Luke's South American Diary
Home Index by Dates Index by Trips Photo Gallery Search this Site Last Month Next Month

February 1995

9 February 1995

After a short period of recuperation and catching up after the Peru trip, life has continued in what I now consider to be a reasonably normal manner, with the minor exception that I am still driving Julie to and from work, which involves what is (for me) a relatively early start. Julie continues getting huger and huger, and still has her cantankerous periods (who would not in the circumstances?), which I try as far as possible to ignore. Something which has taken up a reasonable amount of time for both of us just recently is our renewed attempt to obtain legal visas. After his last glorious cock-up in sending us to Miami totally unnecessarily, we have summarily dismissed the gestor who was supposedly helping us and, to everyone's horror, we are going it alone, following the lead of a name given to us by the Vice-Consul in Miami. It may sound too corny to be true, but the only way to get anything done here is to know someone in the right place at the right time, and ingratiate yourself with them - Julie is getting really rather good at all this.

However, it does involve us going to the DIEX offices in downtown Caracas, which has been something of an eye-opener, in much the same way as our visit to a public hospital a few months ago. It really was too much like Franz Kafka's "Trial" to be quite believable. Laughably, our first appointment had to be cancelled as we arrived there to the news that DIEX was on strike, although this only seemed to go on for one day and the appointment was rescheduled for the next day. Once inside the portals, which were being mobbed by lesser mortals trying to get their cases seen (we merely flashed the name of a sufficiently prominent official, and were almost physically pushed in through the crowds), we were in a large gloomy hall in which hundreds of worried-looking people were either standing in queues (which seemed to go round and round the room, crossing each other at intervals), or wandering aimlessly with blank expressions on their faces.

Our hearts sank, but having asked several people where we should go, and after a scene straight out of Kafka where we had to go up one set of stairs, along a corridor, down some other stairs, and along another corridor, in order to arrive at an adjacent part of the original building, we arrived at what we thought was the right place. Our hearts sank again when we were told that the person we were to see at 9.30am would not be there until 11am (for which read 12pm), but Julie managed to wheedle her way in to see this person's secretary, who passed us on to another man, who in turn asked someone else to take us down to another office. Hearts sinking further all the time, and the realization dawning of just why everyone had looked at us so horror-stricken, we found ourselves in a room with cubicles behind a blank door, with absolutely no idea of whereabouts in the building we were.

But from there onwards, things seemed to improve, and we were treated with some measure of respect for the first time as someone listened to our plaint, answered most of our questions, and told us exactly what other documents we needed. It was almost as though, having successfully weathered the initiation rites, we were now entitled to some reasonable treatment. Arguably, we were still no further forward in reality, but it certainly felt like we were getting somewhere. So I spent that rest of that day attempting to find out where we could obtain a medical certificate (apparently the ones we had for that very purpose were no longer valid), and it was heart-sinking time again when I was repeatedly told that, no, they could not do that sort of thing there, we had to get them from the Ministry of Health (which was presumably run along the same lines as the DIEX!). As a last resort I phoned our final contact in DIEX who assured me matter-of-factly that they really did not care where the medical certificate came from.

So having eventually found a doctor willing to do it, (there appears to be no such thing as a family GP in Venezuela - all the doctors specialize in something or other, and the one we went to was a heart specialist, but we really did not care at that point), we had the medical exam, which concluded thankfully that we were fit and well in body and mind, apart from the fact that Julie was six-months pregnant (of which we had a pretty good idea anyway). Had it turned out otherwise, who knows what additional machinations would have been required to obtain a visa.

By the next day we had obtained the fiscal stamps, all the other required documents, and even the yellow card file in which it seems that all applications must be submitted, and which the DIEX itself seems unable to provide, and we strode boldly in to the office, past the milling crowd. Our man saw us eventually, but we were a little disconcerted when he passed us and our file on to "Johnny" (who seemed very loathe to tell us his second name). Nonetheless, having explained the whole thing all over again, Johnny duly made up a nice little folder while we watched, with all the documents neatly stapled or pinned into their respective places, gave us a number, and told us to come back in a week's time, at which time we would be given our transeunte visa. We had no reason to doubt his word, and so we left, still a little in the dark, but at least feeling that we were maybe another step up the tortuous ladder towards our goal.

23 February 1995 Back to top

Of course, more predictable than the weather really, two weeks later, despite the relatively ("relatively" being a relative thing) auspicious start to these visa negotiations, we were no further advanced. After several return trips to check on our progress or lack of it, at which the reception was progressively frostier, the response was usually a shameless "pasado mañana" ("the day after tomorrow", which at least makes a change from the usual "mañana", and sounded marginally more convincing I thought). By the time the application had ostensibly been approved, we were not in a position to follow through with the next step anyway, because Julie had to make her return trip to Ecuador and therefore needed her passport. One DIEX guy we asked told us that a new stamp in the passport would invalidate the whole application (which sounded stupid enough to be true), but we managed to obtain enough second opinions to convince us that we should still be in a position to go ahead and obtain the visa stamp on her return. It really seems to depend more on how the official feel on the day than anything else. Vamos a ver...

We were two thirds of the way through February before we witnessed the first rainfall I can remember since before Christmas, certainly the first that fell with any conviction. In fact, the weather has been wonderful for several weeks, although this only increases the likelihood of water-shortages later. There was a period of a week when they were fixing the water mains in the street, and water was restricted to a couple of hours each in the morning, lunchtime and evening, which gave an insight into what water shortages (almost an inevitability after all) may actually be like. Actually the supply was at very sensible times, and it did not present too much of a hardship, merely requiring a little more organization than normal, but I can see that with a small baby things might be somewhat more problematical. Vamos a ver on that too...

In fact, one way or another, a lot of time seems to be spent waiting at the moment, with very little "seeing" at the end of it. We recently applied for a cellular phone, which may seem like a needless extravagance, but it is partly so that Julie can carry on business while in hospital (yes, seriously!), partly a hedge against the unreliable local phone service, and partly a security measure (since a couple of people were murdered recently at our local petrol station, we have become even more wary). And besides everyone else seems to have one! After several days laboriously checking out prices and obtaining information, and several more days of wasted trips to the shop (there were more forms to fill in which they forgot to give is the first time; it was almost ready but the line was not connected yet; etc, etc), we eventually took delivery of the machine. Of course it did not actually work properly at first (we could make, but not receive, calls), but we fixed that little problem eventually. The whole process took probably three weeks, and to think I used to complain about bad service in England. I have still never figured out why things take so long here, but when people ask me what I do with my time here, there is at least part of your answer.

We have also been trying to install an old fax from Julie's office in our apartment, again so that Julie can work when she is supposed to be relaxing. Even this was far from straight-forward: the guys at the office, who took it to pieces in the first place, did not seem to be able to re-connect the various pretty coloured wires hanging out of the back of it. So we are still sitting here with a partially-functioning fax machine. In fact we seem to be surrounded by hardware like never before: two televisions, VCR, stereo, two telephones, cellular, fax, two computers...

The bank car is, incredibly, still not fixed two months after it was first taken in. The spare part which was apparently unobtainable in Venezuela, was eventually obtained at great cost and after great delay from Florida. It was duly installed, and the car still did not work. Only then did it transpire that another part was also needed, and it had to be brought in from (you guessed it) Florida. You have to laugh really, although it is usually the last thing you feel like doing, and a grim, wry smile is usually all we can muster these days.

I thought it amusing that the only person who has ever arrived for an appointment on time and who carried out his duties quickly and efficiently, was the man who came recently to fumigate the apartment against cockroaches, ants, etc - and he turned out to be German. This diary is in danger of turning into a continuous diatribe against Venezuelan incompetence, but it really does give some of the flavour of the frustrations of daily life here. And remember, these are only isolated examples. Were it not for the fact that we get to live in a swish apartment with all the facilities of a country club, and the ever-reliable weather, day-to-day life could actually be pretty grim. Especially as, with the pregnancy and all the admin which seems to take up so much of our time at the moment, we are not even benefiting from the travel opportunities the posting allows us (although having just returned from Peru just a couple of weeks ago, I cannot really complain).

26 February 1995 Back to top

This weekend is Carnaval, and although it is not such a big event here as in Brazil or Trinidad for example, it is nevertheless a four day weekend, and everyone heads in vast numbers to the beaches (the authorities estimate that around three million people have left Caracas for Carnaval weekend!). The beaches are therefore probably best avoided, although the chances of finding accommodation anywhere near a beach are pretty slim anyway, so we are relaxing at home. There is apparently a parade of some sort in Caracas, although nothing like it used to be (apparently), and people have been recommending vehemently that we avoid it and the hordes of drunken violent people who attend it, even though in recent years Carnaval celebrations in Caracas have been cut back significantly due to the drunkenness and the associated death toll!). We did however go to see a smaller parade in a smaller and safer suburb, although it was actually distinctly unimpressive, apart from one or two of the costumes and the spectacle of the kids all dressed up. Another year when we are more mobile we should go to see how Carnaval is celebrated in some of the more traditional coastal towns such as Cumaná and Carúpano, which is apparently still worth seeing.

Home   Index by Date   Index by Trip   Photo Gallery   Search   Last Month   Next Month   Back to Top