Venezuela: a vast, largely unexplored country famed for its towering peaks, tumbling falls, and insane inflation. Almost everybody I met told me not to go to Venezuela; some people even made it their mission in life to scare me out of visiting this amazing country. Despite all of the out-of-date Venezuela travel guide that I read, all of the information and misinformation that was thrown at me, there were seven things which nobody bothered to tell me about this stunning country…
1. Fifteen gallons of gasoline cost less than one cent.
Yeah, that’s not a typo. I was told that the fuel was cheap, but nobody told me it was cheaper to fill up a car than to buy a bottle of water. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and cheap fuel is pretty much seen as a Venezuelan birthright. I was amazed when I first pulled up to a gas station and my buddy filled up the car with the ‘higher quality’ fuel—it cost under two bolivars, a little less than one cent at the black-market rate of 230 bolivars to the dollar.
2. Venezuelans want to chat about politics.
I was extremely surprised to find out that most of the Venezuelans I had the pleasure of bumping into were more than up for discussing the country’s political situation. I spoke to die-hard Chavistas, left-wing protestors and everybody in between; the one thing they all had in common was that they were extremely grateful to have somebody listen to their side of the story. On numerous occasions, Venezuelans themselves would actually initiate the conversation, which I didn’t expect. In the past when visiting “dangerous” countries, I have found locals to be very quiet when it comes to discussing their government due to a fear of reprisals. Venezuela was refreshingly different and I felt that despite the huge amounts of conflicting information thrown at me, I came away from the country with a better understanding of what is actually going on.
3. Powdered milk is more expensive than an internal flight.
I had been warned in advance that getting toilet paper in Venezuela was a real pain in the ass (ha!) to get and that I would have to queue for hours in order to buy some. It turns out that you can actually get toilet paper relatively easily on the black market but that, for a pack of 12, you would end up paying a fair whack. Even more expensive was powdered milk, which is one of the main illegal imports from Colombia and could cost up to $6 for a two-kilo bag if bought on the black market. A one-hour internal flight on the other hand comes in at around the $5-$8 mark. Sure, the planes may have been terrifyingly jittery (tiny planes with propellers), but heck, they sure are cheap!
4. Not every Venezuelan woman is a Miss World.
“You’re going to Venezuela? Aw, dude, I heard the girls are stunning there!” OK, I don’t want to ruffle any feathers here, there were plenty of Venezuelan girls who were giggly, pretty, funny and approachable. However, on the other hand, for every potential Miss World (which has been won by Venezuelans more times than any other nation), there were half a dozen women who would be better off aiming for the Miss Obesity pageant. Seriously, I was totally shocked at the amount of overweight people in Venezuela. Please direct your hate mail to the comments section of the post.
5. Venezuelans really don’t like bad Spanish.
My Spanish isn’t bad. I’m one of those backpackers who can confidently stride into a bar, order two beers, talk about how I like to play with my dog in the park, enthrall all with my story of how I have a brother, and tell a local girl that she is “much beautiful.” OK, so my Spanish isn’t great, but I do have a pretty good understanding of it – I can understand 95% of what is being said to me and I get it when people are screwing with me. If I order ice cream and receive oysters, something has clearly been lost in translation. In many of the Spanish speaking countries I visited, I found the locals made a special effort to understand me, almost out of pity; however, in Venezuela if my Spanish wasn’t absolutely perfect it was as if I was speaking a different language. A Venezuelan friend later confided in me that many Venezuelans simply don’t want to make the effort with trying to understand foreigners and unless your Spanish is perfect, you’re not going to get very far trying to talk to some people.
6. You get incredible value for your money.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Venezuela with a couple of hundred dollars in your pocket, you’re basically a millionaire. What came as a true surprise however is that the quality of the stuff you can buy is actually extremely good; I’m used to getting super cheap rooms for a few dollars but in Venezuela, a few dollars doesn’t get you a dive; it gets you a five-star hotel room. Willing to splash out on dinner and spend around $10? Well, dress up in your Sunday best because for that kind of money you can expect to eat a three-course meal in a truly stunning restaurant, the kind of thing that would cost hundreds of dollars back home. I knew Venezuela was going to be cheap, but I had kind of assumed that this would mean that the quality of flights, accommodation, activities and food would be pretty poor; I could not have been more wrong. Paragliding with an experienced guide costs just $7, a ridiculously low price for an activity that requires expensive equipment and trained professionals. The really crazy thing is that due to the fluctuating black-market rates, the value of your dollar changes every day. I left civilization for a five-day trek; when I returned the black market rate had skyrocketed yet again and the dollars in my wallet were worth nearly 40% more.
7. Venezuelans are incredibly friendly.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Venezuelans themselves; they do, after all, live in a politically unstable country where riots, food shortages, rampant inflation and crazy politicians are pretty much the norm. Sure, Venezuelans may not be that keen on you at first; after all, you are a comparatively loaded traveler making the most out of their dire economic situation to fuel your lust for adventure. You probably don’t speak perfect Spanish. Do not let that deter you; once you actually get chatting to Venezuelans, especially some of the younger generations, you will find that they are warm, incredibly hospitable, and almost always up for a good time; the amount of on-the-spot offers I had to go off on an adventure were truly staggering and the couchsurfing community in Venezuela is one of the best I have ever encountered.
If you really want to learn the truth about Venezuela, just go. Pack your bag, book that flight, be smart, be safe, and learn the truth about one of the most stunning, bewildering, exhilarating, and beautiful places in the world. Peace, out.