Saturday, August 31, 2013

En Route to Caracas

On the DFW to CCS flight (December 10, 2004)

--- Originally published on December 10, 2004 ---

Venezuela is a fascinating country with a breathtaking beautiful nature and warm people. Is also a country of contrasts, with a large section of the population living in degrading slums, and a minority enjoying a standard of life comparable with the rich elites of Northern America or Europe. In recent years Venezuela has lived through a stormy political phase in which a leftist government supported by the lower classes is strongly opposed by the high and middle classes. This conflict has led in April 2002 to a coup organized by the media and the industrial elite, with the probable support of the CIA. The coup failed for the divisions between its promoters and because of the extraordinary support that the government still had among the Venezuelan people, but in the next years the conflict continued on the social, economical and political arena, and culminated a few months ago with a recall referendum called by the opposition to remove the president Chavez from power. The referendum also failed confirming once more the vast support that the government policies enjoy between the large majority of poor venezuelan. All these conflicts reflect deeply in many aspect of the venezuelan society, and will be present in my photos and their stories.

The Mississippi Delta
The diary start with the trip from Boston to Caracas. This was a long trip. We left home in Boston at 7AM to get an earlier flight to Dallas, with a connection three hours later for Cacaras. Not the most direct route, but the only one we could find with tickets bought using free miles. I spent most of the first flight sleeping (I had to work until late the day before, trying frantically to finish all I could before leaving), and then reading on the second flight. Mayli found a book about the years that Albert Einstein spent in Berlin from just before WWI until he was forced to flee with the advent of Nazism. A sort of scientific biography mixed with sociology. It is a very interesting book, as it shows how a highly civilized society could descent into barbarism and surrender itself to a group of murderous fanatics. I still have to finish it (I guess I will have again time on my way back) but so far is very instructive. The only moment I wasn’t reading was when looking at the sun was setting over the clouds and the sea, and a little time before that, when we were flying above the beautiful arabesques of Alabama or Louisiana marshes.

We arrived in La Guaira (the city where the airport of Caracas is located) very late at night. Mayli’s father came to pick us up and drove us to the city. La Guaira is a city on the coast, about 45 minutes from Caracas, from which it is separated by a mountain (Sierra del Avila). A highway passing through a narrow valley connects Caracas to the coast, and its airport. As usual entering Caracas at night from La Guaira offers a view which is at the same time magnificent and frightening. Caracas is a very large city, with a population over 4 millions, more than half of which living in shantytowns made of brick or carton shacks (called ranchitos). These shantytowns hang on the slopes of the mountains surrounding Caracas (and in periods of intense tropical rains are at risk of mudslides, as it happened in December 1999, when between 30 and 50 thousand people were killed). The ranchitos do not have public services (electricity is typically stolen from nearby power lines) and grew exponentially in the last decades without an organized plan. As a result, they appear from the highway as an anarchy of Christmas lights, extending everywhere around the high rise modern buildings of the city. The photo below shows a similar view taken a few days later from within the city.

We will be in Venezuela until December 29. I will try to post a new story every day, even if in some case (like for this post) I will have to do it retroactively, as tomorrow we will leave for Los Roques, and archipelago of thousands of islands surrounded by a coralline barrier off the coast of Venezuela. I don’t expect to find internet there, but I will post photos from that paradise that I already visited a few years ago upon my return to Caracas.

Slums around Caracas at night (December 17, 2004)

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