Category: Travel

VENEZUELA: URBAN HELL

Several months ago a friend told me he wanted to go to Venezuela. I bought a guide book and started researching the country, deciding that other than the political instability, it would be a nice place to visit. Besides, their obsession over beauty can only be a good thing for a potent male such as myself. So when my friend backed out and I was stuck with two weeks of vacation time that I had to use, I decided to go alone. I withstood the dozen or so kidnapping ‘jokes’ and went down there with a backpack loaded with essentials, including a Frisbee, Clif bars, and electrolyte water (obviously I was counting on getting stranded on the beach with one other person). I wanted to pack some shirts with American writing on it to be easily identified as an exotic import by the women there, but that plan when out the window because I have an aversion to being robbed.

With a two day hotel reservation in Caracas and a general idea of what I want to do, I was ready. On the airplane ride there I sit next to an American who has a Venezuelan wife. He gives me a lot of great tips, including the most important one: do not talk to anyone as you walk through the airport. Sure enough, as I’m making my way out a man in an official uniform asks me if I need any help. I wanted to listen to my American friend, but the gentleman was very official looking. He even pointed out his official uniform and said, “Look, I’m an official.” How can you argue with that? I told him I just need a taxi, and then next thing I know, I’m at a car rental booth being tag-teamed by ‘officials’ asking how many dollars I would like to exchange for local currency. Oops. This initial shadiness that I encountered upon my arrival would prove to be a great foreboding of the rest of my trip.

Caracas is a very rough introduction to South America. The mountains and hillsides that surround the city are covered in shantytowns known as barrios. The traffic is incredibly bad, with a wall of cars and exhaust that seem to last for most of the day. Walking great distances is faster than driving through the city, but not advisable because of the danger. Because gas is priced so low at 20 cents a gallon, driving is encouraged at the expense of public transportation. Most of the cars that clog the city are old heaps of American junk that were previously owned by your parents. The combination of incredible traffic and aged cars produce the worst pollution that I have ever encountered, and constantly breathing in exhaust was a bit too much for this fragile American throat. The only place where you breathe fresh air are the city’s parks, which are numerous and covered in very nice fields of dirt.

The city itself is the result of what happens when you vomit concrete, cars, and people over a wide area. It’s like a very bad game of SimCity where you totally ruined the simulation but can’t start over. Most buildings seem to be abandoned, monuments to a more prosperous past, as people weave through garbage and vendor tables selling every imaginable plastic piece of junk from China. Most of the city has a bazaar type of feel. The garbage and car exhaust smell together produces a very offensive city smell.

I was fascinated by the barrios. “How do people live there”? I wondered. I talked to a wired twenty-something guy who told me more about the barrios.

“Even the cops don’t go in there. Cars can’t fit in through the alleys, only motorcycles, so when the cops go in, the guy riding the bike has one hand on his machine gun. Another cop sits behind him facing the back with a gun. Cops only go in there for the bug guys, like serial killers, because people shoot at the cops. I’ve been in that before with friends who lived there. You walk through as people smoke crack out in the open with their guns next to them.”

“So I’d get robbed if I went there alone,” I said.

“You’d be killed.”

He also didn’t give me much confidence in police enforcement. When a cop sees someone who has lots of money, he tells someone who ends up robbing you while the cop turns his back. The cop then gets a cut.

In terms of per capita murders in South America, Caracas is only second to Medellin, Columbia and Recife, Brazil. Most of the 2,000 murders a year happen in the barrios, which are populated mostly by people from the countryside who looked for opportunity during the city’s boom times. Some barrios are not as dangerous and have a strong sense of community, but they generally are not a place you want to be in. Here in the U.S. we do a great job hiding our poor in ghettos, in the south sides of cities, but in Caracas it’s impossible not to see the huge disparity of living conditions. I think one of the reasons we tolerate poverty here is because we rarely witness it.


Pantheon

The one bright spot of the city is the underground Metro system. It is a mirror image of the DC metro system, made during the oil boom when money went into public projects. It was clean, safe, and reliable, with trains coming ever 5-10 minutes. Even like our Metro, everyone riding it seems unhappy.

I stayed in Las Mercedes, which is one of their most expensive and safe areas. This are is the best that Caracas has to offer, yet it is a dump by American standards. It’s dirty and is lined with crappy restaurants and stores. The bright spot of this area was the very modern pharmacy I bought deodorant at. After a day of exploration, I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel, a fantasy land paradise in an run-down city. The second day in Caracas I almost stayed in my room instead of venturing out because there is nothing to do.

Caracas sights are lacking and it’s just too dangerous to get comfortable walking around taking pictures. I was constantly paranoid that I was going to get robbed, a more serious concern than my diarrhea paranoia. I took a picture of the capitol building in the historic center, which is a ghetto by our standards, and showed some locals that I met throughout the rest of the trip. I got the same reaction every time: “Wow I’m surprised you were able to take that picture and not get robbed.” I took about 100 photos a day in Italy. In Venezuela I took 35 a day.

Venezuela Table of Contents

1. Venezuela: Urban Hell
2. Venezuela: Escape From Caracas
3. Venezuela: Water Beach
4. Venezuela: A Reggaeton Christmas
5. Venezuela: Russo Does Not Respect Me
6. Venezuela: Question and Answer
7. Venezuela: Sabana Grande

EXPLOSIVE DIARRHEA

I’m not a big fan of Christmas. I hate the traffic, the materialism of people’s blind credit card spending on shit they or their loved ones don’t need, the crowds of slow-walking fat people munching on jumbo pretzels, and the feeling that for another year my singledom will be rubbed in my face as miserable families and couples pretend they are happy.

Every year the company I work for gives a week off at Christmas. Last year I made the mistake of staying in town and had to suffer for it with nothing to do but dress up to go to Starbucks to hit on the high school aged baristas. I swore that I would not make the same mistake this year, so I’m going to Venezuela for the holidays. For New Years, I hope you have fun at whatever overpriced party you are going to. May your desperate search for a midnight kiss result in some action.

See you in 2006.

(P.S. Miss Metropolis may keep you entertained in my absence. )

ITALY

In seven days I visited Rome, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Siena, Naples, and Pompeii. While I did not get a chance to stay very long in these cities, I think I got a pretty good taste of the Italian culture.

Coffee. I forced myself to try Italian coffee (actually espresso, there is no “coffee”) because I’m not a big fan of coffee’s bitter taste, but I was amazed that there was no such taste in the cappuccino’s I tried. Very little sugar was needed. It went down smooth and there was no coffee breath where you needed “After Coffee Chewing Gum”. To make sure that my conclusion was accurate, I grabbed a cappuccino from Starbucks a day after my return. I couldn’t finish it – it had an extra bitter and burnt taste. Once you have the coffee in Italy, you can’t possibly drink it here.

Food. The food portions are much smaller in Italy; there was only one instance in which I was full and that was when I gorged on an entire pizza. Their breakfast consists of pastries (no mega-omelettes or cooked pig), and their lunch is usually small panini sandwiches with an espresso, though dinners are more filling if you get multiple courses. They just don’t have the dense fat-laden foods that we have here, so when I arrived back home the first thing I did was eat a huge greasy burger with bacon and fries. Being full is an American thing.

English. Italian people do not speak very good English. It got to the point where if I was talking to someone who did speak it well, it was a guarantee that they were from a different country. An American over there told me that Italians feel that if they learn English, they will be lowering their culture’s value.

Traffic. After renting a scooter in Siena (tame traffic by big city standards), I must conclude that Italian drivers are maniacs. They never yield unless you make that bold “if you don’t stop we’re going to crash” move. It’s like everyone plays a game of chicken, even pedestrians. To cross a road as a pedestrian in Italy, you need to step out in traffic with confidence and act like you assume they will stop. The smaller roads near city centers are shared by parked cars, pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, cars, and city buses, in a space no wider than two small lanes. People break almost every type of road law (especially the scooters), except red light running.

History. It must be hard for an Italian not to be influenced by the thousand year old monuments and ruins that surround them. Conservation is a big deal, so it is rare to see new buildings in city centers. There are few skyscrapers. I have a feeling that holding on to this past prevents them from making quick changes for the future, for their city layouts are not very conducive to capitalist efficiency. Regardless, their cities have character that ours don’t. You can tell planning went into their cities to make each building harmonious with its surroundings.

Style. Now I know where the term “Euro Trash” comes from. A popular uniform among teenagers were baggy jeans tucked into sneakers with a huge puffy jacket that had nonsensical writing or random flags on it. (I once saw “Camp Elliot California” on the shirt of some hipster doofus.) Most twenty-something Italians dressed well but not considerably better than Americans. They were very content with going to a fancy club in simple clothing, and it appears that they do not put in the effort that Americans do. I didn’t see any Coach bags or A|X shirts. Italians simply don’t have our unhealthy obsession with name brands. It’s as if they don’t care too much about impressing other people. For instance in the U.S. on cold nights you will often see girls in their tiny tops freezing their ass off so they don’t have to wear a coat to ruin their outfit. But in Italy the weather was only brisk and every girl wore a coat. There were also no fancy cars in Italy (you only see the occasional old guy in a BMW or Audi), no big rims, no iPods, and no huge car sound systems. It makes us look like we’re trying to overcompensate for something by spending money on ridiculous things.

Nightlife. I feel like the Italians are a little behind the curve on this one. It seemed that they are trying to copy the clubs that we have here, but you know what they say about duplicating success. There are some nice Italian nightspots, but nothing groundbreaking.

Women. No question, Italian women are hotter than American women. Except for their apparent lack of booty, they are simply better than American girls. Much thinner, better skin tone, eyes, lips, etc. But what’s interesting is that they are just as snobby as American girls. Plus, they don’t prize Americans, and view us as idiotic, fat tourists in general. Here’s a handy-dandy chart that breaks it down:

American Girls
VS
Italian Girls
0
Hair
1
0
Eyes
1
0
Face
1
1
Breasts
0
1
Ass
0
-1
Body Size
1
0
Style
0
1
Bangability
1
-1
Snobbiness
-1
-1
Makeup Abuse
-1
-1
Bride Worthiness
1
0
Hairiness
-1
-1
TOTAL
3

As you can see from the chart, Americans girls only excel at their sexual features, confirming that they are good for sex and not a whole lot more.

Other things I noticed:

-Italian McDonalds are ghost towns.
-Little kids sound very cute with their developing Italian accent.
-Florence is tourist hell.
-Baggy jeans, scarfs, and nerd glasses were very popular with the girls. And not emo glasses, but serious nerd glasses: thick and clear colored.
-Italy has a big graffiti problem, especially in Naples (which also has a trash and feral dog problem).
-Soda water is sold right next to normal water, and is just as popular.
-No smoking in public places, country-wide.
-Bartenders give almost no ice in mixed drinks. A popular Italian cocktail I tasted (sweet vermouth, Campari, and soda water with an orange wedge) was absolutely awful (ditto to pizza with anchovies).
-Eating pizza twice a day is normal.
-The natives like rolling their own cigarettes.
-Old people (over 60) stay out past midnight to participate for evening strolls.
-African men have cornered the market in counterfeit purses and belts in both the U.S. and Italy.
-Loitering is a natural past-time. Italians have wonderful squares to hang out in. We have squares infested with homeless people and urine stench.
-People-wise, Italy is nearly not as diverse as the U.S.
-In a land of thin people, I did not see one gym.

In conclusion, I think Italy is a wonderful country. There is a lot to do and see, but one must know the language to really be able to participate in Italian society.

VORREI BERE DEL VINO

I will be in Italy for the next several days.


Average Italian woman

Maybe there I can find a future bride who is as obedient as this girl.

Within fifteen minutes, Summers’ fianc?, Walter Nix, entered the office where Ogborn tugged at the small apron that barely covered her top and exposed her legs up to her buttocks.

Again, Summers says she didn’t question the caller and completely trusted her fianc? to be left alone with the girl.

Ogborn says she wanted to run, but that it would have been too humiliating to run through the restaurant naked.

*Red state*