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No Maracas in Caracas

No Maracas in Caracas

 

My Tour of Venezuela & Colombia in August 2006

August 17, 2006     Thursday     Los Angeles CA  &  San Jose, Costa Rica

 

Bob Salgado, my son’s father-in-law, and I begin a short adventure into Caracas, Venezuela and Bogotá, Colombia.  Well those were our original destination points.

 

We flew on TACA Airlines out of LAX.  Our flight left at 1:30a.m.  So we needed to be at the airport before 10 p.m.  There have been Arab Terrorist attempts which ratcheted up security measures, especially because of a recently uncovered Arab plot to attack and blow-up several planes at once between the US and Britain. 

 

We sat in the airport until it was almost 1:30a.m. waiting to board.  Fortunately we got bumped up to Business Class for the first six-hour leg of our journey from LAX to San Jose, Costa Rica.  Bob had a bit of trouble sleeping but I spent four hours asleep, that means it’ll be a bit easier when we reach our destination.  As we landed we could see the beautiful landscape of San Jose.  Que Bueno!

 

Since we had a two-hour layover before the two-hour fifty-minute final leg into Caracas. We passed through Customs going in and out even though we were in transit and had no luggage. Obviously this is a point that this country has to struggle with, probably because of drugs and Costa Rica reaching out to the US for a greater share of tourism. I was told that if you are in-transit you can stay in the country for up to eighteen hours and you are exempt from paying an extra “exit” tax.

 

The plane left as scheduled, although we were back in tourist class we had more legroom than before.  That was important to me, but Bob was comfortable either way.  Maybe because I didn’t have enough sleep this leg seemed almost as long as the first one. 

 

August 18, 2006         Friday         Caracas Venezuela    

 

Once we landed in Caracas we were mobbed by touts proclaiming their desire to help us find whatever we wanted and language was no problem because those that didn’t speak English quickly left the crowd of men that stayed with us.  It was a time that I was glad I spent a few moments as we debarked the plane to zip up zippers and secure any stuff that I didn’t want stolen.  Since this was Bob’s first experience to travel outside of a tour group,

 

The best tourist trick worked on me.  A man wearing an official looking uniform and sporting a silver badge and police-type hat brushed several of these fellows away and asked me to step aside.  I felt that I had to cooperate with this fellow and did as asked.  I expected some sort of inspection or questioning although I looked like an average sixty-year old white guy from America and I was dressed plainly, nothing fancy, just cheap and clean.

 

Speaking broken but understandable English he said that he was here to help us get a good exchange rate on the dollar and would escort us to the best place to do so.  That was a dead-giveaway; he’s a tout too.  I curtly thanked him and we broke away wandering to the edge of the airport to exchange some dollars but knowing that I’ll get a better deal in town, or certainly, outside of the airport. 

 

Venezuela’s current socialist president Chavez has nationalized the oil fields and is negotiating with Chinese investors to improve oil production further.  The money is also needed to promote exploration as the old oil fields are depleted.  Meanwhile countries like the USA are estranged over this tactic.  It may prove to be beneficial to Venezuela if handled properly.  Relations with the US are extremely poor.  I anticipate some anti-American sentiment but that has never inhibited me from visiting a country before now and it won’t today.  According to national law, it is forbidden to conduct trade in US dollars but despite the decline in value to the Euro and other currencies, it is still the favored choice.   This includes restaurants, hotels, retailers, and other businesses.  With rare exception, the dollar was welcomed.  Official exchange rate is 2100 Bolivar for one US Dollar.  It is easy to find traders on the street that will give you 2300 or more.  We met one fellow who spoke enough English to allow me to participate in some of the conversations.  Bob, being quite naturally, a social guy, immediately took control of the conversation.  It helped tremendously that his native tongue is Spanish. 

 

We met Roberto Baez, a tour operator who had a small office at the airport.  His email address is roberto23)44@hotmail.com.  We agreed to pay fifteen dollars US for him to take us into town.  We meant Caracas; he was thinking the town in which the airport was located, over an hour outside Caracas because of ongoing construction of roads leading into Caracas damaged from heavy rains three months ago.

 

All of the hotels he showed us were either too expensive or too shabby.  Baez and a driver he used drove further.  The Sun was beginning to set and Bob Salgado and I were hungry.  They willingly stopped at a seaside restaurant, nothing fancy, just a white stucco building with bar stools that lined a window facing the ocean.   I ate a filet of sea bass with oily French fries and boiled vegetables.  Bob had red snapper with vegetables but his fish had hundreds of small bones that meant he had to eat very slowly.  The two men with us just had a beer.  It was a warm evening so I had a cerveza too.

 

Roberto continued to explain why it is difficult to get into Caracas.   Not only is the road bad but also it is high tourist season and he doesn’t expect that we’ll find anything available because we have no reservations.  Once back on the road to Caracas at 8pm I could see the large section of road washed away from previous storms.  Roberto Baez said they hope to have the road fully useable by May of 2007.   The edge of the city was hard to define.  It just seemed that, after some minutes we were in the big city. 

 

Again we began to check out hotels, one-by-one.  Everybody reported that there was no vacancy.  Today is Thursday so I am truly perplexed by this issue.  Thursday.   Driver and guide continued to go in and check out every hotel we said looked acceptable. We stopped at another hotel that looked reasonably clean, the Hotel del Rosita.   The hotel was in the Central District that is not the tourist’s choice but it is getting late and we are both tired.

 

 

  Salgado and I were extremely surprised when the driver and guide came back to the car and told Bob and I that not only did this hotel have a vacancy but the rate was only twenty US dollars!  Happily we paid Baez and the driver.  We dragged our backpacks into the hotel and up to the small reception counter.  Bob Salgado confirmed that it was only twenty dollars.  I looked at the room, each room only had a small bed, but it was clean and had a television. 

The receptionist asked Bob if we wanted two rooms or one, and after looking at the size of the beds the only answer we could possibly give is emphatically “Dos!” I said with a smirky chuckle.   

 

Mysteriously we were each given a room number but no key.  The manager, who came out to see us, said that keys are, “…no neccessario.”  Huh? not necessary?  Bob Salgado said that the manager told him that they had such good security here that no keys are needed.  I was uncomfortable with that.  All our money and stuff could be stolen on the very first night!  We could move elsewhere but how?  The driver is gone and it is late.  I guess we’re stuck here.

 

Once in the room I turned on the television set to see what news there might have been while we were in transit.  There were only five channels; two sports and three sex channels.  I was so tired I didn’t even have the strength for a shower; instead I just turned off the television and lay back in the bed staring upward to the ceiling.  The ceiling had three mirrors mounted together to cover beyond the edges of the bed.   Now it struck me.  This is a sex hotel!  And the twenty dollars is not for the night but, probably, per hour!   I was going to walk to the receptionist to ask but I figured there wasn’t anything to do until morning.  I figured Bob was asleep so I didn’t knock on his door.  I began to laugh at how funny this was.   

 

 

 

August 19, 2006   Saturday     Caracas, Venezuela

 

I woke up around 9 a.m.   It felt good to shower and shave.  A long sleep like last night was very refreshing, especially because it was a very comfortable bed.  In an hour Roberto knocked on my door and I invited him in, explaining all of these mysteries to him.  He said that he knew something wasn’t right last night when they told him that it is forty dollars per room per night.  Even at that price the rooms were comfortable and both of us had a good night sleep.  We paid after we tossed our backpacks on and walked down the street stopping at a small restaurant on a busy main thoroughfare.   I ordered coffee and barbequed beef served with cornmeal biscuits.  Bob asked for the bacon.  He asked (in Spanish) to have the bacon cooked till browned.  Instead they served it to him without browning, but the one-inch squares were stiff.  I picked up the tab for this meal, but we were sharing expenses for such things like these small meals and snacks. 

 

Out in front of the quiet restaurant we waited less than a minute to catch a cab.  While we were in the restaurant we reviewed the guidebook I brought along and we called a couple of hotels that were in a better part of Caracas.  It turned out to be true that most hotels had no vacancies.  I had a cell phone with a cell chip with a local number installed.  We were able to make local calls very inexpensively.  Bob picked the Hotel Catedral.  They told him they had two rooms available.  When we arrived a few minutes later they said that they were sorry but a mistake had been made and there were no rooms available right now but later, around three pm they might have some open up.  Now, at 10 am they had nothing.   I became angry and asked to talk with the manager.  He came out.  After I explained our situation he corrected the situation and gave us rooms immediately.  Our guidebook said that this area is a great pick for tourists.

 

I walked down the street to find an English-speaking cab driver.  We needed someone to drive us around the city.  My arrangement was for him to meet us at a corner in an hour, but he didn’t show up.  It was very easy to find another English-speaking driver who was willing to spend seven hours with us for twenty-five US dollars.

 

First stop was the Parc Nacional.  It had Nutria and a crocodile but little else other than local fauna caught around here.  This was a sad example of a zoo.  Kids were entertained there so I guess it serves one purpose.

 

We got back into the taxi and asked the driver just to take a drive around the city to see what there is to see.  He drove to a hilltop just south of the city.  It was a neighborhood of expensive homes and fancy apartments or condominiums.  From the hilltop I took several photographs of Caracas.  The hillside was decorated with pockets of colorful flowers in full bloom.  Not so surprising was that this area was heavily policed.  I was amazed that they ticketed a young man pushing a helado (ice cream) cart.  He protested but that only made the two police officers more insistent that he takes his truck out of this neighborhood.

 

The heavyset cabby, Miguel, brought us through the business district that looks very modern like any big metropolis.   Stores would close at 9p.m. so if we wanted to do any shopping we needed to do so soon. 

 

 

August 20, 2006         Sunday          Caracas, Venezuela

 

Around 9 a.m.  Bob was waking up in his room, just down the hall from my room.  I was already dressed and ready to go.  He had gone downstairs last night into the plaza and had a couple beers in a local pub.  Marcy, my wife, was on my mind.  Bob is good company but I always like traveling with her if she can make it.   We went upstairs for a light breakfast of eggs and ham bits scrambled till darkened.  It was served with a cup of rich coffee and two triangles of toast.  Bob was served scrambled eggs with four fried-in-oil, silver dollar-sized, cornmeal biscuits.   The biscuits left shiny oil stains on the napkin in which it was served.

 

We walked out of the hotel into busy commerce.  Every inch of the sidewalks were filled with small stands selling fruits, cooked foods, clothing, both new and used, as well as toys imported from China and Korea. The streets were thick with people, bicycles and motorcycles.  The only cars attempting to traverse the flood of people were police and military vehicles.  Shopping could not be a causal and easy experience for anyone outside of the fancy metropolis downtown area where expensive shops lined the boulevard.  The Catedral area shopping is a completely different experience.

 

We stopped a cab and asked him to take us to the sky ride that extended over three miles up a mountain, through a thick forest.  I discovered that this was originally built to transport soldiers quickly from a training camp into the city in cases of civil unrest.  Now it has been converted into a ride that costs fifteen dollars to take to the top of the mountain and a return ride. 

 

I was surprised to see clear anti George W. Bush sentiment several places, but no directly anti-American feelings. There was a couple of hand-written anti-Israel signs hung in the park. If you were to look at the clothing, most tee shirts had something written on it in English, mainly American stuff so the people still feel a kinship to Americans, maybe the leader Chavez doesn’t.  I saw many American brand names here, but few were authentic.  There is a special fondness shown for many of the American sports teams.

 

There were several stands offering foods like roasted corn on the cob, hot cornmeal biscuits usually made with queso, a soft curd-like cheese.  Machado is usually made with shredded beef, lots of fried onions, and a light sauce then used as a sandwich filling, but there are other ways it can be served using chicken or fish.  Boiled rice, vanilla, ice chips, and milk are finely stirred together until the mixture has the consistency of soft ice cream then it is poured into a cup and topped with various flavors.

 

The city is quite large with a large population and covers a large area of land.  Although it looks to the contrary Caracas has no beaches or seaside.  In fact it would take a ten-minute drive to reach the ocean from the eastern edges of the urban area.  Cleanliness is not overwhelmingly important.  As you might expect, the fancier parts of town have the best hygiene.   Bob mentions that the driver made an anti-American remark to him. I have yet to be shown or spoken to in anything other than mutual respect.    We wandered into a street rally of hundreds of people in opposition to President Chavez.  The police and military showed a presence but did little to prevent people from speaking or holding signs in support of the challenger, Manuel Rosales.  Bob interpreted for me as the speaker rallied the crowd.  He said he would not ‘kiss the ass’ of the United States of America, but he would like friendship.  He wouldn’t give away the precious little there is in Venezuela to Cuba as Chavez has been suspected of doing.

 

On this sunny Saturday afternoon the streets were filled with people waving flags enthusiastically as punctuation for every sentence Rosales spoke. 

 

Bob and I walked around this area by the hotel.  There were numerous buildings of historic importance to Caracas.  After an hour of walking we sat in a small pizza restaurant to escape the afternoon sun.  I had a fruit drink made before my eyes of fresh cantaloupe.  Bob ordered a small pepperoni pizza.  It looked and tasted great, certainly as good as I might find in Los Angeles.

 

The waiter presented the bill to Bob.  We both looked at it.  Not only was the charge for the pizza, a beer for Bob and the cantaloupe drink for me on the bill but tax and “servicio.”  The waiter lied to Bob and told him that “servicio” was another government tax that they are required to charge to customers.  The waiter insisted, when I questioned that through Bob, that he got no part of “servicio,” so we left him a small tip.  Leaving a large tip draws attention and is not something independent travelers ought to do.   Later, when we discussed this with a waiter at our hotel the waiter told Bob that we were cheated.

 

 

August 21, 2006    Sunday       Caracas, Venezuela      

 

Both of us woke late today.  I wasn’t sure if the times change from Pacific time to the time here which is four hours earlier, was what finally caught up with us to make me sleep so late.  Bob was still snoring when I walked by his room and lightly knocked.  No answer, just snoring so I walked upstairs to the rooftop balcony restaurant.  I had some orange juice, eggs and ham pieces while I wrote in the journal.  Around 11a.m. Bob appeared. He was dressed and had eaten at another restaurant. 

 

Bob found a taxi driver who, for thirty dollars would spend six hours to drive us around to new areas of the town.  One area we especially liked was El Hatillo, less than ten miles outside of Caracas.  It was a brightly painted collection of adobe buildings that skirted a quaint park square.  This seemed to be exactly what tourists were looking for.  There were more tourists in this small area than I had seen thus far in Caracas.  Each of the little shops had folk art or other items desired by tourists.  I bought a small watercolor painting of a typical residential street in this Caracas suburb. 

 

Caracas is not a popular tourist destination for numerous reasons.  Crime and pollution; streets pocketed and mottled with trash and litter strewn about in thin green plastic bags or not, oily rags and filth-laden diapers clogged the city sewage system so when the rains come as they do the water can’t just go away, instead it creates an abominable cesspool that reeks of sulfur and other carcinogens.

 

The driver brought us to what he described as the best Venezuelan restaurant in the whole city.  It was very large and many people were going in or out.  The interior was cavernous.  It is called Los Lladros. There were seven men standing behind a glass wall rotating and turning meat on the open pit barbeque that was twenty yards long.  Waiters zipped everywhere.  As soon as we sat there was fresh hot bread, water and menus.  Our guide/driver was invited to dine with us.  It was a splendid meal in every detail.  The price was only six dollars per person plus we had some beers and left a tip (since service wasn’t included already on the bill.)  

 

There was a huge mudslide that greatly affected this area in December of 1999 from which recovery has only partly happened.  The cab driver let us out in Las Mercedes area that seemed to be the most upscale, but Parc Central and Central were the most colorful and liveliest.   The golf course used to be world famous until President Chavez took it over and claimed it was being done as a popular mandate.  The people, he said, considered golf to be elitist.  Currently the golf course is resisting by legal means but it seems to only be a matter of time before this is gone too.

 

 

August 22, 2006         Monday

 

We left Hotel de Catedral at $63 per night for a three-star place, but in my opinion worthy of maybe one and a half stars tops.  The hotel is generally clean but not to extremes.  They are more casual on that issue. The bath towels were small and thin plus they only supplied me with one.   Since this was the last day I decided that I’d use the mattress sheet for a towel, you know, improvise.  It was important to not be a little wet when traveling.

 

Bob had arranged with the driver from yesterday to pick us up early this morning at 4 a.m. because we had a 7am flight to Bogotá, Colombia.  We used Lonely Planet guide for Colombia and circled a few hotels that seemed to appeal to us.  We’d look at the hotel once we got to the city then decide where we want to stay.

Our guidebook described Cartegena in much better terms than Bogotá.

 

Bob suggested we go from Bogotá that the weather report says there is rain today, into Cartegena, Colombia.  I didn’t like the idea but said if the weather report is good and we can easily find a hotel then I will do it too.  I said that I don’t like making plans, but once made I like to stick to them.  The drive, this early in the morning, was much easier than when we drove into Caracas.  The entire city was asleep except for a gas station where we had to buy gas.  Gas costs less than a US quarter for a liter of gas!   The drive was less than thirty minutes in total because the whole city was still asleep at 4 am.  Nobody, it seemed, was up.  The driver cruised the streets through red lights; he passed stop signs, and ignored the need for headlights, opting to use the more economical running lights.  There were a few night denizens crawling along the street before the trash truck came.  They’d take any kind of salvage that there may be a use for. 

 

At the International airport we checked in and boarded the plane to Bogotá.  The flight took less than two hours.  Once in Bogotá I saw the gloomy weather and agreed with Bob that we should get out of here.  This is a great advantage of not being in a group.  We could be flexible and we could change plans if it was necessary.    We paid $280 USD each for round-trip to Cartegena leaving from the domestic area of the airport.  The flight took an hour.

 

While we were in Bogotá we called a hotel to make certain they had rooms available.  Hotel San Diego in the historic district of San Diego, a neighborhood of Cartegena.  The taxi line was the only way to get there short of the bus.  For $5 we had been delivered to the hotel.  Even the ride from the airport into this area was enough evidence I needed to confirm my decision to follow Bob.  Cartegena was his idea, and I’m glad we are here.

 

Once here we got one room to share because it had two separate beds.  I should say that this hotel was worth much more than $68 per night.  Although there was no elevator this was a wonderful choice.  It was in the historic district, walking distance to the beach, and everything we’d want was around here.  If the hotel were in New Orleans French Quarter the room would certainly be over three hundred per night.  I used the French Quarter because that is what this part of the town looked like.

 

It was a beautiful surprise to discover the city’s heart so quickly and directly, but this must be it.  There was another quadrant of the city that stretched a tentacle out into the shallow bay and was populated by twenty hi-rise beachfront hotels that had a view from front and rear along this narrow peninsula.  They were all ultra-modern with glistening stainless steel and lots of glass.  The historic district was two short miles away.

 

Bob and I hired a horse, driver and carriage to take us around the historic city slowly so we could see the sights in the San Diego area.  I asked him to take us back to the beach because it was still early in the day and the air temperature was over 90 degrees F.  Humidity was up too but it was still bearable. The white and tan sand stretched like a long narrow ribbon along the edge of the water. 

 

I stepped into the warm Caribbean Sea whose waters were, literally, warmer than piss.  The water lapped gently onto the shore seldom even breaking hard enough to show the briny foam.  The surface of the water reflected the piercing heat of an equatorial Sun.  The intense tropical heat of noon was searing my skin.  I threw a small wet towel over my shoulders that were not protected by lotion or cream.  Other beaches, further from the peninsula were intended for other than white bathers.   By the nice hotels there are a few blacks but they are only there to provide services to whites.  Walking along the packed white sand I avoided coral formations that lie along the water’s edge.  I could walk quite a distance into the bay before the water was above my shoulders.

 

Bob rented a windshield cabana for two thousand Pesos.  I wouldn’t leave our valuables with the cab driver even though he appeared to be honest.  There is a risk of banditry, the driver told us, along the beach.

 

The cab driver took us to Mount Popa, which is the highest point around here.  A monastery used to be very active.  While still active it plays a smaller part in the lives of the townspeople than it did a hundred years ago.  From this point I could see a beautiful panorama of the city.   Like everywhere, the monastery charged an admission charge of three US dollars to walk around.  The ocean glistened with rays of the Sun bouncing off it.  Really beautiful to see.

 

Our taxi driver at 15,000 Colombian Pesos per hour was okay with waiting.  His taxi, built in the late 80’s, was air-conditioned and comfortable like other taxis painted yellow like his.   While not metered, like the older less well-maintained cars in Caracas, they are a reliable way to get around.

 

Cartegenians are relaxed, easy to talk with, and they are all of mixed races.

Here I was told about racial mixtures by the cab driver that waited for us.  Mulatto is Caucasian and Negro; Mestizo is Caucasian and Indian; Zambo is Indian and Negro. And other than what was at the beach, I saw no other signs of racism here and our cab driver said there are no racial issues here, everyone is equal.   The current exchange rate is 2300 Colombian Pesos to one US Dollar.  There are no black market currency traders that we see.

 

Bob and I went back to the hotel to wash up before we headed into town tonight. The San Diego area of Cartegena in the Grand Plaza there are several small restaurants that share common seating areas for patrons to sit.  Different shapes and colors distinguish chairs and tables belonging to restaurants or bars.  This week for some reason, there is a tourist shortage, good for us.  The rains last week caused some people to change their plans away from Cartegena. The weekends still pack the people into this area of town.  I didn’t notice many Americans or Europeans, just Hispanics.  Spanish is by far; the most predominantly spoken language but merchants speak the language of commerce, English.  I had little problem getting any idea across to people.

 

While sitting at a table in the grand plaza looking around, every street is alive with people and dancing colored lights.  Most of the restaurants close after 10 pm, but there were a few places that stayed open a little longer.  Some of the places brewed their own beer.  The drink was served cold.  It was slightly bitter but very refreshing.  A cool breeze prevented the humid air from becoming oppressive.  I felt like I was transported into a scene from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, a current movie that is being shown at the theatres.  I walked in the night air.  It was cooling down but it was still warm enough to walk with just a tee shirt.  Bob and I finished the beer and walked back to the hotel.

 

The shower at the hotel doesn’t have a choice of temperature.  It is naturally warm and pleasant, not hot.  The stream of water is either on or off, that is the choice.   I was amazed that there was some of the fine sand still tucked somewhere on my body being, now, washed down the drain.  I felt clean for a moment but the humidity crept in and that super-clean feeling when you just step out of a shower was already gone.  I turned on the air-conditioning before falling asleep.  The cooling affect of the air-conditioning hadn’t struck me before I fell asleep laying on top of the crisp, white bed sheet.

 

I slept soundly until the morning.  The Sun was already burning hot in this equatorial region.

 

 

August 23, 2006         Tuesday

 

After a quick shower I met Bob downstairs to have a light breakfast and enjoy a cup of coffee.  Bob and I walked down the street to change some money into pesos because most people were happiest getting local currency.  Bob went to the beach and I went exploring more of the city.  Bob felt at ease to travel alone now.  My feeble attempts at Spanish were usually passable, but Colombians were pleased that I was trying to speak their language and went out of their way to make certain things were working out for me. 

 

I walked around the area looking at all the little things that were for sale.  I bought some things that were totally unneeded like some fake expensive brand of sunglasses with the case for twenty dollars.  I bought a nice fake watch for twenty dollars. I bought a motorcycle cut from a can of soda for a dollar.  I bought Marcy a pair of emerald earrings for seven hundred dollars.  The junk was for me. There was an area of San Diego where several jewelers had gemstones brought to them for cutting from the nearby emerald fields. I’m certain she’ll like these.  Colombia is a major supplier of emeralds.

 

The evening was warm with a gentle breeze almost comfortable. The stickiness that comes with humidity began to make my shirt feel saturated; it was adhering to my body unpleasantly.

 

Bob was on his own today.  I hadn’t seen him since we had changed some US dollars into Pesos.  The rate in a currency exchange shop was 2412 Pesos for one US dollar.  I had noticed a general decline in the value of both currencies Colombian and Venezuelan, even faster than the US dollar decline worldwide.  When I was at the jeweler, he remarked that a year ago the dollar was worth 2900 in February of 2006. 

 

It was about 8pm. And I was back at the Hostel San Diego and immediately turned on the air conditioning.  After twenty minutes the one room unit began to feel cool enough to be comfortable.  I began to repack for tomorrow’s long journey.  After an hour I had finished packing so I decided I would spend the last evening walking around town, I could sleep on the plane.  

 

I ate some grilled shrimp and had a cold beer then walked around without any particular plan but I used my GPS device so I could just get as lost as I wanted and it would guide me home.  I bought a few trinkets, nothing of real value then I went back to the hotel and slept.

 

August 23, 2006         Sunday

 

Bob and I woke up about 4am.  We wanted to get to the airport early just incase there is a long wait.  The threat of air terrorism remains high because of a recent attempt to explode several planes at once between the US and Britain.  Our taxi ride was very brief.  About ten miles and six thousand Pesos.  So we were left with two full hours before the flight was to begin.  This leg of our journey should last a couple of hours into cloud shrouded Bogotá. 

 

Once we arrived Bob and I hired a cab driver to take us around Bogotá during our seven-hour layover. He took us around the downtown area and past several government buildings.  They have a sky ride to go to a hilltop for a nice view of the squalid city.  I rode a llama for a short distance in the city streets.  We stopped at the driver’s favorite sandwich shop.  We enjoyed the meal there.  

 

Reflections

 

Caracas, Venezuela   It is a large city that doesn’t cater to the tourist.  There are few tourist services available but there are plenty of commercial opportunities.  The affluent downtown area has all of the fanciest fashion stores.  They had some anti-American signs and two anti-Israel placards (which I just couldn’t figure out what issue they had with Israel.)  I was also surprised to realize that there really isn’t an easy way to access beach that is part of the City..

 

Cartegena, Colombia     A beautiful town that was reasonably priced.  The food was good, the beaches were pleasant, and the people were friendly.  This is one of those places that I’d suggest as a great destination to other travelers. 

 

Bogotá, Colombia   While I didn’t get to see very much, it looked dull and uninteresting.  This city is more of a business town, but much smaller than Caracas.  I saw the police presence by every bank.

 

 

What I learned and My Reflections Back

 

Traveling with Bob, we found no signs of organized tourism in either country.  They lacked the “souvenir” market.  No tee shirts, trinkets, or for this issue, no maracas either.