Monday, November 25, 1996

My last full day in Venezuela. We both had several errands to attend to in the morning. I still had a few postcards to mail, which requires a trip to the post office since there aren't any public mailboxes. I also wanted to buy a few more souveniers downtown.

I enjoyed my final day in Venezuela by observing the people and their actions. When we stopped in at a pharmacy so my companion could get some cough drops, there was a cute young lady in line in front of us. As she finished her business and turned away from the counter, she tweaked my nose and gave me a big smile. My companion said she was probably crazy and I should be careful. I think she was jealous. Venezuelan women seem to be crazy about gringos.

We later drove to Campo Carabobo, about an hour away. It was here that Simon Bolivar finally achieved victory and independence from Spain. The gardens and sculptures were very attractive. There were lots of soldiers running around doing pointless tasks such as taking apart and reassembling scaffolding.

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Campo Carabobo

As in most of Latin Amarica, Venezuelan cops all carry very intimidating automatic weapons. They carry them in their hands, with their finger always on the trigger. This took some getting used to. I didn't like getting too close to them, lest I do something that makes them nervous and wind up full of holes.

Venezuela seems to be politically schizophrenic. They have been back and forth between far-right governments and far-left governments, and maybe a facist or two. What they haven't seemed to try is a moderate approach. It seems that human nature makes people go to extremes when they don't like the way things are going. It seemed to me that this country could be wealthy if it were just managed well.

I don't know the exact unemployment statistics, but I noticed that Venezuelans have a gift for creating jobs. The parking industry is thriving. You pay people to park even when you are fairly sure those collecting the fee don't even work there. This supposedly assures you that your car will be intact when you return. Restaurants, bars, and pretty much all other service industries have far more employees than seems necessary. Bathroom attendants also collect their due in many public facilities.

The Venezuelan economy still has a way to go before stabilizing, which may explain why they are stuck using virtually all paper money. Even denominations equivalent to 1 cent are in note form, so you are always stuck carrying a huge wad of bills around which really amounts to next to nothing. The larger notes are all scrutinized when used, and often not accepted at all so one ends up carrying even more notes so as not to have to try to break the larger ones later. Any note with a value approaching ten dollars is subject to such scrutiny. I suppose it is better to print bills that will last less than a year than to mint coins that become worthless in that time.

The tourism industry needs some major improvement. There aren't any brochures, schedules, or museum info to be found in English. For a place with so much history, culture, and natural beauty, they haven't caught on to how to fully exploit it yet. Venezuela has so much potential as a tourist destination, with their beaches, mountains, and agreeable climate. The lack of tourists was definitely a plus for me on this trip, but the user-unfriendliness is a deterrent to me for returning to see more on my own. I had a good time in Venezuela over all, but trying to do this trip without a local person would have been much more difficult.

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