One of the must-sees is the teleferico, a cable car that goes to Mount Avila. As a person who is scared of heights, going up in a cable car in a relatively poor country isn’t very easy. I rode with a family who decided to walk around the car and take pictures from all four sides of the car, while the little boy kept saying “Please don’t let us fall.” I concealed my panic attack pretty well, giving the appearance of strength through weak smiles every five minutes to the little girl staring at me. The views were absolutely spectacular, and it pumped me up that this city may not be so bad. But 30 minutes after the ride I was back in hell choking on the air, wondering exactly when my fingers swelled up into thick sausages.
I made friends with the hotel receptionist who took me and her friend to the best that Caracas has to offer: malls. The luxury malls are frequented only by the middle and upper class. One must not miss the irony of me going to malls in the traffic nightmare that is Caracas, especially since one of the reasons I went there during Christmas was to avoid the commercialism and traffic associated with the holidays here. They have very fine malls, with American stores, food courts, and decorations. In Caracas a lot of bars and clubs are attached to the outsides of the malls, so it seems to serve a social as well as consumer function.
During a couple of Polar Ice beers, a drink I would see a lot more during the trip, my new friends informed me that I shouldn’t take public bus transportation to other cities. “It’s not safe, we’re Venezuelan and WE don’t even take it.” After much internal debate, I booked flights for the remainder of my trip, to Margarita Island and Merida in the Andes, increasing travel costs to unacceptable levels. I thought I remembered reading on the internet that the FAA does not endorse Venezuelan air safety, so instead of getting mugged at a bus station I was aiming for death in a fiery plane crash.
There was excitement in the air when it was time to leave Caracas, a city that I think is the more evil twin brother of Naples. The cab ride back to the airport was probably the highlight of my visit there. We hit the usual traffic while I sit with my shirt over my nose to filter out the exhaust. In gridlock we had to go through a tunnel, which unfortunately for me is doubling as a very effective suicide contraption for carbon monoxide poisoning. It was chaos: constant horn blowing, broken cars in every lane, drivers pushing jalopies through the tunnel, people on foot selling water and cookies – cookies! – in between lanes. As I slowly lost consciousness and fell “asleep”, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Escape from New York. Still in the tunnel of death (we were in there for an hour), I wake up to the jolt of an SUV smashing into us. With the SUV attached to the taxi for a good two minutes, I wondered if the taxi driver was going to get out of the car. He doesn’t, and neither does the SUV driver. He doesn’t speak a word either, and we drive on like nothing happened. We finally get to the airport a hour later after passing some construction that reduced eight lanes into one.
Margarita had such promise when flying over it. The beautiful turquoise water surrounded an island landscape filled with endless hills and mountains. It definitely felt like a make-believe place you can escape to and not have to worry about anything except maybe getting mugged and fending off elderly women offering you massages on the beach.
The drive from the airport to Porlamar, the largest city on the island, was a nervous ride through shantytowns that reminded me of Caracas. In my South American travel guide, I read about Hotel Imperial: safe, a/c/, hot water, parking, English spoken. So why was in the ghetto? Turns out that they didn’t mean safe as in “You’re in a safe area,” but safe as in the hotel HAS a safe. I drop off my stuff and go to the beach, expecting an awesome crowd of beautiful people. Instead there is only two families there, including a guy who started chatting me up and asking me what I thought of his Columbian wife. I’m all for threesomes, but the way things were going I’d probably be tied up with one of those red ball things that go in my mouth.
I was determined to make this vacation work.
“Is there a place with a lot of people?” I asked the hotel clerk.
“Hmmm, there is people in Sambil. You should go there.”
I get in a cab to head to Sambil, which turns out to be a huge mega-mall. This is my third mall in three days. Is God punishing me for rejecting Chrismas? Another cab ride later I go to Senor Frogs, a place my guidebook recommended as ‘popular’. I walk in and there are kids and adults dancing on chairs in a Venezuelan version of Chuck E’ Cheese. I burn my guidebook. I think Senor Frogs beats out the shantytown I walked through earlier as the absolute worst place in Venezuela. I walk around the area and fail to find a bar that had more than two people. I take a cab ride back to my place and complain to the hotel clerk that there are no people, no girls. “Oh you want a girl for the night? I can arrange that.” The way the trip was going, I should have let her make the call.
In my room I decide to grab some reading material to use the facilities, an activity that brings me some joy back at home. But my toilet is broke. Plus, the seat was cracked, so when I sat on it, I partially fell in the toilet. Then I noticed that my sheets were completely soiled, and the only channel I got was showing Wild on E! with hot women dancing in clubs at exotic locations. If I was a girl I would have started crying.
I wanted to go home.