It was a long journey into Caracas…almost 24 hours of being on a bus. These long bus rides, which used to only be slightly unpleasant at the beginning of the trip, have now become almost unbearable…to the point that we basically have sleepless nights on them. But one nice thing that we have noticed is that we no longer have nights of insomnia from stress or worries that we experienced frequently prior to our trip…now they are just due to long bus rides.
Our time in Caracas, unfortunately involved running more errands than we would have liked. I desperately needed additional passport pages (I only had small empty corners left in some pages of my passport, which made me nervous going to each new country thinking that they might turn me away at any point during immigration)…thankfully I was able to get them quickly, although the process did involve a couple of expensive taxi rides and a hefty $80 fee. We also spent WAY too much time with a woman we met on the street (I know this sounds shady) who insisted on helping us arrange our travels to other parts of Venezuela that we were planning to visit. In the end, everything was arranged as we hoped, but it took too many back and forths…I guess efficiency is something we shouldn’t be expecting here.
In terms of performances, we also didn’t have much luck. We had arrived on a holiday week (July 5th is Venezuelan Independence Day) and given that one of our main contacts was the U.S. Embassy (they get July 4th off for obvious reasons), it was almost impossible to arrange a performance during our time in Caracas. We also visited El Sistema, a very famous orchestra program that gives children/youth from impoverished communities the opportunity to learn a stringed instrument and play in an orchestra. The idea is to create social change and help drive development in disadvantaged communities through the means of music. Unfortunately, the orchestra was on tour and would arrive back in Caracas right around the July 5th holiday…great. Disappointed, we made our way back to our hotel. Fortunately, our contact at Ronald McDonald House Charities was able to arrange a performance at Casa Ronald McDonald for children/youth patients and their parents who are being treated at San Juan de Dios Hospital. (A special thanks to Lyana Sabogal, Maria Teresa Cedeño and Vanessa Guerrero for helping organize this performance!). It was a wonderful experience! After we played for the kids/youth and their parents, each one of them introduced themselves, told us their story and personally thanked us for taking the time to come and play for them. Their words were the best gift we could have received. This was a nice and rewarding way to spend our 4th of July, especially given that we missed the U.S. so much on this special day.
All this running around left us little time to actually explore Caracas. That being said, the little we saw of it left us quite pleased. It was quite the opposite of our expectations. We had heard it was terribly dangerous (maybe we were just lucky) and just another large, unpleasant city covered in traffic jams. So yes, there were traffic jams, but the city sits in a beautiful valley surrounded by green covered mountains and to be honest, we never felt unsafe walking the streets. We even went out one night and were surprised at the great ambiance. We were quick to make friends (Venezuelans are so friendly!) and before we knew it we were on our way to a beautiful rooftop bar with one of our new friends. We had an incredible time!
That’s not to say that Caracas doesn’t have its problems…we were there too short of time to give it any fair judgment. It was, however, very interesting to hear the drastically varying opinions and thoughts on Chavez…there were the fervent supporters (like our taxi driver who claimed that Chavez has helped get people off the streets, has helped those from extremely impoverished communities, and provided healthcare to those who cannot afford it) and the opponents (like some of the new friends we made who complained that their increasingly limited rights had become downright oppressive…even traveling outside the country is now heavily controlled and limited by the government).
Although we left plenty to-dos and to-sees in Caracas, we plan to do those when we return at the end of our long journey, which is only slightly over a week away.