Still in Venezuela

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After being in Venezuela for more than a month I guess we can say a lot of different things.

We have seen a country that is divided. People who absolutely despise Chavez’s Plan and those who will always defend him and whoever follows his project.

Santa Elena is by the Brazilian border, so the common things with borders happen. Smuggling ( here specially fuel), tourism and all kinds illegal or bordering illegal activities. Because it is so close to Brazil everything is more expensive than in the rest of the places we have been to.

When I first came to Puerto Ordaz I did not particularly like it. It is true I barely spent anytime there. Then I crossed the country for about 16 hours to be able to reach Choroni, and more specifically Puerto Colombia.

Puerto Colombia is by the sea. We have spent about three weeks there. And as expected from a small place by the sea, life was calm and most of the people liked their lives and the government.

From there we saw the U.S declaring that Venezuela was a threat to them, Maduro starting to rule by decree and even children being asked in school to write to Obama saying “Yankees go home!”. We saw people despise the act and also some who defended Maduro’s request.

We heard about all missions implemented by Chavez ranging from a literacy project first to teach the elderly and then the children. The project of pocket constitutions. Private computers to all children attending school and free internet in all schools. Projects to rent money for micro-projects. Legislation to protect small fishermen and many other things. We verified there were many channels, and internet did not look censored. We felt people spoke freely in the streets since many people screamed out loud about their hatred towards the government, the lack of food, the destruction of the economy, the longs cues to buy food etc.

We were impressed to learn that while the minimum wage was 5,500 bolivares ( about 21 dollars) monthly, there were hotels charging 4,500 a night in an average weekend and charging more than 10 thousand a day for the “semana santa” (easter holidays). We were amazed to see they were filled up by Venezuelans who came for weekends and had made reservations for that week.

In Brazil easter is celebrated from next friday to sunday. But here it started yesterday and will last till the following Sunday. Considering Choroni is small, would be full, and there would probably have lots of traffic jams we decided to leave on Thursday.

It was rather miraculous that we were able to reach Maracay and get a bus to Puerto Ordaz that same day. After 16 hours travelling we were hoping to take a bus on friday to reach Santa Elena today. However, we were told all buses were sold out for that night and that we should come the next day at 5 in the morning to check for buses for that day, considering no one can buy tickets in advance now in Venezuela .

Being unable to find a ticket, we reserved a cab for the following day. The driver’s car broke down and so we went to the station at 10, only to find out that the buses were not running today. Being advised to check again every single day. It is holidays they explained “they might not be running”.

Staying longer made us learn many things. We visited the 200 hectares beautiful park la llovizna where there are huge waterfalls. In fact, we were told, that the river Caroni, one of the rivers in Puerto Ordaz, provides electricity to the majority of the country and even to some parts of Brazil and Colombia.

There is nothing like staying in a big city to realise how much this country has lost. While in little towns people might not see it so clearly here it is screaming at your face. There are some sentences we hear here which are priceless. Our cab driver told us yesterday.

“It is all falling into pieces. We are floating. Do you think I am really a taxi driver? I put a sticker in my car and I drive. That man there is selling what he does not need. There are no jobs. The new laws make it impossible for anyone to hire anyone, one could never fire them even if they did not come to work. So we do anything to float.”

Yet there are malls where the prices are completely un-payble for the average Venezuelan. There are McDonalds, Tommy, Adidas, Burger King, Tinberland, Guess, Victoria Secret etc.

There are hotels that can cost up to 15 thousand bolivares and Venezuelans that stay there.

Ad of course there are “colas” (lines) to buy food. Since the government stipulates prices for some specific items. Those are immediately bought and sold in the black market. So when they are in the supermarket people run there to buy them.

Doctors are free to all, but medicine is not there.

Those who are pro Chavez accuse the market and the US for creating this situation. They consider all that is happening to be part of an economic warfare.

Those who hate Chavez’s project blame the destruction of the industry, the total dependency of oil and the fact that this government has replaced most of the skilled people. While before in the state ran company there were experts on oil now the government has substituted those workers with people who are more aligned with the party but who are not necessarily knowledgeable about the industry.

“We have more oil than saudi Arabia. It is heavy oil and perhaps more expensive to extract, but still these are the greatest reserves in the world. Yet this incompetent and corrupt government has fired those who know how to get it.”

These debates will always be answered by Chavistas saying that “lowering oil that much is part of the economic war.”

People are divided. Venezuela imports 70 %of its food from abroad. They are rich in minerals and oil and the reason why the economy is collapsed is always debated by the different sides. I guess they might all agree in one thing: the situation is dire. The reason for that however varies according to who you ask. It has nothing to do with lack of information but rather with people’s different political views.

I am always amazed when I see these who float to survive. I am amazed because whatever side they belong to every single person I have met here was helpful.

Though they might know very clearly that we are privileged to be able to be travelling for so long, they help the best way they can.

Despejado- Going up Monte Roraima


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The first day we walked about ten km. We woke up early but took a long time to leave since Josué decided to make us pancakes. By that time we convinced him to get someone to carry some of the food. Who could possibly carry all those glass bottles of marmalade, plus tents, food etc 🙂

And so we started to walk. We were amazed because around us all was burnt. There were no plantations, nor cattle just burnt ground and fires burning what was left. I asked Josué why was everything burnt.

“It is our tradition.”

“Why, JosuĂ©.?”

“To plant Yuka (some kind of manioc)”

“I don, t think you have to cut trees to plant”

“It our indigenous tradition.”

“But Josue, one day there will be nothing left. The ground is becoming petrified and there will be no more rain. What will you do then?”

“Move to another site.”

We all realised there was no way of going further on that topic.

It took us days to understand Josue. He was a boy that was trapped in traditions of the past, lived and wished for a life of the modern world. Above all he also had huge mood swings. He would go from singing Hakuna Matata to total silence.

Maria and I were real therapists trying to always bring him back to a good mood. It usually did not take more than saying Hakuna Matata.

I miss Josue. He tried as much as he could to help us. I guess he was lonely. Trapped in a divided existence. So any concern we showed for his private life would change it all. Like most of us he had huge dreams, no total vision of the whole picture and a form of loneliness.

The second day we walked about 10 km. The ground was always changing. We crossed rivers and went up and down hills.

It was only on the third day that we reached the real Monte Roraima. As we were arriving we passed trees, rivers, and then suddenly we were right in front of that huge Monte. I looked the wall of rocks in front of us and just wondered how could we possibly go up without climbing gear.

Josué who had walked way faster with all this load on his back waited for us.

“You must touch the rock and ask for permission to climb Monte Roraima.”

And so we did. I laid my hands and head on the rock and asked permission and protection for the very few o us who were going up that mountain that day.

Till I reached the third day I thought most people who are healthy and like walking could do it. On the third day however it became clear I knew very few people who would want or would be able to do it.

We started our way up. There was fog, rain, and the water from “la lagrima” (the teardrop fall) falling above us.

The ground changed. We could see granite, crystals and so many other kinds of rocks I don’t know the names of. There were red and blue berries. The blue, Josue warned us should never be eaten.

Our Argentinian friends might have climbed it in less than 3 hours. We took about four. And then we were there. We could barely see anything. The fog was covering it all.

We found our “hotel”. A cave where we sat camp. And then we heard the word, that has been most used the whole time there.

“Despejado”

Which meant we should wait for the brief moments when the clouds had gone and the sky would be clear.

Maybe that is what we always wait in life… Clarity to see how things really are.

Monte Roraima, Venezuela e JosuĂ©- The first day

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We are back from Monte Roraima. It took us 7 days and I could not even say we had the privilege to rest on the seventh day 🙂

Where should I start? Obviously by the fact that it was totally worth it, beautiful and surprisingly different than what we anticipated.

We had thousands of recommendations before arriving here in Venezuela. I had however always wanted to talk to Meru. Meru was the guide of my Argentinean friends Gonzalo e Carolina. It was hard to reach Meru. As we waited a couple of days we saw dozens of people coming back from Monte Roraima that looked and said were falling apart. They had loved it but they were exhausted. These dozens of people coming down Roraima had gone up during Carnival.

We were also approached by many agents with packages way more expensive than what Gonzalo and Carolina had paid. You have to bear in mind that the economy is collapsing so the inflations is high. So I imagined that was also why prices were so high. So I wanted to talk to Meru. When we finally did she was in Caracas and sent to us her brother, Josue.

Josue is a character on his own and that is why I will write this post in pieces.

We did not have an agent. We spoke to Josue who is part of one of the indigenous tribes of this area. We did not have sleeping bags nor a tent. It would all be provided by him. So since it was soooo much cheaper we decided to go the two of us with him. He would be our guide, and he would be in charge of it all. Food, tent, sleeping bag, and guiding us. We agreed since we knew little about it bur still wanted to go shopping for food with him.

That was a wise thing to do since we eliminated loads of non necessary and heavy things from our food.

And then came the day for our departure. He told us he would be here in our hotel at 7. Well, I guess this did not happen. Considering he insisted we should pay him the full amount before, by 10 we were worried.

Josue however sent whatsapp messages many times and eventually arrived here by two pm.

We were actually happy about it because all this waiting was not wasted. We had a lecture about Venezuelan history and politics. It was taught to us by someone I cannot mention the name but was an economist from Caracas.

One of the best, and most unforgetable sentences he said and I wrote it down was:

“Cuba is a dictatorship. Venezuela is an authoritarian fascist military regime. And the worse part is that is has a social discourse.”

Maybe the most amazing thing of it all is that this very knowledgeable man who knew all about Brazilian politics, the history of Venezuela and Colombia and had never failed in giving dates for revolutions explained that in the beggining he had liked Chavez. As for Maduro he asserted he guesses not even his family might like him.

We were so entertained that the time flew and as Josue arrived we barely noticed what he said. Our driver was from Colombia and hated Chavez. He knew profoundly the ilegal practices around here. Going from mining, tourism and petrol smuggling.

An so we arrived to Josue’s community in Sao Francisco. It was a small village filled by indigenous modern houses.

And then we understood he had managed to reach two other people to come with us.

They were also Argentinians and I was amazed because I decided to ask by chance if they knew Gonzalo and Carolina. They did. They immediately became our friends.

Maria and Mauricio had been travelling in a motorhome for the past 2 years. They worked doing art-crafts and were surviving like that. They explained to us that it was way cheaper and more pleasant than living in Buenos Aires.

Immediately we all realised Josue could not possibly carry all this food plus tent alone. He believed he could. I said I would not carry anything but my bag. Josue always agreed to it all, what would happen after was always a mystery.

Maria and Mauricio were real mountaineers. And were also very skeptic about it all.

And we drove to our first camp site and to out enormous surprise though he added two people he still refused to getting a “porteador”. During the night, the four of us convinced him it was impossible. He needed to get someone else to carry food!

As we sat to sleep in our common space we realised that he might not exactly be that prepared at all.

He told us his dream was to become a singer and travel the world with his songs. That day he did not sing to us but told us that his artistic name was Eddy Frank, which is available on Facebook.

We still had no idea how it would be. All we knew was that we were in a great group. People were peaceful. Friendly and the mountain was empty. Carnival was over.

The first song we heard Josue sing was Hakuna Matata, una forma de ser. Our indigenous guide might have not known much about guiding but he loved the Lion King, Shrek and The simpsons.

We came back alive, happy, well, and laughing a lot.

So if you are as prepared as Maria and Mauricio you can go up alone. If you are like me, better to have Andre, Maria and Mauricio together with you. Otherwise take an agency.