Because of our little adventure with Venezuelan public transit, we had an extra day in Caracas. Being a healthy red-blooded American gay man with time on his hands and a slightly elevated level of stress, I decided to go shopping.
One of the recent additions to Caracas is the Centro Sambil, a really astounding mall. The Centro Sambil is very different from any American mall I’ve ever been to, however. First of all, there are no ‘anchor stores’… big stores at either end of the mall. That’s because this mall has no beginning or end. It consists of a half-dozen ‘plazas’ connected by store-lined walkways. These form a sort of star with the result that you can start walking and go in circles pretty much forever. I think I like it more than the typical American arrangement, but it’s a lot easier to get lost.
This ‘never-ending’ arrangement is also promoted by not having a central food court. Rather, fast-food restaurants are located on each floor in each plaza. This not only makes it easy to find food wherever you are in this huge mall, but it minimizes the sleezy feeling that you get when too many fast-food restaurants are packed together.
I was amazed to find a Dunkin’ Donuts in the Centro Sambil. Amongst the other typical offerings was a yeast donut with a chocolate and coconut topping named the “Panamericana”.
The Centro doesn’t just have fast food, either. There are several elegant high-end restaurants scattered through the mall. And for al fresco dining, there are a few restaurants located on the roof under thatched roofs. The roof is landscaped with tropical vegetation, and streams run alongside the tables.
Three of us made it to the Centro Sambil while we were here. (Shay didn’t… he was in bed today with our group’s first case of traveller’s diarrhea.) We all came back amazed and impressed. The Centro is like an American mall, and is a huge contrast to what we’d seen of Venezuela so far. Arnaldo told us that the poor from the ranchitas come to Sambil so that they can feel rich. He seemed to disapprove, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Traffic in Caracas occurs without reason or law. Cars run red lights regularly. The way to get through an intersection, regardless of whether you have the green light, is to lean on your horn and plow through. Pedestrians never seem to have the right of way, and some cars will speed up when they see you crossing, even if you have the ‘Paso’ (walk) light, and they have a red light. I was crossing once on the crosswalk with a ‘walk’ light, and dropped my book. I bent down to pick it up. When I looked up, I saw a bumper bearing down on me. I jumped out of the way and the car kept going through the red light.
The fashion for young to middle-aged women in Caracas seems to be tight (and often shiny) pants, very tight tops with plunging cleavages, and bright red lipstick. It’s a fairly startling look, and for the first few days in Caracas I thought that we were in the red-light district. (Well, actually we are, but that’s not the point.)
Men dress more like the states, though a little more formally than in San Francisco. Tommy Hilfiger is really big here…. I see that little red-and-white logo everywhere. I’ve seen shirts marked ‘TONNY HILFIGER’, though, and I wonder how much of this stuff is counterfeit. Earlier today Jeanne and I saw a backpack with a Hilfiger logo that was velcro’ed on. Jeanne thought it was so that you could remove it and avoid having your backpack stolen. I thought it was so that the backpack could adapt as the designed-of-the-moment changed.
Tomorrow morning at 6 am we’re supposed to fly to Canaima via Servivensa, the Venezuelan national airline. Hopefully we’ll make it this time. There’s a billboard down by Centro Sambil that reads “Encontraremos el camino o haremos uno.” “We will find the road or we will make one.” Sounds like a plan.