A while ago I set out to write a love letter to Ciudad Guayana, my home town. Something about how awesome this place is, with its good people and the super future proof city planning and stuff, but the same day I decided to start writing my masterpiece (actually it was kind of lame) I had to take a “bus” that looked like this.

The metaphor about Venezuela being the abusive husband and its citizens being the abused wife never rang so true. While I was there hanging in the back of a “perrera” (yes, as in “dogcatcher truck”) trying to think about the good things this place has to offer, the now omnipresent lines for food dotted the landscape. Now that the Abasto Bicentenario has closed following yet another corruption scandal and the bachaqueros migrated to the smaller stores, those lines, unlike basic goods, are freaking everywhere.

The wonderful people you can stumble upon from time to time, makes me want to know every inch of this place, but to think I was going to be able to write a moving, inspired poem about my love for Ciudad Guayana was a fool’s errand.

Sure, we have waterfalls inside the city, those are great (and by great I mean motherfuckin’ majestic), but while you’re checking them out there’s always a chance you’ll be held up by natives in a canoe, which kind of gets in the way of the whole connecting-with-nature thing.

We also have that being-the-only planned-city-of-Venezuela thing, but that’s just an wife’s tale die hard Leopoldo Sucre Figarella fans tell. The truth is that from time to time I have to carry buckets of water if I want to take a bath (and that started way before the dry spell, by the way). And don’t get me started on public transport, which is so bad I’m sure it’s breaking some kind of record.

The basic industries you say? Oh yeah, the economic pillar of Ciudad Guayana, made to ensure the developm… wait, wrong year. Those are pretty much paralyzed, and their workers get paid only because the BCV prints money like there’s no tomorrow. If the government is aiming for hyperinflation, Ciudad Guayana has them covered.

I could go on, but I think my point is clear. Every time I came up with a good thing for my love letter, reality showed up and slapped me in the face:

– Look at all those fun events this weekend

– You are the 12th most violent city in the world don’t be crazy, and also, you have no money.

– Bueno…

-I want to go for a jog around the city.

-Remember the guy who got stabbed to dead doing exactly that?

-Nevermind

– Ok I want a mango, there is no way that gets ruined, the whole city is filled with mango trees.

– Fenómeno del niño, you can have this mango-raisin looking thing.

– Ugh.

So, if everything is so bad, why did I even consider writing a love letter to this place?

Because for all that’s wrong with it, it’s still great. Gathering for a truco game with the neighbors, or going to the rooftop of the building for a talk (don’t tell my parents we do that) with the badass view of the city as a background really gets you thought the week. And since the true value of this city remains in its future, in its potential, we’ll keep helping each other until we get there.

One conversation with some random person in a line is enough to convince you that people, informed only with the mainstream media, really have no clue of what’s going on. Some people really do believe there’s an economic war just because the TV says so, or that the new Assembly is gonna fix everything just because they won.

Yes, I would prefer that people were more aware of the whole political disaster, but if you just make economic policies that make sense to this city, you’re good to go. Hard working people + lots of resources + sane economic policies + some years, it’s not a complicated recipe. And it’s all it would take to make this a pretty livable place.

I still love this city, but I know that’s a job that’s getting harder to do every single day. Hope can only get you so far, and maybe enduring one more day-long line for food, or having a really scary experience with violent crime is all it would take to push me over the edge of “love” and right into straight up “hate”.

That day hasn’t come yet. And I’m determined to keep loving this place as long as I’m able.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Iv e only visited the place a couple of times but every time I have been struck by how nice most people are , modest, good humoured , easy going , spontaneously helpful ……….got no ties to the place but are prepared to vouch from my limited contacts with the place that the people are really special ……..!!

  2. This is accurate, yeap. My family lives in Ciudad Guayana and I travel frequently there. I’ve seen the gradual decay that peaked (ha) on december last year, with no publich lights on the streets, no traffic lights of any kind, craters on the pavement, the malls are closing at 5 pm and crime is out of control. And trash is everywhere. And public transportation is a joke on all of us. And taking money from ATMs is probably the worst thing that you can do in your life.

    Still, I can’t help but feel the magic in the place. The dawns are amazing, the dusks are gorgeous, the place really looks freaking beautiful and although you can find idiots anywhere, everyone I meet is actually pretty nice.
    I would describe the city as “abandoned”, but in good hands it can shine again without too much effort.

  3. Puerto Ordaz is the only city in Venezuela that doesn’t have barrios. The barrios are in San Felix and don’t let them cross the river.

  4. Awesome article. Always wanted to visit, the people I know from there are all top notch. They are all pampered by the option of weekend kayaking through the rain forest.

    Hang in there man, remember: at least it’s not Caracas!

  5. Last time I visited lost my brand new loki walking cane in the back of the taxi that drove us from the airport to the “calle del hambre” for a stay over. we had to make time until our tour operator piked us up on our way to trek Roraima.

    The short and long of the story i gave up on the cane and thought nothing of it , my bad, I left it behind.

    After 10 days or so, we came back from the hike and went to same calle del hambre spot. and for some reason, the guy remembered me and told me taxi driver had left the cane for me and he fetch it and got it back to me.

    15 yrs. alter i still use it many times as I now hike the Canadian Rockies with it. A stark reminder of the true Venezuelan traits of buena gente I once grew to love. too bad other traits also run strong in out wonderland of vivalapepismo and pillos …

    Used to go there a lot with my father when he built infrastructure in La Paragua, Ciudad Piar, Ciudad Bolivar and other places. I even had a job in Tumeremo once. Other times…

    Puerto Ordaz is a great showcase of the Venezuela that could have been, but has been lost for now.

  6. Carlos, congratulations!! I loved this piece, its the best thing I’ve ever read about Ciudad Guayana 😉

    I only met the city once in 2007, on my way to La Gran Sabana. And I loved the city I met! Especially La Llovizna and the Orinoquia Mall. I hope it will shine again, and hope you are part of the city’s rebirth!

  7. The thing about Ciudad Guayana, I mean this kind of love-hate atmosphere many of us (locals) experience is in part because of the fact that is a very, very young city compared with others majors cities in the country (a little more than 50 years old city).
    Ciudad Guayana is a kid of a city on steroids. It has an amazing infrastructure (roads, bridges) and parks and industries (well, all of them in a very bad maintenance situation right now thanks to the red infection). It is surrounded by huge dams (Guri is just one out of five. Caruachi and Macagua are some of the others) but it is essentially a young concept still defining itself, I mean like figuring out the thing of being part of a city and not living in a place. Some people could say, “but an old city is not necessarily more interesting or less of a contradiction”, ok that can be true but maybe age is needed when a city is supposed to deal with the experiment of “…being-the-only planned-city-of-Venezuela thing”.

  8. Reuters is covering events in Venezuela, and it seems their coverage has increased a bit recently.

    http://www.reuters.com/search/news?blob=Venezuela

    The article about cattle land is instructive as to what has happened. Sometimes it’s hard not to hate. I don’t know enough, not being native, not having been in the country for long decades, but – not entirely joking here – I think it’s a safe bet to do everything exactly the opposite of “chavismo.” Private capital or private investment and free markets.

  9. Your article is very well-written, and brings out the character of kindness and love in Venezuelans that I myself have experienced. Under even just competent management – which Venezuelans are certainly capable of – it could easily be a paradise country. If there are those with nationalist sentiments who feel that any foreign interests are somehow stealing from national Venezuelans, stealing natural resources, like the British company that owned the cattle lands and presumably husbanded cattle: you have people like the British, or the Americans, the French, Spanish, Portuguese, from all over the world, who know how to organize things. That isn’t stealing natural resources. Venezuelans who see how to organize things, or have better ideas of their own, can start their own businesses, their own ranches, and compete.

  10. I love this piece…. I cryed it all the reading, maybe because I’m living abroad or because I was born and raised in guayana….

Leave a Reply