Metro de Caracas Chronicles

Love it or hate it, Caracas' subway system is a daily reminder of what an adventure life in Venezuela has become.

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In a recent piece, Nick Casey, the New York Times’ latest arrival to Caracas, wrote about our well-lit and modern Metro Stations. I wonder if he has ever been in Plaza Venezuela during rush hour, because he might think otherwise about our main public transportation system.

When Caracas Metro was inaugurated in 1983 it was a big change. A modern subway for a city built around cars and highways, leaving most caraqueños outside a public transportation system. When its operations began, the fare was a few cents more expensive than riding a bus. Trains were rarely delayed, and traveling was quiet, pleasant, crowds were rare. Only teenagers like me dared to laugh and speak aloud in those trains during the 80’s where our citizens took pride in behaving as they thought a first world citizen should.

That changed with the years as the metro stations spread around Caracas and underground travel became commonplace. The main change was price-driven, and has little to do with the subway itself: for the past years, a metro ride has been considerably and consistently cheaper than any other mode of transportation in the city. Now that the government has approved an increase in bus fare that almost doubled in price, (from 20Bs to 35Bs.), a metro ride seems ever more attractive at a measly 4Bs, almost one tenth of what you would pay for a bus ride.

As a result, the trains are crowded at every hour. But I guess that’s normal and happens in every big city around the world.

Our metro system has also suffered other changes, because problems that once were kept outside have entered our trains and stations as well. Poverty and crime have become regular passengers that no one can avoid to see.

It’s almost impossible to get on a train without running into someone selling bubble gum, chocolates or cookies like Susy or Cocossette. All of them begin with a very similar line: “Antes que nada la educación, quién me da los buenos días”. And they actually expect the people in the wagon to answer loudly like a classroom chanting good morning to their teacher (and, surprisingly, some people DO answer!). Maybe you don’t like buhoneros on trains, but as I heard a few days ago from a young passenger sitting beside me: “At least he is selling something… because you have to help those who are sick. And you have to support the ones with playing music for handouts. What’s the difference, it’s all the same shit!!!”.

I envy such peace of mind, but I can’t afford a fourth phone to be stolen from me.

He is right. Begging and busking is as common as selling stuff on the trains. People with disabilities and who claim to have cancer or AIDS walk around telling their sad stories. But the saddest was a very old woman with short gray hair and dressed in rags, just walking through the wagon with an extended hand. No words were needed to explain her sorrow and need.

Begging is annoying, but harmless…but there are also muggings and violence. I’ve been lucky, I’ve never been robbed or accosted while riding the Metro. But theft is all too common and I wouldn’t ever dare use my cell phone while on the train. Other, braver passengers don’t care and play Candy Crush or listen to music on their devices during their trips. I envy such peace of mind, but I can’t afford a fourth phone to be stolen from me.

The effects of crime and insecurity can be seen all the time. It’s normal to be greeted in the morning with calls for law enforcement over the Metro loudspeakers: “Oficiales de la Guardia Nacional favor ir al andén número 2.” Stations are always strongly guarded. One morning while going downstairs to the platform I heard a very polite request, “excuse me, ma’am”. When I moved to my right to let him pass, I realized it was an entire assault troop of national guards running towards a crowd.

I’ve seen fights break out when the Plaza Venezuela transfer station is too crowded and nobody can walk where they intended. I’ve broken into sprints before without knowing why, but when you see so many people running towards you, you run first, ask later. I’ve travelled from Antímano to Plaza Venezuela standing in a wagon with no air conditioning. I usually get to work without problems, and even get other passengers to pity my students while I grade exams on the train. But once in a while I get stuck in and endless delay and cannot make it to class.

I guess we can’t complain because our subway is almost free.

Now and then, you can witness something memorable. I’ve never met these guys with the cuatros, but I’ve enjoyed our hip hoppers. I’ve never recorded their songs (remember, I’ll never use my phone there) but I found some stuff on youtube. Hope you enjoy it!

 

15 COMMENTS

  1. I was in Venezuela from August to February. Between Caracas and Guarico. At first I wouldn’t use the bus or metro because I wasn’t used to the chaos lol. After weeks however I was in full criollo mode and I wasn’t gonna all that money on cabs so I started using them both. I didn’t encounter any delays and the metro wasn’t more packed than other subways I’ve been on in other major cities. I did have some newly released convict pull a gun on me and my cousin in capitolio simply because he didn’t like us. The incoming govt should build some new lines and work on security but besides that I have to admit it’
    s not TOO bad, at least compared to everything else in the country.

    • We are ussually more affraid of the places we know less. But Metro de Caracas isn´t more dangerous than beeing in your car in a traffic jam. That’s how my 3 cell phones were stolen. And, actually, the metro works better than most people would admit. Of course, it is as weird as Caracas streets, that’s unavoidable!
      Thanks for reading!

      • I agree. Compared to the rest of the city it works relatively well. I recently found out that you know my aunt. Her name is Angela Fuentes Navarro. Great post as usual Lissette.

  2. Good post Lissette! Somehow it didn’t feel like reading a dreadful tale.
    It’s unbelievable how much the behavior as changed in the past 10 years. I remember my first visit to Caracas, as a teenager, and once we crossed the swivel to the subway it felt like another city, the outer smog and noise turned into fresh A/C and Aldemaro Romero’s melodies, people orderly walking by their right, and the big “Cultura Metro” posters reminding us we couldn’t eat aboard. Commuters even waited for all the arriving people to get off before stepping in… can you imagine? hehe. I started avoiding the Metro when visiting Caracas like three years ago. Now I simply avoid visiting the city.

    • Thank you! I don’t blame anyone for not comming to visit, here we are used to chaos and insecurity, but living abroad makes more difficult to deal with our problems. Thank you for reading!

    • We are ussually more affraid of the places we know less. But Metro de Caracas isn´t more dangerous than beeing in your car in a traffic jam. That’s how my 3 cell phones were stolen. And, actually, the metro works better than most people would admit. Of course, it is as weird as Caracas streets, that’s unavoidable!
      Thanks for reading!

  3. Te lo juro que no entiendo a los chamos que venden mentos o susys o cocosetes en los vagones. Siempre he creído que es un cover para drogas o que robaron un cargamento… jajajaj vender eso no puede ser una manera productiva de pasar un día!!!

    • Un cocosette tiene una ganancia aproximada de Bs 30. Si venden 24, ya hacen el equivalente a un salario mínimo integral diario. Y venden muchos más de 24. Como dicen ellos, “es mejor que robar o pedir”.

  4. Awesome post, Lissette! I really enjoyed reading your take on the Caracas Metro.

    As a frequent user for the past 10 years or so, I have done and seen some pretty crazy stuff on the subway, but deep down I agree with your general view; our Metro is not that different from the ones in NY and Paris, for example, aside obviously from the difference in prices.

    I concur with your argument that the sustained reduction in the real price of subway fares has led to an equally sustained deterioration in both the quality of service, and the manners of its users. It’s not only crime and beggars that is wrong with the Metro nowadays; people completely lost manners and behave themselves terribly on the system.

    I have seen drunk people puking in the middle of a crowded wagon; obnoxious crying children and their uncaring teenage mothers; spontaneous fighting between people waiting orderly for the train and line-cutters; fat people rudely standing in front of the door, not giving a damn; bachaquera hair-pulling catfights; among some other depressing human angles.

    • As a user of both the CCS and NY subways I can clearly state there is a HUGE difference in the crime factor. People in NY don’t worry from the time they enter until the time they get out how to avoid being robbed, accosted, sexually abused, or outright killed. Time Tables, Rappers, beggars and delays may be similar but the atmosphere is definitely not. Phones and electronic devices are used by the majority of riders in plain view, both on the subway cars and platforms in NY.

  5. Apparently the latest gimmick is to have a fat old lady loudly and angrily accuse an innocent passenger (looking middle class) of having taken something from her wallet , other people traveling close to her inmediately pounce upon the fellow and shout the same accusation while they pound him hard and dont let him move , they take his wallet from him and give it to the fat old lady who then ‘finds’ whats been stolen from her. other times they are not so sophisticated but simply assault the whole wagonload weapons at the ready …..!! (just a week ago something like this happened in one underground station (el cementerio??) ………..traveling caracas metro is something of a lottery now a days ……some 6 years ago our daughter traveled the metro all the time and had a set of rules for traveling without getting stolen , they included having her knapsack held in front rather than in the back and choosing carefully how she positioned herself in the space among other passengers …….also never using her electronic devices in public ….!!

    • We all have our rules, trying to avoid as much risk as possible. That also apply when driving your car, where to park, etc. Thanks for reading and your comment.

  6. If you think the Merto is someway rude then go take a ride to the La Rinconada – Cua interurban train. When it was opened in 2006, the first months of operations it was – free – with no control by train supervisors, so the people who used it were very rude to take seats early in the morning, and when going from the transfer sation in La Rinconada to the subway. There are many videos on you tube just search tren cua la rinconada .

    Here is one: https://youtu.be/G2lYUm1bZxs

  7. Those raperos were excellent!

    I used to take the metro quite often to go from Plaza Venezuela to La Hoyada – el Centro- and it was always the best ride. That however was over 10 years ago and I know much has changed since then. Those were days when people used to say that the people would transform themselves into civil beings when they went on the metro relative to the chaos that was above.

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