Curious in Bogotá

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20140509_085839As you may remember, I (Anabella) decided to bid on Sicad II the same day that I handed in my Cadivi folders. The trámite was due to my need to go to Bogotá for my sister’s wedding.

The second I put a foot in Colombia, I had the urge to register some of the anecdotes of what we Venezuelans go through when we travel abroad.

The first one: I went through immigration in Bogotá at 7:45am on Friday May 9. According to my brother-in-law, Oscar De León got his luggage 3 minutes before me and I didn’t see him. Darn.

 

Cadivi: can’t live with it, but can’t travel without it.

(I should say Cencoex and not Cadivi, but let’s be honest: no one says Cencoex).

The relationship with Cadivi is love-hate. You get cheaper dollars (heart), but the whole situation is mighty annoying. As you probably know, there are some steps you must remember if you want to use your hard-earned money abroad.

On April 29 I got an SMS from Cadivi that said that my credit card was ready to go. But… would it work? As soon as I got to Bogotá and left my luggage at my sister’s place, I did the first thing that Venezuelans going abroad have to do: put my credit card to the test. I went to a nearby book store, picked up a couple of books, and then it was show time. I took a breath and handed out my credit card and passport. Ten seconds and thousands of heartbeats later, I heard the magical words: “sign here, please.” There has to be a word for the sigh of relief Venezuelans emit when their card goes through the first time.

Now, it’s not like you can rest easy and simply enjoy your vacation. Each time I paid with my credit card, I would make a mental note of how much I’d spent so far – Cadivi has a strict limit, and going over it carries huge fines and even getting kicked out of the system altogether. Make a math mistake and you may never be able to leave Venezuela again. Every time I would get back to my sister’s house, I’d check my online banking account.  Even if the charges had not yet been registered in my credit card statement, my bank –Mercantil- would let me know my remaining quota. It sounds kind of excessive and picky, but I have friends that lost their Cadivi rights for a year because they had surpassed their consumption limits and I’d be really irritated if that happen to me.

As much as you want to leave the Revolution behind on your vacation, it’s always with you.

The situation is even worse due to ignorance about the exchange rate. When you travel to countries that use a currency other than the U.S. dollar the situation becomes even more tedious because your limit is set in dollars, and in Colombia, well, prices are not in dollars. You must find out the exchange rate and play with estimates. When I arrived in Bogotá I could get 1,980 Colombian Pesos for every dollar, so I would assume an exchange rate of 1,950 just to be on the safe side.

Suppose your card works fine and you don’t go over your quota. This does not mean you are home free. As soon as you come home, you have forty five days to present a sworn statement of how many single charges you made on your credit card, the total amount charged, and if you actually withdrew your approved Cadivi cash quota. And the vouchers… let’s not forget the vouchers. Those little pieces of papers –and their accompanying receipt- that should be kept for up to 18 months in case Cadivi asks you to present them as proof of the “correct use of foreign currency”- are a must. You lose the little slips, and you may be toast.

Supermarket fun.

A trip to the supermarket has become an attraction all on its own. You can always tell the Venezuelans traveling abroad – they’re usually the ones standing in the toilet paper aisle, with a look of shock and awe in their faces.

On my first night in Bogotá I made ​​a quick trip to the supermarket.There was no line and it had everything. You could buy 10 Harinas PAN or 20 cartons of milk if you wanted to – imagine that. While I was paying I remembered that the first time I took pictures inside a supermarket was actually in Bogotá, back in November 2009. At that time supermarket photos were just starting to become popular. Now they seem to be more common than pictures with Mickey Mouse.

A couple of days later I visited a bigger supermarket. Once again, they had everything you might need. Passing through the soda aisle I saw a shopping cart with toilet paper, and the first thing that came to mind was: how many can I get? I stopped for a second and a sad chuckle came out of my mouth. I kept on walking and went to get some milk on aisle 10. While I was choosing a brand of skimmed milk I wondered: when we would see a fully stocked aisle of milk in Venezuela? Back in March, milk shortage surpassed 90%.

Very short scavenger hunt.

On the first day of my trip I found via Twitter that a friend needed “Digoxina 0,25mgr” for her father. I wrote her a DM and promised I would get her the medicine.

I still can’t believe so many medicines are impossible to find in Venezuela. The Central Bank of Venezuela reported medicine shortages of up to 50% in March, but the worst part is that the government doesn’t seem to be doing much about it. In February, 59 active pharmaceutical ingredients were missing from the shelves. By May, the number had gone up to 96.

20140523_105350To get my friend’s medicine, I had to visit 3 drug stores. This wasn’t because the medicine was unavailable, but because I was getting lost in translation. As it turned out I had to ask for Lanitop and not Digoxina (active ingredient) and it wasn’t until the third try that an actual pharmacist attended me.After that, it took me three minutes from “good afternoon” to your receipt”.

FAQ.

Just as I signed the first credit card voucher of the trip, the cashier asked “are you planning to return to Venezuela?” My mother responded with a simple “of course. We are just visiting…” The cashier’s face turned into a mix of shock and pity. All I could say -with an honest smile- was “seguimos en la lucha”. This was the first of many questions I would get as soon as people knew I was from Venezuela. But the most common would be “that accent… Venezuelan?” and “things are pretty bad, right?”

It was impossible to escape Venezuela, as people were always asking me about it.

Other FAQs were:

Q: “Is he as dumb as he seems?” Yes, they were talking about the bird whisperer, Nico Maduro.

Yes

Q: “When will it [the crisis] be over? I really like Venezuela and want to be able to visit again”.

giphy

Q: “When are you leaving Venezuela? You should move here [Bogotá]”. #SufroComoSansa

giphy (1)

Q:  “You’ve had a death per day for a couple of months, right?”
A: It took a second till we realized that he was talking about the current guarimba situation. I answered “not really”. All I could think about is that 1 Venezuelan died every 37 minutes between January and April 2014.

Patria, patria, patria querida.

I arrived in Maiquetía airport on Tuesday May 20 at 12:55pm.

The Caracas-La Guaira highway was blocked by neighbors protesting the murder of a bus driver, so we took the Carretera Vieja (the experience deserves a post all on its own). When I got home 3 hours later, we had no running water.

Home sweet home. It seemed like I had never left.

(Thanks to @danielragua for the help and for some AWESOME gifs)

1 COMMENT

  1. I went to Bogota in December – January.
    Bought English tea (Twinings).
    Spent 5 minutes just looking and counting the different brands of milk.
    It can be done !!!
    Also the fruit was perfect and there was even an specialized fruit supermarket who was as much fun as a zoo.

    Loved your post. I could have written it (If I knew how to write 🙂 )

    • Back in the day we called those Fruterias. Fresh fruit, batidos and some also carried artisanal cheeses.

      More “fruit store” than “fruit supermarket”, but you get the picture

  2. I really enjoyed your post! Just 20 years ago Bogota was under siege and the undisputed drug capital of the world. It may still have many of those same problems, but their political and economic progress has been impressive. There may be hope for Venezuela as well….

      • Sorry dude, it is not socialism or capitalism or any other ‘ism. Everything will be solve the day we understand actions have consequences. If you committed a crime you will get punished, that’s it.
        We are like this because everyone know they can do what ever they want and nothing will happen. How not to be a murdered in Venezuela if 96% gets unpunished? You need to have very mala leche to get prosecuted by a crime. Why not colearse por el hombrillo? Tell me the last person you know that got a ticket and even further that paid for it? Why not to be a cadivero? Who gets punished? again, you need to have very mala leche to get punished for something in Venezuela.
        And this applies to all levels of society and business levels. First world society are not good because they want to, they are good because a big fine will be paid if you get out of the line. Capitalism or Socialism are not to blame, you first need to see yourself.

  3. Great post Anabella!
    I am about ready to return to Caracas, after 6 weeks in Panama.
    Relatives and friends are asking for medicine unavailable in our country.
    The weirdest request was deodorant (my sisters). Apparently only Mum bolita is available…
    Very sad situation.

  4. I have some good advice for you. Whenever they ask where you are from, NEVER say you come from Venezuela. The person asking will be either force you into boring chitchat (specially if you are on vacation), or worse, he or she may be a Chavez sympathizer.

    Well, my answer to this question is that I am from Paraguay. I tried Peru, where part of my family comes from, and Argentina, where my wife comes from. But if you really want to avoid boring conversation, say Paraguay, that will end it right there, nobody knows squat about Paraguay.

  5. My brother traveled a couple of years ago to Ecuador to visit a couple of friends, and while they were one day on the street going from the hotel to the center of the city walking on the sidewalk, a biker came by the street in the opposite direction, because of the mothierf***ing cold there, everybody was using gear as scarves, balaclavas, and this biker had googles, well, in an knee-jerk reaction on seeing a biker approaching fast, my brother almost clotheslined the poor biker, who freaked out and stopped dead on his tracks, jumping from his bike and dropping it in the ground.

    The biker wasn’t angry at all, he was surprised, but he got his composture back when the other friends told him that my brother is venezuelan, and there bikers are basically 50/50 chance of being a killer mugger; the biker said it was just a misunderstanding, and before leaving, he told my brother that he hoped “that situation in Venezuela got solved soon”

  6. Here in Canada, its enough usually to say South America. Most know squat about SA/ could not care less.
    If prompted again, I lately go for “CARACAS”, plain.

    99% x 99% filter done.

    however, Agrree. The biggest challenge is dealing with the taxi driver from Syria, Lebanon, eritrea, etiopia, pakistan, india, bangladesh etc, whose firsts word after hearing venezuela is Ahhh, Chavez!

    FUBAR reputation we now have.

    • When I want to avoid discussing the Chávez mess, I simply say I am from Valencia. Most people assume it’s this Valencia and I haven’t technically lied.
      Before Chávez I used to say “Valencia, Venezuela” like 007 would say “Bond, James Bond”

  7. “Just as I signed the first credit card voucher of the trip, the cashier asked “are you planning to return to Venezuela (…) The cashier’s face turned into a mix of shock and pity. All I could say -with an honest smile- was “seguimos en la lucha.” This was the first of many questions (…)”

    Wow, I loved the politically engaged cashier!

    • The situation in Venezuela is a very strong political tool in Colombia. Yesterday in the presidential debate the only international policy question was about that, and candidates have been using “Venezuela” and “Castro-chavismo” to attack others. My favourite is the creation of “Santos-Castro-Chavismo” by Uribe’s party. if you have a protest in Venezuela and one in Colombia on the same day, Colombian media would easily give 10 minutes to Venezuela and just one to Colombia.

  8. You get what you vote for. Lets face it if you vote in an ex-con as supreme jefe there’s every chance it’ll turn to shit.

    My Venezuelan wife has been Colombian for a number of years now, more specifically since the day the Venezuelan president started to sing on TV. Sometimes we forget and say Venezuelan as her nationality. That’s usually followed by a blank expression or rabbit in the headlights look. I can’t quite work out if that expression is a “poor you” or a “dumb fck” one.
    Either way is ok I suppose as the Venezuela we knew has now gone.

  9. I visited Colombia for the first time about 5 years ago. In spite of the fact that I found it very peaceful and secure, the Colombians, painfully aware of their reputation, would ask me if I wasn’t scared to be in Colombia. Then I would explain that I lived in Venezuela, where it was much more dangerous in comparison. At that time, apparently, few Colombians were aware of the situation in their neighboring country and were shocked and unbelieving of what I told them. Sounds like they are now believers now…

  10. I am Colombian and my parents would tell me stories about how in the 60s/70s, they would travel to Venezuela and be surprised at seeing the supermarkets’ shelves filled with Canned Goods which were rare in Colombia at the time.

    It is impresive how the situation can do such a 180 degree turn in just 4 decades.

  11. With the brown lace up vest and the striped green and black rag skirt, you’ll look like you can commandeer a ship as well as Jack Sparrow could.

    Wear the cloak over the very same colored jeans and t-shirt.

    Even you can do mix and match with your babies’
    costumes.

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