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Five Days in Venezuela, December 1999

Day 6: The Gauntlet Continues

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The first indication I had that something was amiss in the morning was a slight touch of diarrhea. Nothing serious, and I didn't think it would affect my travel plans. And after dinner on the streets the night before, not entirely unexpected.

The traffic noises outside had awakened me in perfect time, a quarter to 7. I had set my alarm for 7. My flight to Trinidad was at 11:30 but I was supposed to be at the airport at 9:30. To be sure to accomplish that, I thought a 7:30 to 8:00 start should do it. The airport was by some accounts 40 minutes away, but traffic could double the time required, and I would be leaving in rush hour.

My only concern when I got downstairs with my bags was that I might have to go back out into the streets again to hail a cab. I felt pretty vulnerable lugging three packs, though I was fairly mobile and there were a lot of people about. I wore packs front and back, and the one I carried in my hand was pretty light. Actually, none of the packs was that heavy. One had clothes, one was my day pack, and the third contained my diving gear. I just knew I looked like a tourist carrying all that gear, and anyone could see I couldn't run far with it.

So I was relieved on speaking to the man at the desk when he picked up the phone to call me a cab to the airport. I had done this before, and it should have been pretty straightforward. But not today.

The news was bad. On account of all the rain, the road to the airport had collapsed. The cab company refused to come and collect me. They said to call back at 9 or 10.

The guy at the desk was very sympathetic. He said if I went outside maybe I could get a cab on the street. Sometimes they pass here, he said. So I ended up exactly where I didn't want to be, wandering the streets with packs on my back looking for transport. There was a lot of traffic but not that many cabs, and those that did pass had passengers. One cab stopped and asked me where I was going. When I told him the airport, he wagged his finger and said, Maiquetia, no pase, no es posible! I decided to try the bus station. I went there and asked around till someone pointed me to the buses for Macuto. From Macuto I should be able to get a cab to the airport. These buses were the only ones with no long queues of passengers. The reason was that they weren't going. Not till maybe one or two in the afternoon, I was told.

Feeling more and more like a crime about to happen, I retreated back to the hotel. The guys at the desk were sympathetic and helpful, and gave me my room back so I could leave my bags up there. They also tried making phone calls for me. Though it was a bit early they tried to reach the BWIA offices. They tried calling the airport. We scoured the phone books for numbers to call. Though it was too early for offices to be open they tried over and over. Finally they suggested I go up to my room and wait till nine.

I did that. I looked out the window at the rain in the plaza ten floors below until 9 and then I went back downstairs. By then the news was out that the president had declared a national emergency, and the scope of the emergency was beginning to emerge. As to how it affected me, there was no way to get to the airport and there was no telling when the road would reopen. It was clear that I wasn't flying that day. The scope of the emergency became more apparent when I asked if we were near a metro stop, and I was told yes, but the metro wasn't working because of the agua.

I was trying to figure out what to do. There was no map available at this tiny hotel, and I was beginning to miss the loss of my lonely planet with its maps and information for getting around Caracas. However, the guys at the desk, ever helpful, told me that the Hilton was 5 blocks away. So I went into the streets without my bags, and a poncho slung over my shoulders to conceal my fanny pack. I put my wrist-watch in my pocket. (I'd read where a tourist had been cut badly when someone tried to slice her watch off. But pickpockets in Caracas were supposed to be pretty deft - at least if they got my watch from my pocket they wouldn't cut my arm, and if I wasn't wearing one, I might not attract thieves in the first place) ...

Emerging from my hotel in the daylight, I was glad to see that I knew where I was. The walk to the Hilton was down the same street, Universidad, that I had taken my first day in the country. The streets around the Hilton were full of mud. The police had barricaded some streets, and pedestrians were having great difficulty with the muck (fresh from the mountains, I plodded right through, mindless of more mud on my boots). I had done business that first day with a travel agent in the Hilton, and I went there to see if I could find where the BWIA office was. The agent tried to call them, but they didn't answer at their in-town offices or the airport. I had been kicking myself earlier for not going the night before to Macuto when I had the chance, thinking that I was cut off from my flight only by virtue of being on the wrong side of a landslide, but at the agency I found that the disruption was more widespead than that. People had been told not to go to work that day, and it was doubtful if anyone would be at the BWIA offices that day. The agent thought flights might be cancelled because of mud on the runways. All I managed to get from the agent was a printout of the flights leaving next two days, all fully booked, so no reservation was possible. If I could get to the airport, I'd just have to take my chances.

I decided to walk across the park to Plaza Venezuela where the LP website had reported that Internet was available. Despite the rain I found the place with no great difficulty. Not unexpectedly the office where Internet was available was closed, but a sign on the door said they were waiting to serve me in 401 on the 4th floor. I started with the elevator game. Some elevators were working and some weren't. Other elevator passengers were playing the game too. It was the same in my hotel. That morning I had punched the button for piso 10 and got out where the elevator stopped, opened the door of my room, and been shocked to see the room a mess and my bags missing. It really took me for a loop when I realized, wait a minute, these aren't my juice bottles, and then I realized I was on the wrong floor. I guess the room had been open, either that or one key fits all. Nothing would surprise me. Anyway, I ducked back out and bounded two flights up the stairs to my own room to find all in order.

When I finally reached the 4th floor of the Fairmont Bldg, I learned that Internet was down in the whole country because of the rain. Maybe if I went to the Hilton, they could help me there to make a phone call. But for Internet that day, forget it.

I had a great lunch on my way back to my hotel, roast and mango shake followed by strong coffee. I was resigned to pass the day working on my computer. When I traveled in Africa back in the 70's I would have a few days of adventures and then spend a few days in a cheap place relaxing and catching up on my journals. Well, I was in a cheap place. The room was only 9000 a night, just $12 or so, and it had electricity. I could watch tv there which carried constant footage of the emergency. I could see that I was a lucky one. I had survived the flooding with possessions intact. Others hadn't. They were crying on tv as the waters raged through their homes in the background. There were pictures of bodies in the mud, and of relief supplies being handed out to people housed in stadiums. The emergency was very serious, and stranded tourists were the least of its problems.

OK, that's it for now. I'm going downstairs to see if I can raise BWIA on the phone. Then I'm going out while it's still light and try to stock up on soft drinks. I'll be back by sundown, and after that I'll stay in my room. Ojo la calle!


I went out for drinks as planned but at 3 in the afternoon, every store was closed. There were a lot of people about in the streets despite the rain, and I wasn't sure if this was normal afternoon closure or if it was another consequence of the rain. I walked the streets from my Metro stop at Las Hoyales all the way up to Plaza Bolivar and back down to the Collosio. There was nothing to buy to drink anywhere. Finally I found a street vendor who had drinks at one of the outdoor markets. Since it was raining I took the Metro back to my hotel. I was encouraged that it was open but there were announcements over loudspeakers that service was disrupted after Plaza Venezuela, about halfway along the line, and the automatic ticket checking machines at the exit weren't working. I hung back from the crowds trying to squeeze out past the ticket selling booths to avoid pickpockets.

Next morning the Metro didn't open at all again.

I spent the whole evening in my room. I didn't even go out for dinner. I was in a siege mentality avoiding walking about unnecessarily after dark on the streets of Caracas, and I was writing on my computer.

The next part of the story ...
Day 7: Escape to Valencia and Aruba

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Last updated: December 23, 1999