It all started on Avenida Bolívar, a major east-way road into central Caracas. Together with Andreina Flores, my colleague from RCN Radio, I was on an assignment to get some footage of Caracas’s main landmarks. We got a taxicab in central Chacao and headed west. Once there, we unfold the camera and we started shooting from inside the vehicle.

It was a bad decision.

Our idea was to stop in Plaza Diego Ibarra and film the Consejo Nacional Electoral, as well the Palacio de Justicia (we really wanted to film those two images of Chavez and Maduro displayed in the wall of the Court where leaders like Leopoldo López are judged). But the cab driver missed his turn, so we ended up reaching las escaleras de El Calvario.

We saw the now iconic Chávez Eyes printed in the famous stairs, we asked to pull over to get that image. To be clear, El Calvario is not some sort of Area 51 in Caracas. Far from it. El Calvario is a bustling corner three blocks away from Miraflores Presidential Palace. There are people yelling, horns honking, and… a lot of assholes stealing cellphones. That, in fact, was what we were worried about, not the bit of dadaism that would take up the next four hours of our lives.

“Can I please see your credentials?”, asked two guys dressed in casual clothes while parking their motorcycle right besides us.

 
“What talent!”, I thought to myself for a moment. Of the hundreds of cars that drive through the Avenida Bolivar, DGCIM managed to pick us out recording from inside a taxicab.

“And who are you?”, my colleague replied emphatically, both of us figuring we were about to get robbed. “We’re military intelligence. We were following you since you were recording in Avenida Bolívar”, he said.

He actually showed us the pictures he took of us minutes before. Now we’re really freaked out.

A couple of intelligence officers had been chasing us and we hadn’t even noticed. “What talent!”, I thought to myself for a moment. Of the hundreds of cars that drive through the Avenida Bolivar, these guys managed to pick us out recording from inside a taxicab. Why the heck don’t they use such incredible skill to catch kidnappers, thieves, drug-gangsters, and the rest of disturbed people that make my city one of the most dangerous in the world?

Things got tense. We didn’t want to show our credentials to people who wouldn’t even identify themselves correctly. Eventually, proper IDs were presented in both directions and the situation was supposed to be over once they took our IDs and wrote down our names. Not a chance.

“Please, come with us to the National Guard command post. The taxi driver comes with you”, they said.

“What!? What for?”, we replied.

“You both violated a Security Zone in the Presidential Corridor and the National Guard needs to ask you about it”, they alleged. We push back, trying to persuade them to not make us waste more time, but it was an order “from on high”.

Next stop: The Bolivarian National Guard command in El Calvario.

Once in the GNB command, we stepped aside and waited. They took our IDs and give them to the captain in charge. While we waited, another official was busy feeding birds. He stared at us trying to look mean, but did not stop feeding the birds…it was weird.

The scene was suddenly interrupted by an absurd announcement: “Well guys… We are going to take you to Fuerte Tiuna”, they said.

“There is no way I am going to go to Fuerte Tiuna”, Andreina said, decisively.

 
As “detainees” inside the Military Intelligence office, all we could do was wait.

“I am going to make this clear for you. There are two ways to take you there: either you cooperate, or I will handcuff you both”, he replied.

Turns out, being the Nth person to snap a picture of El Calvario really can get you detained in Venezuela these days.

As “detainees” inside the Military Intelligence office, all we could do was wait.

The taxi driver was the first one to be interviewed. We were not allowed to get in touch with lawyers or anyone else. As we stood there, we could count up to 8 images of the Bolivarian Lord Commander in a room not bigger that 5 x 5 meters.

Our tedium was relieved by the view of kilos and kilos of Harina PAN going from one office to the other one, as well as any number of bags of pasta and other hard-to-find staples. Intelligence needs provisions, I guess. It makes sense.

After a while, an DGCIM agent, Major Mantilla, began asking us questions. But before he was through debriefing us, Major Parra (the official in charge of the detention), suddenly burst in the office, cell phone in hand. 

“Yes, my General. I am here with them. They are about to be released”, Parra said to an never-identified person on the other end of the lind.

 
You know, guys, I like to respect freedom of press and that’s why we are freeing you.

We sensed the meaningless charade was coming to an end, but of course that was not possible to be over without one other Chavista-surrealist situation: a sermon from Major Mantilla.

“You know, guys, I like to respect freedom of press and that’s why we are freeing you,” he said. “You both broke the law, but in the name of freedom of speech we are going to finish this procedure.”

Out of morbid curiosity, right after we were let go I went into Google and typed “El Calvario – Caracas.” There are over 384,000 photos, videos, descriptions and stories of the famous stairs there.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.