Monday, 8 February 2010

Going crackers in Caracas

First off this isn’t a rant at all, rather a diary of my time in Caracas. I know that it’s not in keeping with the spirit of the blog, but as an old teacher of mine once practiced: What is a spirit for if not to be broken.
The trip started well; a trouble free, if early flight to Madrid and then after a short wait, off to Caracas. On both flights I had no one sat next to me and so managed to spread out in comfort. So far so good. On arrival I was to be met by a driver. Unfortunately due to some bizarre airport politics he wasn’t allowed to wait at the arrivals entrance or carry a card with either my, or his name on it. Clearly this made life a little tricky, and for the first time, but certainly not the last, my lack of Spanish proved to be somewhat of a hindrance.
Eventually reconciled we headed off to the hotel. The drive brought home the realities of life in South America as we passed the burned out cars, mountainside slums and gatherings of men around small fires by the side of the road. To the west of the city are the 'Barrios', the very poor neighborhoods in the hills, which I was advised was not a place for an alabaster white tourist to go wandering around asking if anyone has an iPhone charger they can borrow. 
All of this witnessed as we whizzed past at 100mph weaving in and out of traffic. 
I was to learn that there are a few rules to driving in Caracas that are adhered to by all drivers:
Drive as fast as you can at all times. A green traffic light means Go. A red traffic light means Go. Cars crossing an intersection in the opposite direction means Go. Indicators are used on a ‘you don’t need to know basis.’ If you are forced to stop, then honk your horn until you are moving again. In Britain it is against the law to speak on a mobile phone whilst driving. No such namby pambyness here. Not only is speaking on a phone allowed, but texting, emailing, taking pictures, uploading videos onto youtube or anything else you can do with a phone.
On arriving at the rather splendid hotel, I checked in, quickly unpacked and headed back downstairs to speak to the concierge as I was keen to hit the bars.
“Where can I walk to for a few drinks?” I asked.
“Walk?” Said the incredulous concierge. “You can’t walk anywhere sir. At anytime. Don’t walk, don’t wear jewellery. Don't wear watches. Don’t carry credit cards. Only carry a minimal amount of money. Don’t carry any reference to your hotel room number and don’t get in unlicensed taxis. Welcome to Caracas.”
I immediately ensconced myself in the bar and checked all the hotel door locks.
The following day I attended a meeting, and as I left was told that there were protests throughout the city, and it was more dangerous than usual. It’s probably best if you don’t leave the hotel said my helpful client. What a great trip this was turning out to be. By 8pm I could take no more. ‘Tell me the name of a good bar, and I won’t take no for an answer’ I boldly said to the bemused hotel bar man. I then hopped in a taxi and headed down town, where I was dropped off at La Rossalinda, a bar in the Las Mercedes district. Now at 3am this place is probably jumping, but at 8.30pm it’s crushed velvet curtains, dance floor, mirror ball and over priced whiskey menu were all a bit too much for myself and the other two customers. As I was in the middle of God knows where, with no immediate means of transport, I couldn’t simply walk out so had to endure a rather lonely and expensive hour before sheepishly returning to the hotel bar.
The reason for my trip was to attend a photo shoot. About 18 months ago I art directed a shoot in Cape Town and now an agency in Caracas were doing some photography for the same client that needed to fit in with that shoot. The client insisted that ‘someone from the London office’ be present, and so I volunteered quicker than a quick thing. The down side to this is that there would already be an art director here, and to them my presence would be about as welcome as swine flu.  Not to worry, we’re all adults I thought, and I was sure it would be fine.
Unfortunately the art directors English was as good as my Spanish, and when she arrived late and found out that I had completely changed the set up of the first shot, I could tell by her eyes that we were not going to be lifelong friends. However, worse than that was her friend. I never found out what her role was, but I think it was simply to be her friend. Every time I spoke she would leap to her defence and explain why my suggestion was an utterance of lunacy. When I insisted that something was changed, the friend would then call the art director outside and give her a big hug and tell her the big, bad man would soon be gone. I never found out the name of the friend, but I did have a very special name of my own for her. One that was Concise. Unapologetic. No-nonsense & To the point. After 14 hours all the shots were taken, and no one had been hurt. As I bade farewell to the crew there was no social kissing conundrum for the art director and the Concise. Unapologetic. No-nonsense & To the point person, a simple wave was all that was required. The rest of the team however were lovely, warm and friendly and made me feel very welcome.
The highlight of trip was a cable car trip to the peak of El Avila, 3000 metres above sea level. 20 minutes hovering hundreds of feet above the ground in an oversized match box. At the top I was treated to great views, a nice lunch and some interesting company.
All in all, a strange, interesting, frustrating but eventually enjoyable trip. Would I return? Probably not, certainly not on my own. But I have developed an interest in South America, and given the chance would love to explore further. I shall just have to work the Angel Falls or the Estaiada bridge, Sao Paulo into my next ad for gravy or flea treatment. Not easy, but give me time.


  1. Wow, just when I thought the neighbouring country, Guyana, had some problems!

  2. No shortage of problems. It was an interesting trip, but glad to be home.

  3. Very good blog but I am worried that the lack of rant may mean you are going soft. You were even quite restrained about your Concise. Unapologetic. No nonsense & To the point nemesis. well, relatively speaking.

  4. In fairness I don't think I was that soft about the Concise. Unapologetic. No nonsense & To the point nemesis. However, I like to think of myself as a fair and forgiving man, and if I was ever to bump into her again, and she was on fire, I would certainly piss on her. I hope this clears things up.

    As far as ranting goes, normal service has resumed with latest post.