Posted by: elsalamigrande | February 2, 2010

The Caracas Turnaround, You’ll Need a Lock, and Who Are You Going To Trust? A Venezuelan Paper Jockey, or The Bank?

Any misguided fantasies that I had about landing in a riot turned out to be exaggerated at best. Caracas is a ghost town in the middle of the night. Everything locked tight and not a soul anywhere. The taxi that we flagged from the aeropuerto was the only car I saw for the whole drive to the hotel. Not even a stray dog, just bars and locks and barbed wire.

Overnight in a small but clean room at the Buena Vista Inn (which had no vista to speak of, certainly not a Buena one) and we awoke to the unforgiving Caracas sunshine. This city is hot.

The fine people at the Buena Vista generously agreed to keep a bag of baseball gear that we plan to hand out to children in about 2 weeks once we return to Caracas, provided that we lock it. A quick translation of the word “padlock”, a taxi ride, and we’re off on the dime tour of the northern part of the city. It seemed typical of a Latin American metropolis; people bustling about fruit stands and bodegas, motorcycles executing a string of near misses to get where they’re going, and no small amount of gawking at the gringos in the taxi. The soaped in message on the back windows of many cars proclaimed “Leones de Caracas Campeones de Beisbol!” reminding everyone that, as of last night, the Caracas Lions were going to Porlamar to represent Venezuela in the series – and the Navigantes De Magallanes were not. MLB.com ran an article ahead of that game painting San Francisco Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval’s one game return to the Navigantes like the second coming, and I can imagine why. Having the Giants clear their young third baseman and only real bat for a trip to Venezuela probably took some doing. In the end, he was cleared to play for one game, the seventh game of a tied series, and only as a designated hitter.

Now, it hardly matters. The Navigantes are staying home, Los Leones having earned the right to represent Venezuela starting on the opening night of the tournament, at 8pm against Mexico.

Our driver found us a shop that had a lock, took us back to the hotel where we checked out and left the bag of ball gear, and back to the airport we went for the flight to Porlamar.

In Canada, anyone who walked into an airport and tried to buy their way on to a plane with a large amount of cash would be subject to immediate police attention, and likely an uncomfortable interrogation.  That’s why I had booked our flight to the Isla De Margaraita in advance with a credit card. However, despite printed receipts, our names were not on the register, our tickets impossible to confirm. The staff at Avior Airlines went to no small amount of trouble to search for the reservation, but it did not exist. I’m suspicious of the credit card company and the accounts department at Avior in that order. A call to the credit card company is to happen as soon as it’s practical.

So, it was cash on the barrel head if we wanted on that plane, and US dollars only fetch 2:1 for any kind of legit transactions. 5.5 Bolivares to the USD is the going rate on the black market, as we were helpfully told by one of the various hangers on fighting to help us carry our bags. Behind the counter at an airport kiosk that was ostensibly a travel agency, a thick mustachioed man counted out 8,250 Bolivares against our 1,500 USD in a particularly charming accent “Cinquenta, Uno, Cinquenta, Dos, Cinquenta, Tres, Cinquenta, quarto, cinquenta, cinco, cinquenta sais, cinquenta septe, cinquena ocho, cinquenta nueve cinquena  WAN THOUSAND. Cinquenta uno…”

Two or three counts and re-counts and we were on our way – Seven hundred odd bolivares for two one way tickets to el Isla de Margarita on the day before the ball tournament.

”Tiennes una bueno vol,” said the lady at the counter with a smile.

“Gracias.”

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