Maracaibo Chronicles

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Many would say there is clash between Caraqueños – Venezuelans born in Caracas – and Maracuchos or Marabinos –Venezuelans born in Maracaibo; e.g. Pablo Pérez and Juan Cristóbal Nagel.

But I could only speak from the Caraqueño side of the quarrel. Until now that is.

I spent a weekend in Maracaibo and this was my first contact with Maracuchos on a large scale. It was also a chance to personally clarify the many myths we Caraqueños have of the “land of the beloved sun.”

My two day adventure began with “Anabella, your seat number is 22C.”

My flight was set to leave for 7am. We took off at 7:43am. Not bad.

Maracuchos have a very distinct way of talking.

The Maracucho accent was my first real taste of Maracaibo. It’s rather difficult to explain, so here is a taste of it.

The Maracuchos’ most common trait: “voseo”. Instead of “tu” –you-, they use “vos”. E.g. “Pa’ que vos veáis” –So you see.-

Other Maracucho expressions I heard, first hand:

  • “A la verga” & “Vergación” & “¡Qué molleja!” = Wow!.
  • “Cepillao” = Flavored shaved ice.
  • “Chinita” = Virgin of Chiquinquirá.
  • “Destartalao” = Ramshackle.
  • “Lampazo” = Mop.
  • “Primo” = Dude.

For some other common Maracucho expressions, here is a dictionary I found online.

The food is simply AWESOME.

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“Patacón”: a sandwich of sorts, that’s served with fried plantain slices instead of bread.

Zulia and its capital city, Maracaibo, are synonymous with “Gaita”, a musical genre typical during Christmas Holidays. But Maracaibo is also synonymous with GREAT –and fattening- food.

There is a myth among Caraqueños that Maracuchos eat all their foods with mayonnaise or salsa rosada –a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup. Not true.

But they do eat tequeños – heavenly piece of fried dough filled with cheese – with ketchup or tartar sauce.

When my colleagues heard I was going to visit Maracaibo, the first thing that came out of their mouth was: “you must eat…” yoyos, tequeyoyos, tumbaranchos, agüita de sapo, macarronada, patacones, mandocas… and the list goes on and on.

But on this “Ana vs Food” two-day challenge, I failed horrendously.

Of the traditional Maracucho cuisine, I only tasted torta de plátano – plantain cake, a lasagna-like dish made with plantain bananas, eggs, and typical maracucho white cheese -, bollos pelones –small corn flour balls stuffed with ground meat and bathed in tomato sauce – and cuajada –curd. This and everything else was simply DELICIOUS.

I also brought home some huevos chimbos -sweets made with egg yolks, cognac and syrup-, dulce de hicaco –coco-plum sweets-, and conservitas –native fruit roll-ups.

I have a long list of foods left to taste. I’ll hopefully blog about them when I get to it.

TIP: if you live in Caracas, there is a small food place on the bottom of la subida de Los Naranjos called “El Toque Zuliano” (@eltoquezuliano). I’ve tasted the patacones and the tequeños there, and they are heavenly.

Let’s talk about the heat.

Maracaibo is a REALLY hot city. I’ll admit I was rather scared. However, you tend to be in and out of air-conditioned spaces, so it is tolerable. I would even carry a sweater with me.

Bottom-line: I didn’t melt.

El Puente … clouded my mind.

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Puente General Rafael Urdaneta

There is a Gaita that goes: “cuando voy a Maracaibo, y empiezo a pasar el puente, siento una emoción tan grande, que se me nubla la mente”. -When I go to Maracaibo and I start crossing the bridge, I feel a great emotion that clouds my mind.

That “bridge” is the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge, or the Bridge over Maracaibo Lake.

I must say: I was speechless. I knew it was big. But it’s bigger than I had imagined.

The bridge is over 8,678 meters long, almost 7 times as long as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It also has a height of 86.6 meters, only 16.4 meters less than Torres del Silencio in Caracas.

Sadly enough, I was told that the 21st pillar was a common place to “end your problems”.

Maracaibo has its own Plaza Francia.

Plaza Francia in Altamira is a meeting space for the opposition in Caracas. Its iconic obelisk was the backdrop for many opposition rallies, as well as the horrible shooting of December 6th, 2002.

It turns out that Maracaibo has its own obelisk and opposition meeting spot in Plaza de La República. I was told that it was an important rally spot during the 2014 guarimbas.

Did you know there used to be a castle in the middle of Maracaibo?

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A green tower, one of the only ones left of what used to be the Castillo de Lucas Rincón.

If you drive past Av. Bella Vista, between 73rd and 74th street, you might see that there are a couple of green castle towers at each end of Diverzone –an entertainment center.

It turns out those towers were part of an actual castle, the Castillo de Lucas Rincón, built in the early 30s’, over an area of ​​6,700 M2. The structure had a watchtower at each of its four corners and was surrounded by four meter high walls made with decorative bricks. Workers tending the courtyards used to sleep in the towers.

In the 50s’, Don Lucas Rincón visited Europe and bought the title of “Count.” His coat of arms lay over the main entrance. During his European trip, Rincón used a “Black Presidential Cadillac”, which he then brought to Maracaibo and used for many years.

Don Lucas Rincón died in 1969 at age 73.

The castle was demolished in the mid-90s’ fearing that it might be declared heritage of the city and the heirs would lose their property.

“Bachaqueo” was born and raised in Maracaibo.

As soon as I left La Chinita International Airport on my way to the hotel, reality set in: there was a 20 car long line at La Chinita Service Station. The taxi driver said it was rather short.

After gasoline smuggling became a common reality in this border state, the bachaqueo was implemented for the first time in a supermarket in the northern part of Maracaibo. Specifically, the current Bicentenario Supermarket located in Fuerzas Armadas Avenue, only 300 meters away from a National Guard post, or so the legend goes.

The bachaqueo (buying in order to sell in the black market, or in neighboring Colombia) was born when fixed prices offered an easy gain in the resale of regulated products across the border. Nowadays, bachaqueo is synonymous with black markets, and almost everyone knows at least one bachaquero that can get you one of the infinite products that are almost impossible to find in regular stores, pharmacies or supermarkets.

Las colas are just as common in Maracaibo as in Caracas, but they began in Maracaibo way before. And, just like in Caracas, those big lines are a sign of scarcity, bachaqueo and –of course- rationing.

I was shocked to know that school supplies are also being rationed.

I visited a rather big bookstore. A lady asked me to buy 3 notebooks for her. She and her husband could only buy 3 each and they wanted to get a head start on next year’s school supplies list, to try to avoid the inflation wave –or tsunami.

The icing on the cake: the cashier said I’d have to give the lady the notebooks outside the store. I felt like a criminal.

Crime: a common trait in all Venezuelan states.

The taxi driver that drove me from the airport to the hotel told me that he was robbed a couple of days before. The malandros took his Kia van and some cash, but he was able to get it back using a GPS system. Sadly enough, this would be the first of many crime anecdotes.

I heard a couple of stories of mass robberies in supermarkets and annoying purse lifters.

We’d walk quickly to get in the car because the “area wasn’t safe”.

I’d hear a worried mother asking her son not to go to the movies at night.

I was told how policemen tried to matraquear –illegal fine charged by policemen- a car driver, but desisted when they noticed that he was accompanied by his grow-up son.

Just like Caracas, Maracaibo is infested with crime issues.

***

Maracaibo was and wasn’t all I expected. Maracuchos are truly welcoming. Their food is awesome. Their accent was more than palpable.

But the thing I liked the most: how they, in the mist of the crisis, are more than proud of their city.

And to end an interesting adventure, my return flight took off 5 minutes ahead of time. #BelieveOrNot

1 COMMENT

  1. A true caraqueño always talks about another city as if it’s some foreign world, haha.

    As a valenciano, things are really not that different, aside from the fact that there are slightly less things to do around here…

  2. Surprised at your comments on the maracucho accent! I thought you were Venezuelan; unless you are writing for a foreign audience. Maracuchos and andinos (tachirenses and merideños) are two groups that NEVER lose their accent no matter how many years they live away from home. And something else; it was caraqueños and people from central Venezuela that adopted and turned gaitas into Christmas music. For zulianos it is a genre for expressing social issues of any kind and not only for celebrating christian holidays. It can be heard all year-round. A number of years ago I heard fron somebody that worked in marketing that when a food company, like Heinz, Mavesa, Pampero or the like, wanted to test a new sauce they tried it in Zulia, especially in Maracaibo, because of their fondness for them. You probably should have mentioned a couple of words about their beef, another food element they are very proud of.

  3. Annabella, as “Caracucho” (Born & raised in Caracas and then moved to Maracaibo), I should make you a small correction: “Cepillado” should be “Cepillao”.

    Oh, I hope you can have more spare time when you come again!, Maracaibo is -not- all the Zulia state.

  4. Zulia is the Texas of Venezuela, and not just because of oil.

    1. Loud, Bombastic, Obnoxious and the best folk to have at your back come hell or high water.

    2. Fried Everything. Hell, fried oil is a favorite in both places.

    3. They speak funny.

    4. They name their kids with words that are only found in Encyclopedias. In Maracaibo it can be no later than the 1972 Enciclopedia Salvat.

    I could go on, but you get the drift!

    • Actually, many names appear to be half a dozen o more random letters arranged to make them pronounceable (barely). There is no requirement they be found in any dictionary or encyclopedia.

      • There were a lot of greek names, such as Hermágoras, Atenógenes, Heraclio, etc., but that custom has faded through the years, and now people name their kids with outrageous, unpronounceable names, just as you say, Roy (not all of them bad-sounding, though: I got to now one Globo Rojo Primitivo).

  5. Qué deprimente que las torres del castillo de Lucas Rincón estén pintadas de verde, pero no me extraña nada.

  6. I was born and raised in Zulia state, South of the lake. The accent there is the same as the Maracucho accent. The first time that I went to Madrid, Spain, everyone thought that I was a Spaniard from the Canary Island. They would tell me that my accent was just like a Canario’s. I have never been to the Canary Islands. It made me wonder about the origins of the Zuliano accent.

  7. The “Maracuchos” and “Gochos” are great. Somehow they are able to maintain singular idiosyncrasies, customs, food, language accents,,, it’s one of the things that adds flavor to Venezuela.

    Fortunately in Vzla there’s no separatism, as they have in many other countries like the former Soviet Union, or in Europe. In part, they share the same religion, so that’s out of the way.

    This regional variety is awesome, you can add the Llaneros or the few, true Indians left; But only when it doesn’t go overboard as stupid Regionalism. (i.e. “we” are better and completely different than others). The problem of exacerbated Nationalism and stupid, exaggerated “Patriotism” is explored on the next post about the dumb and fictitious “Esequibo dispute”.

    Here in Miami, there’s a bunch a Maracucho taxi drivers now, I always call a family of them. To a Caraqueño, they are much more fun than all of the Cuban and Haitian taxi drivers..to crack jokes, reminisce and all.

  8. Heh, as a Caraqueño living in Maracaibo since this past December December I enjoyed this post. Now, I don’t have a single drop of regionalism in my body (or nationalism, for that matter) and as someone that has had the opportunity to visit all of Venezuela I have to say that I have never found that much difference between Caracas and the big state capitals. “Caracas es Caracas” is just Caraqueño bullshit, the only glaring difference I see is having the Metro.

    I have to say that’s biggest and most important difference for me so far, the days I have a Car available I love it here and much prefer it to Caracas, the traffic there is absolute hell whereas I still haven’t seen a true traffic jam here in Maracaibo. Also having almost no motorizados is heaven, in Caracas there were times when I couldn’t even switch lanes because of the motos.

    The days I have to use public transportation I feel in hell, thanks to the heat but also thanks to the garbage states of the carritos and the buses here, this is where the Metro de Caracas difference counts even if the Metro now sucks as well, the distance and time spent is much less.

    This is true for anywhere in Venezuela, though. If you don’t have a car you’re a 3rd class citizen only that the difference isn’t as bad in Caracas.

    As for anything else I have to say that as a middle class dude my life hasn’t changed that much… I do pretty much the same stuff I did in Caracas.

    The street food is leagues better here in Maracaibo, I have to say.

  9. About «bachaqueros»: Lately the term «bachaquear» has been extended, in popular parlance, to mean shopping for groceries and medicines in the places where they have regulated products, such as Bicentenarios. A lot of time people say: «Me voy a bachaquear» meaning meaning standing in line for hours and all, but they’re not necessarily smuggling the goods.

  10. Hey, it’s “land loved by the sun” (tierra del sol amada).

    Why would anyone think that we actually love the sun? If we did, we wouldn’t spend millions fitting our houses with industrial AC units.

    Here’s a funny anecdote: some time ago, I went with my sister’s family to visit her in-laws in Mérida. They used to live in the outskirts so it was extra cold. When we got there, my 4yo nephew said, with his full maracucho accent: “mami, que molleja, la casa de la tía tiene aire hasta en el patio!”

  11. Sorry guys, I have the urge of being the caraqueña antipática here for a moment. I’m just not sure what is the point of this post? To show that Maracaibo is cool? Sure, so are many other regions in Venezuela! Caripe, Los Andes, Guayana, Los Esteros de Camaguán, and many more. Is the plan to keep visiting other cities and write about them? Valentina Quintero does a great job already.
    How about a post from a maracucho praising Caracas? It will only be fair… 🙂

      • I have to agree. There’s nothing else besides hiking in Avila that I REALLY miss, I can jog in La Vereda but it’s not the same.

        I also miss seeing a big ass mountain outside of the window when I wake up, I definitely need to live close to a mountain range.

      • That sounds like something Maria Alejandra Lopez would say.

        Just to name a few:

        1) The campus of the UCV is Modern heritage site of the world by Unesco.
        2) The Parque del este, designed by Burle Marx, is world class. So are the parks of the USB, design by Robles Piquer, and the Jardin Botanico.
        3) The Avila, of course, and the teleferico and the hotel.
        4) The best museums, Bellas Artes, Ciencias, Galeria de Arte Nacional. I’m not including the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo because it was expropriated and I don’t know how it is nowadays.
        5) El parque de El Calvario (it was restored and it’s beautiful)
        6) World class food of all types, including fine pastries (Mozart and Danubio?)
        7) The Teresa Carreño complex.
        8) Downtown Caracas has awesome heritage architecture, colonial and from the beginnings of the 20th century. Not only a couple of greens towers…

        …and I could go on. But I’m not maracucha.

        I think you just have to get out more from the boundaries of El Cafetal.

        • True dat… as a maracucho I agree with everything you just said, except for one little detail that makes all of that null…

          Everything you mentioned is IN Caracas :p

          Sorry, but Id rather not have any of the above if it means that to have that I have to live in such a horrible, complicated, freakishly expensive, full de cola, de motorizados, de trafico inmamable (leido in-mei-ma-ble, por estos lares), de motorizados, de ser una odisea ir del punto A al punto B, de… dios mio… en general, caracas es, por amplio margen, la ciudad mas complicada y necia en la que he estado…

          Perhaps is that my relationship with Caracas is worse than that of Homer Simpson with New York, but every time Ive been there, the whole time Ive been crazy, CRAZY, to get back to Maracaibo, and, admittedly, the only moments were I didnt feel like that were in the gardens of the USB… but sadly, theyre not the true Caracas, just a beautiful niche in a terrible city.

          Is not that Maracaibo is la pepaerqueso, but… Caracas, nope, a big tall glass of nope…

          O/T: This maracuchean university professor protests just freaking rule! check them out because no tienen precio

          https://twitter.com/LUZadn/status/603606955358294018/photo/1

          https://twitter.com/fjmaring/status/609413598247567360/photo/1

        • Sorry, Carolina, but quite frankly: any one camel city in any other Spanish American country but maybe El Salvador has much more to offer than Caracas when it comes to architecture, cultural heritage and the like.

          Venezuela used to have top cuisine.

          Venezuela still have some very amazing NATURAL landscapes, even if Venezuelans are doing anything they can to destroy them.

          It would actually be interesting to get more accounts about Venezuela’s mean (in the statistical way) cities,
          like Boconó, Acarigua, Los Teques, El Tocuyo, etc.

        • I’m not from a Caracas. I was merely born there, have a lot of family and visited frequently during my childhood and adolescence. The Caracas in my memory was charming, but it just doesn’t exist anymore. Its hostility erases any quality it once had. You know, Zapata said, a propós de Caracas, that unlivable cities distinguish themselves for the outrageous amount of people that live in them.

    • No, Carolina. No haces de ‘la caraqueña antipática”. Más apropiado es decir que haces de “la venezolana ‘pajúa. ¿Cómo se dice PREPOTENCIA’ en inglés?.

  12. The Maracaibo Bridge was planned for construction by Perez Jimenez. He was getting ready to build them when they knocked him out. The Guri Damn and the Metro de Caracas were also on project already for the 1957-1962 period..

    The Torres del Silencio: Perez Jimenez, of course. Cota Mil, Autopista a la Guaira, Teleferico, Hoteles Humbold, Tamanaco, Parque del Este, Plaza Venezuela, Hipodromo, Cota Mil, Hipodromo, Sidor..

    http://www.noticierodigital.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=329478

    Just about every street, every highway, hospital, bridge, entire cities and neighborhoods,, in what, 6 or 7 years,,, without the massive Oil Boom Chavismo had for a Decade.

    Why? How? Simple: They did not Steal every penny.

    There’s a difference between Populist Cleptocracy, and the good, old fashioned right-wing Dictatorships like Perez Jimenez or today’s Singapore. And forget about the 25000 dead from violence every year.

    Heck, even today, Vzla would be better than Singapore in just about a decade… just saying. Imagine what Venezuela would be right now if Chavismo, after 16 years, had been a Perez-Jimenez time of Regime..

    We’d be looking like Dubai.

      • Jose, correct me if I’m wrong but as far as I know Venezuela only has slave labor and rich people living there today. So what’s the difference? At least with his idea it would look like Dubai.

        Oh and on top of that they are killing each other. That is, when they are not standing in line for 5 hours to buy food.

        Stop kidding yourself.

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