Saturday, 17 September 2005
Iím waiting for the pickup to arrive. My motorbikeís engine blew up about an hour ago. Iím fed up of Venezuela and everything that goes with it.
Iíve been in Isla Margarita for four days now, an island renown for its beaches, and my first glimpse of sand was last night in the dark.
The first day, 60 USD get robbed. I go to the police Ė twice Ė for Ďpaper workí. Then it takes me 1 whole day (24 hours) to sort out two flights out of here. They said I could pay by credit card, then they said I couldnít, then it took me half a day to get money out because everything shuts for siesta between 12 pm and 2:30 pm (including restaurants). I finally get cash and the flights are sorted, one last thing: change my American Airlines flight out of here, cut my visit short by 2 days. I canít take much more of this country.
Venezuela is more expensive than Chile, and very close to competing with French prices. But everything here is run the Latin way! Even Bolivia was more organised. The people are kind and interesting despite the many crooks Ė but when it comes to organisationÖ
Anyway, back to the flight: I want out early. Iíve changed 8 of my Oneworld flights before without any problems Ė EVER. So why should it be a problem with American Airlines? They tell me they canít change the ticket over the phone: they need to see it, in Caracas. I explain I canít make it to their office as Iím stuck on an island. But I do tell them I have the ticket in front of me and I can give them any of the numbers they need. No can do. A few minutes of argument and they tell me I have to call British Airways. They give me the number. I hang up. Itís Friday afternoon (2 pm) and BA are already closed. I wonít get through until Monday.
After three hectic days on this island - of which I've seen nothing - I have one left to kill. So I rent a motorbike for an accelerated tour of the place. Iím finally Ďfreeí.
I decide to catch the sunset from Juan Griega Ė famous for sunsets. I leave the rental shop in time but 10 minutes down the road I get stopped by the police. Corruption it is. They say I have no plates, I say I donít need them. We argue for 20 minutes until I tell the cop Iím fed up of Venezuela, I want his name and ID. To this I pull out my (non-working) mobile phone and tell him Iím calling the chief of police (using the word CICPC that I had acquired the previous day from visiting the police station). He backs down and tells me to ride off. I rush for the sunset but itís too late. 10 minutes too late to be exact. Damn cops. Added to that, I see a couple of travellers I had met previously. They had been on the beach for 3 nights and this was by far Ďthe most spectacular sunsetí.
After dinner, I head to the cinema Ė the only true escape from this country Ė and Iíve been to the silver screen many more times here than in any other country! I get back at midnight. All the 24 hour parking lots are shut! 24 hours! I ask around. Police tell me I wonít find anything open at this time of the night, but that it isnít safe to leave the motorbike on the road. They drop me a big hint that theyíll be here all night. More money? NO WAY. I go back to the first 24 hour parking, continue banging on the steel gate until someone finally arrives, woken in his sleep. He takes the bike.
This morning I decide to visit the Marine Museum; Ďnot to be missedí (Lonely Planet). Itís only one hour away. So I set off at 8:30 am. 20 minutes down the road, the engine blows. Smoke everywhere. Just my luck. My day is ruined and Iím leaving at 6 am tomorrow and will have seen nothing of this island.
Why did I come here? I donít know. Iím hoping this nightmare has a reason. Maybe Iíll meet the love of my life on that AA flight Iím trying to book. After all, Iím changing the ticket because I canít take much more of this country. But I doubt Iíll succeed in making the change. Iím in Venezuela.
Iíve finally changed the tickets. It took me 7 hours and 20 USD of telephone calls. I phoned BA on Monday but it was a fax line. So I phoned a travel agent to get the correct number. They told me BA does not have an office in VZ and that I should phone Air France. AF told me it had nothing to do with them. I phoned back AA. After the usual 10 minute wait to get through to an operator, they made me wait a further 20 minutes just to tell me I had to call LAN Chile. They gave me a number. I hung up and dialled the new number. The number Ďis no longer in useí. I phoned back AA furious. 7 minute wait. Asked for the manager. ĎHeís in a meetingí Ė more likely he was off to lunch early (it was 11:45 am). After 20 minutes of debate I started unleashing my temper. They only managed 2 minutes of it before issuing me with a new ticket. ĎImpossible?í as they had first told me: America Airlines certainly runs the Latin way!