Venezuela, birthplace of the revolutionary hero of all of South America, Simon Bolivar should be a fantastic place to visit. The country has a Caribbean coastline, islands set in an emerald sea, it has the world`s tallest waterfall, it has tabletop mountains that inspired Jules Verne to write The Lost World, it has the largest reserves of oil in South America; and yet it was not a place we were really keen to visit. While in Colombia we`d heard countless tales from fellow travelers about how dangerous Caracas was, about how unfriendly the people were, and about how expensive the place was. And yet we needed to go there because Venezuela has the only road into the heart of the Amazon, Manaus in Brazil. This was our planned route and despite reservations we were going to stick to it.
We only stayed a week or so in the country and, as so often is the case, much of what we had been told was true, but an equal amount was untrue. For a start we did meet some friendly locals, one of whom treated me to a several beers. The countryside was beautiful, especially Canaima National Park. However, on the downside we encountered dozens of military checkpoints near the Colombian border. Indeed soldiers abounded whereas police were thin on the ground. Hugo, the self styled Bolivarist revolutionary, seemed to have given up on internal security and instead was busy militarizing the nation against an impending invasion by American funded conservative elements that might have failed to notice that Mr. Chavez had turned the country into a socialist heaven and that, just like his mate, Fidel, needed to selflessly stay at the helm to guide the nation for the next couple of decades. Before I went to Venezuela I had vaguely thought he might be a good thing, the real deal. Getting there and seeing the reality on the ground I get the intuition quite quickly that he was just another Mugabe waiting to happen.
Anyway enough of the politics, here`s our expenses for a few days in Venezuela. As always our budget was $30 each per day. The exchange rate, as only `socialist` countries could manage, varied wildly. The strong Bolivar, Bolivar Forte, went at 3 to the dollar from official places and over 5 on the very open black market. To get black market rates wew changed lots of traveller’s cheques in Ecuador for dollars cash which we saved to use in Colombia and Venezuela.
At the end of the list a running total is given and a reckoning of how on track we are with our budget.
14-09-09, On bus in Venezuela
Fags and bread = 5,000 pesos
Taxi to clinic = 4,000 pesos
2 influenza jabs (45,000 per person) = 90,000 pesos
This was a bizarre incident. When checking out of the hostel the friendly man at the counter insisted that we needed a swine flu jab inoculation certificate to enter Venezuela. We weren`t certain we had understood his Spanish correctly, but he seemed adamant; so we decided to go along with his advice. At the border they never asked for our swine flu jab certificates. Oh well.
Taxi back to Casa Familiar = 4,000 pesos
Taxi to bus terminal = 5,000 pesos
Bus from Santa Marta to Maracaibo (95,000 pesos per person) = 190,000 pesos
Lunch = 12,000
Changed 134,000 pesos for 134 Bolivar Forte & $100 for 475 Bolivar Forte
Bus from Maracaibo to Caracas = 162 BF
We arrived at night in Maracaibo. The bus driver kindly drove us to the terminal. It was (as so often in South America) in a really dark and rundown area. The menace was palpable. Luckily there was a bus going to Caracas loading as we arrived. After hectically running around looking for the office to pay the bus terminal tax, we were off again. Thank God.
Total = 310,000 Columbian Pesos ($162) 162 Bolivar Forte ($34)
Total = $196 ($136 over budget)
15-09-09, Ciudad Bolivar
Breakfast = 21 BF
Metro from Terminal La Bandara to Petare (0.5 per person) = 1
Toilet = 1
Taxi from Petare to Terminal Oriente = 40
We were ripped off by this taxi driver. My wife and I were having an argument at the time and the lack of a united front allowed the driver to exploit the strained situation and overcharge.
Bus from Caracas to Ciudad Bolivar (70 per person) = 140
Dinner = 34
Taxi to Don Carlos Posada = 25
Don Carlos Posada double room = 120
Total = 382 (166 over budget)
16-09-09, Ciudad Bolivar
Don Amor Patrio Posada (45 per person) = 90
We moved in the morning because the Posada down the road was much cheaper, and the staff in Don Carlos were an unfriendly bunch.
Breakfast = 39
Water = 6
Fags = 25
Batteries for our Japanese mosquito repellent = 12.50
Changed $200 @ 5.4 BF to $1
Angel Falls Tours ($290 per person) = $580
We bought our tour through Don Amor Patrio
Apples = 10
Shampoo = 14.50
Mosquito coils = 10
Fags = 60
Pizza Slices = 8
Dinner = 40
The woman in the restaurant broke our camera while taking a group photo of us and a man who bought me some beers. She dropped the digital camera in a bowl of water and beans.
Bananas = 6
Total = $580 321 BF (exchange rate of $1 = 5.4 BF) = $640 ($580 over budget)
17-09-09, Canaima National Park
Disposable camera = 55
Beers = 40
Airport tax (12 per person) = 24
Entrance fee to Canaima National Park (35 per person) = 70
Total = 189 (135 under budget)
18-09-09, Canaima National Park
Total = 0 (324 under budget)
19-09-09, Ciudad Bolivar
Taxi from airport to Posada Amor Patrio = 15
Fags = 25
Posada Amor Patrio = 90
Dinner = 56
Ciudad Bolivar is a shitty city with a terrible selection of shops and a shocking security problem. Although the Posada allowed us to self cater we couldn`t find one shop to buy vegetables, meat or any type of food. The market is a bus ride away that passes a dodgy part of town. The town is full of clothes and shoes shops. We struggled just to find cigarettes. The one restaurant that we found was closed Saturday night and Sunday. As a consequence we basically starved after coming back from Canaima. On the Saturday night we were forced to go to another Posada for pizza. He was a friend of the German owner of the posada where we were staying. Despite him becoming a grandfather that night he over-charged us (the bastard). As a result we chose not to return to his place the following day, Sunday. We starved rather than give him any money. The whole experience typified what is wrong with Venezuela. The country is full of soldiers and empty of police, so crime is rampant. Few tourists visit Venezuela compared to other South American countries. The place is unsafe, the people unfriendly and their leader a megalomaniac.
Total = 186 (138 under budget)
20-09-09,On bus to Santa Elena
Taxi to airport to buy bus tickets = 15
Bus tickets from Ciudad Bolivar to Santa Elena (45 per person) = 90
Breakfast at airport (the only place we could find to eat) 30
Dinner at airport before catching bus = 28
We basically survived on pastries and cakes at the airport. Also catching a bus from the airport seemed the safest option for leaving the city. In between buying our bus tickets in the morning and returning to the airport in the evening to catch a night bus, we lay in hammocks in the posada with growling stomachs.
Money back from the owner (taxi expenses) = 15
Total = 148 (176 under budget)
Argentina $1,079, Bolivia $1,016, Peru $1,904, Equador $594.15, Colombia $1,000 and Venezuela $1,039
Total Spent = $6,632 US Dollars
Total Budget = $6,780
Total Difference = $148
Well the Angel Falls Tour wiped out most of the savings we had previously made during the holiday. On the plus side, it was an awesome experience and somewhat redeemed Venezuela.