Venezuela’s Beauty Queen Factory

Caracas — Inside Venezuela’s Beauty Queen Machine

By Ted Rabinowitz for Asylum.com

Beauty queens

Last month, we brought you Alamut, the Secret (and very real, if very crumbly) City of the Assassins. This month, we move from implied violence to implied sex. We’re going to … the Secret City of Official Hotness.

Not L.A. Not Paris. Not even Rio. No, only one city in the world has ever had an actual, official Committee of Beauty. Come with us now, to that exciting land of glamour queens that is … Caracas, Venezuela.

A Matter of National Pride

Who cares about its collapsing, oil-based economy and the gradual erosion of its civil libertiesVenezuela has won more international beauty pageant titles than any other country.

And in Caracas, the capital, the citizens are so committed to the tiara and sash that pageant winners have their own Wikipedia category, and there’s a beauty salon for every two restaurants in the phone book. The store-window mannequins have nipples, and not even Hugo Chavez, el queso grande himself, dares to interrupt the Miss Venezuela pageant.

Forget the Beastmaster: Caracas’s Own “Beauty Master”

Like any decent secret city of something, Caracas has its own high lama: Osmel Sousa, head of the Miss Venezuela Organization (aka the Venezuelan Committee of Beauty) who cheerfully tells wannabes to go under the knife if they want to make it.

Thanks to Sousa, Caracas is full of insecure 20-year olds with boob jobs and the middle-aged businessmen who love them.

Beauty Basic Training

High in the hills above Caracas, Sousa’s Miss Venezuela Academy has would-be pageant winners running, hiking, lifting weights and God knows what else.

Hopeful moms send their princesses to pageant training schools like Sousa’s at the age of 7 or 8. If they win, they can look forward to careers as models, actresses, TV reporters or even politicians. If they fail, of course, they’re disposed of in the underground shark pit. Kidding, kidding.

Don’t Get Out Your Passport Just Yet …

Since the pageantistas look like this, and their boyfriends look like this, you might think Caracas would be the place to go for the world’s best hot-girlfriend ratio. But what the boyfriends lack in looks, they usually make up for in wealth, power and/or general badassery, Chavez having at least one of these attributes from what we’ve heard.

Think of it as an incentive to excellence in your own life. Or at least another reason to start your own people’s revolution.

Weather in Venezuela

Venezuela Temperatures

Venezuela is near the earth’s equator, so average temperatures remain the same all year round. Changes in temperature come only with changes in altitude, dropping about 5.4°F with every 1000ft increase (6.5°C per 1000m).

Since over 90% of Venezuela lies below 1000m, you’ll experience temperatures between 70°F and 85°F in most places. Still, since humidity is very high, 90°F can be oppressive, while 70°F is much more comfortable.

The Andean and coastal mountain ranges have more moderate temperatures.

Caracas Venezuela weather

Weather chart for Caracas, Venezuela

Weather in Caracas

Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, follows the contours of the narrow Caracas Valley on the Venezuelan coastal mountain range that borders the Atlantic Ocean. Caracas sits at elevations between 760 and 910 meters above sea level. So the weather is quite a bit cooler and more pleasant than it would be at sea level (I think it’s no accident that many tropical cities are built at elevation, though it’s also true that the elevation historically offered protection from invaders).

The annual average temperature is approximately 23.1 °C (74 °F), with the average of the coldest month (January) 21.1 °C (70 °F) and the average of the warmest month (May) 25.0 °C (77 °F). In the months of December and January heavy fog may appear, in addition to a sudden nightly drop in temperature, at times reaching 7 °C (45 °F) or less. This odd weather is known by the natives of Caracas as the Pacheco. In addition, nightly temperatures at any time of the year are much lower than daytime highs and usually do not remain above 20 °C (68 °F), resulting in very pleasant evening temperatures.

Caracas actually gets hailstorms on rare occasions. Lightning storms are common between June and October (the wet season).

Venezuela Seasons

Venezuela does not have the typical “four seasons” found in northern climates. Instead there are only two seasons, dry and wet. Dry season runs approximately December to May, and wet season the rest of the year.

The tourist industry likes to refer to wet season as the “green season”, while the term “dry season” is to some extent a misnomer, since even dry season gets more rain that many non-tropical countries get in winter.

When to Visit Venezuela

Most visitors to Venezuela find the dry season from December to May to be more pleasant, especially for outdoor activities like hiking, camping and climbing. In the cities it may not matter that much.

Venezuela is of course famous for its waterfalls, particular Angel Falls, so travelers should be aware that the waterfalls are much more impressive during the wet season. Furthermore, it can be difficult to reach the falls by boat during the dry season, and while the falls can also be reached by car, getting there by boat can be fun and exciting.

In Merida, the weather is best October-June. The Orinoco River area can be more humid and a bit warmer, and the mountain areas will generally be at least 10 degrees F/5 C cooler (and much colder at high elevations). No matter when you go, be sure to take a sweater – the evenings are cool most of the year.

Visiting Venezuela During Holidays

Venezuelans love to travel during the holidays, especially the Christmas season (from early December all the way to mid-January), Carnaval and Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday). During these times all modes of transportation can be booked solid, and hotel rooms can be impossible to find. So if you plan to visit at these times you must book well in advance. Some tourists prefer to stay away during these times to avoid the crowds and noise.

On the other hand, witnessing the festivals and parades that go on during holiday times can be fun. So it’s really a matter of personality and preference.

Venezuela Economy Choked by Bureaucratic Red Tape

The challenges of doing business in Venezuela

By Sarah Grainger
BBC News, Caracas – 28 October 2011

Hugo Chavez may be a fan of baseball, yet the Venezuelan president’s economic policies have driven many Major League Baseball academies out of his country. However, it’s not just the business of baseball or foreign investors who have to deal with mountains of red tape.

Getting things done in Venezuela can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle.

Some form of identification is required for even the smallest purchases. I have to give my passport number every time I buy a pack of gum or a carton of milk in the local store.

But the biggest chores are banking ones. Cash machines have strict daily limits on the amount of cash that can be withdrawn, but taking out money over the counter is no easy task.

Venezuelan baseball fans.

Venezuelan baseball fans. While there were once a dozen major league baseball training academies in Venezuela, there are now only five.

It requires two signatures, fingerprints and in some cases a photograph. So it is not unusual to queue for more than two hours in a bank for a simple transaction.

Imagine then, the challenges to businesses based here.

Greater suspicion

There are tight currency controls in place, a measure brought in by the government to stop people withdrawing all their capital from the country and investing it elsewhere.

Businesses wishing to buy US dollars with their Venezuelan bolivares fuertes must apply at the offices of CADIVI, the central currency authority. There is a daily limit on how many dollars can be bought.

“I go and queue up for my dollars myself and wait for them to be issued,” says clothing importer and retailer Katiuska Viana.

“If you love your business, then you are prepared to work hard for it.”

Such strict measures, however, mean a black market for US dollars is thriving.

But this also leads to greater suspicion around financial transactions, even when they are of a relatively small nature.

Buying a plane ticket a few months ago, I was asked by the cashier to explain where I had obtained the money to do so.

The lady from whom I bought my car had to submit supporting documents when she deposited the money in her bank to explain how she had come to obtain such a lump sum.

Standing empty

Business owners themselves are suspicious of the government. The policy of expropriation has created fear and uncertainty amongst property owners.

President Hugo Chavez has nationalised dozens of companies and expropriated tens of thousands of hectares of land since coming to power in 1999.

Targets have included pasture belonging to Britain’s Vestey family, which raised cattle for decades, and the local subsidiary of US bottling company Owens Illinois.

Even small property owners are worried.

“It’s not good to have your property standing empty for too long,” one landlady in Caracas tells me.

Empty apartments and houses can quickly become accommodation for the homeless.

A grandiose example of this is the Torre Confinanza in Caracas, a 45-storey tower block begun in the early 1990s.

Squatters moved into the semi-completed building after its owner could no longer finance the construction project.

Few in the private sector believe the judicial system would rule in their favour instead of the newly arrived squatters.

High inflation

The paperwork involved in importing and exporting goods is formidable.

“Whereas I used to have to fill out one or two forms to import a container of goods, I now have to go through roughly 40 different steps to get clearance for that container,” one manufacturer says.

Caracas is notoriously dangerous and business owners are increasingly concerned about security.

But keeping employees, assets and property safe is also costly.

Switching from paying your staff in cash to paying them by transfer, for instance, takes time and money, says Victor Maldonado, executive director of the Caracas Chamber of Commerce.

President Hugo Chavez is proudly left-wing and does not pretend to be a friend of business.

His policies are designed to share the country’s wealth more widely between all Venezuelans. Those who have benefited by moving onto expropriated land, or have received free housing or subsidised food from the government, are extremely grateful.

Opponents, however, say the government’s policies end up affecting everyone adversely.

They point to the country’s sky-high inflation rates, currently over 20% for this year, as proof that the economy is out of control.

Foreign organisations – such as Major League Baseball teams – can always choose to do business elsewhere. Few Venezuelans have that option.

But there is a silver lining to the current difficulties, according to one manager.

“If I can run a factory here in these conditions, I can succeed in any business, anywhere.”

Beautiful Photos of Venezuela’s Páramo Highlands

The páramo are the Andean highlands of Venezuela. This ecosystem is found in the high elevations, between the upper forest line  at 3,000 meters elevation and the permanent snow line at 5,000 meters. The páramo is cold, with animals uniquely adapted to the temperatures, such as the woolly donkey pictured below. These areas consist mostly of valleys, grasslands, lakes, and occasional patches of forest. It is a harsh environment: wet, windy, and receiving a high degree of ultraviolet radiation due to the elevation.

These photos are by a California-born agroecologist named Mason London. He provides us with a look at the paramos of the Venezuelan state of Merida.

Torre Confinanza, Venezuela’s Squatter Skyscraper

Torre Confinanza in Caracas Venezuela

Living the high life in Torre Confinanza in Caracas Venezuela - not for the faint-hearted

By Will Grant
BBC News, Caracas
18 December 2010

The views from the 20th floor of the Confinanza Tower are among the most spectacular in Caracas, reminiscent of those from an expensive penthouse apartment.

But the homes being built in this high-rise building, which actually goes up another 22 floors, are not expensive apartments. They are the kind of breeze-block shacks found in the city’s hundreds of shanty towns.

This is perhaps the most curious skyscraper in Venezuela, being one of the tallest squatter buildings in the world.

A resident of the "squatter skyscraper" in Caracas

A resident of the "squatter skyscraper" gazes out of a makeshift window.

Isabel Morales is still haunted by the latest tragedy to happen here.

“A little girl fell 18 storeys to her death,” she recalls, shuddering slightly.

“The neighbour who was looking after her only took her eyes off her for a minute. God only knows…”

Her words trail off as she nods towards her own three-year-old son, who is charging around their incomplete, brick shack, playing with a toy truck.

She has good reason to worry. Behind her is a gaping hole in the floor. She and her husband have boarded it up as best they can, but she must be constantly vigilant in case the child climbs over their makeshift barrier. There is a sheer drop of several floors onto the concrete below.

These are the daily risks being run by some 700 families who live in this extraordinary skyscraper in central Caracas.

Buzzing with activity

Torre Confinanza was never meant to be lived in. In the early 1990s, it was going to be a bank. One of the tallest office blocks in Latin America, the bank that owned it went bust in 1994, and the semi-completed building passed into state hands.

There it languished for more than a decade, gradually deteriorating and becoming a haven for drug-addicts and prostitution.

Alexander Daza, resident of Torre Confinanza in Venezuela

Alexander Daza pins his hopes on negotiation

But today the building is again abuzz with activity and construction. Three years ago, hundreds of families who could not find decent homes elsewhere in the capital descended on the derelict building and started setting up their houses.

Little by little, they have built small, brick homes on more than half the building’s floors. Isabel’s house is inside the multi-storey car park.

“I came here from the Andes in search of work and a better education for my children,” she says, adding that despite the risks, she considers the tower to be her best option in Caracas.

“We have built a space where we can live in peace and harmony,” community leader Alexander “El Nino” Daza tells me. “We don’t want violence, or drugs, or bloodshed, none of that.”

The violence of Caracas is something he knows well. Mr Daza is a former gang member who became an Evangelical pastor after turning to religion in jail.

Three times a week, he leads other members of the community in prayer and song as they give thanks for the space they live in. He shows me the new church that he and the other followers are building.

“We’re not stealing anything. We pay for the electricity and the water legally. Every family must pay around $15 (£10) a month to live here in order to pay for the things the community needs.

“We’re trying to do everything through the proper legal channels so that if the government ever tries to throw us out, we’ll have the paperwork ready,” he says.

Planning objections

The government says it is working with the community to try to find a solution, and Mr Daza says that most families inside the tower support President Hugo Chavez. They are confident that the issues raised by living in the former bank can be resolved through negotiation.

Ongoing building work on Torre Confinanza, Caracas

Many residents carry out their own building work in the tower

But some residents of Caracas do not believe it is responsible to let the families simply convert the skyscraper into homes.

“For me, it’s a symbol of anarchy, a symbol of a lack of government and of public inefficiency,” says Sulemar Bolivar, who sees the building every day from her office, as head of urban planning for the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who is a member of the opposition.

“It’s like rewarding the man who steals because he’s hungry. No? Their act of invasion was not justified,” Ms Bolivar argues.

“There is a housing deficit of more than 400,000 homes in Caracas, not to mention those who live in homes which are unfit.

“If the government chooses to give these people that building, there must first be a proper process of refurbishment involving the fire service and other public bodies. It cannot be simply handed over without proper consultation,” she says.

Ms Bolivar also believes that more should have been done by previous administrations. “There are several other buildings like this in Caracas which are also a result of the banking crisis in the 1990s.

“When they passed into state hands, they should have been auctioned off. That would have generated much more for the city including more employment and new housing,” she says.

Back at the Torre Confinanza, there are no working lifts, so young men and women are carrying building materials up dozens of hastily-constructed concrete staircases, with no handrails on either side.

Construction work without a hardhat or harness 20 floors up is not for the faint-hearted or vertiginous.

But further tragedies like the young girl’s death may prompt the authorities to step in, risking an angry response from the families who have made the former bank their home.

Fear and Paranoia in Caracas

caitlin from the letters to gringolandia blogI thought this was a very thoughtful post about how our fear and paranoia can close us off to meeting new people and getting the most out of our travels. It comes from Jake and Caitlin’s Letters to Gringolandia blog.

Caitlin wrote this post when she had only been in Venezuela for a few weeks. I wonder if her interactions with Venezuelans changed with time, and if she answered her own question: “How do we move on and build a life here in Caracas after feeling so on edge and distrusting of everyone?”

Here’s her post:

***

The most telling experience just happened. Jake and I went to a performance tonight, a bizarre story told through acrobatic movements called ”Sueños de Golpe.” Although a little weird, it was nice to finally get out at night, especially to experience the arts in Caracas. After the performance we debated taking the metro or a taxi, since everyone has warned us not to walk on the streets after dark. But we decided it seemed safe enough to take the metro with the bunches of other people leaving the theater as well.

Everything seemed fine, the metro being very clean, fast, and efficient. As we were getting off the metro a young man in his twenties, wearing a navy blue turtleneck sweater that seemed to be out of an LL Bean catalogue, came up to us and asked something in Spanish while pointing to what seemed to be outside the metro. I couldn´t really understand him and I assumed he was asking for directions, as someone else had earlier that day. I don’t know if under other circumstances I would have understood his question, or whether his Caraqueño accent and fast speech made it impossible.

Either way, I was so caught off guard I just responded, ‘’No sé, no sé nada.’’ It was obviously a response to feeling endangered, which is how we’ve been made to feel here at all hours of the day, always skeptical of people who look at us or, god forbid, speak to us.

A Caracas metro station

A Caracas metro station

Constantly looking over my shoulder, I have yet to feel at ease in this city. The man at the metro asked if we spoke English or French. I said English reluctantly but reconfirmed my Spanish speaking skills by repeating, ”No sé” in response to his earlier question. My immediate reaction was to make sure he knew we spoke some Spanish and weren´t lost or unfamiliar with Caracas. I also wanted to get rid of him as fast as possible. (I have yet to let my guard down here.) Yet I couldn’t fool him with a response such as, I dont know anything.

He began to speak to us in near perfect English, explaining that he was also at the theater tonight, the same show as us, and wanted to know what we thought of the ending. A big sigh of relief. He was at the play and was just curious to hear our reactions to it.

We chatted for a second as we walked up the stairs to the street. This feeling of relief lasted no more than a minute though, because as we aproached the street we immediately reverted to action plan mode, needing to orient ourselves to know which direction to walk. So as we stopped to discuss this, he just kept walking. We didn’t even say goodbye.

The last thing he said was, ”The whole time during the performance I was waiting for a good ending, a way to finish, but the ending didn’t satisfy me.” It’s true. It was abrupt, as if ending in the middle of a conversation, just like we did as we walked opposite directions but never had the chance to say goodbye.

I still feel unsettled, and not from the performance, but from that one conversation we’ve had with a random Venezuelan. The one stranger who’s actually tried talking to us. He was not attempting to rob or cheat us, but just interested in hearing our opinions. I can’t help but wonder if he thought we were ”rude Americans,” as is a common perception of U.S. travelers. Or if it seemed like we didn’t want to talk with him. This is a perfect example of how this city feels so far – like we’re not allowed to trust anyone, even men in navy blue turtleneck sweaters, and especially anyone who has an interest in talking with us.

How does a city survive with its people constantly distrusting one another? Maybe it’s just a feeling tourists experience to such an extreme. It seems women often walk alone at night, or in suposedly dangerous areas, so maybe all the warnings are extra precautious for us as tourists. Do Caraqueños feel as much distrust in each other as we foreigners are made to feel in them? Caraqueños are the ones telling us to be careful, con much cuidado, not to walk certain ways, not to be in the streets at night, to hold on tight to our things. It’s wonderful to have so many great people looking out for us here, but it’s also a lot to worry about when trying to discover a new city.

So the question then for Jake and I becomes, where do we go from here? How do we move on and build a life here in Caracas after feeling so on edge and distrusting of everyone? That will be our biggest challenge.

-Caitlin

Amazing Photos of a Wedding in Agua Viva, Venezuela

Enjoy these beautiful photos of a wedding in the small town of Agua Viva, Venezuela. The photographer from PunamBean.com is based in New York and Los Angeles and is amazingly talented. I love the way she captured the genuine human emotions of the night. Every photo exudes real feelings such as excitement, anticipation, love, and joy.

Missing the special things about Venezuela

Family together for Christmas food at Maracay, Venezuela

Family together for Christmas food at Maracay, Venezuela

Erin, a North American who lives in Venezuela and writes a blog called Adventures in Places I Don’t Belong, recently wrote about a stomach bug she’s trying to beat, and the music from next door, and the things about Venezuela that she’ll miss if she has to move, and… this isn’t making much sense, is it?

I’ll let her tell it, but I just wanted to say that the things she describes that she will miss are almost universal to Latin American countries, and in fact to all third world countries, where people are not so much focused on precise punctuality and the Protestant work ethic, as on people.

She writes:

Something about recovering from my fifth (or sixth…?) stomach bug has made me feel inordinately grateful for my job and the opportunity to be in Venezuela. I was putting fresh sheets on my bed earlier (a task one can only thoroughly enjoy after being horizontal in bed for 50+ hours) and heard Don Omar’s latest Virtual Diva (from the album “iDon”) float in from a neighbor’s window when I felt a rush of nostalgia for my life here. I’m a bit heartbroken by the fact that I might be forced to move away if our contract isn’t renewed in a few months.

Though I will not miss the bimonthly stomach bugs, I will miss the special things about Venezuela that have made me enjoy life more. I really like the focus on today instead of the thirty year plan, celebration and appreciation of family, the freedom of spontaneous emotional expression, the humor that is a bit more bitingly funny than what I find at home, the attention to home-cooked meals and the always perfectly breezy evenings.

In any place, including my original home, there are things I want to focus and enjoy on in this culture, and other things I’ve simply grown to accept but not really adore. The things I’ve merely learned to live with include the lawlessness/ lack of accountability, inflation, thick traffic and anxiety-causing crime levels. Also when people blow up with spontaneous negative emotion I get WASPily awkward and bug-eyed, which totally ruins my chances of genuinely responding in kind.

Life in Caracas: lavish malls and BMW dealerships, amid poverty and crime

Plaza Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela

Plaza Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela

I enjoy reading the San Francisco Chronicle, but I recently discovered an Alternative Daily called “BeyondChron” that bills itself as “The voice of the rest.”

Eli Rosenberg, a writer for BeyondChron, wrote a piece back in 2006 that described in precise terms the constant diverging realities of Caracas, Venezuela. He wrote about the haphazardly placed skyscrapers and glittering shopping malls, surrounded by the “ranchos” or ghettos in the hills.

I really enjoyed his piece, and I’m reprinting it here, along with some photos that I added:

Life in Caracas

by Eli Rosenberg

Caracas, while home to nearly a fifth of Venezuela’s 26 million inhabitants, is a city so poorly conceived in design that it appears to have sprung up from the ground, without warning, overnight. Nestled in a long and narrow valley, it is a tangled urban agglomeration of towering skyscrapers, cluttered streets, curving highways, world-famous shopping malls, and of course, ranchos that blanket the hills surrounding the city, covering every inch of exposed land as if they were fighting for daylight.

Stacked haphazardly on top of each other, the red cinder block and tin-roof dwellings of the ranchos can be seen from the valley floor, serving as a constant reminder of the harsh reality that many buying Versace or Polo in the air-conditioned cool of a mall try to forget, but are forced to acknowledge upon leaving; que peligroso (how dangerous) they’ll say, glancing fearfully at the hills, adding even que feo (how ugly). They’ll show you the golf course too, the golf course and country club in the middle of the city that Chávez is trying to take away. He would take away our golf course! They’ll say, with the indignation of a child who hears the word no for the first time.

The division between rich and poor is even more blatant in Caracas than in other parts of the country; consecutive city blocks often alternate between these two constituencies, and on many streets, bright and modern apartment buildings, circled by tall electric fences, stand in stark contrast to much smaller, crumbling brick buildings which surround them.

Yet in parts of Caracas, it is also deceptively easy to forget the fact that more than half of the people in Venezuela live in poverty, and that a quarter of the population lacks the means to eat adequately. In a shopping mall in Caracas, one could be in any wealthy region of the world; unabashedly extravagant, they are filled with the global chains of the world’s upper class- designer clothes, first-rate electronics, and endless shoe stores on par with any upscale mall in the United States. These malls are located in neighborhoods of BMW dealerships, “American” styled and themed bars, and areas where it is possible, even preferable, to pay for apartments in dollars. It is hard to believe that such contradictions could simultaneously exist in such close proximity, with such scarce middle ground.

Millenium Mall in Caracas, Venezuela

Millenium Mall in Caracas, Venezuela

Eating at one of the slick restaurants or glamorous bars of Las Mercedes, one could easily be in Los Angeles, and the similarities between the two cities are frightening; the blatant discrepancy between classes, the complete ill-conception and lack of planning, and the flaunting of wealth and almost psychotic emphasis on material goods and beauty. There were even mass riots of the poor in Caracas in 1989, called El Caracazo, which seemed to frighten the wealthy caraqueños perpetually, to a similar effect that the Rodney King riots had on the citizens of Los Angeles. And then there are the malls.

The wealthy in Caracas seem to embrace this retreat into irreality, flocking in hordes to lavish shopping malls, where some spend all day perusing the designer outlets, paying American prices to eat at American chains like TGIF and Cinnabon, listening to the American pop music that is piped into the cool air. These are the places they will recommend to you if you ask them where to visit in Caracas, these are what make Caracas the best city, they ‘ll say, if not in Venezuela, then the world.

Never mind the fact that you can get a good meal for a fraction of the price outside or that you could probably take a vacation here for the same amount of money spent in an afternoon at the mall. Maybe the outside world really does disappear the moment one enters a mall; how could poverty exist side by side with such profusion of wealth?

2. The other side of the coin

Boasting one of the highest murder rates on the continent, Caracas is an undeniably dangerous city. Upper-class neighborhoods surrounded by heavily-fortified walls and guard stations give some areas of Caracas the appearance of a war zone, and it is generally accepted that one does not walk around the city at night, with the exception of a few small areas in the wealthiest districts, conveniently surrounding the upper-echelon malls. Yet the ever-present paranoia of the upper-class in Caracas is almost more palpable than the danger here; I could not count the number of times that I was told to be careful in Caracas, and cautioned that Caracas is peligrosisimo (very dangerous), and sucio (dirty) too, deemed by many not even worth visiting because of this.

Caracas street vendor sells watches

A street vendor displays a stopwatch souvenir of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez weeks before plans to turn back the country's clocks by half an hour.

The small hotel I stayed at was located in an area called La Candelaria, a busy neighborhood near the central district of the city. Contrary to what I had been told, the area compromising the center and capital of the city was by far the most interesting part of the city. The streets surrounding Plaza Bolívar teemed with action during the day, alive with street vendors who covered the sidewalk for blocks on end, selling clothes, food, used books, household items, and pirated CDs to the masses of people who passed hurriedly by. This was dense urban living at its finest: the currents of people, the noise and smog, the movement on every street and corner, the hustle and struggle of everybody moving to the chaotic clockwork of modern city life.

In what appeared to be an impromptu speech, a man talked loudly about the virtues of the revolution into a microphone set up in Plaza Bolívar to the sparse crowd gathered there it seemed for other reasons, some restlessly tossing popcorn at pigeons, others nodding off on the benches around the huge statue of Simon Bolívar. A man gave me a “No a la Guerra!” sticker as I sat down. In Caracas political graffiti is everywhere, large government posters hang from office buildings showing giant profiles of Chávez, and a few beautiful murals cover the city’s walls.

A few blocks from the center, El Capitolio is the district where the National Assembly meets, where the building that houses the Supreme Court is under renovation, and where El Palacio Miraflores, the presidential palace is located. Palacio Miraflores, the site of the 2002 coup in which Chávez was removed from office for roughly 48 hours, sits on streets that are blockaded on all ends, streets that you are now forbidden from even walking down.

Caracas is a place that feels like it is at war with itself; fighting between two extremes, the city burns with conflict. Chávez clearly has his support in those who believe he can narrow the immense gap between those who reside in tall apartment buildings of Altamira and those who can only watch from their hillside shanties, but despite the programs, initiatives, the constant talk and emphasis, the task remains as necessary as the distance formidable.

Squid Fishing in Venezuela

Venezuela fishing town

The Venezuelan fisherman's home town

Geraldine is a young British woman who has done a lot of travelling in Latin America and written about it in her great blog, Mole’s Eye View. She traveled through Venezuela as well, and wrote some interesting posts about it. In one, she wrote about her experience squid fishing in Santa Fe, Venezuela.

She had a great time, though she only caught one small squid, while the fishing guide was pulling them up hand over fist. It sounds so messy with the ink spraying everywhere.

Here’s Gerlandine’s story:

Squid Fishing in Santa Fe, Venezuela

Out of the six people who the evening before had wanted to come squid fishing, only two of us made it. It was worth every bit of the early morning. Speeding across the water as the sun rose made me wonder why I didn’t get up early more often. But then it’s not everywhere that you can share the sunrise with schools of sardines and a dozen dolphins.

The three of us sat for two and a half hours with fishing lines poised for a bite. The art (or lack of it in my case) of catching squid is not all that different to other types of fishing, but there is no bait. I’m a big fan of that as it means you never know how many times you got a bite but were too skill less to snap the line quick enough to claim the fish.

Squid in a bucketWith squid fishing you cast out the line, wait for it to reach the sea bed and then keep pulling the line to attract the attention of any squid who may think that the hook is a sardine. When the squid engulfs the hook, that’s when you snap the line and bring in the catch.

Our fisherman deftly handled his two lines and kept bring up squids that squirted ink all over the boat as they hit air.

It took me two long hours to get my first and only calamari. Luckily, our fisherman gave us all the squid he’d caught as well as some mackerel from another boat we passed on the way back in, otherwise our evening barbecue wouldn’t have fed more than a small child.

I don’t think I’ll be quiting city life to live off the land…