Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Into Venezuela and currency madness (14.12.2013 - 15.12.2013)

As the christmas holidays where nearing all the plane tickets to Venezuela where skyrocketing. A ticket would sell for around 600 USD for the 75min flight from Santa Marta to Caracas. Something we were unwilling to pay. So we took the overnight bus, which should have made the journey in 18 hours. But it left with one hour delay and it took us more than 20 hours to reach our destination.

After getting our passport stamped and some comical luggage inspection involving a dog which wasn't interested at all we boarded the bus again. Once inside the co-driver announced that one of the passenger had asked if we could bribe the coming checkpoints so we won't have to take out our luggage again and stating that this was entirely our choice and without any involvement by the bus company. Melanie and I where the only obvious tourist with no venezuelan money and no clue what was going on. But one of the passenger exchanged us some columbian Pesos after which we knew the exchange rate would be around 1 USD to 50 Bolivar. Thanks to the bribes we weren't stopped again and early in the morning we arrived in the huge bus station in Caracas.

Just like in other places before we looked around the bus station for an ATM to get some Bolivares Fuertes. Some unfriendly people later we knew there was none to be found here. So we negotiated a cab to our hotel including a stop on the way at an ATM. So we stopped and Melanie got in line to get cash, as we have seen before and since there are always people waiting. And they have opening hours, they close/shut them down at night! o_O Our old and grumpy cab driver got angrier and angrier and wanted to leave. In the end the cash machine didn't work as it asked for the last two digits of our ID card, which of course didn't work with our swiss cards.
Unavoidably we exchanged money at the hotel for a shitty exchange rate and left afterwards to find an ATM which works. Five or six tries later we still didn't had any cash and thought we earned our self a treat and entered one of the fine restaurants in the banking district where we stayed. We ordered some nice sushi, salad and white wine and payed for all by credit card, assuming it would cost us around 40 USD. Later we could finally check in and once in our rooms and online we found out that the official exchange rate was 1 USD to 6!! Bolivar. Shocked we just realised that my credit card would of course use the official rate and our little meal just cost us 240 USD! Did we mention before that we travel unprepared ;) Some googling later revealed that everybody just travels with big wads of dollars and exchanges them at rates between 45 and 60 Bolivar.
We had some dollars left, but never enough to make it till we would leave for Curacao. We then frantically tried to contact Joel and Patrick in Bogota, to bring Dollars and Pesos!

Pro Tip: Bring Dollars to exchange ;)