Ven e zuela - The Little Venice in South America
The Places I travelled so far!
Caracas, - de la capital
Maracay, - real hidden jewel of venezuela
Isla de Margarita, - ok, another jewel - not hidden
Le Gran Sabana, Santa Elena de Uairén, - the lonely planet
Mérida, - sandwithced between the hills, starting of Andes
Península de Paraguaná - desert, seashore, a road and YOU
buenas, ( greeting ppl ... WZUP! )
Caracas, - de la capital
Surprisingly the airline for leggy customers 'AA' didn't give me a hard time about flying and landing their customers from JFK to Simon Bolívar Maiquetia Int'l Airport, Caracas, Venezuela.
Caracas is 25 KM south of Maiquetia Airport and set on cascading hills. at night all the barrios ( ghettos ) are lit with low wattage bulbs, create an illusion of a virtual dark sky with yellow stars.
this sky is in fact filled with the ambitions of all immigrants who moved from poor countrysides of Equador, Peru, Bolivia and Brasil to make a living in this capital city.
Although the roads and highways around Caracas are good, but road signs are either confusing or mysteriously missing. it's almost nightmarish and also dangerous to take a rental car with directions and try to find your way in the city. they don't have dispensable maps of the city either.
perhaps i did the right thing. i took a booked taxi from the airport, the ones which charges more, so that you're not ripped off. but the fare itself was a ripp off ( 17,000 Bolívars instead of 10,000 ) and the driver took me to a shady hotel who was asking 75,000 bolivars for a night.
I refused point blank and insisted him to take me to the place where i wanted to go in the first place. he took me there after a ride from the most dangerous neighborhoods of the city and he asked more 1,000 which i reluctantly gave him. instead of thanking me for the extra money he warned me of about the bad place i was getting out. This place was 'Prolongacion Sur Av Las Acacias' which is full of hotels, near to 'Plaza Venezuela' and in 'Sabana Grande' area. The best place for a single person for a night out!
the place i was insisting was with full of hotels, bars, and night clubs. in fact it was the heart of the night life of the city. although he scared me not to get down there but the hotel i chose was good 'Hotel Embassy'. i hung out at their bar. later on around midnight i got out and hung out at 'Sabana Grande'and 'Plaza Venezuela' which were metro stops and full with roadside bars and eateries.
i spent some time in the bar with a girl who looked like Salma Hayek. it seems she was well also aware of it. we talked about sun signs, difference about our cultures, my conception about venezuelan girls, and a possible date. i had to pay for her beer while we had conversations. after a while her friend came in, and she lost interest in even talking with me. this short obfuscating attention span of spanish girls quite puzzles me more than often.
I went out towards 'Plaza Venezuela' ( a metro stop and a hangout place ) that night and on my way i encountered a lots of drug junkies, one by one were beggin and hugglin. i have to shoo them away. near to Plaza there were all drinking places and nothing but booze is sold with heavy 'Guardia Nacional' presence. Caracas sucks for sure ... that's all i can say.
Maracay -on Caracas-Valencia highway
This city is a gem. it's a city in the middle of two big cities Caracas, and Valencia. It's on the highway that joins them (109 km from Caracas). Maracay is not haphazardly settled as Caracas or characterless as Valencia. near to the city are one of the best beaches, cloud forests and a big lake. on top of that, there are lots of places to meet new people. i stayed there one night. i met a girl named Natalie, whose brothers were in Guardia Nacional and she looked like a Victoria's Secret model. she was from Mérida, a hill place on the andes, 520 km south west of Maracay. she told me she is a student studying medicine and nursing. her hobbies were watching TV, eating fruits, and going places. she visits her mama in every six months.
she gave me her number to later let me call her and show around the beaches which i lost somewhere.
later on i found TV is the most popular passtime, and if it's there it is turned always on. no matter what is broadcasted, it's watched religiously. i have not met a single person who would talk instead of watching TV.
During my tours, Maracay was my pit stop. i went to extreme west, extreme south-east, south, and to cloud forests and beaches from Maracay. this is a very simple city. 20 km south from the beaches. although parts of this 20 Kms is two hills and twisted like intestines.
Here i stayed in hotels ranging Bolívar 38,000 to 7,500. i liked Hotel Cristal on Avenieda Bolívar who charged Br. 14,000. my criteria of selection was con aire, con banos, y clean.
there is 'Parque Nacional Henri Pittier' which is set on high hills before the road descends down to the beaches. these are the most unspoilt beaches of Venezuela as some of them are inaccessible by car/road. to go by foot, either it's far away or the roads are just trails. so from maracay there is an uphill journey to the top of the hills and then the descend to the beaches.
there are two seperate roads runs from Maracay goes to two different sets of beaches. the one in the west is thru 'ocumare'. the first beach is playa kata.
In the east, the best tranquil beach i've ever been to in my life. it's called Playa Grande. it's thru Choroní, and Puerto Columbia. once you reach in the town, there is raod going off towards east from the town, crosses a small rivulet and all of a sudden there is this 'Playa Grande'. it has good shades of coconut trees. the cocos were also easily accessible. i had couple of them, one by luck, the other i brought down by a long stick which was laying there.
The water is transparent in white sand, and the 'waves' are so slow that a british guy joked 'they went for lunch'. i really liked this beach. i also had my lunch on the beach front which was reasonable.
Península de Paraguaná via Maracay-Valencia-Moron-Coro
in all my life, i wanted to drive on a road which runs thru a desert and i got the chance on Península de Paraguaná. this used to be an island until strong wind formed a sand link between this and the mainland and turned the piece of land as a peninsula. the wind was short and moist and there were lots of small eagles vulturing for GOD knows what - and a road sometimes swept away by dunes of sand - seashore was almost visible beyond the dry sand dunes. somewhere there huge white plateaus in between the sand dunes. those were salt deposits caused by evaporated sea water trapped in those pockets. i got down there and tasted it. the best iodized salt you can get, naturally!
some places in between these sand dunes looked till the horizon and it gave a feeling like you're in middle east! cruising thru the desert road
it's really cool, when you have rock n' roll music and you drive thru this road. alternatively, once you 'adicora', the beach there is good for wind surfing which also has a jeep track along the shore. this track runs parallel to the road. you can 'test drive' your car here with the same music. the fun is in the setting and in the backdrop. so cool!
on the highway from Moron to Coro, overlooking the valley there is a nice restaurant and there are some local stone handicraft shops. they sell carved stone artifacts real cheap. incidently they also carved the stopping stones for the parking for free!
Isla de Margarita
the best piece of advertized caribbean island you can get in VZ. i started my marathon drive to west seeking for this island which is totally untropical. people wonder why the peninsula and islands around this tropical country is so untropical. the reason is the supply of water. if there is scarcity of water, and only salty water is available, the flora and fauna changes into bushes and cactus. so is this island.
starting from Marcay -- 195 -- Caracas -- 310 -- Barcelona -- 'Puerto La Cruz' -- 4.5 hours ferry ( 45,000 Bolívars round trip ) -- 'Punta de Piedras' which is the Island's port.
if you drive further east of 'Puerto La Cruz' to 'Cumana' or 'Carupano' the ferry from there to the island is half price.
i started early in the morning from Maracay and reached to the heart of the island, 'Porlamar' at 8 pm.
on my journey, once i almost had an accident.
there was this high speed highway out from Caracas and there was this accute 'turn'
just after the turn, although there is space to slow down but the leftmost
lane which is also the fastest lane, is shut down by an iron gate!
the rest of the highway is fine and it basically shifts right!
this iron gate is further damaged and punctured by a car hit who must have hit this gate instead of stopping like i did! i wondered about the poor guys fate. ( must have been a guy! ) somehow i took a deep breath and put my mind on a mental gear to be ready for more of this!
they take tolls after 100-200 kms which is 300 Bolívars. as you go away from the capital the toll booths reduce and vanish away. there are no tolls if you go further south or east.
driving in this isla de margartia was fun. empty road with desert on both sides with the mountains on the backdrop. far away the city lights were visible of Porlamar. once i went there, in the middle there was Plaza Bolívar and all the cheap staying places. a bar, and a restaurant and a hotel. alltogether a package this was available in 10,000 Bolívars per day. another thing i laways opted for an a/c room 'habitacion con aire' which is usually 60-70% more expensive.
isla da margarita was a driver's paradise. a circular route to the whole circumference of the island, and half of it is parque nacional. very nicely views of the sole mountain and the seashore sorrounding the island.
very nice seafood, fresh and with spanish herbs. one place was famous for the beach 'Playa El Agua' on the extreme northeast, and other to see the sunset extreme northwest 'Juan Griego'.
in 'Parque Nacional Laguna de la Restinga', they have a lagoon and a mangrove area. lots of birds of exotic kinds can be seen here. a boat tour can be taken for the lagoon but i didn't.
driving thru the desert road
it's really cool, when you have rock n' roll music and you drive thru this parque nacional. also cool for bird watching and eating at local restaurants.
Le Gran Sabana
this is the heart of my journey and focal point of why people come to Venezuela. there is a fall, called 'salto angel' which is inaccessible by road and that's the main attraction. it's accessible by plane or boat ( only in rainy season ). anyways ... i drove ... Porlamar -50km- 'Punta de Piedras' -ferry-4.5hrs- 'Puerto La Cruz' -100km- Barcelona -200km- Ciudad Bolívar -200km- Ciudad Guayana -90km- Upata ( rested here for night ) -100km- El Callao -200km- El Dorado -150kms- Las Claritas
this is the starting entry point of the 'Le Gran Sabana' which is really a grand one
this road and the El Dorado is primarily made off from a 'GOLD RUSH' trail when explorers' thought that there are godl mines in here.
anyways from this point starts a stretch of 316 kms. where the farthest point is 'Santa Elena de Uairén'. this is 'Parque Nacional de Canaima'. this is the most serene place i have ever visited which is also so far the least populated one. it starts with Piedra de la Virgen which is a huge piece of rock. there is a small temple of Mother Marry.
from there it's rainforest and stomach turning uphill ride till you Salto Kiwi. which is a scenic cascade of water. then there is another one Salto Kama, and finally i met my slippery fate at Quebrada Pacheco where i decided to bathe in.
i fell twice. once on my chin, next on my ass. but i felt awesome as i acheived this feet. it's really difficult to walk thru the slippery stones and fierce flow of water and get underneath the big fall which is received by slippery rocks.
nobody was there except my camera, which took my falling picture. infact the first fall was caused as i was in a hurry to get to the focused position.
le gran sabana is soemthing beyond expression. it's vast empty land filled with grass and patches of rainforest. the outline is sketched by 'tepuis' which are flat top mountains. they are only accessible by planes or trails. so you need a local indian guide to get to the top of one of those. the fees is hefty and it's straight walk for two days with a night's rest in between.
on the roadside, i encountered many picturesque small rivulets, and streams which were beautiful like picture postcards.
finally i got to the 'Santa Elena de Uairén' which is the 'frontera' a border town. very nice and i had by best empañadas there. it's a latin samosa, the difference is in the shape and in the filling. it ubiquitously comes in three types of filling - ham n' cheese, chicken, meat.
i met a brasilian girl here and later i got a brasilian visa to cross the border. once i went to brasil i discovered that this visa was totally unnecessary as no checking is done at either border. on the brasilian side, there are some souvenier shops and there is this empty road that runs towards 'boa vista' which is 238 Km away. so the real brasil is really far far away even when you cross the border. also one brasil real is almost as expensive as dollar and everything is expensive in this side.
Observations made on rainforests et al.
Deforestation/Massive burning/cleansing of rainforest
the pictures above is the rain attracted by this huge forest system. once it pours, nothing is visible even at 7 feet, and it cuts through the clay road causing washed away roads at the end. it's a great relief for the people and it's a bless in taking a shower in this rain as otherwise the weather is very warm.
trees on rainforest are very tall and on top they are like sprouting mushrooms. the foliage is so thick that nobody can enter. one huge and tall tree shelters lotsa plants which climb on it or even grows on high branches and in between spaces where they can get sunlight. in the rainforest, sunlight is the most precious resource. everthing else is just rot and trunk and in abundance and useless. so in together the forest is so thick in between two thick trees i think it's even hard for monkeys to move from one tree to the other.
in le gran sabana, most of it is nothing but the same grass. one kind is very unique. it has a small brown/black fat trunk ( thickness is of the size if you join all your fingers of a hand together ) and then there are sprouts of thin green stems of grass.
the other kind is just normal fat leaf grass. both of these cover the small hillocks and tepui and everywhere you go. funny thing is, most of it is accessible by foot, but not by a normal car. jeeps can go but they really do damage the soft terrain of the sabana.
salta = waterfall
i guess 'salta' means a 'waterfall' as everything waterfall is named as 'salta something'. now these waterfalls are very beautiful and of sweet water. the spring water is very fresh and drinkable. although the rocks and the stony setup is very slippery around these waterfalls. also accessing these waterfalls to view them is often difficult and sometimes impossible without a local guide. i myself aborted my trip to 'Salto Agua Fria' and 'Salto Puerta del Cielo'. these were merely 5 kms away from the main road. i could only reach 3 km and the ride was one of the most difficult ride of my whole lifetime.
taking a shower in some of these are possible, only if you're very determined and are not afraid of unexpected falls. i guess, if water falls, so you might too! right ? the trick is to climb and get down from slippery rocks which also has fierce streams of water flowing on them. to get more friction, use your full body and slide slowly towards yoru target ( i.e., eithr towards the waterfall or away from it! ) also in the water, try to locate the broken crevices of rocks which is either for your hand grip or for your tow grip. obviously with a shoe it's harder. i have not seen any snakes around, and i don't think there night be any as the water flowing so forcebly.
driving thru jeep tracks
driving is extremely challenging thru jeep tracks. both sides of the tracks, there might be deep gorges just a nudge away. sometimes there is danger right in the middle. a stone or just heap of ground hidden in the ground where your car can get stuck. as a car doesn't have a high axle or clearance like a jeep, extreme care should be taken when following jeep tracks. nothing is impossible, accessing the extreme or stuck in some remote place ... the choice is left to the driver.
this place is the starting of Latin American Andes. they have telefrico the longest cable car on earth. this shit was closed for 15 days when i went there Mérida town center is one way which blind corners at the end of every way.
driving to Mérida is a quite unique experience. it's basically driving without road signs, believing on instincts about choosing the right road, passing from plaza bolivar of every little small non descript village/town and again somehow getting the 'highway' for Mérida. these are hill roads and requires a lot of expertise. it reminded me of my uncle with whom i went to Himalayan roads on a similar trip in India. All mountains have strange green plants and some kinda yellow flower. The drive was nice and sometimes it's really rush in the adrenlins! i would NOT do it again. it rained all the time in Mérida and thus nothing happened significant there. first time in Venezuela i accessed e-starz.com and replied emails. the speed was so-so. quite surprisingly their long distance calls were rotued thru MSN a/c which were free but if it doesn't connect, you waste your time for free ( in my case! )
Accidents on roads
This is something which you will see plenty and if you're even slightly careless you will a part of it i am afraid. during my journey i avoided atleast three serious accidents. the worst is, it's often caused by poor road planning. like the divider which is just two yellow line will gradually become a one brick partition and before you notice, it will turn into a 3' high concrete barrior! so if your left tires are criss crossing the yellow lines of the divider, be careful as those lines can quickly turn into a concrete wall!
Most of the venezuelan drivers are patient but there are soem assholes. they want to cruise even when there is no way.
On my way back to aeropuerto on Caracas highway, i saw a gruesome accident in between two cars which collided side-on. after collision they went in completely opposit directions and way apart from each other. These drivers were teenagers and they were shouting and crying.
One accident I saw earlier was funny. It invloved 5 huge trailers one by one in a series went into the side drain of the road. It seems either all of them were sleeping or the guy in the front truck was! ofcourse in later case he was religiously followed by others.
I saw a dead driver with a crushed car laying on his own pool of blood. It was so messy that rescue people partially covered his damaged body with his own car matt. I was totally shocked.
Eye contact contest in driving thru one-way
i call this eye contact driving. when you reach at the corner of a one way street, approach carefully. if it's you just go on. if there is another car - you will have an eye contact contest. - whoever wins has the right of way! infact they also have an infamous dip on the road instead of a bump ... the driver who has the dip on his way, has to give way! - simple :)
drivers often in groups or alone 'jump' the red light if there is no oncoming traffic across. this is a common practice in Maracay, Santa Elena, and some other cities. But in big cities, this jumping is less visible.
this is the land of arepas and empañadas. also a lot of tropical fruits, beef, goat/sheep meat, chicken and seafood depending on the area you're in.
arepa is a rice or corn pancake and the shops have special fillings ranging from fruit salad to minced meet. it's wrapped in a paper like a Taco and served hot. salsa is used as a sauce.
empañada is the evening snack. it's in every street corner. either being prepared or displayed thru glass counters. all you need is, your intention to eat fried food!
'coco frio' which is a young chilled coconut for water is also available everywhere. the pulp inside is called 'coco de carne' and is my favorite. here in some places it is sold seperately. also i found there is a special type of yellow goldish coconut, and the juice inside is so sweet that it beats the sugar syrup! i liked it so much that i had three of them.
i had a steak and palmito salad along with platano boiled in a very nice restaurant. the palmito is raw inside stem of a young palmito tree. it's banned in Argentina to eat them as they are endangered. the name of the restaurant is 'Vistarroyo' and it's in Macaracuay near Centro Portugues in Caracas. i went there by accident as my intention was going to Maracay! the food and ambience is really awesome here and valey parking. also they call themselves 'El Templo del Folklore Nacional'. it's also a local favorite.
the whole country is studded with mango trees. it's so abundant that nobody eats it. also some places do not even serve mango juice or shake as it's a drink for low class.
meat is primarily a steak and is served wooden plates with a sharp knife. also they have three salsas everywhere. white, green, and red (salsa picante). for dressing there is white vineger and olive oil. i had some palmitos for an ensalada which was too good. in every food, you get some kind of platano side. whether it's fried, boiled or stewed that's your luck. near the sea beaches, they have luncheria which serve 'groupo de mariscos' that's awesome seafood with lotsa nice spices.
exotic cuisine of venezuela
They have Chinese Restaurants in every city in Venezuela and chinese people who speak spanish better than me. also obviously this chinese is venezuelan version which is incidently closer to indian chinese cuisine. really enjoyed it! i had chinese food in lotsa places. maracay, merida, juan griego and santa elena. it's pricey according to their standards but different and tasty. another funny thing is, they serve knife with the plate which is forbidden in some chinese restaurants in US and India.
Venezuela 101 / Venezuelan Primer
1 US $ = 710 Bolívar/Bs. May 2001
approx. ( in Caracas / do it in big cities )
Full gass tank = 1,500 Bolívar/Bs.
octane rating 87 1 ltr = 50 Bs.
sin plomo rating 92 1 ltr = 100 Bs.
1 habitacion para la noche = 7,500-38,000 Bolívar/Bs.
con aire y con banos
1 Empañada = 100-300 Bs.
( samosa/fried-ravioli/wonton, filled with ham-n-cheese, chicken or meat )
1 Arepa = 300-500 Bs.
(rice pancake filled with your choice of whatever available)
Seafood Meal = 2,000 - 8,500 Bs.
( seafood cooked rice, Platano fries, arepa, salad)
read about geography, topology, population, society & culture, economy etc ...
Venezuela - Country Info 101
CIA -- The World Factbook 2000 -- Venezuela
Latin America - Fare Estimates
Latin American Travel Resources - Venezuela
Yet Another Travel Resources on Venezuela
Business Travel Tips:
For business traveller
For Business Travel on Venezuela
Travel Guide Sites:
Major Guide Book Publishers' sites
World Travel Guide on Venezuela
Lonely Planet on Venezuela
FODORS - Central & South America
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