Friday, December 04, 2015

A trip to the wild side - welcome to Venezuela!

It must be said that there are more obvious holiday destinations in the world than Venezuela. It has the second highest murder rate of any country not actually in a state of war (Honduras is, apparently, worse), the only country whose economy is declining faster is Syria, and it is strangely difficult to find an up to date guidebook - even Lonely Planet don't appear to offer a Venezuela guide (and they do offer Antarctica).

Apparently, the main road from the airport has a reputation for crime, the Central Bank have stopped publishing inflation figures - estimates range from 159% to 700% - and the black market rate for the bolivar against the dollar is 800:1 (the official rate is 6.3:1).

So, readers (especially Ros and my family) will be pleased to hear that I made it to the Gran MeliĆ£ hotel, here in Caracas. Admittedly, my luggage is still in Houston (thanks, United!), but the journey was otherwise uneventful. I have made a taxi driver very happy, by paying in dollars, but luckily, I was prepared for such an eventuality.

And I've already had one of those conversations that you can only have in a country with a fully functioning parallel economy. In order to check in early, I not unreasonably need to pay a little extra. "How much?", I asked the young lady at reception. "Four thousand, eight hundred bolivars.", she replied. "And in dollars?", I smiled. "About five...".

I am sharing my hotel with the election monitors from UNASUR - the only observers permitted by the Government in advance of Sunday's elections to the National Assembly. They wear blue tabards and, to be honest, don't look wholly convincing as guarantors of free and fair elections (I may be being harsh though). I really ought to strike up a conversation with them at some point...

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