Month: March 2007


Kruse gets drunk.

Yesterday, after updating, I pretty much did nothing but cerveza.  Chatted with hotel owner and worker/guest/french-guy.  Met norwegian couple, tried to watch famous Juangriego sunset, but cloudy.  Dinner with the norse.  Back to bar where I was drinking the other night – more cerveza with old french lady.  Then – onto Maria’s bar.  More cerveza, with french lady, Maria, guy wearing rasta hat, and tall white guy.  Pretty much a cerveza day.

Today – hungover.  Went back to beach from couple days back.  More concerted effort to follow coast around, trying to find next beach.  Mucho time, sharp rocks, pain, etc later – I turn back.  Some swimming at actual beach.  Then, I watch a Euro couple leave their deckchairs under umbrella thing for a swim.  Tentatively go in knee-deep, and stay there.  I decide to show them, and the locals, some bellyflop bombs.

Met the bar owner on the way back to hotel – and received a compliment on my sunburn.  Some relaxing cervezas, and watching the french guy’s kid (3-ish?) run around.  Drew me a picture/scribble.  Little well travelled multi-lingual curly blonde kid with eyelashes is going to do very well with the ladies in 15 years time.

Another failed sunset.  Clouds.  Juangriego, famous for it’s sunsets and consistently sunny weather, has really let me down.  Plan for tomorrow is to go the island’s big smoke, Porlamar, hire a scooter, and go to undeveloped western half of island.  Maybe sleep on beach.  Will see how driving scooter with backpack goes.  Otherwise – probably another night here.  Have got to the stage where everytime I walk around town, I have to stop to chat with somebody I ‘know’.


Quick update for those who like to know where I am.  Just in case I go missing – and you need a starting point for the search party… have let laziness do my thinking for me.  Am staying in Juangriego, Margarita Island – for two more nights.  Original thought was to take up offer from guy I was talking to last night – a 6 or 8 hour taxi tour of island, with english speaking guide.  Really want to see west side of island, but it’s pretty much deserted.  Instead, am now going to go to Parlamar in a couple of days, and hire a scooter.  So – today was sloth.  Went to bus station, changed my mind, came back.  To delight of hotel owner.  Have spent afternoon drinking cerveza with him, and old french guy.  About to watch famous sunset.  So – Juangriego, Margarita Island for two more nights.

Isla de Margarita

Kruse es treinta anos.

 Well – successfully caught the 2am ferry to Isla de Margarita.  Turiste class.  Which meant watching some people race for the best spots to put up hammocks, while others raced for the best floor space.  I settled for half a bench.  Arm rests are rather annoying.  Woke up halfway through the night, well many times actually – but this time, to find my camera out of my pocket.  Not sure if it had fallen out, or was attempted thievery.  Either way, it probably would have become thievery fairly soon.  But – cunning old Kruse had clipped his keyring onto the camera strap, and – whether it had prevented thievery, or stopped the camera from falling completely – this had saved the day.

Anyway – got to Isla de Margarita at around 7am.  Raining.  Chatted to another backpacker on the bus to Porlamar, turned out to be Argentinian.  We walked around Porlamar for quite some time in the rain, trying to find cheap place to stay.  Not much luck, so I caught a bus to Juan Griego, while he stayed to look.  He wanted to find a job, and Porlamar´s the biggest town on the island.

Juan Griego – walk around every hotel I can find.  No hostels in Venezuela that I´ve seen so far.  First place I go to – rather large man, a little creepy, tells me that I´ll be back.  And, he was right.  Should have checked the shower before accepting the room though.  No shower head, and only cold water.  So – was like showering under a hose attached to the wall.  Good water pressure though.  And it turned out to be not bad.  Free internet at hostel, but with a french keyboard.  I´ve pretty much gotten used to the Spanish keyboards – but the french one was really annoying.  As they tend to do, they´ve changed nearly everything – just to spite the rest of the world.

Venezuela is proving to be relatively expensive.  The island has fairly expensive accommodation – but beer is cheap, as it´s a duty-free island.  So – the number of liquor stores has shown me that I misjudged the lunatic in Caracas on one point, at least.  When he kept saying he wanted “something especial”, and I was getting furious – telling him to just tell me exactly what he wanted…. “what do you want?” “something especial” “what is that?” “whiskey” “which whiskey?” “something especial” “aaarrgh!  Just order something yourself.” ….  turns out there is a whiskey called Something Special.

Had a fairly pricey lunch.  Considering the reports of it being even harder to get cash on the island than it is on the mainland – I figure I´ve got enough cash to spend two nights, and will probably have to eat extremely cheaply, or not drink.  After lunch, and figuring out my options, I go and buy a sixpack of beer, and sit on the dock of the bay.  Watching the tide come in.  The time roll away.  And kids.  Kids making kids eat sand.  Kids pashing.  Kids diving, doing bombs.

Also – a funeral procession went past.  Stationwagon covered in flowers/wreaths, with about 200 people walking behind it – including the casket being carried.

Five and a half hours siesta.  Get up just in time to realise that Venezuelan time is different from Argentinian time.  Here – the restaurants aren´t just getting busy at 10:30, they´ve just closed.  I eventually find a small dairy type place, and drink multiple cervezas for dinner.  At 1,000 Bolivars each, I believe.  So, about 80 NZ cents.  Only 250ml bottles though.  I also get tres cans to takeaway – and return to the dock of the bay.  Watching the War of the Beach.  The Dance of the Tide.  Awaiting midnight.  Midnight comes, I turn 30, and don´t even cry.  Old (homeless?) man comes buy.  Collecting cans & bottles, and sits next to me for a little while.  I give him my two empties – and he asks for my full one.  Offers me something for it, a bag of garlic maybe?  No chance.

27 March

Walked up to the local fort.  Very proud description of the history, along the lines of “Here the brave locals of Margarita fought for their independence.”  No mention of when they bravely gave away that independence to become part of Venezuela.  Went down other side of fort hill, to little village/suburb – with nice looking beach.  Walked along the beach, and swam in the Caribbean.  I think the best thing about the swim was the thought “I´m swimming in the Caribbean Sea.”  Returned to hostel, rather sunburnt – despite it being an overcast day.

Rather expensive dinner – mostly due to 35,000Bs bottle of wine.  But, had discovered the secret (I think/hope) to withdrawing cash in Venezuela – and was my birthday, so splashed out.  And… sitting at a table on the beach, with a wine bucket next to you, a beer in hand, and a menu of very fresh seafood, is a fine way to spend an evening.

Went to a small pub after dinner.  Ended up chatting to old french woman.  Chatting?  Mostly her talking, and me guessing what she meant from occasional recognisable words, and her many hand gestures.  And making some kind of response to signify I understand in my little spanish.  She doesn´t like the Europeans who come to the island.  She´s been living here 11 years, and had utter contempt on her face when talking about “la euros”.  She invited a guy over who spoke fairly good English.  Used to be a tour guide.  Much advice on things to see/do on the island.  May have convinced me to stay a few more days – possibly go to a little village, and wait for a local to invite me in to stay.

I eventually admitted to the ex-guide that it was my birthday, and he and the pub owner were mucho happy for me.  We talked for a while about “the youth of today”, and the owner ended up giving me a free beer.  Was probably one cerveza too many.  He also offered me a girl for my birthday night.  Nice guy.

Now have to decide what I am to do.  I think I´ll use my usual technique of letting events decide for me.  I´ll see what buses are available at the station.  Hopefully there´ll only be one appropriate one, and I´ll take that.  Options are 1) La Asuncion – where apparently there is a maze, with a kind of zoo in the middle with monkeys and tarantulas.  Sounds odd, and apparently not even many locals know it exists.  The french woman didn´t.  2) San Francisco – a little village to the west.  No accommodation, but apparently some locals might invite me in to stay, for a small fee.  Close to a couple of the best beaches on the island.  3) Catch ferry back to mainland.

Apparently Easter here is nuts.  As well as Angel Falls.  Anywhere touristy.  So – to avoid crowds, and high prices, have to find somewhere quiet for over Easter period.


Well – I am in Caracas. And, excuse my language family, but it is the only way to put it… I am fucked. Well and truly.

But – I will get to that later. The remainder of Buenos Aires – went to a museum. Which confirmed my suspicion that the Argentines do not consider anybody important unless they were a general in a war. But, nice museum. Actual jacket worn by some guy who was murdered. Murdered quite well, by the size of the cut in his back. Very big ornate shield type thing. Spectacular, really.

Then – in the evening, went to a soccer game. Futbal. The Argies are mad. Really quite impressively crazy. Home team won.

Yesterday – went to bus station. Spent an hour waiting for the correct no 86 bus to come. Got on. Two hours later, got to airport. Then, another hour in the check-in queue. Luckily I had given myself heaps of time, to allow for food and internet at airport. As it turns out, I just had time to get to the plane.

Arrive in Caracas. Every ATM refuses me. Some of them asking me about the last two digits of my passport or ID card. I tried several things, both debit card and credit card. Nothing worked. Lots of taxi drivers, baggage handlers, everybody really – asking if I want a taxi, or my money changed. Very good rates. Black market – better than the official rate. I end up talking to a guy in a suit, outside what looks like a tourist office. Realise later that I think it is a tourist company. But, I think the guy was actually fairly genuine – and works for a company which sorts out accommodation/transport for business travellers to NZ. So my price range for a hotel was something he had not dealt with before, I suspect. We ended up driving around Caracas for a very long time, over an hour, going to hotel after hotel. Most full, some just too expensive. But considering the places he was taking me to – I wanted to tell him there was no way they would accept what I had to offer.

Ended up at a little place, very basic room. But – hotel, so own bathroom. Time for another clean (was very very stinky on the plane). Then, I started to notice something about the hotel room. There was a large poster of girl in bikini on the wall. Two porn channels on the TV. Could hear loud noises from a nearby hotel room. Large mirror at foot of bed. Switches on the headboard – for lights, music, TV, & aircon. And finally, I noticed the mirrors on the ceiling.

This morning – I left the key in the room, and scarpered. I was still paranoid that my “friends” last night had somehow ripped me off, and if I handed the key to reception – I would be handed a bill. Then, I started to think about the fact that I had the equivalent of $50 cash. And that was all. Old man at roadside kiosk helped me pick a bus to get on, and I think he said that I would see a big sign saying banco. I did not, and got off instead when it seemed to be the end of the line, and there were a few shops around. Soon I discovered that I was in Sabana Grande. Reputedly, the dangerous neighbourhood. Finally found some ATMs. Same problem as last night. Found another one. This one, at least, had a slightly more useful error message. My card has been locked for too many incorrect PIN entries. Both cards.

And then, I realise, it is Saturday. So the banks are closed. No walk-in and use visa to withdraw cash.

So – like I said, I am fucked. Well and truly. In Caracas, reputedly the most dangerous city in the continent, with no money, and no way of getting money.

So – I have been in this internet cafe, which I finally found – after starting to suspect that all internet places were closed on Saturday as well – gathering information and options. Am going to call the National Bank – and see if they can unlock my cards pronto, and give me the 2 digits I am supposed to enter after the main PIN. Otherwise, I guess it is finding an hotel which will take Visa. And is not full. Probably going to be expensive.

Update: checked out the bus station to Puerto La Cruz, and confirmed they´d take Visa.  So – it became a decision of “Do I stay in Caracas screwed without money, or go to Puerto La Cruz, where I´ll be screwed without money.”  Then, a helpful lady at bus station pointed me to a big shopping mall, where the banks are open on Saturdays.  2nd bank I tried – the ATM gave me money on my Visa.  Never been so happy to see cash come out of a machine.  Not even in Palmy on a Wednesday night when you hoped the machine didn´t realise you were overdrawn.

But – have collected a Venezuelan man.  Very chatty, speaks reasonable English.  But is rather hard work.  He wants me to stay in Caracas.  Party tonight he reckons.  But sounds like I´d be paying for a room in an apartment?  And he really is very hard work.  I might have to scarper.

But – am very glad that this is the main problem I have to worry about at the moment. The no money in Caracas thing was a major worry.  Solved, through the age old technique of “try the same thing again and again until it does work”.

Buenos Aires

I am in Buenos Aires.  I woke up this morning, looked out the window of my bus, and thought “I am in Buenos Aires.” I was right, you know.  Sort of.  I was also pretty stoked.

But – firstly the remainder of my time in San Rafael.  I decided to splash out.  Go crazy.  Treat myself.  You know?  Got an hotel room, for AR$30.  (Despite what that stupid woman in the NZ Herald says, it´s not particularly difficult to tell what currency a price is advertised as.  You are in Argentina.  It is pesos.  If you are foolish enough to give them that many US$ – you deserve it.)

Anyway – hotel room.  I decided to pay the extra 10 pesos, just for the private bathroom.  When I got into the room, I remembered such things as double beds, complimentary soap, and TV with soft-porn.  I immediately cleaned myself up properly, shower with soap, and even shaved.  Then put on the clothes I´d worn for 12 hours in blistering sun at Payunia yesterday.

Next morning – went to bodega Suter.  Had a private tour of the winery with a seppo who turned up.  I wasn´t happy.  Initially, I had joined a group of elderly latino´s, guided by nice young senorita.  Instead, had to listen to guide I could understand (he was fairly cool, and pretty informative), and a seppo asking stupid questions (the “I know a little, so will ask what I think are educated questions” type.  I fought fire with fire.)

Bought an unlabelled 1985 malbec, their champenoise (traditional method Ben.  Really bad method, from what I saw), and their classier cab-sav.  They only wanted to let me taste their awful sparkling.  I managed to get a taste of their production line pinot noir, but had to quaff it before the next tour group saw.

Plan was to visit the cathedral, plaza, maybe museum.  But – stopped for a cerveza before dropping off the wine in my pack at the bus station.  Got talking to french woman.  Muchos hours, cervezas, and advice later – went to bus station together.  Me to get on my bus, her to book her bus for the next day, and one final cerveza together.  She´s been in South America for six months already.  Wealth of knowledge, advice, and cynical hardened traveller´s anecdotes.  Also offered free place to stay in Paris.  And I think nearly cried when we parted.  Would have been the cervezas, I´m not that nice a person.

Bus to Buenos Aires – 14 hours.  Two course meal with wine turned out to be pretty bad, but with refills of the bad wine, and a whisky offered in place of coffee.  I don´t know much spanish, but I can guess what whiskito means.  And the bus stewardess may not know me, but she figured me out pretty quickly.  Dirty flirt.

Buenos Aires is pretty cool.  Argentina´s trend of beautiful women continues.  First police I saw was a brace of stunning ladies, with a rather more butch lady with them.  For backup, in case a crim doesn´t arrest themselves when the other two sweet-talk him, I guess.

Plaza de Mayo was a little over-rated, I thought.  Building where Eva, Maradona, and whoever else gave speeches from the balcony though.  Turns out I didn´t get a photo of that.  Sorry Nathan, you´d have loved it.  Another photo of a colonial building.  This one, as it is done in pink.  Other plaza was pretty good.  Ridiculous statue/thing – and the Federal Congress building – quite impressive.

Walked down Avenue 9 de Julio.  The widest one in the WORLD!  As part of this, saw the big obelisk they built.  Surpising that they didn´t stick a statue of a general on horse on it or near it.  Maybe they´ve grown out of that.

Lots of other little stuff.  All the names in Ben´s little piece of plagarism are familiar.  Am staying in San Telmo – cobbled streets.  Maybe go to watch La Boca´s futbal team play tomorrow.  Boca Juniors.  Walked down Florida Ave this afternoon.  Great sales technique here.  At first I thought it was stolen goods, and maybe me being set-up.  Sitting at restaurant, guy walks in – drops a boxed set of expensive looking pens, Mont-Blanc I think, on my table.  Walks away.  I start panicking.  Waitress happens to be coming to take my order – I gesture at the pens with bewilderment.  She looks at them with disgust, moves them to the nearest empty table.  Guy comes back, takes them away.  A little while later – another guy.  Cheaper looking boxed set – does the same thing.  This time, I watch the reaction of other people.  They ignore him, he comes back after a circuit of the restaurant sidewalk area – collects his goods.  I´m thinking some kind of way of selling stolen goods without it being technically buying it.  But next guy – crappy little plastic hand-powered torch.  Wish I´d bought the Mont-Blanc pens now.  No idea how much he wanted, or anything else.  Very strange marketing technique.

Finally living up to my promise to family, in case people get worried – my hostel is Hostel el San Termo.  I think.  Something like that, and it´s listed in the Rough Guide South America.  I think it´s the first hostel from the guide book that I´ve used.  18 pesos. And the nice lady did my laundry.  Dried it.  Folded it, before I got back this evening. Didn´t fold the socks together though.  No tip.

Flying to Venezuela on the 23rd.  Unfortunately, everybody to whom I say this, including hardened french woman, raises their eyebrows.  I try to explain that I´m hoping on leaving Caracas immediately – but this doesn´t seem to allay their fears/thoughts-that-I´m-crazy.

But – have had one guy recommend Isla de Margarita.  So, I´ll ignore the experienced nay-sayers, and believe the loud over-confident South African.  And try to remember to find out how to avoid Caracas despite flying in there.

Heaps more photos uploaded.  You´ll love them Nathan.  This time, instead of cool old buildings – I´ve got cool old buildings, and landscapes.  Pretty sure the photos won´t do the Payunias justice.  In some of them, if you look closely, there´ll be a little man, or a little 4×4 – as a point of reference for scale.  When I find an internet place on Isla de Margarita, in the sun, serving booze – I´ll move the best photos into my photo album system – and put captions to explain some of them.

Tonight – I think I saw a big plaza filled with tables.  Maybe I´ll have dinner there.

Oh, and Bem – the champenoise wasn´t that great.  Pretty good, maybe on a par with the first bottle we had the afternoon of my leaving?  29 pesos.  Need to drink the 1985 red I have.  Don´t really want to travel with them – but the nice man recommended one hour standing time.  One or both of these reds is going to break in my pack, with spectacular results.

Oh, hang on Nathan – I think there might be one photo you´ll like.  Don´t know which number – but is bound to make a dirty pervert like you happy.  Little sisters, shame on you.  Shame.

San Rafael

Caught a bus to San Rafael this morning.  Got up in time, forwent the compimentary coffee and croissant and hard little bun.  Instead asked for “something cold”.  Got a glass of water, and think I may have been charged for it.  I hope it didn´t have giardia in it.

Relatively short bus trip – just under 3 hours.  San Rafael, the old lady at the tourist office teased me for not speaking french.  Odd.  Went to what is supposed to be the best parilla (grill) in town.  Had a steak.  Was very good.  Especially as the waiter spoke a bit of english, so I could order it medium-rare.

Walked outside of town, to the area where there are some bodegas.  Carrying pack, on sunburnt shoulders, in scorching sun.  Pleasant.  Got to the first, couldn´t find it.  But, checking opening hours, it was still their siesta, so figured I´d have another look on the way back.  Probably easier to find when open.  Next – got ushered downstairs.  Joined a group of people being educated in wine in espanol.  I mentioned I didn´t speak espanol very well.  I think he asked me if I drink wine very well, and I said si.  Laughter.  Listened to stuff I couldn´t understand for ages, before tasting four wines.  Bought one bottle.  Went to next winery.  I think the guard said I was too late.  Closed anyway, 15 minutes before I´d been told.

Returned to look for first winery, again couldn´t find it.  Internet cafe now – and might be having some luck uploading photos.  Yep – have uploaded some.  Maybe a fifth of them?  Only took two hours.  They´re available at <gone> – but there´s a few of them.  When I´ve got more time, will put links to appropriate stuff in the actual updates.