Venezuela; a vast, largely unexplored country famed for it’s towering peaks, tumbling falls and insane inflation. Almost everybody I met told me not to travel to Venezuela, some people even made it their mission in life to scare me out of visiting this amazing country. Despite all of the out of date Venezuela travel guide’s that I read, all of the information and mis-information, that was thrown at me, there were seven facts of Venezuela which nobody bothered to tell me…
1. 60 Litres of fuel is less than 1 cent
Yeah, that’s not a typo people. I was told that the fuel was cheap; sure I got that, message received. Nobody told me it was cheaper to fill up a car than to buy a bottle of water. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and cheap, nearly-free, fuel is pretty much seen as a Venezuelan birth-right. I was absolutely amazed when I first pulled up to a gas station and my buddy filled up the car with the ‘higher quality’ fuel – it cost under 2 bolivars, a little less than 1 cent at the black market rate of 230 bolivars to the dollar.
2. Venezuelans’ want to chat about Politics
I was extremely surprised to find out that most of the Venezuelans I had the pleasure of bumping into were more than up for discussing the political situation in the country. I spoke to die-hard Chavistas, left-wing protestors and everybody in between; the one thing they all had in common was that they were extremely grateful to have somebody listen to their side of the story. On numerous occasions, Venezuelans themselves would actually initiate the conversation which was not what I had expected. In the past, when visiting ‘dangerous’ countries, I have found locals to be very quiet when it comes to discussing their government due to an inherent fear of reprisals. Venezuela was refreshingly different, although the country was constantly shook by civil unrest and riots, I felt I came away from the country with a better understanding of what is actually going on.
3. Powdered Milk is more expensive than an internal flight
I had been warned in advance that getting toilet paper in Venezuela was a real pain in the ass (ha!) to get and that one would have to queue for hours in order to buy some. It turns out that you can actually get toilet paper relatively easily on the black market but that, for a pack of 12, you would end up paying a fair whack. Even more expensive was powdered milk, which is one of the main illegal imports from Colombia and could cost up to $6 for a 2 kilo bag if bought on the black market. A one hour internal flight, on the other hand, comes in at around the $5 – $8 mark. Sure, the planes may have been terrifyingly juddery (tiny planes with propellers) but heck, they sure are cheap!
4. Not every Venezuelan woman is a ‘Miss World’
“You’re going to Venezuela? Aw dude, I heard the girls are stunning there!” – OK, I don’t want to ruffle any feathers here, there were plenty of Venezuelan girls who were giggly, pretty, funny and approachable. However, on the other hand, for every potential Miss World (which has been won by Venezuelans more times than any other nation) there were half a dozen women who would be better off aiming for the Miss Obesity pageant… Seriously, I was totally shocked at the amount of overweight people in Venezuela. Perhaps it’s due to a bad diet, maybe exercise simply isn’t part of the culture, whatever the reasons, there’s no denying it – Venezuela has more than it’s fair share of fatties. Please direct your hate mail to Mount Doom.
5. Venezuelan’s really don’t like bad Spanish
My Spanish isn’t bad. I’m one of those backpackers who can confidently stride into a bar, order two beers, talk about how I like to play with my dog in the park, enthrall all with my story of how I have a brother and tell a local girl that she is ‘much beautiful’. Ok, so my Spanish isn’t great, but I do have a pretty good understanding of it – I can understand 95% of what is being said to me and yes, I get it, when people are screwing with me. If I order ice-cream and receive a cabbage, something has clearly been lost in translation. In many of the Spanish speaking countries I visited, I found the locals made a special effort to understand me, almost out of pity, however in Venezuela; if my Spanish wasn’t absolutely perfect it was as if I was speaking in a different language. A Venezuelan friend later confided in me that many Venezuelans simply don’t want to make the effort with trying to understand foreigners and unless your Spanish is perfect, you’re not going to get very far trying to talk to some people.
6. The Quality is incredible
As I mentioned, if you’re lucky enough to be backpacking in Venezuela with a couple of hundred dollars in your pocket then your basically a millionaire. What came as a true surprise, however, is that the quality of the stuff you can buy is actually extremely good; I’m used to getting super cheap rooms for a few dollars but when travelling in Venezuela, a few dollars doesn’t get you a dive; it gets you a five star hotel room. Willing to splash out on dinner and spend around $10? – Well, dress up in your Sunday best because for that kind of money you can expect to eat a three course meal in a truly stunning restaurant, the kind of thing that would cost hundreds of dollars back home. I knew travelling in Venezuela was going to be cheap but I had kind of assumed that this would mean that the quality of flights, accommodation, activities and food would be pretty poor; I could not have been more wrong. Paragliding with an experienced guide costs just $7, a ridiculously low price for an activity which requires expensive equipment and trained professionals. The really crazy thing is that, due to the fluctuating black market rates, the value of your dollars changes every day. I left civilisation for a five day trek when I returned the black market rate had skyrocketed yet again and, overnight, the dollars in my wallet were worth nearly 40% more.
7. Venezuelans are incredibly friendly
I didn’t really know what to expect from Venezuelans themselves; they do, after all, live in a politically unstable country where riots, food shortages, rampant inflation and crazy politicians are pretty much the norm. Sure, Venezuelans may not be that keen on you at first; after all, you are a comparatively loaded traveller making the most out of their dire economic situation in order to fuel your lust for adventure. You probably don’t speak perfect Spanish. Do not let that deter you, once you actually get chatting to Venezuelans, especially some of the younger generations, you will find that they are warm, incredibly hospitable and almost always up for a good time; the amount of on-the-spot offers I had to go off on an adventure were truly staggering and the Couchsurfing community in Venezuela is one of the best I have ever encountered…
So, that’s that people – be sure that when thinking about backpacking Venezuela you take everything you hear, even from me, with a pinch of salt. There is a hell of a lot of conflicting information out there and, heck, if you really want to learn the truth – just go. Pack your bag, book that flight, be smart, be safe and learn the truth about one of the most stunning, bewildering, exhilarating and beautiful places in the world. Peace, out.