Tío Conejo Chronicles: are Venezuelans really hostile to Foreigners?

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Colombia's got nothing on us... (except, y'know, everything.)
Colombia’s got nothing on us… (except, y’know, everything.)

A guest post from Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez 

Last week, the World Economic Forum released its “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report” for 2013. The study rated 140 countries on various metrics so as to gauge overall national attractiveness for potential investors as well as for tourists themselves.

All the ALBA nations, including Venezuela, had a particularly poor showing in multiple categories, news of which has been making the rounds ever since. Venezuela came in second to last overall as regards “friendliness to tourists,” outdone only by our beloved sister republic of Bolivia. This would make this country purportedly less amiable to visitors than Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, even France.

The finding left me surprised, and a bit incredulous.

After all, I’ve had many friends visit me from abroad and they’ve always had a blast: the view from 360, weekend trips to Choroni or Morrocoy, the clubs, the rum, the parties. No complaints. Ever.

Of course, on their own, these folks might have had a whole different experience. Venezuela does have a terrible crime problem. And — at least in the capital, where streets are rarely marked and directions are given in terms of “subiendo y bajando” — one should expect a great deal of wandering around confused, further compounding the city’s already considerable dangers. But isn’t that just Caracas?

Then there’s the fact that tourists cannot easily use ATMs given the extra digits we require on passcodes, and wouldn’t want to anyway given our arcane currency controls. Making it mandatory to engage in illegal currency trading to avoid getting ripped off is not much of a welcome mat to put on the country’s doorstep, really.

So ok, I can see how Venezuela is probably a terribly frustrating place for tourists and visitors, should they arrive not knowing people in the country… but isn’t this just a natural byproduct of a lack of tourism infrastructure? And is not that itself just a consequence of our having never actually invested in tourism as an industry in our Dutch-Diseased little part of the world?

Culturally, I think Venezuelans can be very welcoming of foreigners. And on occasion, during my Prince Halesque wilder days, I actually managed to get away with a great deal in Caracas by cynically pretending not to speak Spanish at key times. Playing the “confused and agitated gringo” card.

I’ve skipped some colossal lines and annoying bureaucratic formalities that way, as kind people would roll their eyes and pity my not knowing what the line/requirement was for. Likewise, speaking English outside a nightclub or trendy restaurant is still a surefire way to skip past the velvet rope. On occasions, this trick can even bend the laws of spacetime, allowing one to travel instantaneously from the moment they are stopped at the alcabala, to the time they bribe the cop and can drive away. As the policeman knows the practiced song and dance routine about “taking one to the station” and “unidades tributarias” will be wasted, he/she feels free to cut to the chase – such efficiencies are few in Venezuela. Furthermore, being “foreign” has the added benefit of providing full deniability should some particularly observant police office notice that you’ve passed them some of the counterfeit bills your cousin gave you, and that you’ve been saving in your glove compartment for just such an occasion… You get the idea.

In contrast, North Americans would rarely be so patient, or understanding with a perplexed foreigner. Pretending not to speak English might –at best– get one out of being accosted by some particularly aggressive panhandler, but forget cops and bank lines: you’re on your own.

The fact that I look back on such schemes with a touch of pride, cuts to the heart of what I suspect the real problem is. Perhaps the frustration being picked up by this study, simply stems from the overarching Venezuelan cultural affinity for trickery and chicanery: the “Tío Conejo” mentality that we are all brought up with. Can it be that to Venezuelans, conflating “stranger who trusts me” with “gullible fool I can trick” is at this point just second nature?

If so, one can imagine how this might pose a problem for the tourism industry. Tourism, after all, is highly reliant on services, and services often require trust. If we are really a nation being brought up to trust little ourselves, and to see those who do as “opportunities” can we really expect people to come visit us to explore our land?

When a person is cognizant that every interaction will be a battle of wits, being perceived as “foreign” can be an asset. It leads other to be overconfident, and allows one to reset any negotiation that is not going well by simply pretending to have misunderstood what was said or agreed to earlier on. Yet I suspect few visitors are like to stick around enough to begin appreciating this game for its own sake. Scared off instead by their inability to get anywhere, massively accumulating expenses, and constant indignation at receiving the “descuento musiú.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. What an incredibly stupid post. I am a Venezuelan, and I KNOW why I don’t ever want to go back there. So, why would a tourist want to go to that shithole having humongously better alternatives?

    • Geeeeez! If that is your opinion, lichtenberg, stay where you are, but my country is by no means a caca-hole. Some of the most varied and beautiful landscapes anywhere are right here. No need to mention places like Morrocoy, the Tepuys, the Avila, the beaches of oriente, etc.

    • A shithole?, what a pathetic little selfloathing excuse of a “person”, it’s so pathetic it’s almost funny, yeah, you go and join the hoards of Venezuelans who wish they weren’t, lavici has it right about politicians,but we’ve got amazing people, hardworking people, and we’re proud of being Venezuelans, we don’t run away like a little bitch when things get tough, we work and we fight for why we want, one can’t hate one’s own country, because that’s hating oneself, y’know what lichtenbitch?, actually stay wherever it is you’re, we’re much much better off without your selfloathing crap, and well, to the people of wherever it is you’re right now I say I’m glad it’s you and not us, sorry he was unleashed upon you

      • You probably don’t have a U.S. visa. Seriously though and in defense of the first commentor who hurt a lot of feelings, foreigners are well advised to steer clear of VE for now and the foreseeable future. There is nothing there but trouble waiting.

    • This guy lichtenberg believes he’s entitled to judge and criticize Venezuela by distancing himself from the country when in fact he’s just unwittingly shown himself to be the greatest representative of a core problem of his homeland.

      I know those kinds of people. He’s hopeless, and we’re better off without him anyway.

  2. Just because english speaking foreigners still have some colonial-esque benefits doesn’t mean that Venezuela is good for tourists, which of course you highlight, though I think it’s for reasons much more fundamental than just being merely “difficult” to make sense of the chaotic realities of modern Venezuela. I think that the violent crime and the fact that you have to engage in increasingly dangerous black market activity for the trip not to be extremely expensive are pretty huge deterrents that undermine pretty much anything else, including a generally warm culture.
    For me personally, I haven’t been back to Venezuela in quite a while because, despite having an entire wing of my family there, it’s just too stifling. Exploring Caracas is unthinkably dangerous, and other parts of the country are getting there (if they aren’t already). Perhaps “adventurous” foreigners are willing to risk it, but what Venezuelan doesn’t have tale after tale of a cousin who was robbed and killedkilled when he did _____ dumb-but-not-worth-being-killed thing (in my case, it was when he got out of his car to pee on the side of the highway), or an uncle who was ambushed at his home, robbed, and left for dead, naked on a highway? Just me?
    It’s a shame because, as you said, Venezuela is very well-equipped culturally to make tourists feel welcome and at home…but there’s also no way to know who is going to be in the large swath of Venezuelans that will treat you magnificently, and who is going to be in the very dangerous minority that will rob you and kill you just because. This is where your comment on trust comes into play, because it does not take much of a murder rate to undermine any amount of “cultural advantage” to toursim, and Venezuela has way more than just a little murder.
    In an ideal world, Venezuela would be a gem of tourism. It has it all. The world’s largest waterfalls. Rain forest. Sprawling savannahs. All sorts of different regional histories and cultures. World class beaches, set against gorgeous, lush, mountainous backdrops. Cute beach towns (well, at least Choroni is cute…). Crystal clear, warm water with dudes selling you lobster plucked from the sea. And so on and so on. Alas…

    • So true and it’s not just the locals. When i was backpacking through Brazil i met a guy who had just fled from Venezuela. He was travelling alone. His drink got spiked one night at a bar in playa el agua. Not only did the thugs take all his valuables but they also raped him. Needless to say the poor guy was traumatized. I bet you he didn’t leave a good rating on lonely planet!

  3. Everything about travelling in Venezuela is fraught. It is a country you would really have to have a reason to visit.

    Booking flights, especially with connections, requires having a three day buffer for delays.

    There is also the active disregard Venezuelans seem to have for anything public or shared – a strange sort of ego-driven ‘it’s my right to shit here and I don’t care what anyone else thinks’ that does not make for attractive natural or social spaces, things tourists appreciate.

    The lack of tourist infrastructure – roads, car rentals, accommodation options, tourist operators, tourist information centres – combined with the very real spectre of daily violence that extends everywhere in the country, not just Caracas, are major impediments to exploring.

    Currency controls are a major disincentive for the average tourist who would not otherwise have any inclination to participate in black market exchanges, and this means that budgeting for a trip is made difficult.

    Thinking that you can do anything on your own (what most travellers on a limited budget and time would assume is possible), unless you want to pay 5 times global market prices, isn’t going to happen. Getting anything done in flexible reality Alice in Bolivarian wonderland Venezuela requires the cultivation of many relationships, because plans 1-3 are probably not going to work out, and you will need help to achieve plan 4.

    Now, cultivating a social network brings us to the ‘tio conejo’ point you raise. I’ve traveled back and forth to Venezuela from Australia for 12 years. It has always struck me that there is a paradox between the warm generosity and welcoming spirit of people and the national past time of taking advantage of people, particularly foreigners, The sense that one is always on the verge of getting shafted. While some people might find this ‘game’ interesting, it just ends up being draining and can leave a bad taste in the mouth.

    And while being a gringo may have some advantages among aspiring to be ‘modern’ middle class people, I have noticed a rise in anti-gringo sentiment and racial slurs, which is an annoyance at best. I printed a t-shirt that said ‘Yo no soy gringo!’ to engage this.

    • Hey there mate you are totally right! I myself have suffered from increasing discriminatory looks and attitudes, and have been subjected to people trying to scam me the minute i set foot out of the customs area everytime i return to my homeland. Why? ‘Cause i look like a gringa. They jump back when I say… “Mire soy más criolla que Ud. Así que no me fastidie! ”
      Now, i would add to all these descriptions that on top of the tio conejo syndrome and the anti gringo sentiment cultivated to the extreme by our caudillo du jour, i’d have to add that venezuelans have a very curious “complejo de clase” mixed with the “we don’t need tourism to survive, as we have oil” one. They confuse service with servilism. That to me is the worst trait we have not shared by any other country in Latam who do survive thru tourism amongst other things. Go to mexico, colombia, the dutch antilles and caribbean in general, costa rica etc etc etc. Alli no hay ese complejo estúpido, “yo no soy tu cachifa” so… As long as we see and treat tourist as being sopita to be taken advantage of, and confuse service with servilism, it doesn’t surprise me at all that again we are last in some list.

    • “I printed a t-shirt that said ‘Yo no soy gringo!’ to engage this.” My wife (from Caracas, myself an American) has been building a B&B, don’t ask me why, in San Fernando, Apure. She is constantly annoyed when the local llaneros call her gringo. She is VERY Venezuelan.

      • Hey, the FARC also like breakfast on the front porch, followed by a brisk horseback ride to some awesome caribe and ray filled rivers! LOL

  4. I personally prefer people who might seem cold but are not going to harm you.

    See, we Venezuelans on arriving at a scene have to put the right balloon cloud next to each character. For example:

    -Will help you because they are nice, welcome you and maybe invite you. A majority of people.
    – Will steal from you if you give them half a chance, because you gave them the occasion. Too many people in Venezuela, not thieves in a professional sense.
    – Will take advantage of you and leave you up the creek without a paddle. Can look like the two above.
    – Will murder your ass for the money in your wallet, coz you looked at them, or for no real reason at all, just because they can!

    Making this life or death judgement call is, I don’t need to tell anyone, immensely stressful for Venezuelans. Why would anyone willingly go through it? In fact foreign tourists and their tours make a point of not coming into contact with places where you would be forced to perform it.

  5. Where do I begin? The author is correct to a point. If you already know someone who lives here, and can show you the ropes, then yes you can have a great time. I have been invited to complete stranger’s homes to spend the holidays because I was the friend of the daughter of the man that her daughter was dating, and treated quite warmly, and with much patience. On the other hand I can also understand perfectly why tourists have such an awful time here. I have been living on Margarita for about three years now; long enough to have a good enough idea about what tourists find so frustrating.
    First thing is just getting here. (I understand that some of these issues are unique to Margarita) The only international flights to the island these days come from Trinidad, and Canada a few months a year, which means most people have to go through Caracas airport. Flights are quite pricey, and since its nearly impossible to purchase a domestic flight from outside Venezuela, you have to show up, and hope there is a flight available. Now, most tourists don’t carry around a lot of cash with them, so will try and pay for the flight from the island with a card. If it does go through, it will be much more expensive than it should because it is at official rate, plus international surcharges, etc. Oh let’s not forget the nonexistent customer service. You may get someone to occasionally glance of from their blackberry to grumble an “a la orden” at you. Now you have your ticket. Can you go through security? No pana you have to walk all the way to the other end to pay a tax in local currency. Now where do you get that? More non existent customer service from the change window that is deserted more often than not.
    Finally we clear security and are waiting for our flight at gate x…oh no now its at gate y….no now its at gate z…..now gate x again. This simply doesn’t happen in the real world, and can be frustrating if you aren’t used to it. For foreign tourists in particular there is frequently a language barrier. Even those that speak Spanish will often have difficulty at first. Venezuelan Spanish has a distinct vocabulary. So you finally get to the island, check in to your hotel where you will probably get more of the non existent customer service.
    OK great travel was rough, but hey now we’re here! Let’s have some fun! It IS Carnaval after all. (Substitute any other holiday). No can do. Ley seca. How about the clubs? Nope closed too.
    I could go on, but you get the picture. First its expensive to some here. Most tourists don’t know about, or wont use it. Most North Americans, and Europeans simply aren’t comfortable doing anything illegal. There is the rampant crime problem. Most of the venezuelans that tourists will be interacting with will be from the service sector, which as a general rule is abysmal. Plus you come some place to have fun, but you can’t do that either. It’s not at all difficult to understand why Venezuela scored so poorly.

  6. Service, my friend, in Venezuela has always been horrible. People in the “hospitality” industry have never actually looked up the word. They treat you like they are doing you a favor.

    • Couldn’t have agreed more. After spending a month in Venezuela I was shocked to arrive at the Atlanta airport with a lady telling which way I was supposed to go. I didn’t have to ask she just greeted everyone going through customs. That’s one thing I hated about Venezuela was the service. It was AWFUL.

  7. The reason is simple. Chavismo has sown hatred, split families, made people nasty. I lived for nearly a decade in Venezuela and had great treatment from everyone, rich and poor, manager, owner, worker, black, brown or white, city, town, village, hut. Regular flights from San Fernando de Apure. Sure the government was shit but it always was: roads needed fixing, inflation, blackouts, corruption, nepotism…but all on a much smaller scale than now. Now people HATE. They are drunk and drugged on unearned entitlement. This is the worst of Chavez’s legacy.

    • Yes, I agree that the Hate factor has shot up to a degree unknown before. (Are they Cubans? Certainly seemed so at Maiquetía. The hatred was so visceral it was visible — I can give an example.) But service and organization have long been abysmal, way before Chávez.

  8. Reading the above postings is like taking a quick Venezuelan Cultural Anthropology class:
    When engaged on a personal level with a Venezuelan youll find most of them unassuming, friendly open , laid back , warm, good humored , likeable , informal and even generous. There is a taste for instant intimacy which can make, for example, waiting on a long queue almost a pleasure as people chit chat and gossip with abandon and exchange life stories .
    However if you engage Venezuelans on an impersonal functional or bureaucratic level then youll find many that are stand offish , cold , uncooperative obtuse and even intemperate . This happens to Venezuelans also but they know the gestures, words , registers they must touch to pass into a proto personal relationship which improves their treatment of you.
    There are also two ingrained cultural factors that affect Venezuelans behaviour toward strangers , one: Venezuelans Picaro culture , their admiration of the wily , bold, astute unscrupulous human predator (el vivo) who exploits other peoples innocent good will (el pendejo) to scam them of what they have . The second is the Gallito culture which makes some of them hipersensitive to imaginary slights which they must respond to with haughty aggresiveness to defend their dignity from others disrespect. ( servility vs equalitarism) . Adding to the above is the fact that Venezuelans live within a totally disfunctional service infrastructure were nothing works , every thing is subject to often extreme delays or discomforts and anything that can go wrong will go wrong forcing you to improvise a way to get arround unexpected obstacles . Living in Venezuela can be discomfiting as reading this blog can reveal !! Tourists dont scape this fate that Venezuelans must face everyday , Car congestion can have you easily spend 3 or more hours getting from the airport to the hotel etc etc A fourth factor of course is a high incidence of crime which some times target easy tourist prey . A tourist who travels alone is subject to lots of hassles and discomforts if he doesnt know the ropes , if he has friends or someone trusted who can scort him on his trip he can have a great time. My own experience is that people from foreign lands are normally viewed with sympathy and excite a lot of interest and friendly attention , I personally have never known any incidence of xenophobia against visiting foreign acquintances visiting the country , rather the other way arround. The only incidence of xenophobia happened to an inlaw of mine who although Venezuelan looks ‘north european’ and who was chased by a threatening looking little man shouting “Bush , Bush , Ill get You “. !!

    • “a totally disfunctional service infrastructure were nothing works , every thing is subject to often extreme delays or discomforts and anything that can go wrong will go wrong forcing you to improvise a way to get arround unexpected obstacles .” I remember the night I returned to my Maryland (USA) home after 3 weeks in San Fernando, Apure. Finding my refrigerator empty, I drove to a local grocery store. Walking across the parking lot, I noticed I was actively looking for for irregular paving, deep holes, cars about to kill me, etc. It was really eye opening.

  9. People make a country, regardless of what the country may look like. I returned to Venezuela a little over 2 years ago after living overseas for 23 years. Adjusting has been difficult. People, rich or poor, educated or not do not seem to love this beautiful country. Way too many people trow garbage wherever they feel like, they seem much more vulgar than I remembered (way too many 4-letter words used everywhere by everyone regardless of their age or gender), driving in the wrong direction in 1-way roads, or through red lights is common — and please don’t dare complain because if you’re lucky all you’ll get is an insult, lots of people don’t pick up after their pets, etc.

    I was finally able to take time off last year and went to Merida. Trash was everywhere, tourist attractions like Los Aleros seemed rather expensive (either at official or black market rate) for what they had to offer. There wasn’t really a lot do to, restaurants weren’t open in the afternoon, etc. Then, for a change of scenery, went to Chichiriviche in Falcon. All I can say is that I was not expecting the amount of garbage I saw everywhere, even the cayos weren’t that clean. Puddles of water every where, roads in extremely bad shape. Poor/rude service.

    I have travelled a lot in the Americas and some countires in Europe, Africa, Asia. Even when I was in a small town in Japan, Germany or Sweden where I could not find people that spoke English or Spanish, I was still able to communicate and get the help that I needed. Street signs and other signs for toillets, tourist attractions, restaurants, etc. always made my life easy and my trips enjoyable. Venezuela has a long, long way to go to start attracting international tourists, specially repeat visitors.

  10. a truism that Venezuelans need to learn by heart if they want tourists, happy tourists, and return tourists…”you can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once!” other countries have learned this, and they live very well on a renewable resource

  11. As a US American who has been to Caracas several times, I will agree that the most important thing is having Venezuelans you know and trust there to help you navigate things. My very first experience in Venezuela was exiting the terminal at Maiquetia and being approached by what I thought was some kind of government/airport official (he was in uniform!) and asked a question I didn’t quite understand. He also began making moves towards my luggage. After attempting to communicate with him for a few moments, the party I was meeting scooped me away and explained he was just a taxi driver or some other such entrepreneur trying to win my business (and probably gouge me, or worse).

    Buying bolos would be treacherous without the help of locals. This is probably one of the biggest difficulties facing visitors. I can’t imagine trying to find a a buyer for dollars and negotiating a fair price as a lone foreigner.

    A big part of the help I got was being advised where not to go. A lot of my ambitions were squashed when I was told that X or Y thing I wanted to do involved going to a more dangerous part of town and would maybe not be such a good idea.

    Despite this, I enjoyed my time in Venezuela quite a lot. I was fortunate to have considerable assistance from locals I trusted well and never encountered any crime/abuse from law enforcement or anything like that. Venezuelans can be extremely gregarious and welcoming. The way holidays are celebrated there is something else. Experiencing the World Cup there was also awesome as it just doesn’t get the same kind of attention in the US. Overall, Venezuela was a has been a highly enjoyable destination for me.

    Unfortunately I don’t think the route I took represents any kind of scalable solution to the problems you’ve described. Ultimately it’s just not accommodating for the average tourist,

  12. Venezuelans are terrific and very welcoming but it is no country for tourists, for all the obvious reasons. To their credit though, if you are at a bar or otherwise in a line, Caraquenos could care less if you come from Mars. If you have a young child or are bleeding profusely, that might help.

  13. Well, my experience and that of my friends is consistent with the T&T report. Venezuelans are notoriously bad at customer service. Maybe it was different 20 years ago, I don’t really know, but right now it is awful. Especially for people expecting to find some sort of direction or guidance when needing some service it can be a nightmare. Asking questions is useless. I remember a friend who told me she asked a question to a clerk in a store and he just rolled his eyes and flat-out ignored her. Definitely not a friendly place for tourists (or natives).

    • I think the crappy service goes hand in hand with a practice of not tipping much. But there is something very egalitarian about being ignored just like the locals.

      • Interesting point Canucklehead. I would have thought that the “15-20% rule” would actually make gringos comparatively better tippers than some other tourist groups. Maybe that explains some of the “gringo confundido bump”?. Descarados 😉

        • Many years ago, when I was in (international) banking, I came across a Cuban-American wanting to set up a tourist resort in Margarita. Although his engineers had done the pre-feasibility studies, this guy didn’t have enough of his act together to present a credible plan, in writing, for financing from an international bank, as per standards. But I digress.)He had some good ideas, based on his knowledge of tourist groups, by nationality. The ones he favoured were Italians, because they like to drink (so alcohol sales go up, as does tipping). The next favoured, only because of their cash positions, are Germans. The Canadians are last (low excess cash positions, poor tippers.) Naturally, these were his broad generalizations of nationalities seeking budget vacation destinations, at different times of the year. Margarita, unlike Barbados, was one of these budget destinations.

        • The gringos and canucks get culturally sensitive pretty quickly when it comes to tipping, for sure.

          Your overall point is an interesting one, and something I think about often, for example, when I am standing in line waiting for something to happen – like getting robbed by the GN- at Maiquetia airport. Foreigners flock to places like Nicaragua and Guatemala, which are equally if not more dangerous and have terrible infrastruture as well. I think its the combination of being in a life-threatening place AND paying way too much which really turns people off.

    • I think I’ve shared this story, before. It bears repeating. My good friend Charlotte from Montreal went to Margarita, soon after it opened its doors to Cdn tourists. We’re talking early 1980s. She stayed at el Hotel Margarita Concorde, I think. The day after her arrival, she looked forward to lying on the beach, not before having breakfast. It was cafeteria style/buffet. She eyed the fresh croissants that the chef was taking out of the oven, and when she got to the front of the line she pointed to them, asking in her poor Spanish if she could have one.

      “No, Ud. no puede,” the chef said. “Estos son para mañana.”
      Charlotte showed her puzzlement, if not annoyance. Like, what’s the point?
      “Aquí tiene los de hoy,” the chef said, pointing to the now unfrozen, but not warm croissants, baked the day before.

      My brother and I, hearing this and other stories of Charlotte’s experiences with Venezuelan tourism, were practically rolling on the floor. It was just so typical.

      But Venezuelan tourism was the loser. For Charlotte never went back, preferring to spend her hard-earned winter vacations in the Dominican Republic, where she visited for several years thereafter.

  14. Can’t speak for other nationalities but Americans, yes. Sorry, but that’s my opinion after visiting for years in the llanos.

  15. Venezuelans have a big enough problem trying to make the place passably livable for themselves before worrying about the comforts of tourists , the question is not one of the natives friendlines or attentiveness (which by itself is a complex question, as seen above) but of a system of life which is dysfunctional even for its own inhabitants, and where neither authorities nor most people are all that sold on the great advantages of tourism . Probably the main reason why the regime may want tourists to come (however inept at attracting them) is to feel proud that the countries natural attractions are admired by foreigners, for part of the national ‘inferiority complex, is that, a foreigners admiration is worth more than the admiration of locals. Making tourists happy is not among an ordinary Venezuelans.principal concerns , there are a lot of more pressing issues ahead of the queue . What is most interesting in this excellent post by Mr Lansberg is how while dealing with the subject of tourism it brings to light so many dark aspects of the Venezuelan psyche ( personal vs impersonal, private vs public, the Picaro culture , the Gallito and haughty obstructionist beaurocratic culture , the pathology of our criminal class) an also , the inability to organize things that work etc etc , the easy going culture that tolerates irresponsability and quotidian lawlessness in every day life ,

  16. Among the many other issues, it’s too dangerous, quite frankly. My wife can’t relax when I’m there, and a couple close calls didn’t help either. Blonde and fair with blue eyes with a thick gringo accent makes me too much of a target for the myriad of thugs, thieves, and kidnappers that prowl around Caracas on moter bikes and by foot. It would probably be different if we were in a rich neighborhood with guards and all that, but her family does not live there. They don’t live in the barrio either, but the threat of violence seems to be in the air.

    I used to go to Tachira, where most of her family lives, but the permanent presense of FARC now has made that too risky. They basically run the border area, including taxing citizens and providing ‘law and order’…(Although they do a better job of the latter than the nominal authorities, I have been told!). Supposedly they said they will stop kidnapping people, but I won’t take my chances. Last time i was there (2008), they caught wind a gringo was visiting and actually set up a road block on the only road leading from the family house to the main road in what we can only assume was an attempt to kidnap me. Luckily we had left the day before.

    I’d like to go back, the people are vibrant and friendly, the natural beauty is amazing, but I don’t think it will happen sometime soon. We have children now, and quite frankly I wouldn’t be comfortable bringing them there. Maybe someday.

    Simply from a tourist’s point a view, why would anyone go to Venezuela? There are safer places with better service, better tourism infrastructure, and the same amount of beauty available in a multitude of other latin countries.

  17. It is nearly impossible to be a foreign tourist in Venezuela. I think most of these comments contain some bias as they are by Venezuelans, relatives of Venezuelans or people quite familiar with the country/culture. I also carry such biases (having married a Venezuelan) but I attempted to organize some domestic travel for 100% Gringo guests at our wedding but the process of arranging such plans and carrying them out wins Venezuela the “most difficult place on Earth for tourists” award.

    One group of friends were sent to Los Roques. They had flights with Aerotuy but when they showed up at the domestic terminal at 5am there was no Aerotuy counter and no one that spoke English that could help them. They wandered the airport frantically looking for answers and luckily stumbled upon a Venezuelan guest from the wedding they recognized who was flying back to Barquisimeto and helped them find out that there was no Aerotuy counter but if they went to the woman at the last Aserca check-in counter, she could get them their boarding passes. Then they went to Gate 7 like the departures screen said except Gate 7 was actually a flight to Ciudad Bolivar. No one seemed to know where the Aerotuy flight was departing from so they split up and sent each other a lot of text messages before someone discovered Gate 4A (downstairs somewhere) was the bus to the Aerotuy flight.

    All of this stress/hassle just to successful board the first flight in your vacation…

    I could go on – but suffice to say it is hard to think of a more intimidating country for a completely foreign tourist with no Venezuelan connection.

  18. OK, Rory covered the FARC off, which is a real concern, and the one thing that might be added to this travel advisory is you can get really really sick in Venezuela, and we are not talking the classic ‘monteczuma’s revenge’. The chances are far greater than other latam jurisdictions and in my experience, it is not at all clear what you should do when you get sick in Venezuela to get well, rather than to get much worse. This is not the case in other places.

    Even taking the proper precautions, you can wind up seeing the Venezuelan medical “system” first hand and at length and it ain’t pretty. There is fantastic medical care in Venezuela and it is mostly in tiny pockets in and around Caracas where most tourists are not. This is another reason not to go unless you know people, because navigating a hospital and getting the required medicine are matters requiring connections, persistence and just sheer hours of work. Just showing up with your sorry gringo ass in a clinic will not help you. Ideally, you need to show up with an entourage of five local Venezuelans, at least one of whom has political connections and another who is in the health care industry. Then you need further people for logistics and to explore “options”, to talk to the doctors, make sure they are doctors, and make sure they know what they are doing and have what they need to do it. et cetera. When I say ‘talk to the doctors’, I don’t mean you need translators. It is not a question of understanding spanish.

    If you get sick in Venezuela, you will learn to sympathize deeply with Venezuelans in the process, but this is not what most tourists are looking for.

  19. I’ll just add to this that I´m a Venezuelan who has invited many gringo (and non-gringo) friends to visit and they have all had rave reviews of my country, BECAUSE I MAKE IT A POINT OF PRIDE TO SHOW THEM OUR FICTITIOUS BEST, and because I’m afforded the privilege of limiting them to the few places that can still speak for themselves in terms of prohibitively expensive, unspoiled beauty. Otherwise, I’m really sorry, Mr. Lansberg, but as far as I’m concerned, the myth of cheerful, tropical Venezuelan hospitality is a total scam, any gazing tourist walking around Sabana Grande with a grin, as was the case with a good friend of mine who ended up in jail for no reason whatsoever, is seen as easy bait for extortion or, my favorite new insult for anyone needlessly flaunting wealth, secuestrable.
    Service in Venezuela sucks, from the corner McDonald’s to the customs agent at the airport. If your’e lucky, people are disdainful, if your’e not, they’re outright hostile. I’ve come to regret my fair skin the many many times I’ve had to stand in line for citizen services like getting your cedula.
    But worse yet, beneath the failure to realize that service is an important component of national progress, arrogant disdain for foreigners and delusional clinging-on to “los venezolanos somos felices y acogedores” myth, much like “Polar es la mejor cerveza del mundo” and “el público en Venezuela es el más agradecido” prevails as the main reason why we still refuse to get off our high horse and humbly accept that we have many, many issues to work on before we can re-claim our position as a worthy tourist attraction.

    • Emiliana,

      I agree with you completely.While it is true that many Venezuelans are quite hospitable, the country drop dead gorgeous,the food unparalleled, and the magic all enveloping, the arrogance of not wanting to improve defects has created a dangerous and inhospitable climate in which to bring tourists.

      Some agencies make touring as safe as possible, but any tourist who wants to strike off on his own, can end up in dire straights.Not good!

    • I’m puzzled, Emiliana. And here’s why. When a country is a worthy tourist attraction, it means that it has all the irons in the fire to make it so — beautiful scenery (check); well-developed infrastructure of hotel resorts and the like, as well as good roads and reliable utilities (ummmm); a service sector that has been trained to realize the valuable resource that are tourists, all along the chain where tourists might wander — from airports and beyond (uhhhhhhh), a well-managed accommodation sector (ummmmm), a government-sponsored program that ensures coordination of all these factors (uhhhhh).

      Given the above conditions for successful tourism, since when was Venezuela such a worthy tourist attraction that the country can “re-claim” its position?

      Having said the above, it’s important to differentiate people in different parts of the country. Lumping ALL Venezuelans, or its entire middle class, under various overreaching labels of arrogant, naïve, passive, as one gringa to this blog repeatedly does, is myopic at best. The labels suffer from a narrow experience and an inability to see things with anything but a filter made in northern latitudes. No sirve.

      So yes, by all means, I agree that there is some arrogance out there, particularly in Caracas, where conditions, over the many years, even before Chávez, have contributed to a fierce quítate tú pa’ ponerme yo. But to apply this label to the whole country, to all pockets, is a Caracas-centric or gringa-centric stretch. No sirve.

      And lest I fall in the same camp, whereby I complain without contributing some observations that might improve conditions, allow me to suggest a few options — IF tourism is to be seen as a valuable investment, and AFTER all other internal problems are on their way to being solved.

      1. A government-sponsored commission to determine areas needed for improvement.
      2. A government-sponsored agency to ensure coordination of the factors mentioned in my first paragraph.
      3. Perhaps contracts given to Spaniards, who are aces in hotel management, and without whom, the tourism industry in the D.R. and in Cuba would be worse for wear.
      4. Follow through and public education. Repeat.

    • I could not agree more Emiliana on the myth. Yet that same sense of Venezuelan exceptionalism you bring up re: polar, likewise cuts the other way as well. We are not the most dangerous country in the world, and many places have less developed infrastructure. As a result, I suspect there to be an “x factor” that is further exacerbating the problem and I propose this “tio conejo” theory as a potential culprit…

      • Mr Lansberg : What you call the tio conejo Venezuelan cultural trait ( which others know as the Culture of the Vivo or Picaro) , has deep roots in spanish culture of the golden age except that we appear to have adopted its values with more gusto than people from other countries , there is a lot written about it , specially by Axel Capriles , however its not the only cultural strain that influences Venezuelan Psyche , there is the “I can do what I want because nobody is better than me to tell me what to do culture” , Our own brand of Machismo haughtiness , Our scorn for impersonal Publicly ordained rules or protocoles together with an open , laid back unasumming good humoured taste for informal fellowship which every Venezuelan has enyojed and never found in other lands ( returning exiles dixit) , An incongrous mix of traits that come out in different settings and circumstances and which doesnt help tourism which is based on people acting with plastic impersonal sympathy !! You’ve scratched the surface but made the discussion of all of the above possible , so congrats on your post!

        • BB,

          Many years ago ( 1970 something) my ex husband was in charge of handling some of the publicity for the Ministerio de Turismo, which at the time was located in Parque Central ( don’t know about now). They were extremely corrupt in the way they ‘handled’ payments.Let’s be honest .They had to be bribed and coaxed in order to pay for the publicity done for them.It seemed as though they almost felt automatically entitled to keep the money that really belonged to those doing the work for them.

          In this climate of corruption and without a working system of jurisprudence how can an honest and efficient organization exist that will benefit tourism on a large scale ?

          I don’t belong to a party( it is against my principles) but I like the title: Primero Justicia

    • I have visited Venezuela many times, mostly Caracas. I have walked from Chacao to Sabana Grande and even in Petare, have taken the subway, buses to one of the barrios a few times without any problem. At least during the day is doable. I must admit, was surprised that as a senior I was able to travel for free on the metro line (subway and buses) and that the subway has reserved seats for seniors, disabled and pregnant women in every wagon.
      What did piss me off though, is that every time, on my way back home, at the airport, they scam the tourist telling them that they have to pay an extra exit fee, which was charged by Air Canada for the entry and exit. Every time I question the fee they tell me that it had increased since I purchased the ticket. They wanted another 98.00 bsf.
      After paying Air Canada Arpt. Dep. Tax of $44.31 & Airport Exit tax of $53.17 they had the gall to to ask for 98.00 bsf. I told them that it was already paid. This time, (March 29) I refused and formed un peo, I told them that I had no money left. After arguing for a while, questioning how they could charge more since the tax was paid, I was told that this was Venezuela. I had 37.00 Bsf left after having breakfast, telling him that was all I had, he gave me the boarding pass

  20. Not to pile on the guest writer, but I found this post naive beyond belief and at times even infuriating. I’ve grown to expect more from this blog than this paja.

    First of all, you’re reading a report from an international organisation attempting to compare countries on the base of criteria that I assume to be as objective as possible. To that, you show your incredulity by whipping out the “but we are sooooo nice once you get to know us!/if you have friends here you’ll have a blast!”?

    If a country is to have a decent chance of being chosen as a touristic destination, it cannot depend on something as esoteric as “having local friends who will take care of you” for visitors to be able to enjoy. Granted, Venezuela has been blessed with spectacular natural wonders, but so have been many other countries on this planet. We are fooling ourselves if we think that our attractions are enough for people to go through the veritable Takeshi’s Castle of s*it that Venezuela will surely make them face (unless you are a retired cartoon octogenarian with a flying house propped by balloons).

    I am Venezuelan myself and return every year and a half or so. Last time I reluctantly brought a Japanese friend along and all my fears proved to be well founded. Getting to Maracaibo from Caracas took us two days, as the flight we had was cancelled and there was no system to handle a simple waiting list (it was between Christmas and NYE so that might have been an aggravating factor). So we had to camp in Maiquetia to run from counter to counter and take part in the bululu that formed every time they would, carpeta marron y boligrafo en mano, proceed to jot down names in whatever order they saw most amusing (screaming the loudest and shoving your cedula the furthest seemed to help). This was just the first of our all-too-known experiences that so many have already shared.

    While knowing that they are guanabanas and dragonfruits, I still can’t help but compare similar experiences between Venezuela and Thailand. A developing country with many of our most distinctive structural issues (rampant corruption, traffic that gives Caracas a run for her money, a certain degree of vivismo and taking advantage of foreigners, to name a few), they’ve got it right in two KEY areas: critical infrastructure and a developed service culture. Suvarnabhumi is a world class airport with frequent and convenient flights, Thai Airways is a flag bearer that deserves its place in its airline alliance The airport is connected to the city via a very convenient Skytrain link. Go to a five star hotel or sit down to eat a street stall and you’ll receive a consistent level of good service. No one seems to feel any less by performing a service job well and with a smile. You can walk on the street at night with the prudent level of caution but no need to fear for your life. Every single time I go I wonder…why the abysmal gap? (I could go on about this but this post has extended for too long as it is).

    No one expects you to be chummy with a group of locals to usher you around safely there, even though it would of course help. And while that is the only way for tourists in Venezuela to enjoy all of our “…views from 360…clubs, parties and rum…” (don’t even get me started on that), there will no scale-able tourism industry to speak of.

    Good luck trying to get your gringo friends to survive with your “pretend to be an oblivious musiu” ruse, Mr. Lansberg-Rodriguez, panita…

    • Hi Oscar, thanks for your perspective. To clarify a few points, my hope with this post was to spark some interesting conversation which it does seem to have done. With this goal in mind, my tone was deliberately Panglossian, tongue in cheek, and I specifically shied away from offering some overarching normative statement, relying instead on anecdote to make strawman points that moved the narrative along towards the conclusion.

      In actuality, I am quite pessimistic on the state of tourism (and life) in Venezuela generally and have written about this before for other mediums:
      (See, http://www.eluniversal.com/opinion/130322/donde-estan-los-turistas ).

      Obviously our country is incredibly dangerous and the infrastructure is awful. Yet those issues alone are not enough to explain why Venezuelae should do so much worse on a ranking such as this, than places like Saudi (where tourists have faced jail time for alcohol use), belicose Iran, or those few unlucky places even more dangerous than Venezuela: like Sierra Leone or Afghanistan. By dismissing the importance (admittedly in a silly, ironic way) of these obvious factors out of hand, my hope was to focus the discussion on my “tio conejo” idea. To wit: “is there an important piece of this puzzle that is indeed culturally engrained and not situational or merely a consequence of bad government policies?” I think that there is.

      In any case, the “paja” should be taken with a grain of subtext…

      • Me gusto mucho más tu opinión en el universal, Daniel. Menos mal que en ese medio no metiste tu teoría del tío conejo, que pudiera tener valídez en ciertas circunstancias, pero lo siento, no comparto contigo que sea una característica universal para todo venezolano, a menos de que uno ande con gente de poca seriedad, o de poca humildad …

          • Daniel, first of all, CC readers are not that diverse of a group. Second, I wonder how much (economic) diversity you have been exposed to, in Caracas. That is, among your panas, your schooling and your home environment. I suspect not much. Because I don’t get overreaching labels for an entire nationality, or a social class. The only reason I can think of is that the psychosis of danger outside residential walls, in certain urbanizaciones in Caracas, has turned young folks like yourself (and older ones) into too many homogenized “yo me iría demasiado’s”.

            I honestly think you have not been exposed to much diversity growing up. And by diversity, I mean that beyond superficial encounters.

          • Syd, I suspect that “diverse” actually has a more “diverse” meaning than you are giving it credit for. Clichés about “la pecera” not withstanding, I think you will agree that it makes sense, given the topic under discussion, to get perspectives from folks who have traveled to Venezuela as foreigners, as well as people who have been visited by foreigners, or else moved/traveled from Venezuela to elsewhere and been foreigners. This type of diversity in perspective is more likely to be found in CC than in EU. Do you disagree?

            These different, or “diverse”, perspectives are all individually germane to the central point of the post/discussion. So is CC readership diverse? In terms of geography, citizenship, and relationship to/with Venezuela I would argue that they are. Moreso than many other mediums in Venezuela.

            Also, regarding your ad hominem speculation: I actually spent two years working for a microfinance NGO catering to poor families in Catia, followed by another year at an entrepreneurial development post for the Sucre municipal government where I focused on licensing the buhoneros from la redoma de Petare. While I wouldn’t say that makes me an expert on the subject, I think it implies a little bit more exposure to the ostensibly “economic” diversity you seem to be hinting at above.

            Am I saying “all Venezuelans think a certain way?” No. I am saying there might be an overarching cultural aspect, or flavor, that compounds our troubles with visitors in a general sense. I do hope that my suggesting so does not offend you personally.

          • Not to beat a dead horse, but I repeat, I have difficulty understanding how people can so effortlessly and without thought label an entire country, or an entire social class with one word or three. It’s nonsense. And it goes directly to one, or two, or all three things: a lack of exposure, beyond the particular ‘pecera’ of origin or adoption; gall; low intellect. You’d think that after these 14 years of labels from a desquiciado in office, most reasonable people would be aware enough not to fall into the same trap. That they’d have more criteria than that.

            The CC reader, which to you is diverse, is a much smaller population than EU’s. I suspect there are very wide travellers in both subsets, with perhaps the overriding difference being a stronger function in English, overall, for CC.

            Why don’t you write a part deux of your EU write-up, and have it published by that same paper? Do mention your hypothesis of el Tío Conejo syndrome, as a reason why tourism cannot easily flourish, in Venezuela. And let me know when it’s published. We can watch the sparks fly from a virtual 360 (where I wouldn’t be caught dead in).

          • Daniel, I apologise for the visceral comment. I didn’t catch the tone you intended to give the post (and wonder how many people actually did). In any case, you have sparked a very interesting debate, so thank you.

            So if the topic you want to address is “somos los Venezolanos panas y buena gente?”, then sure. When we want to and towards the people we want to. It’s been pointed out quite truly how we make a sharp line dividing US/THEM on most situations, protecting and coddling those in our group and innately distrusting those who don’t belong in it. This line eludes clear definition, in part because we seem to let the barrier permeate quite effortlessly in some situations (el primo del novio de mi amiga, la donha en la cola del banco…)

            The one thing that seems to have changed in the last decade and a half is that we now have an impermeable barrier: political allegiance. This seems more like a trench line nowadays, and I’d say is one of the main contributors to the rise in violence and aggressiveness levels that we have all witnessed. Granted, I was in elementary school and not as aware of politics, but I don’t remember the same abyss between adecos and copeyanos back in the day (my father was a masista, and no one seem to be bothered by him).

            If the topic is TOURISM…then, I stick to my guns. You’re asking an irrelevant question. No amount of good will towards the people in our inner circles will offset all the barriers placed in front of hopeful visitors.

            And I agree with Syd, the Tio Conejo argument just muddles everything up and makes you lose credibility by boasting (however jokingly) of your venezuelan-in-musiu-disguise shenanigans.

            (*)
            Aside on the topic of CC diversity and diversity of experience:
            I’d risk guessing that most here are either Venezuelans or have a degree of interest in Venezuela that would allow them to find ways to visit the country and enjoy with relative ease. Not precisely the market we would need to capture to have a decent tourism industry.

  21. I am a gringo who studied as a child in El Cafetal and Macaracuay. My friends and benefactors were all professionals. I always walked through customs because a tio was a colonel. When eating at a restaurant I would routinely hold on my lap a Colt Commander .45 which was carried by my friend’s dad for safety. It was the wild west back in the 80’s. I was always warned to be weary of the vivos in Venezuela. My friends were very proud of their country and its natural resources but they despised their country for its forma de ser. I have returned several times and have experienced the excitement brought by feeling someone was ready to exploit you at any turn. My doctor friend continues to carry a pistol to work. His wife has a bodyguard. They always extend invitations to bring the family to see Canaima or Los Roques. I really don’t think I could take the risk.

  22. I do understand and agree that if you know Venezuela already, or have friends who are looking out for you, Venezuela is lots of fun. However, for the average tourist or traveler, it is very stressful and intimidating and I certainly would not recommend it.

    Regardless of how you feel about it personally, any country or industry that got such a report should take it very seriously and ask “How can we improve?”

    • Have the authorities said anything about the survey yet? I can bet you my house that they’ll jump and say, “That’s an imperialist survey, full of lies and distortions,…” etc., etc.

        • Hi Daniel,

          I am wondering if you are a cousin of my husband’s family.Are you related to Mark Pinedo Lansberg from Curacao ?

          • Daniel, Chevere!

            No Mark is a cousin of my husband and they were close friends who pretty much grew up together. Mark is now living in New Mexico.
            My husband is from Curacao and is also very, very close to Mark’s mother Tante Enid but my husband is from the Pinedo side of the family. He just talked to Tante Enid in Holland only yesterday.She used to visit Venezuela quite a bit but I think she has stopped.

            I love these small worlds :)I thought when I saw that you spelled your name Lansberg instead of Landsberg that you might be from the same family.

  23. Venezuela is a land of great great beauty and the people would give you the shirts offf their backs.
    There is immense kindness.
    I first went to Venezuela about ten years ago not knowing anyone and not speaking Spanish. I was met in the Valencia airport by a very beautiful lady who later became my wife. I was taken to Morocoy, Colonial Tavar, Merida and fourteen thousand feet in the cable car to the heights of the Andes. This in one week! I was in love with all.
    Would I do it again? With all my heart. I still don’t speak Spanish very well, but I get along just fine.
    I refuse to let anyone call me “gringo” as I am not American.
    When the present government is out and Venezuela takes its place as a first world country I can only recommend Ireland as being a better venue for a visit.

    • My irish husband also loves venezuela, hopefully someday we will grow up to be a nation, instead of a hotel, like my idol cabrujas once described us…

  24. Venezuela is place where depending on where you go or stay you are exposed to all kind of hassels or dangers from other people , not because you are a tourist but because you are seen as easy prey because your looks or clothes tell potential predators your are vulnerable or worth scamming or worse . my own kin when going certain places take care to change their dress or appearance to blend in or at least so as not to appear ‘preyable’ . If you make your relationship with someone else personable or are accompanied by someone homegrown who vouches for you then you are protected by that personal or protopersonal bond , if your are a total innocent looking solitary stranger then you can easily become the target of unscrupolous harrasment or worse . so yes Venezuela is really not a place for ordinary tourists. My own experiences as a local tourist have been harrowing or at least disagreably memorable . Again impersonal or bureaucratic purely functional contacts can expose you to Venezuelan behaviour which is not of the best specially because the service infrastructure is so disfunctional and badly organized ( this does normally not apply to good looking young girls , who with a little bit of ‘sweet talk’ can get away with murder!!) . judging venezuelan friendliness to foreign visitors is a really complex issue because there is usually in many social settings quite a bit of simpathy for foreigners and in other settings not hatred but the sense that they are easy prey to scams or exploitation which can make the predators day!!

  25. My impression has always been the same: Venezuelans don’t understand that the best tourism is that that returns. Venezuelans have the tendency of suck out and take advantage of the tourist as much as they can, so tourist usually get ripped off if they don’t know their way around.
    Want to star with the taxis services to caracas from the airport…?
    Anyway, here is another one that I can’t simply find another explanation for, other that “tourist have money, make them pay”. When entering Los Roques, tourist have to pay a visitors fee. This fee is, if I recall correctly, double for international visitors than what it is for venezuelans. Why? Is there some sort of subsidy for Venezuelans? I don’t think there is, It’s simply “the gringos have money” culture.
    Same thing happens in Margarita in some of the amusement parks (Waterland, for example). Double the fees for internationals. When I asked why their simple answer was “that’s how it is and if you don’t like it, don’t come”.

    • then again, there is an imbalance in the airport taxes charged (Maiquetía), before boarding. Those with foreign passports pay less, quite a bit less, than those with Vz passports.

        • Then it has changed. It wasn’t always thus, not even the last time I was in Vz, back in 2001. And I’ll tell you why I am aware of that. As a full citizen of two countries, from birth, I have always carried two passports, but of course, I only declare one of them in any country I have travelled in and out of. So differences in rules and regs between passports is something I have been very aware of, for a very long time.

      • BTW Syd, I was in Venezuela in February just when the UT changed. I had to pay the difference at the counter and I paid 90BsF total, travelling with my canadian passport, so your information might be dated.

        • Carolina,

          I am a Venezuelan citizen and my children were all born there and look quite Venezuelan but because of my very Gringa appearance, whenever I arrived at the airport with my children after visiting the US, men would overwhelm me in order to get money from me,most especially the taxistas.I always felt terrified at the airport, and had the impression that a Gringa alone was a no no.Gradually over the years, I learned to fight more effectively but still, it was always a fight with much fear.I used to dread returning to that airport.
          Once they held up my parents for hours in a small back room to search for drugs in their suitcases, and if it had not been for my very criollo husband who could convince anyone of anything….. God only knows where my innocent parents would have ended up.I am sure they thought my parents had lots of money and were looking to bribe them.

          I was lucky most of the time, and the police were often nice to me, but there was always this feeling of ” who know what might happen ?” I am a gringa for them, and a woman ,who might be taken advantage of.I never EVER, felt comfortable in that airport and I lived in Venezuela almost a life time.

          Why do they let people be taken advantage of?

          • I hear you.
            I’m venezuelan born and raised. Studied there, went to university, married there and my sons were born there.
            One thing I had to deal with all my life is that I’m very fair and blond, celtic descendant.
            From being bullied at school, being called names (“cucaracha de panaderia” anyone?) to being tried to get ripped off at the old mercado de Guaicaipuro simply because I looked “rich”. It’s very sad to feel like a foreigner in your own land.
            I always – even while at university – said that venezuelans are racists…to white people.
            Because of that, I had lived the abuse to the “tourist” on my own skin too, and now that I remarried a blue-eyed canadian, I only go if I need to because of family affairs.

          • sorry you were bullied at school, Carolina, hoping that it wasn’t every single year, from everybody (suspect not). As for name-calling, you know this is THE national past-time. NO ONE is immune. Finally, sorry you had such a bad experience at the old Mercado de Guaicaipuro — I loved going there, mostly with my dad, who would put on his old clothing, as would I. For good reason. We’d be hauling bagfuls of produce for a group of 7, not including the dog. In other words, there are times to dress up and times not to. It’s a matter of common sense. My dad was from La Pastora, where his sisters still lived — no airs or graces involved. But a prima hermana who married very well had difficulty visiting the old homestead, or so she would tell her aunt, “es que soy demasiada bella para ese vecindario.” We’d all laugh, she included.

            Laughter. Without it, and un ojo pelao, you’re toast in Caracas.

            As for el Mercado, todo lugar tiene su protocolo, it’s a matter of dressing appropriately and establishing relationships.
            “Hola! en cuanto está el plátano?”
            “Señora, qué me recomienda como un queso blanco sin tanta sal?”
            etc.

            Ves? Facilito. Y poco a poco, te reconocen y te toman un cariñito. Pero si te metes en esos lugares como la propia sifrina, eso no cuaja.

            De lo demás, hay que saber voltear los insultos.

          • Syd, it’s ot that easy to despise an almost-albino girl.
            I would tie my hair up and dress down as much as I could. Yet, I was taller than most. I used to go with my sister so she being darker hair would ask for prices while I stayed back.
            Regarding to bullying, not everybody, but many. “Te hace falta un playazo” and so on. That lead to abuse of sun and barely scape skin cancer as an adult, just for trying to blend in.
            One of the stories is actually funny: while that epidemic of dengue during the 80’s, I was walking to work wearing a short skirt, and a guy from truck yelled at me “adios patas blancas!!!”. Yeah, not much of a piropo but funny.

          • Carolina : Sorry you had a tought time at school with people who made cruel fun of your unusual blonde looks , Venezuelan kids (male ones worse) have a penchant for petty cruelty that is not found in other places . Having spent my childhood in 3 different countries I can vouch for that. Still the nicknames where applied indiscriminately regardless of race , had a very dark skinned school mate whose nickname was ‘blanca flor de chimenea’ , not sure that was an improvement on yours !!

          • Carolina,

            Wow! Sorry to hear for your racial troubles there.I was a bit luckier because of the nature of my life in Venezuela which unfortunately I cannot reveal on this blog, but I can say that when I was outside my habitual circles where nobody knew me, I suffered from the kind of racism you speak of.

            I will never forget when my car mechanic who was a dear and a neighborhood hero begged me not to travel alone to Merida by car.His words were ” a Gringa woman alone” crossing the Llanos is a sure target “

          • Not to diminish how tough bullying can be for kids or to glorify racism…but I don’t think you can compare race-based name calling in Venezuela to that in the US. It’s a Battle Royale in Venezuelan schools, with names flying in every direction. No one is spared. I see your “cucaracha de panaderia” and raise a “forro de urna” or a “combustible del futuro” that my darker classmates heard many times. It’s about developing a thick skin and being good at toma y dame.

            In a way I prefer the Venezuelan approach…things are said, people try to take them in their stride and words lose at least a bit of their hurting power. I’ll take that over a culture of shallow political correctness that makes words taboo but does little to process the underlying issues that make such words hurtful.

  26. I have been to Venezuela, never had any problems even in the places where the oppo’s would not go and the people were very friendly and helpful even in the mixed hoods, revo’s vs escaulidos.

    Now that is not to say one should not be careful whether its in Caracas, Miami, NYC, New Orleans, Mexico City, Berlin, Rio et al.

    But on a lighter note.Do you all read El Universal yesterday.I would expect more of the same in the coming days.

    El Universal interviews Alan Woods on future of Venezuelan revolution | In Defence of Marxism http://www.marxist.com/el-universal-alan-woods-future-venezuelan-revolution.htm

    • I hope you’re getting paid to promote this gum-flapper, Cort, this being the second time in the last few days that you play the glockenspiel.

      • Don’t know if Alan chews gum but I hardly get payed for my day job and why would a revolutionary want to get payed for seeing the end of capitalism.

        Wonder if this will be censored like my last few posts? Then again its the blog right and some can’t handle the truth , my code Rojo to you all.

        A Few Good Man “You Can’t Handle the Truth”

  27. Oh goodnews, you people serious?, it’s like you think you’re traveling to i dunno, paris or something, it’s venezuela people, and we know as most of you’ve clearly pointed out it doesn’t have a tourist infrastructure, so why are you so surprised we you don’t get the best service ever?!, people try to have realistic expectations!, people feel entitled?, yeah!, that’s what happens when your economy doesn’t really depend on tourism, when yeah you’ve got quite a few amazing places to visit but the country’s economy doesn’t actually depend on tourism, but on oil, I mean ok, ask anyone and they’ll tell you they don’t benefit from oil, but neither do they from tourism, secondly, really?, people try to take advantage of you?, have you travelled at all?, ever been to india?, Malaysia?, Brazil?, really?, you’re shocked by people wanting to take advantage o’ you?, because you might get robbed?, because they might put something on your drink?, again, ever been to any of the places I just mentioned?, whoever said venezuela was the safest place ever?, who?, who said venezuela or caracas for that matter was the tourist capital o’ the world??, realistic expectations mates, oh one other thing, you get looks and comments from people because you look like a gringo?, ever been to Spain?, where if your skin is sort of kind of dark you get the sane looks and maybe your ass kicked?, but no one says anything because it isn’t caucasians, you think Venezuelans are prejudiced?, ever been to Ireland or scotland where even them who are good honest nice people will ocasionally and if they find you don’t have an accent go “you American?” with one of those looks you dread on their faces?, and after you tell them “no, I’m from venezuela” see them go “really?, that’s amazing”, we’re prejudiced against NORTH americans?, come on, there’s bad people everywhere no matter what the country, there’s also good people everywhere no matter what the country, bad areas and good areas, but see?, I can distinguish from one the other, and sadly I think that’s sonething many people giving their opinion here can’t do, lastly, some bloke said he’s been coming to venezuela for 12 years?, 12 bloody years??, why don’t you just go somewhere else?, I mean, if you dislike it so much, masochist much?, in the end I just think people should just have realistic expectations, realise venezuela is great with amazing people and great beautiful places to visit, but with also bad places and people, as every other single country in the world, and hey, we’re not bitter, we welcome you with open arms, you’re welcome back any time =)

  28. Acid test for me is this, whenever asked in my new hometown about travelling to Venezuela, my answer is : Why?, followed by: unless yo are collecting a inheritance in the large 6 figures, dont bother. Go to Mexico, the DR, Hawaii, long etc.

    I used to be an ambassador of Venezuela, and used to be proud of its beauties as a destination (despite the difficulties long present).

    I attribute this change also to my personal demographics. Easier to be young, single and with out much responsibility in party town, that to travel into “la ciudad de la furia” voluntarily, when you have a family, kids, careers, etc to answer to.

    Chavismo/ Cuban ocupation by design as sown hatred and has undermined our gentilicio so deeply, I sometimes do not recognize my nation. Sad.

  29. Daniel,

    Of course I will tell my husband to send saludos.They will talk this Saturday as Mark is with her in Amsterdam right now( in Pat’s house).

  30. I think the Venezuelan case has been well ranted here. What freaked me out was that Bolivia also made the list. I find Bolivians to be excellent at customer service, very happy to help out, generally honest. I rarely to never saw tourist ripoffs in Bolivia. It’s a nice place with clean air and Inca trails. Isla del Sol is one of the finest places in the world to visit. It’s a cheap place to travel, so cheap that even if someone does rip you off you’ll still pay less than you would at home. And by home, I mean Chile. That is what made me doubt the utility of this survey you’re citing. I’d put Chile below Bolivia, just because of price and almost-Venezuela-style customer service.

  31. In Venezuela more than in many other countries you can encounter contrasting forms of behaviour , A close kin of mine (young , lithe , light skinned , pretty ) took the bus to work every morning (a kind of aprenticeship assignment helping people in need) , she loved the friendly atmosphere and easy bantering mood of plain people riding a bus together early each morning , one day a young man sat next to her placing his jacket at the back of the seat , half covered by the jacket was a pistol which without saying a word he pointed at her head . everyone in the bus noticed what was happening and froze still , so did my kin . some 15 minutes of silent agony passed before my kin noticing that a fat lady full of bags was looking for a seat jumped , offered her seat and rushed to the buses open door , running all the way to her work . Another day while tending to a very hurt young men he told her proudly ‘here where you see me ‘dotocita’ I have five ‘munequitos’ (dollies) to my account’ ( meaning he had murdered 5 people). A few months later she had to get papers from 3 different ministries each involving a number of complex bureaucratic transactions, she had a deadline for getting them done . I doubted she could make it . She went on to each ministry after the other in quick succesion , where everywhere people bent over back wards to get her the papers she needed in the shortest possible time , she was nice but not flirty or anything like that , in the last ministry she got in 5 minutes late and all people in her queue were told to come back another day the following week , my kin explained to the sergeant who acted as doorman why she was in a rush and he told her quietly ‘let the others go and then come back’ , one hour later she had entered the ministry and had gotten her papers in record time . I wonder whether she could have gone through the same experiences had she lived in Britain or the US . During this whole time ( 18 months) she lived in a town of mostly very poor people, rabid chavistas to the last man , but she loved their simplicity , simpathy , kindness and they in turn treated her with much friendliness and affection .My kin now lives abroad but stills misses her old friends and colleagues and gets a message every now and then from the townspeople remembering her birthday or telling her they miss her presence ..

    • really, nice, BB. You’re lucky to have a family member like that. I suspect that your kin would have managed to get everything done, in Britain or the US, in a most efficient manner, with no bending of the rules, and yet, without the same level of care or affection. It is your kin’s sincerity and willingness to learn that obviously shines through. She likely realized, early on, that most everyone has a story worth listening to. And that attitude will always be appreciated. The alternative is thinking knows more than everyone else, that one has all the answers. Plenty of those around. They’re unappreciated.

      My experiences from an early age, with people from many different walks of life, in Venezuela, has generally been very positive. It probably had something to do with an extensive and warm family network, and with parents who really enjoyed meeting all kinds of people. The only Tío Conejo routines I ever experienced, in Vzla, outside minor rule-bendings, were at the hands of two Canadians, plus one insecure salvadoreño, all trying to pull fast ones — in business.

      I’ve been on my own for a number of years, in Canada, and have seen a great deal of nonsense, the worst: having my driver’s side hit by an express city bus, only to then experience the bus driver and the police trying to pin the blame on me. (Two years and much stress later, the case was thrown out of court; I had photographs and a lawyer to disprove the bogus claims.) I’ve seen a lot of nonsense in business, too. But it would be naïve of me to think that this happens only on my doorstep. In sum, the older you get, the more garbage you see. It comes with the territory.

      And that’s why pinning Tío Conejismo on Venezuelans, alone, is short-sighted.

      • Syd, you’re a wise wise man , As you rightly say picaro’s exist everywhere , but I do believe there is a joy to being a picaro in Venezuela and perhaps in other L American countries than isnt quite as celebrated elsewhere. . Axel Capriles tells us an experiment he made when giving lectures to groups of Venezuelans and groups of Mexicans , he made them write down what they thought of a picaro , the venezuelans were delighted with his astuteness and boldness and capacity to take from others what they had , Mexicans were appalled and critical of any one with that kind of behaviour !! two totally different responses . The picaro is someone who isnt just dishonest but who takes pleasure in outwitting someone more straight laced and accomplished than himself by defrauding him of his property or of something he prizes. , there is an element of resentment in the picaro , he is the weak unaccomplished person that takes down the stronger better person through use of deceit and wile and so avenges his failures as a human being. His victim is the pendejo and you know the scorn implied in the term in venezuela . Certainly all Venezuelans are picaros but we may have more of a share of picaros than exist in other western advance countries . Try reading Axel Capriles on the subject youll find the arguments he offers very persuasive .

  32. I miss my country’s bonhomie, warmth, courtesy and manners in general. I find myself missing them everyday more in a country where “rules” are the excuse to “shoot” first and ask later. Rudeness is the norm. Living in their navels is the excuse. But…unfortunately my Venezuela, the one today is not the one I grew in, raised my children and had a life. Now I feel like the Beatles song: “Nowhere (wo)man in a Nowhere land” and that brings more than saudade to my heart. We have been poisoneD for too long to regain our virtues as a country. Ireland and South Africa are examples that polarization and hatred be it racial or religious can be overcome, but social resentment, envy and the ultimate corruption of tio conejo? I doubt it :'(

  33. Despite all the posts bashing Venezuela and Venezuelans here, Los Roques is the most beautiful beach in the world. Ask George Bush Sr if not. You can go there avoiding Caracas or exiting the airport.

  34. You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the paintings you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. Always go after your heart.

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