although a little crowded. The bus journey here was pretty shitty also, a two-hour bumbling, packed-like-sardines, extremely noisy bus ride. The latin hip-hop music being played on the sound system was akin to a nightclub, and luckily for me I got seats real close to the speakers! Was I pissed off or what? I quickly rammed in the earplugs to soften this loud and generally awful music that rotates around the same beat, the same lyrics, the same buzz words of ´gasolina´,´cullo´and ´corazon´. That´s gasoline, ass and heart!?!? Not exactly Lennon and McCartney stuff.
Although this diary entry has mostly been about criticising things, the last couple weeks have been OK. We have a bus booked for tonight to Merida, more of a traveller friendly town about 11 hours from here, with lots of activities to do. And it is colder thank the lord above.
I have now been travelling for over two months and it seem those first few weeks in Guatemala were a lifetime ago. Maybe it´s because I have passed through so many countries in the last two months and not really stopped for breath, met so many different people that it´s all blurring into one or just having to take in so much new information everyday that I´m forgetting a lot of what I have done?
Whatever, let it continue, keep the faith.