I recently spent a few days in Venezuela. As a North American, I found this country to be full of interesting contrasts. In my view, this was particularly true of the nation’s capital, Caracas.
After leaving the airport in Caracas in order to drive into the city, you have to drive on a coastal road that gives you a spectacular view of the ocean. I cannot describe how beautiful it was (and, unfortunately, due to a failure in my SD card, I lost all my photos of the trip, so I cannot show you, either).
After a few minutes, the coastal road turns inland between a series of rolling hills with trees and plants of the most beautiful shades of a luscious, deep green. At certain times of day, the sunlight begins a dance around the peaks of the hills, casting shadows across the trees in a way that really captivates the eye.
Unfortunately, the scenery quickly changes, as large, sprawling neighbourhoods of favelas come into view (I think the word for this in English is a “shanty town”). I was surprised by the size and the spread of these neighbourhoods, which seem to rival (or perhaps surpass) comparable areas of Rio de Janeiro. I uploaded a photo of these favelas in my previous posting about the Venezuelan election. These neighbourhoods spread across the hills; at the foot of these hills lies large amounts of trash in the form of plastic bags, papers, food remnants, etc. Life in these neighbourhoods cannot be easy; in fact, I recently saw a report on CNN International that describes public major housing projects led by Chavez to help people move out of favelas and into nicer apartments with access to schools, clinics, and other services at no charge.
Once inside Caracas, the scenery changes again to show a relatively modern city, a typical downtown that could be in any country of the world. There are many vehicles of all types on the road, and buildings with interesting architecture.
As we go further into town, you begin to see campaign signs appear to support President Chavez and his challenger, Henrique Capriles, contrasting the status quo vs. change and a new way of life.
I stayed in one of the nicer hotels in Caracas; however, in my opinion, this hotel was disappointing compared to similar hotels in other capital cities around the world that I have visited.
At first glance, the rooms seemed quite nice, clean, and spacious, and the windows provided a beautiful view of the hills that surround the city; however, upon closer inspection, I found that the furniture in the room was actually becoming run-down, with stains and spots and other elements that made me feel as though my room was less than clean.
The toilet failed to function at times, and I had to open the tank and fiddle with it to get it to work again; this happened three times on the trip.
The hotel staff, though friendly enough, was inattentive, making everything from meals to the service request I placed about my toilet take much longer than it should have.
Again, this hotel is considered to be one of the best accommodations in Caracas. To me, it represented the contrasts within the city.
Caracas is stunningly beautiful, and nearly every Venezuelan I have ever met has been friendly. Indeed, the Venezuelan students in my university’s ESL program have typically been an absolute pleasure, attentive to details, careful to follow procedures, and conscientious about their schoolwork. They are the reason why we have decided to spend more time and resources to recruit students in Venezuela.
With these things in mind, I keep coming back to the idea that Caracas should be teeming with tourists, foreign businesses and investments, and development projects to improve housing, infrastructure, employment, and the overall economy of the area. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be what is actually happening there. Instead, I heard stories about how many Venezuelans are trying to leave the country, seeking better opportunities elsewhere and trying to avoid the problems, the poverty, and the crime that affects the country. Another contrast, when you comoare these people with those who have benefited from Chavez’s social policies and projects.
Overall, Venezuela and its many contrasts were an inspiration to me. Now that we are a week after the election, I find myself wondering about what will happen there. What is going to happen to this country in the next 10-20 years?