Caribbean, chocolate and con men.. leaving Venezuela

Porlamar Travel Blog

 › entry 29 of 31 › view all entries
Porlamar... Isla Margarita !! woo hoo, back to normality !! this place had been visited by Brits for over 25 years ( Thompson have flown here for ages) for package holiday bliss, perfect sandy beaches and a tourist friendly locale.. or so we thought. As it turns out, Isla Margarita is just like the rest of Venezuela, unless you stay in one of those all inclusive resorts advertised by Thompson (other holiday operators are available !) and are cosseted by your rep for the entire time. Surprisingly enough, we did not do that and arrived into a sea of aggressive taxi drivers at the ferry port offering to drive us to the town. After repeatedly turning them down ( and in turn being turned away from the fist available bus ( it was apparently full.. but they must have been either midgets or invisible people, as it looked empty to us !) a bus eventually turned up and took us into town.
The town of Parlamar was in short, a dump. I dont know what we expected, but it was more than this, We thought as it was such a touristy place, we would find boulevards with designer shops, cafes and the type of over planed opulence your average western tourist wants from a holiday town. What we found was another dirty venezuelan town, but with street lines with designer label shops ( its a tax haven). WE followed the crappy guidebook to three different recommended hotels ( the first we were advised off by a local security guard as the road was "very dangerous" after dark, and settled for a crappy place run by Lurch's retarded little brother ( he would not speak to me, but took a shine to H !) By this time evening was falling and we were a little despondent, but things were vastly improved when we spotted the "universe of Chocolate" shop, carrying all the greatest mars and cadburys chocolates !! ( and the good english versions, not the crappy american or australian where they add that no melt stuff) so we were much happier after peanut butter kit kats and crunchies !
Not much happened that night as the streets were totally empty after dark, we had a nice meal out, then ran home down the dark deserted streets hoping not to get mugged !
The next morning I got up early to search out a better hostel. THe guide recommended one about 20 mins walk out of town that was the "backpacker hub". Well when I finally found it, it looked like it was condemned 5 years ago and was utterly deserted. I checked a few other hotels in the area that were "Hilton" prices, and luckily ran across a small pousada with new rooms that was reasonable, so checked us in! This was in a much nicer area of the town, with the boulevards and cafes we were looking for ,so after fetching H and settling in, we felt a lot better about the place ! Thank god we moved !!
In the afternoon, we ventured out and caught a bus to the 'most fashionable beach', Playa del Agua', where the rich and the beautiful hit the Caribbean, well, all I can say is that they were 'hitting' somewhere else when we got there. WE had inadvertently times the bus ride with the 'school run' and the bus stopped every 2 seconds to pick up or drop off hundreds of venezuelan teenagers coming out of school, and it took us more than 90 minutes to get there ! By the time we arrived the sun was behind he clouds, the wind was up and the temperature had dropped ! not to great for our planned afternoon of snorkeling and sunbathing ! Snorkeling was not possible as the sea was too choppy, so we wandered up and down the beach looking for a good spot. The beach was virtually deserted, but everywhere to sit was owned by a bar, desperate for custom and charging a fortune for drinks if you wanted to use the chairs ! as they were all a bit grim in the crappy weather, we were not enamored and kept walking to find a deserted spot of beach. Well, I dont know if it was the tide , r the season or what, but the whole beach ( and Im talking hundreds here,) was littered with dead jellyfish and Puffa fish. It was incredible, every 5 ft or so, another dead puffa fish, it was FUGU heaven, but, not being a trained sushi chef and finding it all a bit grim, we gave up and caught the next bus back to the hostel, again feeling a bit dejected. The island was not really living up to its " Ideal Holiday hotspot' reputation !
Things did get better over the next couple of days, we found a great fish restaurant, and a great and calm beach just 5 minutes walk from out ( also great) hostel. We also found a proper shopping mall and caught a movie etc etc, so it was not so bad !
Our time in Isla Margarita was indicative of the whole trip in Venezuela. It was a real roller coaster ride, with High highs an low lows, just as everything seemed to be going really well, something shit would happen to really piss us off. And when something shit happened, it was immediately followed by something really fun or interesting or someone being uncommonly nice ! It was actually a bit of a mental strain, as we would daily run the gamut of emotions.
WEll out last day on the island was to prove this point. Just as we were settling in and enjoying the place, kaboom ( well thats a bit dramatic) but the bad crops up again. We ran out of cash and had to change more money! As I mentioned before, this involved the black market money changers, the less salubrious parts of venezuelan society ! WEll, up to this point, we ha been approached every 20 meters r so, in the nice touristy bit of town , for men offering cambio, but could we find one when we needed one, could we sod ! so we ended up going back into the town centre, as we needed cash asap to pay for the hostel, and for our taxi to the airport, booked at 4am. Well as soon as we walked into the square, we were approached by a cambio guy who escorted us into an alleyway to make the deal. He was offering a better exchange rate than we had before, so it looked pretty good as he told us the exchange figure ( about 320 bolivars) and counted out the cash. Ok, so far so good, but as he took out US dollars, he noted that he had only given us 318 and took it back to recount, handing over the 'full amount' after adding the additional 2 bolivars, and turning to leave. At this point H got a bit concerned as she was rechecking the cash, calling 'wait , wait, as the guy went to leave '. At this I grabbed the Us back out of his hands and he grabbed back the Bolivars from Harriet , crying "police, police" ( as if the police were coming to fluster us as it would be tricky to explain what we were doing there.. it was illegal after all !) What had happened was that as he "added" the missing 2 bolivars, he 'removed' by sleight of hand all of the 100 bolivar notes !!! Cheeky git ! and we would have been left with only 20 bolivars instead of 320 ! Phew, good Job H checked !!
What was even odder was that as soon as this had finished, another guy came up and tried the same thing on us ! EXACTLY THE SAME SCAM ! but this time we wee wise and put the hundreds immediately in my pocket.. at which he got very flustered, stated crying NO CHANGE, NO CHANGE, and as soon as he got his cash back ( and we ours), cried "police, Police" again and ran off !! Phew !! what a bugger !! and the worst part of it was, that even though we had seen through the scam, and not been scammed, we still had no Venezuelan Currency !! so we had to do another deal somewhere !! AARRGGGHHHH !! Why is this country so bloody difficult !!
Anyway, we eventually got it sorted and spent the afternoon in a bar chatting about the 'lucky escape' and how great H was for being totally on the ball and seeing through the scam !
So that evening ( well 4am in the morning) our taxi appeared on time, we said goodbye to the hostal owner who was up to make sure the taxi was there for us ( as I said before, most Venezuelans are really nice!) and got to the Airport in good time for our flight back to the capitol of Caracas. The flight was on time and again everything seemed to be going to plan, until, at Caracas we were "stung" with two separate departure taxes ( that we had not budgeted for!) and had to change MORE cash on the black market (luckily with no problems this time, but with more comedy "acting" from the security guard doing the deal") before they would let us out of the country. We changed too much cash, hoping for some last minute duty free goodies to cheer us up, but this was also not to be as Venezuela threw us its last curve ball, the duty free was closed and all we could find to buy was some more kit kats.. so we left the country with 50us worth of useless currency !!

So that was Venezuela, we were off to Bogota and our last stop of the trip... COLUMBIA ! We left Caracas with the overriding feeling of "good riddance Venezuela - get me back to a country that has a tourist industry and is easy to travel in", but in retrospect, it was a pretty amazing place. And H and I both agreed that the people in Venezuela were by far the friendliest and most helpful of all those we have met in Latin America. If only the place had a bit more tourism infrastructure, to make the "downs" a little less "down" it would be perfect, but with tourism comes the tourists, and with that, a lot of the isolated charm that made Venezuela so special would also go.. Catch 22 !
As we later said to travelers in Columbia that asked us what it was like, we would reply.." Amazing, really staggeringly beautiful and incredibly friendly... but tricky, and a difficult lace to travel in.. but of you want an adventure.. its the place for you !!

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photo by: cosmo