I had no idea what to expect in Venezuela as I’d heard such mixed things from people who have both travelled there and people who live there. So the one reason I wanted to visit Venezuela was to see it for myself. Unfortunately flying into a city is nothing like riding through a country as it means you only see the tip of the iceberg but at least it would be something. The other reason was that I could not bear the thought of being in South America and not going to Venezuela since I have no idea if I would ever get the opportunity to come back again.
My first impression was given to me by the taxi driver, an extremely nice man who spoke pretty good English. Johnny and I got to know each other not on the short 30min ride to the hotel, during which we spoke in length about food, but on the my third day when he took me sightseeing, but I’ll get to that later. My second impressions were the hotel staff that were super awesome.
I got up early the next morning ready to explore the city and nearly gave the girl at reception a heart attack when I asked her what was the best way to see the city from where the hotel is, walk, take a bus or take a taxi. She was just horrified and told me that Valencia is a very dangerous city and not safe to walk around in. She explained that she didn’t know how to answer the question because she would be very worried about my safety. She told me to give her a little time and she’s think about it. 30 minutes later I went back to the reception and she told me the best way was to take a taxi and that her colleague George has a day off and would love to accompany me sightseeing in the city. Wow this blew my mind and I insisted it was not necessary to which she insisted it was and that he would be very happy to spend the day practicing his English. How fantastic is that? I think Georges English is perfect and he needs no practice but he said he was really happy to get to speak it; in a nutshell we had a really great day. It is always better to spend a day with a local as I would not have seen or done half the things I did if I was alone.
Valencia is a big business / industrial city not a tourist destination but with the flights it was my best option. It did feel very surreal sightseeing with George like I was with a body guard. George at times, I could see was watching left and right to ensure my safety, in certain areas he would also say okay now we cannot speak as we must not let people know you are a foreigner so no pictures and just look like you belong, in those places he’s also walk quite quickly. George is 32 years old and spent 8 years living in Florida which is why he speaks such good English, but he really had a knack for languages and speaks Portuguese and some Italian, French, German and Japanese. He works at the reception of the hotel but really wants to be a translator, I think he certainly has the talent.
We started our tour at the botanical gardens and I was so happy about that as I love botanical gardens but had read that it was realy not safe to go there, well that is so not true or maybe it would be true is I was on my own but with George I was quite safe. The park has a ton of butterflies which just made my day and loads of squirrels which were so funny but way too fast for me to take pictures of, and sloths which I sadly did not see.
We then went to see Casa Páez the residence of the first Venezuelan president General José Antonio Páez. Then on the way to the next significant spot we saw a park with a load of modern art in so stopped to check that out. And then continued our tour to the museum at Casa de la Estrella which is one of the oldest houses in Valencia and was once a hospital, a medical school and most significantly the seat of Congress of the Republic of Venezuela. We met a historian who was working there and George translated what he said which was a full on history lesson and incredibly interesting.
Thereafter we went walked around the area and then hopped in the cab and went to the Parque Fernando Penalver and Parquw Negra Hipolita, named after the nanny of Bolivara stunning park, of which Valencia has many, and with the friendliest squirrels.
When it started to rain extremely heavily we went to the aquarium which is not just an aquarium but also a zoo, I can’t say much as it was pretty depressing. However the best thing is that I spent hours chatting to George about Venezuelan politics and economic situation. This was the best time I could have spent in Venezuela really getting to hear what the locals say about the country. To cut an extremely interesting and long story short the bottom line is a corrupt government and the country is a mess, I seriously hope it gets sorted out as it is a fantastic place with fantastic people and has so much to offer. The country is rich in oil, gold and many other minerals, the Amazon, apparently some of the most fantastic beaches and nature which means it could be a fantastic tourist destination but it is just falling apart.
After this amazing conversation we drove through the different areas of the city from the poorer south side to the rich north side where the houses were huge and surrounded by very tall walls and electric fences, a little like south Africa. We also went to the centre of the city to Plaza Bolivar de Valencia (kind of a very mini version of Trafalgar square) Bolivar was the general who fought against the Spanish and gained independence for Venezuela so I learned a lot about him. This square is great and clean and I enjoyed walking around it, and seeing the Catedral de Valencia which is just off one side of it.
We ended the day by going to eat at a typical Venezuelan restaurant which was great it had a thatch roof and open walls and I really enjoyed it and the food wow. Had meat that was done in a typical Venezuelan style its skewered beef that is cooked over a slow fire for 2 hours (not coal but wood and you can taste the difference) OMG delicious, what an end to a great day.
Since George had to work the following day and we didn’t get time to go to Campo Carabobo, George arranged with Johnny (the taxi driver who fetched me from the airport) to take me there.
Before going to Campo Carabobo I asked Johnny to take me to Parque Municipal Casupo, this is a hike up the side of a mountain which is extremely steep but has the most fantastic views.
I struggled in the humidity and didn’t quite make it to the top, I think to Johnny’s relief as he had decided to hike with me as he said he’s just be bored sitting in the taxi. It was a great hike though and well worth it, it was also good to just do some exercise. So sweating like troopers we got back in the car turned the AC on high and drove to Campo Carabobo about 45mins outside of Valencia. This is one of the most important historic monuments in Venezuela as it marks the spot where the main battle for independence against the Spanish took place and so is a monument to the independent of Venezuela. Wow I was truly impressed what a stunning monument. I did originally want to spend the day at one of the national parks or the coast but since I didn’t make it to Campo Carabobo I really wanted to see that so had to change my plans and was very glad I did as it was well worth it.
During the drive I also got to know Johnny and heard his thoughts on Venezuela which were just as interesting and similar to those of young George. Johnny is an accountant by trade but due to the economic situation lost his job and became a taxi driver 4 years ago, but he says he enjoys it. He also owns a restaurant with his wife but says that is struggling at the moment as not many people have the money to go out to eat and also it is hard to get many ingredients at the moment. We saw many many examples of the queues and queues of people standing in line to get into the supermarkets to get food, quite unbelievable. Johnny’s take on the political situating is also that the government has screwed the country up purely due to corruption. The other point he made was that the government is trying to run the country is a socialist was, which we all know only works in theory. The trouble is he explained that many many people don’t want to work and are happy to just stand in line and get given basic food and basic housing so they don’t want the government to change. The country is getting a larger and larger poorer working class, and an upper class but the middle class is slowly disappearing. What the future holds no one knows but unless the government changes and a good less corrupt government takes power there is no hope.
I really would like to travel through Venezuela but do think I made the right decision not to this time, gut feel and now something backed up by a few people who live there. This country and the people in it are great and one day I hope to return to see more.