Impressions of Trinidad and Venezuela
July 31, 2008 3 Comments
I just returned from a three week trip to Trinidad and Venezuela, and I cannot say I knew much of what to expect, having never been to the Carribean or anywhere in Latin America. As a result, many things I encountered either surprised me or provided a visual reality to life in a deveolping country. Some of those were:
No one seemed to care that we were from the US. Leading up to the trip, I was posed the question many times of whether I would pretend to be from Canada, and I got plenty of jokes along the lines of how I would get a warm welcome from Hugo Chavez. In fact, we did, to the extent that a “warm welcome” is not being hassled. We had a brisk check-in with customs; in fact, they took longer with the Germans in front of us. Never were we stopped by police, never did anyone equate our being American with hostility (though sometimes with cluelessness, especially owing to my language deficiency), never did anyone even make an attempt at stealing our money. I’m sure this is not the experience for everyone who visits these countries, and it may have helped that we never really dressed nicely or wore jewelry. I was surprised nonetheless.
There was a healthy amount of consumerism in most of the places we went to in Venezuela, which belied its reputation as a budding socialist state. Bras and underwear, tight jeans (for women), shoes, backpacks and purses were sold ubiquitously. And what is Catholic about Venezuela does not extend to dress for women, which was usually about wearing tight and revealing clothing, more Miss Venezuela than the Virgin Mary (I crack myself up).
The extent of the barrios in Caracas. These flimsy homes are packed in tightly on the hills surrounding the valley upon which the major parts of the city sprawl. It is pretty amazing to take in hills of brick and cement, with not a spec of grass visible.
The amount of litter in both Trinidad and Caracas, as well as rivers of sewage. It brought home what marvels are our American cities, with their treated water, elaborate sewage systems, and relatively efficient waste management. As my dad said when I told him this by e-mail, “I agree about sewage. I am a big fan of clean water and sewage systems. Chicago is world famous in sanitary and civil engineering circles for how it handles its water.”
Both the ubiquity and absence of Chavez. He was ubiquitous in posters and billboards in cities like Barcelona and Caracas, some where he was featured supporting a candidate running in the upcoming local elections. Support or opposition to him, his proposed constitutional reforms, and his favored parties and candidates was spray-painted on walls across the country, like below:
On the other hand, in places like the El Recreo Mall in Caracas, which houses a sports bar, a few “gourmet” restuarants, a cinema with almost exclusively American movies (where we saw the Dark Knight), and upscale stores like Merrell and Zara; in the scads of shops and clothes stalls in the cities’ commercial centers; in the fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King, his anti-American, socialist message did not seem acknowledged or relevant.