Caracas / Choroni / Chichiriviche – Venezuela
There are several reasons why there aren’t that many people traveling to Venezuela for their holidays. The most important reason for me is that the currency exchange is quite messed up. There exists something like a black market for currency exchange because the offical rate is quite unfavorable for the visitors. The official rate (for euros) is around 5, meaning 1 euro will get you 50 bolivars (currency in Venezuela). But the rate on the black market can get upto 10! Meaning that you “lose” half your money if you use the official rate. There’s a reason it’s called the black market since it’s considered illegal and you need to find someone who’s willing to exchange the money for you. Luckily I managed to find an extremely helpful Couchsurfer who helped me out the first couple of days, including exchanging my money on the black market. With that said, I can get on with the rest of the story.
Many people consider Caracas as one of the most dangerous cities to visit. They have a high number of killings and murders and what not. So that’s also one of the reasons that most people that do visit Venezuela tend to skip the capital. When walking around the street, you do notice that the city itself takes their own precautions against violence and other possible threats. A lot of the shops and stores in the center and even the bad neighbourhoods are protected by steel plates ánd iron bars. Even the buses look protected. Most places close after 6 or dark, meaning that the streets are deserted. At my second hotel, when I went out to look for a cybercafe, the owner even asked me “are you sure you want to go out at this hour?”. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad, I managed to come out of there alive and well. It did give me an awkward and uncomfortable feeling. I like to walk around a city without having to worry too much about getting mugged. Anyhow, I met up with the couchsurfer that helped me out before and he showed me around the city for a bit. Since he teaches at the University of Caracas, I tagged along and spent the rest of my day just hanging out on campus. I don’t think many tourists would actually do something like that, but it really interests me how people live their daily life, education included.It was a big campus and a real college/uni vibe with people on long boards, playing frisbee, baseball. Oh yeah baseball is HUGE there! I spent like an hour watching people playing a baseball game where they throw bottle caps against a piece of metal and where the other team is trying to hit it with a stick, like from a broom. You might think like “wow, what’s special bout that”. But IT WAS SPECIAL! They threw the caps with some effect so it would have these weird curves and stuff. And the hitters actually manage to hit some of them! It just fascinates me how people come up with these kind of things. Besides the visit to the university there wasn’t anything else special worth mentioning though. So after 2 days in the capital, I made my way out to one of the coastal towns to check out the wonderful beaches at the Caribbean Sea.
The first stop was Choroni, a small little beach town just about 2-3 hours away from Caracas. This places is thé place the go during the weekend for many Venezueleans. I tend to shy away from crowded places and especially beach areas. Luckily I was there in the middle of the week. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m not really a beach guy, I don’t really enjoy laying in the sun all day like a salted fish (Chinese joke). But heck I’m still a tourist and besides, there wasn’t much else to do anyway, so I checked out the beach on the first day.On the second day I went on a short hike to another smaller and more secluded beach. Nothing spectacular though, but it was a nice change from laying on the beach. I know, I’m complaining about laying on the beach doing nothing while the rest of you are working or studying…. I CAN’T HELP IT! Anyways, I enjoyed my stay though, met a wonderfull Venezuelean family there (who didn’t speak English). Even so, we managed to have some conversations and talk about our backgrounds a bit. The first day he told me he worked in a factory that processed corn flower for the typical Venezuelean food: arepa. Just a regular job I thought. But on the second day when we started talking more, I found out that all Venezuelians have military service and he was a sniper. He kept on telling me that he won competitions and awards for shooting targets from distances up to 1km and more! “HOLY SHIT THIS DUDE IS A KILLER MACHINE!” I thought, then I fistbumped him and said “cool”. He still loves and misses his riffle though he said. Since the only military knowledge I have comes from movies like Full Metal Jacket and Forest Gump, I continued asking him if he could do the blindfolded dismantling of his gun. He said yes, at that time I really wished there was a riffle there to check it out.
After Choroni, I heard about another National park called Chichiriviche, at first I thought it was a “normal” park with trees and roads in the mountains and stuff but turns out that the park was in fact a group of beach islands! Yes, beaches again. But these islands were quite amazing though. They looked like little paradises! I picked another secluded one with less people and noise. It took me 5-10 mins to walk around the island. So you can imagine how big the island is. Again with white clean sand and crystal clear water. perfect for snorkeling and diving.Since my budget was running low, I was kind of forced to take it easy the last couple of days. Fine by me though since I was getting a bit bored of the beaches. I just chilled at the hostel and walked around a bit in the streets, watching the people. Eventhough I’ve never been to Miami, it kind of feels like Miami from what I’ve seen in movies. People arrive in pickup trucks, with loud music blasting, walking around in bermuda shorts and stuff. In the future I do want to come back to Venezuela though, but with a bit more money and time. I’ve only checked out the beaches in the west from Caracas, but there are a lot of wonderful beaches to the east too. And not don’t forget about Angel falls and more down south of Venezuela. I never thought of going to Venezuela and a lot of the people I know, wouldn’t either, but it was a nice experience to find out what they have to offer. It’s not all that bad if you take care of yourself, you do need to do some research and preparation before coming though. Some people didn’t know about the black market rates and ended up missing out on a lot of money when exchanging currency. I did learn a LOT about the life and culture in Venezuela though. My friend in Caracas, who is an assistant teacher, told me a lot about the history. I don’t know why people keep hating on Chavez, a lot of the people seem to like him, he’s done a lot for the people here. But I won’t get into that here, just go there and check it out by yourself. Some other random facts:
On my first night walking around in Caracas, I heard a group of youngsters yelling something at me. “OY CHINO! CHINO!” Personally, of course I didn’t like it, it just seems racist to me and also means that I stand out. But after a couple days I found out that they actually don’t mean it like that. It’s actually a more friendly thing/greeting. They do the same thing with black people, yelling out “Oy NEGRO! OY NEGRO!”. That stuff will get you killed in the States I bet.
Music on busses
I took 2 long distance busses to Choroni and Chichiriviche. The services here were a bit different from the ones in Peru and Brazil. First of all they were a bit smaller, second, they ALL have music blasting throughout the whole ride. And I do mean BLASTING. I’m ok with music, but hearing salsa, reggaeton and what not for 4 hours was a bit too much for me. Be warned!
Venezuela has a strong African influence, the people look darker than the rest of the countries I visited. Music has an important place in everyday life and every kind of music has their own afro mix too. Well, from my experience back home (I live in or close to an African community in Belgium), they just love loud noises in general….