So long Merry Merida
Trip Start Apr 25, 2006
76Trip End Apr 25, 2007
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A lot of people write Venezuela off, but it does have a lot to offer. Honestly? Most of the good stuff is natural beauty, and it's slowly being squeezed for tourist dollars and wrecked by overzealous development and a level of wastefulness that is simply a part of life. Society is hindered by an attitude that mocks the existence of a tomorrow and won't dispense the ideology of divine right to help yourself before others. It's also one of the most expensive countries in South America to live in or visit.
The cities are plagued with violence. Caracas is admittedly one of my least favourite places on the planet, but I suppose it's an okay place if you're not opposed to the bludgeoning of homeless people in their sleep using large rocks. All this because they were suspected of stealing or having adverse effects on sales for businesses in the area. Apparently this trend was repeated in other cities too. It's war out there - no wonder every business/residence/building shields itself with ugly metal bars, razorwire and even man-proof electric fencing (in the case of my Caracas hotel). The people repeatedly tell foreigners not to venture out at night, and they follow their own advice, yet they scoff at even the idea that communist Cuba is better off than them. At least Cubans are mostly happy, fed, and haven't squandered their natural resources. No-one ever told me to stay inside when I was there... it was mostly the opposite.
Despite making more than US$2.2 Billion a month from oil exports over the course of the last 7 years, Chavez has somehow managed to remain in power and increase the reach of poverty. The ludicrously low fuel prices have been in place since 1999, even though at US$0.03 per litre, the country loses US$2 Billion a year thanks to selling it below cost. You know what people do when fuel is that cheap? They waste it. Buy a petrol-guzzling US-made truck/SUV and drive it around all day. Throw a bit of petrol on your rubbish to light it up and burn it off. Developing countries don't need this - they need appreciation of resources and a willingness to help themselves. Both absent. There is another election approaching on December 5th that could well see Chavez remain until 2020, as is his intention. Given the favourable media coverage and lack of an alternative, I don't doubt we'll see him there for a while longer.
So goodbye Merida - I will miss the 10:15pm nightly whistle of police signalling the end to festivities, lest you face the consequences of not dispersing. I will certainly miss the random hours kept by shopkeepers that always had me guessing if I'd show up to an empty store. I'll definitely miss the cute girl with big dreams who works at the tour agency on Calle 24.
Where I stayed