VENEZUELA: A SCARY DOG AND FINAL THOUGHTS by RJ Furth (February 2015)
This morning I climbed to one of the highest peaks above Galipan, which sits high above Caracas and the Caribbean. There is a lookout point that offers views of both sides. The Caribbean view was spectacular: soft white clouds gently floated across the blue skies while the blue of the sea shimmered below, birds lazily cruised high above. Seeing Caracas proved more problematic as numerous power lines obscured the view. I finally saw a clear line of sight behind a concrete bunker on which stood a huge transmitter tower. I made my way up the concrete path, walked the narrow dirt path to reach the clearing, set down my pack and reached for my camera. That’s when I noticed the huge, ferocious looking dog. He was attached to a thick chain and was looking right at me. In a fraction of a second I calculated that the chain was long enough to reach the narrow dirt path, my only escape route. I grabbed my pack and ran for the path waving the pack behind me in hopes that the brute would snap at the pack before chomping on my leg. He let out a howl and came after me. I was about ten feet down the path before I turned to see that the dog had reached the end of the chain and, as importantly, the chain held tight to both the dog’s collar and wherever it was anchored. (This was an excellent test for the two stents that were placed in my heart last year. Glad to say both held up under the intense pounding.) As I walked away, laughing with relief, I considered how the event reflected my experience in Venezuela. The views were spectacular, as is the country, yet there is a sense that danger lurks.
Venezuelans with whom I spoke confirmed that Caracas is a very dangerous city and the country is in deep economic trouble. Roads, bridges and buildings are slowly crumbling. When I mentioned to a woman that I was impressed by the quality of the cars that I saw (with the exception of some very old junkers), she told me to return in five years. By that time, she said, they would be junkers as well since there were few spare parts and even fewer people who could afford new cars. People with money, rumored to be those in the government or with government connections, were buying property in Miami and Panama. There is a sense of a country in decay. Everybody talks of shortages, though the government blames them on the US, at it blames everything. While I was in Caracas the mayor was arrested for supposedly planning a coup in conjunction with the CIA. (Ridiculous.) From what I’ve seen there is an abundance of some items. There is lots of fruit, fish and meat, plenty of products made from corn, potatoes, cassava, yucca. Will they also become scare? Nobody knows, and I hope not, but signs are not encouraging.
I would only recommend a visit to Venezuela for those seeking an adventure. There is an amazing array of things to do and see from Angel Falls (the world’s tallest) to the Amazon and other wonders of nature. The people are friendly and kind and eager to talk with you, if you speak Spanish or find somebody who speaks English as I’ve done a few times, though it is not common. Venezuela is not a country for foodies, unless you have an insatiable craving for meat and starches. I do believe Venezuela is a safe country, as long as you avoid Caracas. Lonely Planet guide book says it’s safe if you take precautions like dressing down, not wearing jewelry or using a cell phone, and not going out a night. Venezuelans I talked with disagree and strongly recommend that you simply stay out of the city. Some thought I was loco for even visiting Venezuela. Everyone I talked with believes things will get worse. It’s a shame and I hope they are wrong. In the meantime, I’m going to keep exploring Latin America. The proximity to the US is unbeatable and there is no jet lag, a huge plus. I’ll keep studying Spanish and seeking a destination that is warm. I’ve heard good things about Colombia now that their civil war is, seemingly, unwinding. Costa Rica has always gotten rave re views for being stable and friendly to visitors. I hope to return to Panama. Asia will always have a special place in my heart, but the vast distance and desire to be closer to family will mean fewer trips there. The adventure of travel is still in my blood. It’s just a matter of where.