Cayenne French Guiana
Pointa A Pitre Guadaloupe
Back Home in California
Hello from Porlamar Venezuela on the Island of Margareta,
The past week has been one of the most irritating and aggravating of my entire nine month adventure. Up and down, back and forth, can do and can't do. Rotten overpriced hotels, impossible transportation schedules, little or no English spoken by anyone. If it hadn't been for the fact that through it all serendipity came to the rescue periodically, I'd be nuts by now... but I start on a low discordant note obscuring the really big story in Venezuela which is at the gasoline pump. "Fill 'er up please."
"You want the entire tank filled?" asks the attendant.
"Yep. I feel like a big spender today."
"That will be 4,300 Bolivars, please."
"What? That's only about US$2.00 for the 15 gallons. That can't be right!"
"Hey! Where do you think you are? This is Venezuela where the government treats people right!" So ends a conversation I could have had... if I had a car to fill with gasoline anywhere in Venezuela. To put things into perspective, bottled water at sixty cents a liter costs fifteen times more than gasoline at less than 4 cents per liter! Venezuelans take cheap gas (currently 70 Bolivars per liter @ 2150 Bolivars/$US) as a birth right, complaining bitterly anytime the government bumps the price up a fraction! Alert Entera in Santa Barbara sent me an enlightening article that appeared in the Guardian last week. Author Greg Palast put America's problems with the oil producing world including Venezuela into perspective for me. For your own personal oil shock read: Bush Didn't Bungle Iraq, You Fools .
Porlamar 29 March - 2 April 2006: An hour flight got me to the island of Margarita in the Caribbean Sea off the northern shore of Venezuela, a stopping point on the way to Trinidad. Why Trinidad, you might ask? Planes do not fly directly to any of the Guyanas, but there are flights out of Puerto Espaņa Trinidad going to Georgetown Guyana. The main city on Isla de Margarita is called Porlamar and while it is colorful, good hotels are hard to find. The really lavish places like the Hilton are far from the main commercial districts. Such remote resorts have their appeal, but not for me at this time.
Princess Hotels have always been good values in the past, so when I saw the $55 Margarita Princess tower I stopped immediately to check it out. Far from the luxurious palaces others have been, this place made me think of the quality of construction used for prisons; concrete floors and noisy motors. But, as a first nighter it got the nod. The next morning early out I went sniffing around for other possibilities and found the $74(ha) Buena Vista Hotel boasting five stars on its rooftop sign. Sure enough, the lobby looked clean and elegant. The impressive grounds behind the hotel looked like a miniature jungle and ended at the shores of the Caribbean Sea. Flights of pelicans winged back and forth and fluffy clouds behind the hotel landscaping completed the impression of a Caribbean paradise. The spellbinding view from the room they showed me cinched the deal. The rate negotiations were awkward, but eventually it appeared we had reached an agreement I could accept.
Little did I know the two guys behind the reception desk were con men! Speaking a smattering of English during my initial inquiries, they later could speak nothing but Spanish, feigning ignorance and the inability to provide even two star level service for this guest. Following several insulting encounters with the staff I decided to end my planned three night stay after only one night and reacted with shock when presented with the $98 bill containing a 33% overcharge and intransigent demands that I "must pay" it! "Call the manager" I retorted. Twenty minutes passed as I became more and more irritated and noisy. Finally, a pleasant "assistant manager" who spoke English showed up and haggled with the reception guys who reluctantly offered to accept only a 15% overcharge. Totally disgusted and exasperated I relented and paid the still wrong, but lower bill.
Now, completely disillusioned with Venezuela I bought a ticket for Trinidad on the next available flight and moved to the nearby $41 Howard Johnson Hotel for the last two nights in the country. The next morning during the hour I spent having breakfast in the new hotel someone broke into my room and rifled my bag. Fortunately, I had put most of the really important stuff in the room safe, so nothing significant disappeared as far as I could determine. The manager, embarrassed by the incident upgraded my room for the last night and apologized profusely, sincerely and repeatedly.
'Nuff said about Venezuela. I have no interest in returning... and even forgive the US State Department for emphatically bad mouthing the country, though I suspect that has more to do with international politics than actual American citizen security concerns.
Fred L Bellomy