The second stop on the Wirld tour was to the beautiful country of Venezuela. A country which is often forgotten about when people travel South America, Venezuela is a hidden gem. Not that The Wirld saw a whole lot of the country, due to them being the only 3 gringos there!
“Upon arriving at the airport in Mexico City we learned that our host in Caracas was unable to host us anymore due to an outbreak of Swine Flu in their apartment block. So there we were; flying to the most dangerous city in Latin America with our gringo dollars, a few bags and without a place to stay. Hardly great news. However our previous host Ana said that she could pick us up at the airport and take us wherever we wanted which was great. Currently Venezuela has a huge control over its population’s access to US Dollars so there is an official rate at which locals buy and sell at and which tourists also withdraw from an ATM with. Then there is also the black market which is about 5 times as much the value if you bring US Dollars (or Euros). Sure no sooner had we landed, the airport officials were whispering “cambio, cambio” in pursuit of the greenback!
As random government officials took our photos while queuing at immigration we didn’t really know what we had let ourselves in for. Walking out the arrivals we were greeted with a big “Iain McNamara” sign and 2 of the nicest people we have met so far on our trip, Ana and Big Dave. They took us straight to the beach to unleash our patchy tan once again on the world. Afterwards they gave us our first taste of Venezuelan food and sorted out our hotel, even paying as we had yet to change our dollars. As Caracas has a big crime problem, the hotel was reminiscent of a prison with about 4 gates to get through before you reached the reception. Mountjoy has nothing on it!
After a 12 hour bus journey we arrived in the baking hot Maracaibo and were greeted by our host Jose Miguel and Carmen his friend at the bus station and went straight to Jose’s place to sample some local cuisine. Little did we know but Jose had very little English. This coupled with the lads improving but small Spanish vocab led to my stint as official translator. Next stop the EU! You can only imagine the conversation when I was in the bathroom.
We hopped on the 6 hour bus to Tachira, a small town near the border with about 15,000 people and arrived at Jose’s family home in the evening. We were greeted by the whole family and were given a lovely Irish welcome with a shamrock and a bottle of Bailey’s on the table. Once again, we were so impressed by the kindness and warmth shown by the Venezuelan people as the family took complete care of us, ensuring we tried every Venezuelan food ever created. We also met Jose’s niece, who we discovered was an even bigger One Direction fan than Kevin and I. We took a walking tour of the town and that night headed up to the mountains to view the town at night.
On our final night in Venezuela we were taken to the town club, which looked more like the local GAA disco. After about 2 hours, we heard a bit of a ruckus kicking off on the dance floor and all of a sudden two lads start beating the bejesus out of each other. Pandemonium ensues, bottles get involved and most people leg it towards the exit. We stay there, assuming at any moment the bouncers will arrive to kick the feckers out. It turns out bouncers don’t get involved in Venezuelan. So Kev, being the consummate Irishman, grabs our 2 bottles of Rum to ensure they don’t meet a devastating end. Once outside, up comes a Venezuelan and asks for the bottle. Thinking he wants a swig, it gets handed over only for him to go legging it after some lad, bottled raised in the air. Needless to say we Usain Bolted out of there. The next morning we arose to potato soup for brekkie and a lovely send off from the family of Jose. They gave us a lift across the border and left us at the bus station where our Colombian adventure is about to begin. Jose also now wants to study English in Ireland next year which is great news.
Over our two weeks in Venezuela, we may not have seen the best sights available in the country as there are some amazing things to be seen along the coast, but we did see the best side of Venezuela and that is its people. The country is going through a tough time since the tenures of Chavez and now Maduro, but hopefully the future is a lot brighter. Many thanks to everyone in Caracas, Maracaibo and Tachira for your unbelievable help during our stay. We’ll see you soon in Dublin.