The flight to Caracas was long and I almost missed the connecting flight at Frankfurt. I´d left for Heathrow at around 4am, so I slept comfortably almost all the way to Caracas. The airport is right on the coast, so as one lands, one can see the mountains in the background and the city is in a valley behind the mountains. It looks quite dramatic.
The moment I cleared immigration and customs, a bunch of fake officials came up to me offering to change money. I´d been warned about this so decided to change only enough to make a couple of phone calls and for emergency. The difference in the official and unofficial rate is almost double due to inflation and strict currency controls. Managed to get through to W, who I was going to stay with, who gave the taxi driver instructions and negotiated a fare.
The bridge connecting the airport to the city broke a year ago so the driver took a really long round-about way to get to Caracas. It meant driving through a lot of the favelas (slums) and as the first introduction to Venezuela, it was quite harsh, even for someone from Delhi. The ride was beautiful though, on a long winding road up to the top of the mountains and then down. The taxi driver kept talking non-stop about a lot of things, with loud music blaring and stopping to whistle and pass comments at all the women along the way.
Reached W´s house around 6pm, and walked straight into a family get-together. Since it was a weekend, his whole clan tends to meet on both days. It was cramped and noisy, but I enjoyed it a lot. Dinner dragged on for a long time and the next day, there was another gathering at someone´s house in the countryside. That´s the weekend retreat for the whole clan and even more people showed up. The weather was hot and to combat the heat, everyone kept sipping beer. Was happily drunk and just enjoyed being treated like a celebrity guest by the whole clan.
Got back around 7pm, and then Dr B showed up. He´d visited India about 6 years ago and stayed with some friends of mine and loved it, so he´s determined to make my visit similar. Took me out to a place which is known for its Arepas and then drove me around Caracas in his car. Gas is cheap in Venezuela (about 10cents a litre) so nobody cares about driving long distances. He jumped 3 red lights and after the second asked "Aren´t you feeling at home?".
Spent the last 2 days exploring Caracas by metro and by foot. It´s a weird city. The location is spectacular, as it´s in a valley with high mountains all around and the weather is great all year. The women are either amazingly hot or very overweight (I was told it´s because of the beer), and the traffic is as bad as Delhi. Architecturally, it´s very ugly. Since it´s the capital and the commercial centre, there are lots of highrise buildings, but most of them look quite run down. There are shops all over and even the old Spanish quarter has lost the charm it must have had as it´s surrounded by shops. The food is great, especially the fresh fruit juices and after walking a lot, it´s nice to chill out on the Grande Sabana, sip a cool drink and watch people play chess.
I haven´t been able to upload pictures yet, but hopefully in a week or so. I´m off to Merida today for 5-6 days. It´s a small town in the Andes, and will be staying in a village just outside Merida, with Dr B´s brother, who is a trekking guide and lives in a small hut. He´s starting a master´s degree in maths at the University of the Andes and also runs marathons. Apparently he doesn´t speak any English, so let´s see how we communicate about maths, mountains and marathons.
Heading to the University right now, to meet with a couple of other people I know through two of my old housemates, and then in the evening will take a cable car to the highest point in Caracas, which I´m told has a spectacular view of the city, the mountains and coast.