How it is to be young in Venezuela

The last month I have had my best friend from Venezuela visiting me in Norway. It has been incredible to show her around in my country, but also it has been good for her to come here and talk to people about life in Venezuela. We were so lucky to be invited to a cultural lunch at the Norwegian Peace Corps in Oslo, where Vanessa was asked to hold a little speech about being young in Venezuela. I have to admit; I thought I was prepared for whatever she would talk about because, after all, I have lived in Venezuela. I was wrong. The story she told was so personal and real that I think it moved everyone listening to her talk. Too few people know how difficult life is for young people in Venezuela. I therefore want to publish her speech, with a hope that it can make people get a personal insight how things are in Venezuela. Sadly, her story is not uncommon for venezuelans.
(PS: got Twitter: @MartineRetting)

 

How it is to be young in Venezuela? By Vanessa Brito Canzonieri

Life in Venezuela is so different from Norway that it was a challenge to come up with a way of summarize it. I tried to think of how to explain how it is hard economically, socially or politically. All those topics are too broad and, the truth to be told, I can’t say I fully understand them. So I decided for a different approach. After all, information about my country, like every other, is two clicks away. Instead of pretending I know better I will tell something only I can say.

I came to Norway because I had the amazing opportunity to attend to ISFiT, the international student festival in Trondheim. I heard the speeches of the most astonishing people, including the Dalai Lama. But, that was not the most impressive thing I heard during those days. One of the guys from my workshop was from Syria and he told me his story. Afterwards he said he didn’t like to talk about it because it hurts too much, but he did it anyway. That changed the way I see Syria, but also the way I see people and even myself. So, that’s what I’m going to do today. Tell a personal story, that of course won’t be as haunting as the Syrian war, but hopefully it will stay with you for longer than some data, numbers and facts.

I’m going to tell you how it was the first time I got robbed. These stories are common in Venezuela, when and how you got robbed. We would often make fun out it, but I won’t make this one funny. I have never told this to anyone, at least not the complete version.

I was 15 years old, that was 9 years ago. I was going back home from the English course I took after classes. I took the bus and sat by the window, since I have always liked to watch cars and people walk by. A guy sat next to me. He was thin and seemed like he had aged a great deal in too little time. He was restless and anxious. I connected these things with nothing, I just recall I didn’t like him. He ask several questions that I answer vaguely. Then he asked: “do you wanna see something?” and I didn’t, but I replayed “ok”. Maybe because I didn’t want to upset him. He pulled a gun out of his jacket.  A long beige old revolver, maybe it was too old, maybe it didn’t even work. But it was indeed a gun and he had his finger on the trigger.

He said: “it’s fine, I just need to solve something with those guys back there. That’s how it is”.  I said “ok” again and looked back to the window wishing really hard he would go for those guys back there, and not me… He didn’t. He wanted to test how I would react, but more than anything he wanted to show me the gun. So when he pressed the gun against my ribs, I would know for sure what it was and that his finger was on the trigger. I never panicked, I felt numb and slow. Afterward he said: “Don’t look at me and give me everything you have”. I only had my phone and some cash, but it was a camera phone and back then it was really cool thing. I gave the things to him.

Then he made me open my notebook, a pink hello kitty notebook that I had just used to take notes in my class. He told me to write. He demanded that I would write my name and all my relatives’ names, where they work and my addresses. How  I kept my head cold I have no idea, but everything I wrote was fake; a collage of information of many people’s life. He took the page and said: “if you ever tell this to anyone, I’ll hunt you down. I’ll rape you, I’ll kill you and all your family”. For a moment I felt a little like I won. I wasn’t more powerful than him, but I was more clever.

He leaned forwards to stand up, but then he changed his mind. “Wait a minute” he said, “aren’t you hiding anything from me?”  Then I felt my heart pumping crazy fast. He didn’t mean that I was lying, though. He leaned towards me. He touched my breast because he wanted to make sure I wasn’t hiding cash in my bra. That was the first time a guy ever did that to me. So I lost, being clever means nothing when you’re powerless.

When he left, the bus was empty because people had noticed what was happening. In Venezuela that doesn’t mean they’ll try to help, call the police or do anything whatsoever. It means they’ll discretely leave. Just like I had wished he would go for the guys back there. “Let it be anyone but me” is the common behavior. It’s really hard to blame them. I only cried when I got home, after walking numbly. I never went to the police. In the first place because it’s a too small crime so they would not care, after all I didn’t have a scratch. And second, because going to the police seems to be the most efficient way for these guys to find you again. They’ll pay their way out of justice and then they’ll go after you.

For a while I was too scared to go out alone. I wouldn’t go anywhere if my parents didn’t drive me and picked me up. But, I was missing out life. I was caged. Like the teenager I was, I took a radical decision. Instead of being afraid of everything, I became afraid of nothing. I grew up as a reckless and unattached person. I was aware that disaster was around the corner everyday. I was conscience that the things in my pockets in the morning might not belong to me anymore when I come back home. I still am. The line of danger is very hard to draw when stepping out of a house, it means this kind of risk. But I have to live. 

On 24th of February this year, a 14 years old boy was killed by the police because he was in a protest (http://goo.gl/4akVTC).  People in Venezuela and around the world is outraged about it, but in Venezuela kids are far too often exposed to weapons. Even when it is a political crisis, and repression and violence are higher that ever, this is not something new. Venezuelan youth are unprotected, life itself is unsafe. Last year there were 25000 violent deaths in this country. In a way, growing old is a matter of chance.

My generation has no future, simply because the future is too dark of a place to think about. Survival and sanity requires to stay present. We might have goals, dreams and hopes, but never plans. We live day by day. Our victories are the small ones.

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The police have killed a 14-year old boy! What now, Venezuela?

Yesterday the Police in San Cristóbal killed a 14-year boy during a demonstration.

Watching this sends shivers through my body as I remember last year’s protests resulting in too many dead bodies. Are protests starting again and why?

It is hard to write about the situation in Venezuela without getting tears in my eyes because everything seems hopeless. I went back to Venezuela this January to visit my friends and in many ways it seemed like nothing had really changed. The fruit guy was still on the corner saying hi to me, my friends were still there and the city looked the same. But Venezuela has changed since I left one year ago. It has changed to the worse.

I left in chaos last February 27th 2014. By that time several people had been killed during demonstrations, innocent people had been arrested and tortured, for what? The demonstrations did not lead to improvement of the issues people were protesting against. Returning 10 months later prices had risen to the extreme, the insecurity was still highly present, the lines to buy basic products had become longer and the society was as unorganized as ever. In addition to this, a new law has been passed that “grants power to the military to use force to control peaceful demonstrations”, according to the Human Rights Watch. In other words, the military can legally shoot people who protest! There could not be any clearer indications of things going downhill.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy being back in Venezuela. Again there were numerous comical situations and good moments, but I left with the feeling that things might turn bad, like last year. People were talking about protests starting up; just a matter of time? Why does tension always begin at this time of the year?

One of the reasons is that December is an inactive month. Christmas is a long and important holiday for Venezuelans. It is a time where people want to be happy, regardless of the chaos surrounding them. It is a time for being with the family and having a break from an everyday life that is more exhausting that it should be. In addition, people have more money in December because of Christmas Bonuses. Money tends to quiet people down. Then January comes, but it starts slowly. People are still in vacation mode, but as the month comes to an end and the economical measures for the coming year are presented people start to face the realities that lies ahead.

Another reason is that the price of oil decreased at the end of the year. For an oil-nation like Venezuela this has huge economical consequences. Venezuela does not have a reserve, which means that the effect of the oil price drop will appear already two-three months later… in February.

A third reason is that students begin classes in mid January. Students are the ones protesting, if not the only. As the semester starts the student organizations begins to discuss the current situation. By February demonstrations has been planned and the news spreads to students around the country.

As all these factors (and probably many more) come together it becomes more understandable that demonstrations begin this time of the year. The question is, how bad will the situation become? Is the killing of a 14-year boy a catapult leading to more protests, more anger, and more violence? Or will it lead to fear; fear of walking in the streets demonstrating that everyday-life in Venezuela is starting to become a nightmare? I do not know. All I know is that life for Venezuelans is becoming harder and harder every day…

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Confronting the writer’s block

Writing about life in Venezuela is not easy being kilometers away. Coming back to Norway and re-setting the mind to have an everyday life in here took some time and also meant letting go of life in Venezuela. Keeping in touch was too painful and the distance grew with time.

I have been told, “they all say they will come back, but nobody does”. I guess this is understandable, as circumstances do not seem to improve in Venezuela. I have to admit as I re-entered into Norwegian lifestyle, it is an easier everyday life. On the other hand, despite how comfortable living here is, the feeling of something uncompleted is often present in me.

The last days in Venezuela were chaotic, at least. After deciding to leave there was only six days to complete our buckets list, a task impossible not only time wise, but also the unstable situation put a limit to our adventures. There was barely time for goodbyes.

Back home my head was filled with thoughts about the things that were suppose to come. The longing after a life in the past is not compatible with a life in the present. Consequently, it was easier to push the thoughts away and create a distance to everything, including the writing.

Nevertheless, I want to start writing again. The question is, what to write about? Over half a year has passed since I left and I guess I have had a huge ‘writers block’ since then. Reasons are many, but definitely not lack of interest (and love) for Venezuela. The last words of the last post were: I will be back Venezuela, because you have my heart.

And I am going back! Tickets are booked and I am counting the days until I will be in a car with way too many people, feel the tropical sun on my face, eat greasy empanadas, talk to strangers and most important… see my friends again after the heartbreaking goodbye.

Until then, what to write about? I need some help because neither the gym nor the public transportation in Norway are good sources of inspiration. As I am currently learning Spanish and studying Latin American history I am tempted to write some historical pieces, knowing I will be on thin ice. I could also write about how impossible it is to learn Spanish, a task I struggle with every day at university. If failing on both I can always search my head for some experiences made during my time in Venezuela before I come back to make new ones, then there will be no excuses not to write!

Suggestions on topics are more than welcome!

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They were shooting at my home…it was time to leave!

I am back in Norway trying hard to understand how things could go so terrible wrong. Since my last post the situation in Venezuela kept getting worse every day. It was after the National Guard had been shooting and throwing gas bombs at my residence I made the decision to leave the country.

As I try to write about what happened (and is still happening) I cannot keep the tears away, I am heartbroken. I have learned to love Venezuela, even with its obvious flaws. I have met people who have touched my heart in ways i cannot describe. I have left a country and it’s people who are desperately fighting for their freedom, democracy and a better future, but at what cost?

Innocent people are being killed, hurt and taken to prison where they are treated with violence and torture. Why? Because they using their right to demonstrate against a government who fails to provide its people with basic needs like food, work and security. The military who has sworn to protect its people are the ones killing and hurting them. This is something I personally got to experience.

The last two weeks in Venezuela was a nightmare I thought I would never experience in my life. Because demonstrations were getting violent l I was advised to stay indoor as much as possible, so I did. Basically trapped inside all I could do was checking Twitter and Facebook for information, all other media was being blocked by the Government. The demonstrations passed my house everyday, people in the apartments were making noise with casseroles as support and cars honking constantly. I tried to take some breaks from the social media and spend time with friends, but the constant noises made it impossible to forget that injustice and crime were happening right outside.

After a little less then a week spent mostly indoors the situation went from bad to horrible. The arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez had made hundreds of thousands take to the street and by night the demonstrations went violent. The following day major roads were blocked by the protesters and it became extremely hard to move around the city. The government answered with more violence, not only in the streets. The National Guard started attacking private residences with shots and gas bombs as well as entering apartments arresting for students.

It was then I decided it was time to go back. It was not an easy decision to make and the following night was spent in tears, heartbroken by the thought of leaving my friends behind in this mess. I could not help but feel guilty for leaving, but when the National Guard started shooting at my house the following day I knew I had made the right decision. We received texts from friends telling us the situation were even worse in other places in the country and in San Cristobal they had even taken their internet, the only way of getting information.

As the shooting continued outside we got news that the National Guard were entering buildings looking for students. We locked the door and hid in the bedroom. A friend was telling me how to use vinegar if the gas came into the apartment and how to make clean water. I started to panic, was this really happening? How can a government make its people live in fear of their lives without having done anything wrong? I realized that Venezuela is in more trouble than I first thought. Being a foreigner I had the opportunity to leave this nightmare, an opportunity most Venezuelans don’t have. They are left in an everyday life where they have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Uncertainty is a horrible feeling and living this day by day is extremely exhausting.

I packed my things and moved to a safer place until my departure. This was not an easy task as most roads were blocked, but we managed to convince a taxi driver to take us. The last days I tried my best to create some good memories with my friends. This is not easy as the world was falling apart not just in front of us, but on us. We said goodbye on my 25th birthday and I left Venezuela with an endless stream of tears.

I will continue to write about Venezuela. The media is not covering these events enough and it is more important than ever that the people of the world spread the news about what is happening in Venezuela. Be a voice for Venezuela and let everyone know that Venezuelans are fighting for its freedom!!!

P.S: Venezuela: I will be back. You have my heart.

 

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What is going on in Venezuela? #SOSVENEZUELA

As there is absolutely no way of sleeping tonight, all I can do is write. Write to the world about what is happening in Venezuela right outside our windows as I type these words. It has been a hard night for Venezuela and the uncertainty of tomorrow is what keeps us up. Let me tell you what has been happening the last week here in Venezuela.

I have hardly left my home because there is no way of knowing what will happen out on the street. People are being shot, hurt or captured. For what? For protesting! It all started with the student protest last Wednesday (February 12th #F12). The students were protesting against the government because of insecurity, inflation, the lack of food and the limited freedom of press. These demonstrations happened in all major cities in Venezuela, not just Caracas as the news portrait it. Unfortunately these demonstrations escalated and became violent. Who is to blame? All I know is that it is the National Guard who has the guns. Three people got killed while several others ended up in the hospital or prison.

The following days were somewhat calmer even though students kept protesting in the streets. What is happening right now is anything else than calm. Tuesday (February 18th #F18) opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez handed him self in to the police after marching together with thousands of students dressed in white to mark that they are walking in peace. This happened in Caracas, but people were protesting in the other cities all over Venezuela. People feared this day would become violent, and so it did.

I was at home like my friends had told me to be. Two of my friends came over to keep me company. There was no food in the house so they went out to get something at Sambil (the mall) but came back rather fast as there was a “burning wall” close to my house and everything was closed. We had to stay inside and tried to keep updated on twitter what was happening. We heard bangs and booms from outside the window; people yelling and hammering their cooking pans as sign of demonstration. My friend’s dad called telling us that a lot of the city was on fire, streets were blocked and he could hardly get home. This was in Barquisimeto. In other cities the situation is even worse.

We woke up today (19th of February #F19) and decided to go out and get basic groceries just because there is no way of knowing when things will close down. During the day we read that many streets were getting blocked around the city. Internet is the only way of getting information and according to photos friends posts on Facebook things are getting really messy out on the streets.

Streets are on fire, the National Guard is getting into apartment buildings, two more people have been killed and people are witnessing shootings outside their homes. People are scared, people are angry and people are sad. The uncertainty of tomorrow is unbearable. Rumor has it that the Government has closed down Internet in Tachira (San Cristobal) and we cannot know if this will happen here too. My friend’s sister cannot get from Valencia to Barquisimeto because it is too dangerous. Friends are sending movies of shootings outside their window. And who are shooting? Who has the guns?

SOS VENEZUELA! #PrayForVenezuela #ResistenciaVzla #SOSVenezuela

READ THIS:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/conzpreti/29-heartbreaking-images-from-the-protests-in-venezuela

 

 

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Living in Venezuela: The Unpleasant Part of the story

My beloved Venezuela… How can this country, that have taught me so much and shown me so much love, be so incredible messed up? How is it possible to have the experiences of a lifetime in a country that is slowly falling apart? My heart aches for you Venezuela because your people deserve better. Without taking political sides, this is what I see. Do not misunderstand. I truly love the Venezuelan culture and its people, but despite the wonderful experiences and new long-lasting friendships… living in Venezuela is exhausting! This is an attempt to explain (from a neutral point of view) to non-Venezuelans what is happening in this country right now.

In an attempt of describing the situation in a balance between ignorance and being paranoid I have to say: I do not feel safe in Venezuela. This does not mean I am inside my house all the time. I am just being honest. The feeling of insecurity is not based on stories from the news; it is based on the fact that my friends have been robbed in so many different parts of the city at any hour of the day. When I walk outside, or when I take the bus or even when I take a taxi, I am always alert. I know who is behind me at all times and constantly taking precautions no matter what I am doing. The insecurity is definitely the hardest thing to deal with living here.

Despite the fact that I am enjoying a new culture, I have to admit that I am starting to feel exhausted because I always have to be careful. There are few moments when safety is not part of my thoughts. I can only imagine how it must feel to live here permanently. Reading this you might wonder why on earth I am still here? Sometimes I ask myself the same question and always come to the same conclusion: Venezuela is teaching me who I am, but in the big picture that does not matter at all. The real question is: what is Venezuela teaching its people?

The food stores lack the basic groceries like toilet paper, milk, butter, oil, flower, soap and the list goes on. This forces people to get in line whenever a store receives these products. The stores puts restrictions on how many products one person can buy. This consequently makes entire families go to the supermarket during work and school hours in order to get food on the table. I have not been in the supermarket the last two months because every time I am there the line continues around the building. Sometimes I long back to Norway where there is a grocery store in every corner and we complain about a 10 minutes line. In the beginning I laughed about these things finding them so ridiculous, following the Venezuelan humor laughing about everything. Now it has come to a point where I realize how extremely exhausted people must be from making these lines. In Oslo I see people making lines for the new H&M collection, in Venezuela people are making lines for basic food products.

I will not call myself an economist. That would be a straight up lie. Nevertheless I am sure that the economy in Venezuela is going downhill. When I came here four months ago I bought a meal for 40Bs. Today the same meal costs 80Bs. I would be on thin ice trying to explain this with economical terms and analyses, but 100 per cent increase in prices over a four month period makes warning signs pop up in my head. In terms of salaries I know they have not been raised by 100 per cent the last four months. What does this mean for Venezuelans? It means they cannot afford the same things anymore. It also means working more, but not working more because they are saving for a vacation. Rather, they are working more in order to have food on the table. The obvious question is of course: why is this happening?

This is when it becomes tricky leaving politics out of the story, but I will try. When I came here I knew about a “black market” for selling dollars. This means selling dollars to private people instead of changing dollars through the official system. I thought this seemed very dangerous and criminal, but I quickly understood that using the “black market” is as common as eating an empanada for breakfast. The first dollar I sold was at the rate of 40Bs per $1. In comparison to the official rate around 6Bs per $1 (at that time), this was good business for a foreigner. The reason for the black market is that there are restrictions on the dollar. It took me quite some time to understand this because I had never heard of anything like that before in my life.

Venezuelans, no matter how rich they are, cannot get more than a certain amount a dollar per year for travelling. To get these dollars there are several requirements you have to fulfill (I will not get into these details). The point is that there are people who want more dollars than the amount that is allowed per year. This creates the black market where people can buy dollars unofficially. Another consequence of the black market is that imported products are extremely expensive and makes it almost impossible for the average Venezuelan to buy certain things. The black market also seems to determine the prices in general, but the salaries are not being regulated based on the black market. This is why things are getting more and more expensive for the Venezuelans.

A couple of weeks ago the official rate went from 6Bs to 11Bs per 1$.  As I said, I sold my first dollar for 40Bs. Today the black market rate is almost at 90Bs per 1$, so you can only imagine how the prices are increasing. It can be debated how this restriction of dollars limits Venezuelan’s freedom, but it definitely causes some serious effects on the lives of Venezuelans regardless if they want to travel or not. There are several issues in this country (that I have mysteriously become so fond of), but the last thing I want to talk about is how democracy seems to be taken away from the Venezuelans… little by little.

What made me realize that Venezuela is falling more and more into a non-democratic state is the previous four days of demonstrations. Protests are still going on and this is strictly about politics, which I determinately am trying to avoid. That is why I can only tell you my experience of what is currently happening in Venezuela.

Wednesday February 12th I was having lunch with my friends. We were talking about whether or not to take part in the student demonstrations that had already started. I asked what the demonstrations were about and was told several things. Among them was that it was only a student walk marking the “youth day”. Others told me it was meant to be student protests, but that people supporting the opposition decided to join the march against the government. Regardless of the intention of the demonstrations the fact was that people all over Venezuela were walking in the streets protesting against the government. My friends wanted to take part in this, but as I have promised my friends and family to take care of my self I decided I did not want to join the protests incase they got out of control.

On our way to a shopping mall (Paris) the march of people passed us in the street. It was peaceful and I was happy to see it because I had never experienced anything like it before. The crowd passed and we went into the mall. We had a good time at the café in the mall until we started to hear a lot of noise from the street outside. My friends went downstairs to see what was going on and when she came back she told us what was happening in the streets right outside. There were people running away from the demonstrations because they had turned violent, there were shootings and people were terrified and tried to escape into the mall. We went into the café where they closed the doors and we started looking for information through twitter.

I know Twitter tend to exaggerate events, but when you see photos of hurt and even dead young people at the same time as the streets outside is completely chaos, the heart starts beating a little faster than normal. Mostly I was scared because of the uncertainty, the unknown… what is going to happen now? And of course I was scared for my friends who I knew were in the middle of everything. We had to stay in the mall for some time until the streets had calmed down and we could take the other way out and go home.

At home we started to look for news on the events happening all over the country. This is where I realized how bad the democratic situation is here in Venezuela. All news had to be found through the social media. There was no media coverage of the situation on any TV channel or radio station. Some international web pages and channels even got shut down. This extreme censorship shocked me because I did not think the freedom of press was so restrained.

The last four days have been something I have never experienced before and I have to admit: I am scared. Mostly I am scared of not knowing what will happen the next days, but I am also scared of how Venezuela is slowly loosing its democratic features. Young people in Venezuela want international media attention regarding the situation in the country. Not only about the last couple of days, but also about how the everyday life of Venezuelans has become.

So, how is it living in Venezuela? Personally I have to say living here has taught me more than any university can ever teach me, but this time it is not about me. Because the point is: I can leave. I can go home and continue my life in a very comfortable way. Can I say the same for my Venezuelan friends? Honestly… I am terrified of the situation of the country. I can only hope the wonderful young people of Venezuela, my dear friends, that you will find a solution for the future because if you all leave…what will be left of this beautiful country?

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How to travel in Venezuela; there are several ways to get from A to B

Before I start I want to share with you this drawing made by my friend and creator of the page “I fucking love Norway” https://www.facebook.com/LoveNorge

Dancing-in-Norway

This page describes the Norwegian culture by comparing it to the rest of the world. This time he specifically made a drawing comparing the Venezuelan and Norwegian dancing culture. I love these simple, but very funny drawings explaining (from a foreigner’s point of view) the Norwegian behavior, which is kind of the same as I am doing here.

I have visited many places in Venezuela, but as I just got back from a trip to Caracas I realized all the different means of transportation I have experienced in this country. I find the differences between Norwegian and Venezuelan transportation systems very interesting. I am therefor writing about how to travel before I share with you all the beautiful places I have visited here in Venezuela (and hopefully more to come).

It was the total shock I got when I went to Caracas this weekend that made me want to write about traveling. We bought the tickets at the private bus terminal instead of going to the public terminal because these busses are supposed to be more comfortable. Nevertheless my expectations were not too high based on my previous traveling experiences. But wow, this bus was the nicest bus I have ever seen in my life. Who would have thought that would happen in Venezuela? It was a double decker, air condition, a lot of space and the seats…oh my goodness the seats! They could be leaned back so much it almost became a bed and there was even a thing to make your feet lie comfortable. I could not believe it, was I really in Venezuela? It felt like business class on a plane. My friend was amused when I jumped around with joy and surprise.

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In that moment I started to wonder why I was reacting with such enthusiasm. I easily found the answer: the transportation at all my other trips had been nothing like this.

The preferred way to travel here in Venezuela is either by plane or with a private car. The reason is because other forms of traveling are slightly chaotic, a tiny bit uncomfortable and mostly (in my case) because there is no information how to get from A to B. Knowing locals is absolutely necessary if you want to travel by bus. I am very lucky to have good friends who have safely guided me around the country, without having a car. Venezuelans might not understand why I find traveling so difficult, but let me explain how things work in my country. No matter if you go by bus, train, boat or plane there is always easy accessible information where to go, what time, the prices and you can book things in advance. In other words; it is organized. Through the following stories I think you might understand why traveling in Venezuela is something very different then traveling in Norway.

My first trip outside of Barquisimeto was to Chivacoa, a small town about one hour away. We got there by taking a bus outside “Sambil” (the biggest mall here). Apparently taking a bus to other places works the same way as the “Rutas” in the city; you can take them from wherever you want along the road. Do not think this is a simple matter because on a Friday afternoon there are many people standing on the sidewalk outside of Sambil waiting for their bus. In order to catch the right bus you have to be very fast when boarding because the bus doesn’t really stop at a bus stop. It just drives by with a man hanging out of the door screaming the destination of the bus. If I were alone in that moment I think I would still be standing on the sidewalk waiting. In addition there are so many busses and destinations. This means you have to be awake and alert. When you hear your destination you run to the bus that almost stops for you to get on it (watch out for the traffic). We got on the bus and there were no seats available and no air condition. It was a hot and uncomfortable hour with very limited personal space, but with good friends and some local music on the radio I cannot say I fount the experience too traumatic.

The following day we were going from Urachiche (another small town) to San Felipe (capital of Yaracuy). I did not expect there to be a bus terminal in such a small place so I was not really sure what kind of transportation to expect. In small towns there are no obvious places for busses: you just have to know. Luckily for me my friend is from Urachiche so we knew where to go, but in other cases the only way is to ask… or else you will get nowhere. Getting to the… uhm “bus stop” I realized we were not going to take a bus. On a random street there were some old cars lined up with some signs in the window and I realized this was the place. These old cars are called “Rancheras”, which are old long cars where you can sit in front with the driver, in the back or in the trunk (yes, in the trunk). You pay for your seat and it departs whenever all the seats are full. The great thing about this transportation is that it is very flexible. The car has no specific ending point so you can ask the driver to drive you exactly where you want to go. I find this pretty cool and convenient (despite the lack of seat-belts and that you might have to sit in the trunk).

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To go back from San Felipe back to Barquisimeto we went to an actual bus terminal. How nice, I thought, because then we can probably sit down in peace and quiet while waiting for the bus… (funny huh?). Again the reality was somewhat different than my expectations. When we got to the terminal, I mean the minute we stepped out of the taxi, there were several men attacking us by screaming different destinations very close to our faces. They talked so fast I could not understand anything they were saying, but somehow we found our guy (the LaraLaraLaraLaraLara guy) and he showed us where to take the bus to Barquisimeto. The bus was so full so we decided to wait for the next one, but the bus driver refused to take no for an answer and got really mad when we did not enter the bus. The day a Norwegian bus driver yells at me for not taking his bus I will probably call all my friends and tell them what a strange thing just happened… In Venezuela, on the other hand, this is just one of many unusual situations. Anyway, the next bus arrived and we got seated in the old small bus. This time the ride was not hot, bur rather a wet experience as it was raining and the windows were not concealed at all. We got back to Barquisimeto in one piece and that was my first travel experience in Venezuela. After this there have been many more, and let me tell you… they have all been different.

Some weeks later we were going to Mérida, a smaller city by the Andes Mountains. Going there there is a “mountain way” and the “other a bit longer way”. This time we did not have to go anywhere to take the bus because we used a private rented bus. The bus picked us up at a friends house at midnight and then drove the 8 hour “mountain way” to Mérida. I guess since we traveled at night the purpose was to sleep… well in a bus with tiny seats, a crazy driver, blasting electronic party-music and roads going up and down mountains; sleeping was impossible. In addition they kept the windows open and the bus was freezing with the cold mountain air. From that moment on I promised myself I would not go anywhere without a warm blanket and a pillow…

Going back from Mérida we went to the bus terminal and this time I was prepared for the “destination yelling men”, but to my surprise this terminal was very quiet and almost organized. How will I ever understand this country? We got our tickets and went to the bus, but of course there was something we had forgot… to buy the “tasa”. This is a terminal tax that may… or may not be included in your ticket. The only way to know… is to just know. In Barquisimeto it is included while in Mérida it was not, makes sense yes? Anyway, we paid the tax and got seated happily under my newly purchased blanket. It is a mystery to me how you can never know if you will be extremely hot or extremely cold while traveling. Therefore always bring: shorts, long pants, sandals, socks, scarf, bikini and a blanket when traveling! The bus back was more comfortable as it chose the “a bit longer way” rather than the “mountain way”. Nothing crazy happened before we got to the Barquisimeto terminal where the “destination yelling men” attacked us the moment the doors opened. Of course they are working for commission getting passengers, but I find it is hilarious when they start convincing you to go another place than you intentionally had in mind. Does it ever work?

The next trip was to the beach in a rented van and this was by far the most comfortable transportation I had experienced, but this is not a cheap way to travel and you need a lot of people to fill up the car. Nobody seems to be renting cars here, but rather rent a car with a driver. I wonder why…

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The following trip was to Maracaibo, the incredible hot city around four-five hours from Barquisimeto (depending on the transportation and driver). I had no idea how we were going there because I had given up trying to plan these things. Instead I found it less stressful to just flow and trust my friends even though I find this very hard because I am always the one organizing everything! My friend picked me up (only 5 hours later than planned) and we went to the terminal. The public terminal in Barquisimeto is not a pleasant place, to be honest… It is dirty, there are stray dogs everywhere, various kinds of people and the smell is hard to describe, but sometimes this is the place you have to go if you want to travel somewhere. By now I was used to the “destination yelling men” and managed to ignore the other destinations and follow the man saying “Maracaibo” extremely fast. This time there was no bus available so we had to take a car… a very old car. This way of travelling is called “Por Puesto”, which means that you pay for your seat. This is more expensive than the bus, but also a lot faster… a little too fast if you ask me. I don’t think there are any drivers in Venezuela driving at “normal” speed. Anyway, he got us fast and “safely” to Maracaibo and we had a blast dancing reggeton in the backseat all the way.

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Going back from Maracaibo we took a normal bus from that used three hours longer than the car because it included three checkpoints by the police where we had to take out our entire luggage and show our ID… It turned out that bringing just a copy of my passport was not the best idea, but after some negotiation they allowed us back on the bus and we returned happily to Barquisimeto 7 hours later.

Before I went home for Christmas vacation in Norway we went to Island Margarita. This was the first time using plane for travelling in Venezuela. For once something I was used to… but as always things are organized a little bit different here than at home. Both my German friend and me agree that Venezuelans have a somewhat different way of running an airport. First of all you have to be at the airport extremely early, even for domestic flights, or else they will sell your ticket to someone else. When you have finally checked in the luggage and gotten through security it is a mystery where the gate is. Sometimes the flight is not on the screen at all while other times it is there, but most likely the gate will be changed minutes before boarding. When we went back from Margarita there was too few people in the first flight, so they just cancelled it and put the people on the following flight instead. As always in Venezuela… you never know what will happen, but as long as you keep calm and ask your way around it will work out one way or the other.

Second week back in Venezuela we went to Cubiro, a mountain town an hour or two away from Barquisimeto. Early morning we went to the terminal and for once there were no men yelling “CubiroCubiroCubiro” and we actually had to look for the bus. After some walking around we found the right bus and got seated. I don’t really know how to describe this bus… my friends here call it a “Sarcofago”, which basically means a coffin because if this bus crashes, your chances of surviving are not too good. This was by far the most uncomfortable bus ride I have had in Venezuela. The seats that were meant for three people could fit two people, the speakers stopped every time the bus drove over a bump and the breaks made funky sounds. I thought if I survive this I can survive anything, and amazingly we arrived without a scratch, just a little back pain.

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The thought of taking that bus back to Barquisimeto was not very tempting, so you can imagine how happy we were when our friend’s cousin offered to drive us back. This way of travelling can be called a “friend rented car” and is very common. You have a friend with a car and you ask how much he will charge for driving you somewhere. Again the ride was a little unorthodox as one person had to sit in the trunk together with the luggage, but it was a million times more comfortable than the bus we drove to Cubiro.

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The following weekend we went to the beach. This time in a “friend rented car”, but we were one person too much. In Norway you might squeeze four people in the back for a very short ride, but not for a two-hour ride including several police check points. Anyway, it was fast and expensive, but took us to the beach (my favorite place in this country). Going back we decided to take a bus, but we did not know when it was leaving so we decided to flow. We brought our luggage, went out on the street, found a taxi to the terminal, got out of the taxi, the “destination yelling man” yelled Barquisimeto and we got in the bus and 5 minutes later it drove us back home, easy huh? 😉

After all this, no wonder the fancy “bed bus” to Caracas was a surprise. It definitely did not fit into my perception of ways to travel here in Venezuela. There are probably more options to explore when it comes to traveling and I hope to experience them all. People keep telling me I have to try a motor taxi, but I don’t think that will happen. If I don’t die trying I am sure my mom will come here and kill me herself if I get on a motorbike. I have to say that even though things are not as organized as I am used to I think traveling in Venezuela is very flexible and various, you just have to know some locals. And I have to admit; I am really enjoying all these different experiences. For me it is such an adventure every time I go somewhere and no matter what there is always a way getting from A to B. Nevertheless, the wonderful bed bus is by far the most comfortable way to travel, but then again… also the most boring way 😉

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