Tyler and I left the hotel this morning at 8:30 am. We drove to downtown Miami, which was amazingly dead at 9 am. Lots of cars, and lots of people moving around, but most of the storefronts were shuttered. It had a bizarre, something’s-missing sort of feel. Yet FedEx was open as promised, and we shipped our last packages back to our respective homes. Then Tyler stopped by Bank of America to get some last-minute cash for the journey, and we were off to the airport.
We promptly got lost, asked directions, and went off to the airport again. Then we realized that we didn’t know where the Enterprise rental car return was located. We drove around and around and finally saw a sign tacked to a tree indicating that we needed to take the next left. That led to another sign, and another, and about 15 turns later we found Enterprise located in an industrial zone, surrounded by auto wrecking yards. It was 10, and our flight was at 11:15.
We got to the airport 15 minutes later, and spent 15 minutes being befuddled by the anarchy that is the Servivensa airline counter. After standing hopefully in one non-moving line, then switching hopefully to another nonmoving line, I left Tyler guarding our bags and went directly to a kind-looking elderly woman speaking on the phone behind the counter. “We need to be on this flight! Is it possible?”
She said that I needed to speak to Mr. Garcia, and pointed to a man in a navy suit receding quickly into the shifting crowd. “Señor Garcia!” I yelled loud enough to stop him dead. He turned while I pushed through bags and people to get to him. “We need to be on this flight! Is it possible?” I repeated.
He took a look at my tickets, took my arm, and marched me back to the counter. “First class!” he told the man behind the counter, loudly enough for everyone in line to hear. Suddenly we were Royalty. The agent started working on our tickets, Tyler and I brought over the luggage, and other people were told that they had to wait until we were finished.
I don’t understand it, but we’re now flying to Caracas in the first-class section of the plane, consisting of the first two rows. The meal was pretty good (“Pollo o carne?”) [editor’s translation: “Chicken or meat?”] and the seats are wide.
Below us is the Caribbean. I’ve never fancied the Caribbean. much. I think of it as where boring people vacation. They cruise in, dive with manta rays, drink too much, and get a really bad sunburn. Yawn. But looking down it looks pretty nice. The water varies from dark green to teal, and the islands look pretty empty. Of course the islands I’m looking at are probably a mile or two across, but perhaps they’re even free of tourists in flowered frocks and straw hats. I think I may like that.
I’ll write more once I’ve reached the hotel.
The flight from Miami to Caracas was smooth and scenic. We landed smoothly, and the entire plane immediately burst into applause. From the back of the plane, a small boy yelled out “Hallelujah!” (or more likely, “Aleluya!”, the Spanish equivalent.)
As you exited the airport, a number of gentlemen in white shirts were waiting, and one attached himself almost immediately to Tyler and myself. He asked us if we needed a ride to Caracas. No, I told him, we need to change money. Tyler was looking overwhelmed. We went to the money changer, and the guy in the white shirt followed.
He stood behind us while we changed money, and then asked again if we needed a ride to the city. “Cuanto es?” I asked. “Veinte mil”, he said. 20,000 bolivars, or about US$30. “No, gracias” I said. He just stood there. Oh, right. Dickering. “Quince mil” I offered. 15,000, or US$22.
He spoke with another guy in a white shirt, and then motioned for us to follow him. (I expect I still paid too much.) He led us out to a taxi, where I saw the drive give him some money. THEN he asked for a tip! I gave him 1,000 bolivars, or a little over a dollar, and we were on our way.
The airport area was down by the coast, and the drive to the city involved a long, winding climb up into the mountains. Twice we went through unventilated tunnels. The air in the tunnel was visibly brown from exhaust, and I tried not to breathe. Apartment buildings climbed the hillsides. They looked unfinished… just the concrete skeleton and floors, but they were filled with people. The families lived in rooms that opened to 30′ or 50′ drops, and there was no rail or parapet. It was like a cross section of an apartment building.
We continued to climb, and the hillsides continued to be covered with homes, often built out of unmortared cement block. This place would be a mess in an earthquake.
Finally we got to Caracas. Caracas is built into a 20 km long mountain valley. Lush forest climbs the slopes around the city, where housing has not already encroached. The city itself is messy and chaotic. It’s a lot like New York without beautiful buildings or an orderly street grid. Actually it’s not like New York at all.
We ate at the Restaurant / Bar Don Sanchez, which looked pretty decent from the outside. We went inside, ordered, and then gradually started to realize that this was a horse racing parlor. Folks filtered in and were offered a racing booklet, which they pondered over before filing their bets with flirty women who were walking around. We were the only people in the place who ordered food.
When the race started and the TV speakers were turned up extremely high. We were seated next to the wide-screen TV in one corner of the room, and I had deliberately sat facing away from it so that I could have an undistracted conversation with Tyler. Now everyone in the room seemed to be staring directly at me and yelling in Spanish. It was disconcerting. Then, after perhaps a minute, the race was over and everyone went back to staring at the racing forms and drinking beer.
The Savoy Hotel, where we’re meeting, is decent but basic. The rooms are small, with useless air conditioning and no ceiling fan. Unfortunately I forgot to ask the room price until after we checked in, and they’re charging us 41,820 bolivars a night, or US$61. Much too expensive for what you get. When Jeanne gets here we’ll figure out what we’ll do until the vehicles arrive.
I’m going to take a nap. I’ll write more after Jeanne arrives.
It’s 10:38 pm now and no sign of Jeanne. I’m going to sleep. I hope everything is okay with her.
11:30. I called the front desk because I was worried about Jeanne and found out that she’d arrived. She is staying in the floor above me and I went up and chatted with her about what’s happening. The vans didn’t make the ship, so they should be arriving on the 28th. This isn’t disastrous, but is certainly annoying. Jeanne had her own adventures getting to Caracas, which I’ll leave for her to describe.
We need to figure out what we’re going to do for the next two weeks while waiting for the vans. One possibility is Angel Falls, though most people only go there for 2-3 days. Another possibility is one of the offshore islands, which are supposed to be very nice. Jeanne and I agree that Caracas is an ugly city (in a beautiful setting.)
Jeanne’s air conditioner was working perfectly, so I went downstairs and got a new room. Now I’m on the same floor as Jeanne and it’s fairly comfortable.
I hate not having a plan, not knowing what I’ll be doing tomorrow, and not having Dan here to reassure me.