In the queue for immigration in Caracas the thing that made us stand out as tourists was our flip flops, skirt & shorts. City Venezuelans dress well, despite the heat everyone wears closed shoes and long pants.
The influence of the US is apparent in Caracas, people covet designer labels, have massive American cars and three out of four eateries are junk food outlets peddling deep fried chicken, burgers, pizza and pasta.
“Try to avoid being kidnapped”
Before we came here we heard a lot of warnings about Venezuela and in particular Caracas. Numerous publications and travellers warn of robberies, the kidnappings of foreigners and wealthy people, not to go to certain areas at night, not to carry flashy cameras, not to take a taxi from the airport, not to engage in any way with the gang members who accost you at the airport arrivals lounge and best to avoid an “express kidnapping” which is an exciting new draw card.
So, fresh off the boat we were a little nervous about what we were to encounter!
Caracas city itself has over 2 million residents and is flanked by stunning mountains to the north so high they poke through the clouds. The diversity of the city was immediately apparent between the richer and poorer shopping strips, between the manicured parks and gardens to the dense favelas (slums) packed precariously into every inch of steep mountainsides.
There is an obvious divide between rich and poor and when you couple this with yearnings for the American dream I imagine the divide is even more apparent. Without knowing too much about the history I am sure this is super fuel for the disenfranchised.
The cancer of consumerism
Consumerism in Caracas is like a cancer. Prices for food, clothing and all the latest mod cons here are the same as in Australia/USA. Due to the (questionable) fixing of the local currency Venezuelans are supposedly the highest income earners in South America, the average wage is US$300-400 which didn’t seem too bad until we realised that it was per month, and that their income is overvalued by 100%.
For this reason it is sad that malls are still packed with high priced designer gear that everyone feels they need. I heard it would not be unusual for weeks or months of income to be spent on flashy items that have no more practical value than the cheap stuff except for the illusion of status.
Don’t get me wrong, there are the same attitudes to “stuff” in almost every other part of the world. It is just more obvious here when you see how unaffordable it is to the common person.
The people and the culture
And then there is the lovely part… The people! We came on this trip looking for people who were making a difference to their communities and we have been meeting them! Many of the people we have spoken to either fits the description or has put us in touch with someone who does.
We have spent two weeks in this beautiful country much of it in a small fishing village on the Caribbean coast called Puerto Columbia, arriving today in a stunning city called Merida, high up in the Andes.
People here have a way of making you feel welcome, everyone gets acknowledged just walking down the road. There is a fascination with where we are from and people have been so keen to help us learn the language. Rather than boring, our sometimes long waits for buses have been met with hilarious and warm Spanglish conversations with much gesticulation, laughter and consulting the dictionary.
How comfortable do you feel acknowledging strangers in the street or sitting at the bus stop? Are you a conversation starter, a smile-and-nodder or do you keep your eyes diverted?