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Caracas, Venezuela


71st Day


Venezuela was first colonized by Spain in 1522 in what is now Cumaná. Most of Venezuela became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in the early 18th century, and was then reorganized as an autonomous Captaincy General starting in 1776. After a series of unsuccessful uprising, Venezuela declared independence in 1811 under the leadership of a Venezuelan marshal Francisco de Miranda, and young Criollo aristocrat Simón Bolívar, establishing the Republic of Venezuela. However, Republic of Venezuela fell into chaos and finally collapsed by the devastating earthquake hit Venezuela in 1812 together with the intervention of royalists. Bolívar and other republicans continued the resistance. In 1821, , with the aid of José Antonio Páez and Antonio José de Sucre, won the the Battle of Carabobo, by which the independence of Venezuela was consolidated. The Venezuelan forces continued the campaign under the leadership of Bolívar, liberating Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia in 1825. Through the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela experienced political turmoil and dictatorial rules. After the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935, pro-democracy movements gained the momentum, which led to the military’s withdrawal from from direct involvement in national politics in 1958. Since that year, Venezuela has had a series of democratically elected governments. An oil boom in the mid-1970s brought about Venezuela an enormous wealth, but the vast lower class benefited little. The collapse of oil price during 1980’s devastated the Venezuelan economy and increased political instability. Corruption remains a problem; Venezuela was ranked near the bottom of countries in the Corruptions Perceptions Index in 2009.

We had had a lot of warnings about Venezuela before we started this cruising and just before we arrived in Venezuela, saying “Avoid going sightseeing by yourself”, “If you go sightseeing, be sure to go in a group”, “Go out without wearing accessories”, “If you hang a camera on your neck, you will have the camera snatched” and so on because the security was poor in Venezuela. And after so many warnings on sightseeing activities, there were very few optional tours offered. The exchange was limited to 10 dollars a day per person even though they accepted only the local currency. We were told that exchange was not available at banks or in hotels (and actually it was so). Having heard such warnings, I landed on Venezuela wondering what I would do here in Venezuela.

*DMC-ZS10/TZ20 records images in max.14-megapixel and DMC-ZS7/TZ10 in max.12-megapixel.

Anyway, I had to make some plans to spend two days in La Guaira. So I decided to go to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela and started to collect information about how I could go there. Then I got information that buses were running to Caracas for about one dollar. I managed to find a bus bound for Caracas at the bus terminal with decrepit busses lined up. Of course, the bus did not have air conditioner and its door was never closed. At some bus stops, a peddler having incense products and sweets got on the bus and handed out their goods at a frightening pace as if they were giveaway goods. I asked a local man sitting next to me by gesture what it was, and he told me that passengers who wanted the goods paid for it. Then the peddler, collecting the goods from those who did not buy them, got off the bus and headed to another bus.

After passing through the traffic jam in the city, the bus started to run fast, and arrived at Caracas in nearly one hour. The fare was four bolivars (almost one dollar). It was not expensive. Judging from the bus fare, 10 dollars a day seemed to be enough. Walking in the city with a bit of fear, I reached the National Assembly of Venezuela building. I took a picture in fear, thinking “Am I attacked by someone if I take out my camera from the bag?” I took another picture, again in fear, in the Bolivar Park nearby. But it did not seem so dangerous to take pictures because I saw policemen standing here and there, and because I was at the center of the city.

I walked around wondering where I should walk and where it was dangerous to walk. When I got to the National Assembly building, I noticed that seemingly ordinary people walked in and out of the building. I asked a guard it was possible to enter the building. But he replied me in Spanish, I could not understand what he said. I guessed that he was saying no, but he gestured for me to enter.
At first, he kept saying “No, you can’t take a picture”, “No, you can’t get into there” and “No, you can’t・・・”, but a solder who learned Karate kindly guided me inside the room and, moreover, allowed me to take a picture.

After visiting the National Assembly building, I kept walking in the city. As I got hungry, I ate a local food called empanada. Just like a Russian piroshki, it was fried stuffed bread, crescent in shape. It was not expensive and delicious. There were variety of stuffing, such as beef, chicken, and fish.
I also visited the birthplace of Bolívar and the market nearby. As this country put an emphasis on education and welfare, the museum and the art museum were all free of charge! I appreciated it very much since my allowance was only 10 dollars a day.
The market was very narrow with a lot of small shops. It reminded me of the markets in China and Vietnam. Again, I got to fear something wrong would happen in this narrow place. But some people in the market were friendly and even asked me to take their pictures. Thinking that they were not dangerous, I took my camera out of my bag and took pictures of them and the goods they sold.

By evening, I got a feel of the place. I got relaxed and enjoyed watching the streets. It seemed downtown where the local people enjoyed shopping. There were many food stands selling ice cream and hot dogs. I wanted to buy a hot dog but I settled for an ice cream instead, considering my allowance.

I managed to go back safely to the port. After having dinner in the ship, we went to the welcome ceremony hosted by the Venezuelan government. We were enthusiastically welcomed there. They provided us with free shuttle buses from the port to the ceremony site and gave each of us a hat. They offered a flag and free-tasting event for local food. The Governor and his wife also welcomed us. I heard that these cost were all covered by the Venezuelan government. I was impressed by their efforts of promoting tourism. The welcome ceremony continued for about 4 hours, with traditional dances and songs performed by children and the performance by Venezuela Youth Orchestra, and so on.
After dinner, we had an opportunity to see “Devil Dancing in Naiguata”, which I heard was listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. I expected the devil dancers would appear in gorgeous costume since it was registered in UNESCO, but they came on stage wearing a self-made mask and a costume, which were extreme in color. On the costume, their favorite images such as a tiger were painted, and the masks were rustic shaped as something like a fish or beast. They passionately danced in such outfits.
And again, there was a statue of Mr. Bolívar! The founding father of Venezuela! There was Mr. Bolívar everywhere.

I went to the beach 5 to 10 minutes away from the port by bus and spent all day relaxing there.
In fact, there might be a lot of dangerous places in Venezuela, but people in Venezuela seemed to be friendly in nature. They talked to us one after another. Maybe they were curious about foreigners. Unfortunately, they speak Spanish and I could not understand what they said. But I believed or wished to believe that we could understand each other pretty well with body language and drawings.
After returning to the port in the evening, I walked around near the port. The neighborhood area was quite different from Caracas. The downtown was dirty and there were a lot of dubious people around a corner, but the people in the market were friendly. A woman in the market was even kind enough to tell me not to go ahead for my safety. In a sense, I had an interesting experience in Venezuela.

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