My recollection of Venezuela is a place of natural beauty and wealth. I never thought in a million years that I would be writing a blog with this particular slant when it comes to Venezuela. I suppose we all know of the economic and humanitarian crisis this country is currently facing and so it is common knowledge that the country has been left in shambles for lack of a better phrase.
It may baffle you to imagine that the country with the most Oil Reserves in the world, with a whopping 300.9 billion barrels, could be dealt such an impacting blow that has totally toppled and destabilized it’s foundation, leave it a shell of a country, practically in ruin. I often liken it to the ‘fall of Rome’ except that I was able to witness it’s downfall within my lifetime and in front my very eyes, in the short space of perhaps just ten years. To be honest, this is a topic that I rather not touch with a ten foot pole because of the complexities that led to this state. But I must say that the stories I hear, and know to be true are absolutely heartbreaking. They are stories of hunger, malnutrition, disease and extreme poverty. I know that the inflation rate has practically rendered its currency useless as perhaps the paper is more valuable than the money itself.
I was lucky enough to visit Venezuela on a couple occasions before it’s collapse. And to be honest, it was one of places I visited during my teenage years that really made me understand how big and culturally different the world was. On a couple occasions, I was lucky enough to visit Caracas with my father. We had really good family friends who lived in Altamira, which was an affluent neighborhood in Caracas. I liked staying there because it was a suburb that was within walking distance to downtown where my favorite mall was. I remember the weather being quite chilly. The neighborhood was quiet but as you walked down the hill and left this private area, it was suddenly buzzing with activity. I loved walking to the Panadaria to get bread and other pastries, any excuse to sight see at that age. One of the things I loved very much was the style of clothing. Everyone was dressed to the nines in a variety of styles that are common to colder countries. Now that I think about it, I have always loved fashion and I appreciated the style in Caracas.
I remember walking through the square that I would later see on television where many of the protests began as Chavez came into power. Many people thought Chavez would reform Venezuela for the better since he was concerned with helping the poor…
Caracas, much like New York, had everything my country did not. I enjoyed taking the subway but was also weary of the amount of crime. I remember being told how unsafe it was to even walk around downtown however I am happy to say that these memories I have are only very positive. I was told that the news did not cover much of the crime stories because they would need an entire news-paper if they wanted to do so on a daily basis. Crime was that bad. Perhaps it was an exaggeration but it got the point across.
I remember going to Sambil which is by far, the largest mall I have ever stepped foot in, to date. My dad walked all six or seven floors with me and often went back to places when I had changed my mind and wanted to buy the thing I saw when I just entered. He often jokes with me about the reason I wanted to go back to certain stores. He remembers one young boy who was very eager to help me find something to wear and has never let me downplay that moment as even the owner of the shop, told the boy that she would take the things to me instead.
A very interesting aspect of Venezuela from those days was the fact that it was quite common to see the native Indians, or the people from the Amazon tribes begging in the traffic jams, sometimes fully pregnant and sometimes with their children. I always noticed that they were brown in complexion, more so than the average Venezuelan and often had solemn expressions as their hands were outstretched hoping for money.
Besides Caracas, I am also very lucky to have visited Merida with some of the students from my class, as it was customary to take a trip in order to improve our Spanish for exams. I recall the bus ride being around eight or nine hours long but it was fun as I was sat next to my best friend who very much loved the Spanish language and culture. Merida is a beautiful town high in the Andes mountain range where it is not only safe but the atmosphere is so breezy at that level. The air is cool and one can see the snow capped mountains in the distance. Merida boasts of the highest cable car in the world. Not only did we go up the mountain on this ‘teleferico’ but I remember they served us strawberries with whipped cream and hot chocolate when we got to the top.
We were quite lucky to be allowed some agency at this point in our lives as our teachers knew we were responsible girls and so, we were allowed to go off exploring on our own sometimes and even stay out a bit later than others at night. It was at these times we made our most interesting discoveries. It is customary for Venezuelans to refer to you by your looks and so, we were sometimes called Negras preciosas, or delgadas as some of us were quite skinny. We always found this very amusing and looked forward to hearing what other names we would be called by people in passing.
One of the shocking things that stayed with me for years happened when I entered an Ice-cream shop that was known for having a wide variety of flavors. I did not really care for the ice-cream nor did I really care to enter but I went with a friend who was interested in buying some. To my surprise, more than twenty little children around the ages of five to seven suddenly crowded around us to beg for money and ice-cream. I think it startled me as I immediately made a U-turn and exited the shop. I became conscious that these little children might rob me as silly as it sounds today. I disliked that feeling, I suppose it was because I was shocked to see them begging and in such large numbers. All around the same age. I always like to help and to give alms but this was overwhelming.
Today when I meet people and they ask me where I have traveled, most are impressed, shocked and curious to hear that I have visited Venezuela. They want to know what it was like. It feels almost like a relic in my memory to have experienced this place. It is truly a pity to have to refer to it in the Past Tense as I have no idea what the future hold for this wealthy, beautiful and culturally rich country. I often wonder what became of Merida and if it somehow remained unaffected by the common problems facing other parts, due to its geographical location. I suppose it is only wishful thinking as I can only hope for the best for this beautiful Andean town. If you believe in God, you should say some prayers for Venezuela. Thanks for reading. Have a great day.