Photo: Fabiola Ferrero retrieved
Monday, 1:00 p.m. I’m in Caracas, the most violent city in the world and, since I’m not from here, I’m extra-scared. I constantly look over my shoulder, trying to be aware of my surroundings, but there are too many things happening at once. It’s motorcycles everywhere and everyone walks super fast.
The big city is not for me. I can’t shake off the feeling I’m gonna get robbed any second now.
I’ll be doing research in Caracas, and my employers are lending me a laptop. The catch is, I have to pick it up at El Hatillo, in one corner of town, and bring it to the office in Chacao, in the opposite part of town. They told me to get a cab, and they would pay back whatever I spend. I have 10 million bolivars in my account, I figure a cab costs about four million, so I have enough.
Cash is very scarce, and I spent all of mine getting here, so I’ll have to find someone who accepts a transfer.
Cash is very scarce… so I’ll have to find someone who accepts a transfer.
I hail the first cab, a gray Ford Fiesta.
“Do you accept pago móvil?“
I don’t know Caracas, so I just keep walking until I find another taxi, a brown rusty car.
“Hey, buddy. Say, pago móvil?”
And off he goes.
Pago móvil is the bank’s response to the cash drought. It lets you transfer money from your phone to any local bank using the phone number and the recipient’s ID number. I’ve never used it, but I have the app installed and ready to go.
I walk to the Sambil. Right in front of the mall, there’s a bunch of mototaxis in the shadow of a tree. On the other side of the busy road, only one cab is parked. I reach it.
“Do you accept pago móvil, man?”
“No, but I accept transfers from Banesco.”
The sun hits me right on the face, I can barely see him from the sidewalk.
“My money is in Mercantil.”
Pago móvil is the bank’s response to the cash drought.
I don’t really have a Mercantil bank account, I’m using my brother’s, who moved away to Colombia. Since I don’t have his cards, I only use it for transfers. At points of sale, I use another Mercantil account that a friend lends me. For that one, I can use the debit card, but I can’t do transfers.
I do have a bank account of my own, but it’s from Banco de Venezuela.
“I can’t find a taxi that accepts pago móvil,” I tell the driver.
He takes a moment of urban meditation and, after doing something on his phone, he says:
“You can pay me with pago móvil.“
“Great! How much to Los Naranjos?”
“Are you serious?”
I could barely pay for one cab, and now I need more money for the ride back.
I don’t want to take my phone out, in the street, so I go inside the Sambil, right at the entrance, and I can see the taxi from the glass door. I text friends to lend me 10 million, which is a lot, by the way. The monthly salary, with the food bonus, amounts to just five million.
I could barely pay for one cab, and now I need more money for the ride back.
After half an hour, someone transfers me the money, so I go back to the taxi. The driver tells me his pago móvil info, I try to login to the app and everything is easy-peasy.
I’m using a password manager, so I know the password is correct. I try again.
“Wrong password. Remember that after three attempts, your account will be blocked.”
I don’t want to go into how difficult it is to recover a bank account that’s not even yours, so I’ll just say it’s pretty tough. Third try, this time I do get access.
During this whole time, I’m super scared; I have my phone out and I can’t watch over my shoulders because my eyes are buried in the screen, making sure I’m typing the numbers correctly.
It takes several tries. Movilnet, the government-owned mobile service provider, was acting up as always, but when I finally get to the part where I have to type in the amount for the transfer, I read the note at the bottom of the page:
“Dude, there’s a daily limit of 15 million for your security and stuff.” That’s paraphrased, by the way.
There’s a daily limit of 15 million for your security and stuff.
Now I truly can’t pay. It’s already 2:30 p.m., I need to get this laptop today and get some work done at the office before nightfall. I panic, brainstorming with myself: Maybe if I take the subway, get closer to El Hatillo and get a taxi there? How do you even use the subway? What if I give him a shoe as a guarantee of payment? Because these shoes ain’t worth much anyway.”
And then it comes to me:
“My dad has a Banesco account!”
I immediately open the Banesco webpage. I have access to my dad’s bank account, because I was the one who set it up. After, like, five tries (because Movilnet), I’m in. The driver is just bored, talking to a mototaxista. I’m praying to the old gods and the new that he doesn’t get another client.
The page opens with enough money.
I write the banking information, and when I hit next… The dinosaur thingy that shows up on Chrome when there’s no internet, shows up.
I reload the page like crazy, but when it finally connects, I’m logged out. Back to square one.
In the back of my mind, I’m thinking of the speech I’ll give to the malandro that’s just about to rob me so he lets me do this bank transfer before I hand him my phone.
After I enter the username and password, the page tells me there’s already a session in place, and there can be only one session open at a time. For my security.
I’m thinking of the speech I’ll give to the malandro that’s just about to rob me so he lets me do this bank transfer before I hand him my phone.
Keep in mind, this is normal banking in Venezuela. This is not because systems were collapsed that day, or because of my crazy bad luck. This is normal. This is how you pay for stuff here.
The motorizado tells me I have to wait 10 minutes for the system to log me out, before I can try again.
I try again immediately. And, again, I get in. I tried ten more times, I swear to God, and always the same thing: the dinosaur of fuck you.
I finally give up, it’s 3:30 p.m., and I go to the Sambil to sit or something. I ask in WhatsApp groups if someone has 20 million lying around in a Banesco account to pay for a cab, and my friend María comes up with a solution. She asks me for the bank information so she can try from her home. Now she has my dad’s Banesco account…
…and it works like a charm. Solved in 30 seconds.
I’m inside the mall, so I almost run to the taxi and he’s still there! It’s 4:00 p.m. I need to fetch the laptop and bring it to an office that closes at 5:00 o’clock.
“Here, I paid you, let’s go. I asked someone to make the transfer for me.”
The driver, super calmly (as if he didn’t waste a whole day of work), scratches his nose.
“Tell her to send you the capture,” he says.
“Yeah, yeah, but let’s go, it’s there, dude, I swear.”
No luck, it’s only after I show him the image that he moves.
I try again immediately. And, again, I get in. I tried ten more times.
When we get the laptop and go back to Chacao, it’s past 5:00 p.m. I tell him to drop me off at the hotel instead, knowing my chance for today is lost. We’re on a rather fluid flow of traffic, and I figure disappointment is evident on my face.
“You know,” the driver says, “I was hesitant to bring you to El Hatillo, because the car is overheating and I don’t want to force it too much. But I’ve been having a slow day. You’re the first client today.”
That’s when I realize that the whole time I was there, neither the driver nor the mototaxista he was talking to got a single client. How could they? For the one time money wasn’t a limitation for me, it still took me three hours, the help of friends and a lot of luck to to pay the equivalent of $4.
Now imagine the luck of those poor souls in Zulia.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.