Monday, June 10, 2013

Soaring To New Heights In Venezuela......

La Guairá, Venezuela is the Capital city of the Venezuelan state of Vargas, and the country's chief port.  Our shore excursion from here started in a bus like all the rest, but would end up taking us to new heights high above the city of Caracas.
Our first view from the ship

Lots of houses on them hills!


First we'd be transported from sea level as our bus climbed up the mountain to the metropolis city of Caracas.  Pronounced with a hard "c" like "ka-rra-cas" the name alone paints a picture of hot Latinos salsa dancing through the massive metropolis in tight jeans.  But instead our bus took us by thousands of dilapidated, boxy homes that were stacked on top of each other, nestled into the hillsides. Posters of the late President Hugo Chavez literally provided a back drop of wallpaper everywhere, with captions that read "Chavez Vive," or Chavez lives. He served as President for 14 years before his death from cancer earlier this year.  Vice President Nicholas Maduro took over in the interim and was later elected as the new President of Venezuela and serves to carry out the policies initiated by Chavez. 

View from the bus of the ocean

More stacked houses
Our bus made it's way through several military academies where tanks lined the streets and uniformed cadets were outside training.  Uniformed, armed, military and police could be seen everywhere and made me feel uneasy that this was obviously not a safe place to be.  The streets were meticulously groomed, very clean with perfectly manicured gardens, flowers, shrubs and trees.  Monuments of military and political figures stood tall in the middle of gardens and parks giving that presence of power and honor to their heroes.  Yet the hillsides were crammed with stacked houses full of poverty, a stark contrast to the stately military academies.  The population of Caracas alone is around 5 million people.  The city has been called "the murder capital of the world," which comes as no surprise since people live in such poor conditions on top of each other.  They say that on a typical weekend 20 or more murders occur in Caracas, which sounds pretty scary to me.  Yet along with the poor neighborhoods sits the affluent business class and stately mansions of the rich. Traffic is heavy in Caracas and the use of motorcycle taxi's was quite obvious everywhere as it's easy for them to weave in and out of traffic. 

Cars and motorcycles lined up for inspection

Military Monument

Parade Ground, went on for over a mile
seating on both sides.  The signs say "Chavez Vive," or "Chavez Lives," event though he's dead.

Guard a little warm

Tank and soldier on guard

The tour guide on our bus liked to hear herself talk and she literally didn't stop during the whole time.  She spoke very fast, slurred Spanish and we gave up trying to understand what she was saying soon after we took off.  Even the Spanish speaking passengers on the bus were complaining about her need to talk so much.  As she prepared us for our stop for lunch she was telling us how much meals would cost there and gave a detailed explanation of exactly what type of food they would have.  We really didn't care and just wanted to get off the bus!  But she did come around and exchange our money for us, so that was part of the reason why she mentioned prices of food.  She said that an average meal should cost no more than $10 US.  Clyde gave her $20 U.S. and she gave him $350 worth of Bolivar Fuertes, which is what they call they're money. Of course it's named after Simon Bolivar and important political figure who they seemed to honor.

Bomberos in their rescue truck

Those are five strands of electric wire on top of fence!
And this was a kids' park!

The highlight of the day, not only because we'd get off the bus, but because it would take us to new heights high above the city was a cable car ride.  A visit to "Teleferico de Caracas: Warairarepano."  A "teleferico" is a cable car that takes passengers to an altitude of 7,000 feet to the top of Mount Avila.  But this cable car system is not just for tourists, but instead was instituted in 2010 as another form of public transportation along with their current subway system. The gondola lift system allows access to poor neighborhoods in the mountainous region. 

Yep!  We are in Venezuela!

We're going up there?

Time to load up!
Wow!  What a view!

The happy couple
This gondola system has the capability to move 3000 people per hour each way quickly and effectively.  The cable cars seat eight passengers comfortably and each line connects with the subway system giving residents easy access to medical care, schools, daycare, shopping and work for free. 

Our trip dropped us off on top of Mount Avila where we found an ice skating rink, vendors selling food and artisan crafts, hiking trails and the Humboldt Hotel which was closed for renovations.  We bought a plate of meat, mostly tough beef with some chicken and sausage mixed in for around $6 U.S. The pile of meat sat on top of sliced French bread, and lacked any flavor at all. A local cat sat nearby and we passed much of the tough beef on to it. Later we indulged in some cream and fruit, but have no idea what we paid since it was with Bolivar Fuertes.  The cup was filled with whipped cream, topped with strawberries and peaches, more cream then topped with chocolate sauce, sweetened condensed milk and nuts.  Delicious and filling!

A view from the top

The rain is coming

A Pretty Bird up on the mountain

One of the shops

Yumm!  These were great! Guess the sun was in my eyes and the reason for the strange face.

Just about the time we got ready to head back down the mountain it started to rain so we quickly made our way into a cable car.  Once at the bottom another tour guide spotted us wearing "number 1" which was the tour we were with.  She told us in English that our bus already left, even though we arrived at the bus stop early.  But she said not to worry and had us follow her to the parking lot where we assumed we'd be going back with her group who was also from our ship. In the meantime she called our guide on her phone and discovered they were just leaving the parking lot, so we managed to get on the same bus for the ride home with the same annoying guide.  Once on route our guide looked around and asked the passengers if they were all with group number one.  There were SIX English speaking Australians that made their way onto our bus wearing the number 8 on their chests.  Apparently the tours for this day were not well organized or managed and we're just lucky to have made it back to the ship.  We were about an hour drive from the ship and a taxi probably would have cost us a bundle, had we really been left behind.

Devil Mask on Display

What can I say, they were cute!
Since the port was too isolated from any shopping the only shopping we did here was in the port terminal itself.  We picked up a few things there to remind of us our trip to Caracas, Venezuela before we headed back to the ship.  The top of Mount Avila was cold, damp and windy and we were glad to be back to the warmth of our Caribbean floating home.....along the gringo trail.

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