Woke at around 10am to the inviting smell of a fried breakfast. Vero’s 2 maids served us up arepas with a scrambled egg and tomato, all washed down with café latte and black tea. The maid’s kids were watching TV, 2 adorable little black kids, and we played a few ‘gimme 5’ games. Vero and I then set off for a morning and afternoon of errands in Eduardo’s Mercedes along with Felix, a huge black guy, who is, for a reason I’m still not sure of, Eduardo’s personal bodyguard. “Why does your Dad need a bodyguard? What does he do?” I kept asking Vero, to no satisfying reply. Felix was very friendly, and had worked as a bodyguard for the South African Ambassador, and before that he was in the Venezuelan Police force. A hulk of a man, he certainly isn’t someone you’d mess with. His herculean hands gave a surprisingly gentle handshake. I have no doubt Eduardo feels completely safe in the presence of this man mountain.
The first stop was the Banco Mercantil in Concresa mall, where Vero and I had been to before, the one where I got fingerprinted for trying to send a birthday card to my mum. Vero still needed that $500 in cash that was allotted to Venezuelans travelling abroad. With the $2,500 credit card limit, Venezuelans don’t have much spending power when going abroad.
Waiting in the queue to get the money in the bank, both Eduardo and Felix spoke of their disgust with Chavez; they, like other Venezuelans I’d talked to, seem quite embarrassed of their own president, and very curious as to how the West perceived him, and perceived Venezuela. I thought it was only the rich that felt threatened because Chavez appeals to the poor, but now even some of the poor are turning against him. Many, like Eduardo and Felix, are known as ‘Esqualidos’ which is a derogatory term used against those who oppose Chavez, and means ‘weak people’. Before coming to the mall, I remembered we drove through a poor neighbourhood, where everyone is a ‘Chavista’ (a supporter of Chavez.) The divide is quite apparent.
Vero and I queued, and then she told her Dad that after her planned visit next to the Indonesian Embassy, she may have to come back to the same bank to make a deposit for the visas. Eduardo, a stereotypical South American dad with a lot of stress in his life, didn’t like the idea of this new inconvenience, and gesticulated wildly, throwing his hands in the air, his hand spiraling towards the sky and back down to slap his forehead, in disbelief at his daughter’s lack of organizational skills. I tried hard not to smile or laugh. Then, Jesus showed up.
Jesus, a man in his 50s, also worked for Eduardo, and may also be a business partner. His salt and pepper hair slicked back, with a large nose and a portly frame, gave him the presence of an Italian mafia member. He also spoke cuttingly against Chavez. Vero got her money eventually, and so it was that the 5 of us marched out. Jesus talked a lot about the worsening situation and economy in Venezuela, He, like all others, was also concerned how the West perceive Chavez. In Venezuela, harsh criticism of Chavez was becoming a dangerous occupation. A brilliant young man was about to go to jail for protesting against Chavez the week before, and other Esqualidos were rounded up. People I spoke to hear seem increasingly desperate and lacking hope for their country.
Vero announced I had to buy a stamp. It was true. I needed one for my postcard. The 5 of us marched from place to place, like South American mafia looking for someone who’s forgotten to pay their protection money. The task of buying a simple stamp seemed impossible, just like it was to send a birthday card to my mum. The 5 of us eventually stormed into a busy postal office and went straight to the front, ignoring the queues. Much gesticulating between Eduardo, his partner in crime Jesus, Felix, and the postal clerk followed. The clerk had to ask his supervisor if it was possible to just sell a stamp. After 5 minutes, all agreed that this was probably OK, and a stamp was produced from a huge book of stamps. Eduardo paid for it. Victorious, he announced it was time for a coffee, and we marched out, mission accomplished, the 3 hombres and Vero, and the huge bodyguard. Quite a sight!
We had small cappuccinos out of plastic cups, after 3 attempts of ordering the drink from different shops. Everyone was in a good mood now. Jesus joined us to the Indonesian Embassy. Felix waited in the Merc while the rest of us traipsed into what looked like a police interrogation room, and Jesus and Eduardo demanded a visa for Vero. They seemed very curious about Indonesia too, and asked me many questions about it. We did indeed have to go back to the first bank and make a small deposit to the embassy’s bank before they would give a visa out, so Vero and I left Jesus and Eduardo, and hopped into the Mercedes to a different mall to deposit the money, all the time flanked by the cheerful Felix.
Back at the Indonesian Embassy we got the visa. Success! In a brilliant mood, Eduardo said we should go to the teleferico to see if it was open. It was, and busy too. Eduardo and Jesus, the wily dogs, pretended to be our tour guides to get a discounts for themselves, and it worked. We boarded a teleferico, which is a cable car that takes you right to the top of Avila mountain, offering spectacular views over Caracas, a narrow and long pastel-coloured cityscape that has started crawling up the surrounding mountains in places. As almost everything is made with cement and concrete, not steel or glass like more modern metropolises, the colour is sandier, more in tune with the surroundings than the greys and silvers of cities like Tokyo, New York and Singapore. We passed over forests, mountains, and some of the city on our way up to the top. It’s certainly the highest cable car ride, at 2175m, I’ve been on to see a cityscape. At the top, we could make out the coastline and the Caribbean Sea. Scores of local schoolkids were singing and clapping at the top, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. The 5 of us wandered around in the crisp clear day, enjoying the views and the cool breeze, and the food, including churros with cheese and dark chichi, and also the panor andina (fried bread with a filling of chicken and vegetables) and a pork sandwich (pernil) – all of which were delicious. We also stopped by a local landmark, the Hotel Humboldt, built in 1956 – the scene of many a rhumba but since closed down.
We boarded the return cable car as the sun was setting, which made for a very pleasant descent. We headed back now, and dropped Jesus and Felix off, and hit rush-hour Caracas, which reminded me of normal hour in Jakarta. Got back and I had a nap, exhausted. Woke to the sound of much merriment coming from downstairs, got changed and went down to see many of Vero’s friends who were with us on last Saturday’s night out in Caracas, plus a few others I hadn’t met, like Pepe, who was studying at the British Council in Caracas and seemed very keen to talk to me and practice his English. We all had drinks – red and white wine and rum – then a few of us went out to Suka club in San Ignacio. It was rocking in here, and all the women looked sultry and beautiful. Natalia, Vero’s blonde-haired chatty, witty and delightfully sarcastic friend, was telling me all about the 7-1 girls to guy ratio in Caracas. Also out tonight was Anna-Sophia and Vicky. The club had a huge rope hammock with a foam drinks holder in it. We all hopped in, me and 4 Venezuelan beauties in a hammock. I felt like I was the envy of the men in the club, but it didn’t stop me getting a lot of smoldering Latina stares. Competition is fierce. I had a vodka tonic, then a mojito. I didn’t dare dance, as that would have spoiled the illusion that I was a well-heeled socialite.
After the party we drove off to find hotdogs, a Venezuelan after-hours specialty. The little hot-dog stand we went to on a street corner was very popular, with loads of big jeeps pulling up and the well-to-dos staggering from them to order. When we drove away, Vero realized she had accidentally stolen the special sauce to put on the hotdogs…..never mind, it’d make a good souvenir! We dropped Natalia off, and went back to Vero’s to find she’s been locked out and had no key. We successfully managed to break into her house, by twisting some wire and fishing a set of keys from the table at the back door, which took a few goes but was a good team effort in the end. Finally got in and to bed, What a day!