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Feliz Viaje!

September 5, 2010

Hello!!!

And sadly, my time in Venezuela has come to an end… I am currently sitting at Caracas Airport waiting for my 8 hours-long flight to Lisbon and then another one to London. These two months have past ridiculously fast but I can definitely say that this experience was one of the best I’ve ever had!

A lot of wonderful memories, new and interesting people met, weird Venezuelan habits and crazy experiences, an improvement in Spanish, around 3 thousand pictures taken, several kilos of souvenirs, a suitcase of 27 kg and much much more of other things that I got from this trip to the Venezuela! And there are quite a lot of stories waiting to be told. And don’t worry, even though I am leaving Venezuela in about 20 minutes I am not planning to abandon this blog! And I’ll share the interesting stories with you in the nearest future after I come back to the UK. :)

Ohh, about crazy experiences – today at the airport I was stopped by a military officer who checked all my luggage from the bottom to the top.. Believe me, it wasn’t very pleasant!… But… more about it next time – they are starting the boarding to the plane… :)

Hasta luego, Venezuela! :)

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…Almost as Safe as Iraq

August 24, 2010

I think it’s time to talk about more serious things. Todays topic – the security in Venezuela.

And we will start with a video from “The New York Times”:





Before coming to Venezuela I was told by several people that the country is dangerous. However, you cannot really tell how dangerous it is until you actually stay here for a little while and see it by your own eyes. Luckily enough, I haven’t been robbed, stabbed, shot, kidnapped or harmed in any other way YET. But it is impossible to get rid of the feeling of insecurity… And for those who think that I’m exaggerating.. well, I’m not. The only difference between me and the local Venezuelan people is that they get/got used to this kind of situation which gets worse and worse by every year. And the precautions they take every day have already become a normal and usual habit. The simplest rules are:

  • Avoid walking on the streets alone.
  • If you walk during the day, avoid small streets.
  • Don’t even think of taking public transport in the evening.
  • Don’t even think of walking on the streets in the evening or at night.
  • While in a car, always lock the door… and many more.



Now, some stories that my Venezuelan friends told me.

Some students carry guns at the university campus, especially during the student elections to show their power and scare everyone. Police used to patrol in those areas and there used to be some conflicts between them and the students. Once there was even a small gun fight and a person was shot in the leg. Now, the police is forbidden to come to the university area as the universities have their own security. Even though the security cannot carry guns and they wouldn’t be able to do anything against armed students, the things became quieter.
Another time, a masked robber rushed into a classroom pointing a gun at everyone, shouting not to look at him and to give all the calculators and Blackberrys. Oh, and once, there was an office set on fire.
And it all happened at the university campus.



There are 3 million people living in Maracaibo. Some say that 50% of them have been robbed at least once in their lifetime, while others think that it might be around 70% or even more.
Small robberies are so common that no-one really cares about it too much- you just give them everything you have and walk away if you don’t want to get shot for 20-30$.


One afternoon, a girl was walking on the street when two guys approached her from both sides, asked her to keep quiet and remain walking straight. Luckily, there was another guy (who was actually an undercover police officer) who loudly called the girl and made the robbers run away.


Not long ago, an aunt was robbed while trying to unlock the gates in the front of her house.



About three weeks ago, an AIESEC member was jogging in her closed neighbourhood. Suddenly, a car stopped near her, a guy jumped out and tried to force her into the car. She somehow managed to free herself from his arms and run away.


Another girl was driving on the street with the car windows opened. When she stopped at the traffic lights, a man pointed a gun at her head and started shouting at her, asking to give him the car keys and leave the car. I cannot imagine why would anyone do that but she suddenly accelerated and ran away from him alive. Maybe she was to pretty to be shot. :) Oh, and I’m sorry if you are going to find some dark humour here but it is very common when Venezuelan people describe these situations as well. I guess laugh is the only way you can deal with it.

And if you don’t believe that you can get kidnapped in the middle of the day, here is a beautiful example of how the kidnappers operate:




Of course, they are not going to kidnap everyone they see on the street for the first time… well, unless you are a girl, I guess. – “One late evening, we were driving in a car when we saw a man jumping out from a car in front of us, grabbing a girl who was walking alone on the street, pushing her into the car and quickly driving away.”

However, I think you can relax a little bit if you are a man or not wealthy at all. The criminals are really intelligent and they carefully select their victims after long observations.
In this case, the person in the video had a local business and he was actually kidnapped in the front of his own fast food restaurant.

Oh, and I actually went to that restaurant to have a traditional Venezuelan meal called arepas. :)

Anyway, talking more about the intelligence of the criminals, they carefully observe rich people for long periods of time and know the best times to kidnap them. Afterwards, they kidnap you, ask for a large amount of money and warn you not to call the police. It’s not just for scaring – if you do call the police, they just kill you. Simply like that.
And if you do pay the money, they might leave you alone. At least for some time until they kidnap you again.


The same goes with cars as well. They steal your car, they call you (because they know your telephone number) and ask for money. If you do pay, they will usually give it back. The worst decision after you get your car back – not to sell it.
Why? Because the thieves know that you can pay the money and ~6 months latter they will most probably steal your car again.

There was once a woman who got her car stolen. She payed the money and received the car back. Then, they stole the car again and she had to pay the money once more. The funny thing is that after the second payment the thieves called her and said “common, don’t be silly – just sell the car or we will steal it again” – the thieves couldn’t be more noble, could they?!


Another story – the thieves stole a car with a man who was driving it. That man was later dumped outside the city without any clothes, that is, completely naked. Well, better naked than dead, I guess.


Oh, and they even told me that some years ago it was common to make a deal with the criminals – as an insurance, each month/year you would pay them a certain amount of money so that they wouldn’t do any harm to you. And if some other group of criminals stole your car, the “security” would bring it back to you, or, if they hurt your family member, they would usually start killing those others criminals – wonderful things!
And I was told that there were even some stickers that the “security” group would put on your car as a warning for other thieves not to mess with you. How cool is that?


Lastly, if you don’t believe what I say, here is some sad information from The New York Times:
“In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.”

So, statistically it’s more dangerous to live in Caracas (the capital of Venezuela) than in Baghdad, where, until recently, there was a real war going on. A thing local people used to joke about seems not to be a joke anymore…


However, I might be painting the whole situation a bit too black… But I am not discouraging you from coming to Venezuela. The country is gorgeous and there are plenty of places that are suitable for tourists and really safe!

Well, at least it’s what I’ve heard… :)


(And you can find the full article from “The New York Times” HERE.)



I hoped you enjoyed reading this post. If you find some serious mistakes, feel free to correct me. :)

See you next time,
Adomas

Two Weeks Left?!

August 24, 2010

I can’t believe it but it’s true! And now it’s even less than two weeks!..

Hmm, I think I’ll miss the Venezuelan sun, the beaches, the crystal water and the icy waterfalls.. and I might even miss the mosquitos (well, not really)!.. But hey, it’s not over yet, right?!

And I feel really bad that I haven’t updated the blog for such a long time. I took such a ridiculous amount of photos and it takes so much time to edit them that I just couldn’t find enough time to do anything else.. I think I might be sliiightly over-perfectionist. But I’ll try to change that and, hopefully, you’ll receive some more stories from Venezuela in the next days!

So, just to let you know – during this month I had a chance to visit some amazing beaches in Los Cayos and the highest waterfall in the entire planet – the Angel Falls! Both trips were really amazing but I’ll tell you more about that next time (maybe tomorrow?).

Now, just a few pics. Enjoy!



Angel Falls

Angel Falls


Los Cayos. Cayo Sombrero.

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A salesman.

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We found several coconuts on the beach and ate them straight away. :)

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Bye and see you next time!

First Two Weeks

July 26, 2010

I’ve been in Venezuela for two weeks already but I’ve only told you about the arrival to the country. Now, I don’t even know where to start. :)


Week one and two

In short: during this time I started to get to know Maracaibo and the Venezuelan culture. So far, I had an opportunity to:

  • taste a bunch of traditional food and some fantastic Venezuelan rum (it’s just too good! and it’s a bad thing when you wake up in the morning on the next day haha!)
  • learn a lot of interesting things about Chavez and his policies (it is a never ending subject)
  • go to two birthday parties, visit some local bars and a free rock concert sponsored by Chavez
  • make a presentation about Lithuania to Venezuelan students (they particularly enjoyed the “Green Nines’ drink!)
  • visit the University of Zulia (also known as “the jungle”) and a school of native indian people
  • make an introduction of the key Talent Management responsibilities to local AIESEC members and…
  • a lot of other interesting things!



So what can I say about the country? I really like it!


Everything but one thing – the security… Since the arrival everyone started telling us how dangerous it is to live here in Venezuela which made me really paranoid! It’s unsafe to walk on the streets (and I’m not only talking about the narrow streets at night), people get robbed and killed in the middle of the day everyday (“In 2008 in Caracas there were 96 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, compared to a world rate of 8.8 homicides per 100,000 people” and Maracaibo is as dangerous as the capital), students even used to carry guns at the university campus and many many other things… but I’ll tell you more about it some next time. :)


See ya!

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First Impressions

July 19, 2010

However, Caracas was not the destination –  we still had to reach Maracaibo, the second largest city in Venezuela.

After leaving the plane and entering the airport, standing in the queue for a half an hour, we managed to get through the customs just in time to watch the extra time of the World Cup. Spain’s victory against the Netherlands was a very happy moment for everyone except a dutch woman that we met in the queue. Well, what can I say… Better luck next time.

Our flight to Maracaibo was scheduled to leave at 20.20 pm so we still had to wait at Caracas airport for ~5 hours and…
the interesting things begin here. :)


The official currency in Venezuela are bolivares and you can exchange them for dollars. However, ~5 years ago the president of Venezuela* introduced a law that limits the amount of money you can exchange at a bank. Straight afterwards, the black market of money exchange emerged as people and businesses were trying to buy some dollars or euros in order to travel to foreign countries or to develop their businesses.

It was quite a long time of waiting at the airport so I decided to exchange a little bit of money in order to buy a drink. I was mentioned that there is a black market of money but we decided to go to the official money exchange office. I gave the lady 10 dollars, she asked for my passport and took a copy of it, she handed me a paper to put my finger prints on it and there I had 40 bolivares in my pocket (1 dollar = 4 bolivares). At the same time there was a sneaky man standing not far away from us who was quietly inviting us to sell the money at the rate of 6 bolivares for a dollar haha. And I have recently exchanged some money at the rate of 8 bolivares for a dollar.

So, If you do the calculations, you can see that the black market offers twice as much money as the government. I was told that it’s illegal to do such exchange but everyone does it and everyone nows that this is happening but no-one thinks too much about it. It became as a habit like eating and you can’t survive without it. So no judgement from my side. :)




The last man standing

While waiting for our flight, we saw that there is a flight to Maracaibo delayed from the same gate as ours which had to leave at 5.30pm. It was getting closer and closer to 8.20 pm but there were still no signs of our plane… Finally, it arrived but we were told that it’s a plane for 5.30 and that we still have to wait…

But then, an interesting thing happened – after all the people with 5.30pm tickets entered the plane… they started boarding everyone else. So we kindly showed our tickets, entered the plane and sat at some empty seats.

Now – when I was little I used to play a lot of different computer games. It so happened that I always thought that “The last man standing” is a winner. This time I was proved to be wrong. When all the people found their seats, there were was still one man wondering around with no luck. And I guess you know what happened to him – he had to leave the plane! Poor guy. Next time he might consider joining the queue a bit earlier haha. (And the companies should think of a better way to use their resources, after all, almost everyone got to one plane instead of two!).



The weather

We arrived to Maracaibo la Chinita airport at ~10.20 pm and it was already dark outside. We took our heavy suitcases, an officer checked our boarding passes and if the luggage was really ours (apparently, there is always someone who accidentally tries to take away the luggage that does not belong to him)… and we received a very warm welcome from AIESEC Maracaibo members: Daisy, Maryangel, Juan Diego and Isnaldo!

We had a quick chat and we went outside to the parking lots. And then there was another “wooow”.

As soon as I left the building I was hit by a wall of 29 C degrees hot air. While being at the airport, I even had to put on a sweatshirt because it was too cold due to intense air-conditioning  (it happens in every building). And outside was some kind of a sauna, even though it was late evening already. But I’m not going to complain about it too much – after all, it’s too cold in the UK and I’m planning to visit some gorgeous Venezuelan beaches so high temperature will be required!




Driving Culture

So, the thing is, that here no-one really cares about driving rules – it’s like Kaunas in Lithuania but a little bit worse (haha, sorry guys, no hard feelings – you know that it’s true!) especially during the night. We only slowed down while hitting the red-light, there are no sings of who has the priority and if you are late at least 1 second after the lights turned green – everyone starts hitting their car horns. People tend to stop at the middle of the street, there are even some jams at the middle of a crossroad because people don’t agree who has to pass it first. Another example – people just start turning their car around in the middle of a narrow street while blocking the way of everyone’s else. You just get used to it. :) I even tried to persuade Juan Diego to brake some rules and drive through the red light already but he denied saying that there’ll be at least one local who respects the driving rules haha.

So, after a pleasant and interesting drive we went altogether to Juan Diego’s house, we had a little chat and we wished Maryangel a very happy birthday after the time had turned 12.00 am!

But I still had to reach my accomodation…

So.. another drive and I arrived to Eduardo’s appartment at arround 12.30 am. I went to sleep and I slept for 12 hours like a baby.


The 42 hours-long journey had finally finished!




P.S. I will carefully try to tell you more about the political situation in Venezuela some other time. Now, the only thing you need to know is that Hugo Chavez has changed the constitution and is the president of the country for an undefined period. He is currently trying to make Venezuela a happy socialistic country.

42 Hours-Long Journey

July 19, 2010

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Some Journey Statistics:

  • 6 flights and 5 different planes
  • 10072 kilometres in the air
  • 3 hours of sleep at London Heathrow airport on a bench
  • 48 minutes of increasing frustration after realising that I’m at Terminal 4 instead of Terminal 1
  • 17 minutes of running at Lisbon’s airport
  • 1 missing crew member and 46 minutes of driving in circles on a bus at Lisbon’s airport
  • 1 hyper-active child sitting behind me during the longest (~10 hours) continuous flight of my life
  • 1 last man standing (that I’ll tell you more about later)
  • And lastly, 1 Spanish goal :)



The Longest Journey

OK, everything began on the 10th of July.

I left my home-town Alytus at 12.30 pm , took the first plane from Vilnius to Prague, then another one from Prague to London Heathrow, had dinner (didn’t have any other choice but to take a burger and a pint of Guiness…), took a nap,  realised that I’m at the wrong terminal, had to take the most expensive cab in my life until I finally reached Heathrow (Terminal 1) only 55 minutes until the departure of my plane (6.00 am). There I met Eva, another AIESEC’er from Warwick University who is currently in Venezuela with me, and we took the flight to Lisbon together.

While flying from London to Heathrow I was sitting near the window and I couldn’t resist taking some pictures of the sky and the clouds (and it’s up to you to evaluate my skills):



Over the UK

The Sky

Another Planet

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Approaching Lisbon



We arrived to Lisbon a bit late and I was worried that we might miss the flight but there were some kind of troubles (I can’t imagine how that can happen.. but we were told that there is one crew member missing) and we took off to Caracas (with a technical stop at Funchal, Madeira’s Island).

Overall, the flight was good: I finally had some rest, the meals where alright, I watched some films and only the thing that we were not sitting near the window was a disadvantage. Well, the overly excited child sitting behind me as well.



And finally... after 11 hours-long flight we stood on the land of Venezuela – we arrived to Caracas.

AIESEC

July 19, 2010

OK, now I’ll try my best to give you some kind of understanding of what AIESEC is and how we roll (or the way we do it)!





But before starting, take a look at these videos:


#1 AIESEC Mission
#2 AIESEC History


I hope that something became more clear after watching the videos. Probably not, so let me help you:


First of all, AIESEC is the biggest student-run organisation founded in 1948 and currently present in 110 different countries. For more than 6o years it has been helping young people to develop their skills and experience a completely different culture while working abroad. To put it into a very simple way – at the same time AIESEC members are looking both for local companies that would like to receive an intern from another country and for students who are willing to go to work abroad. And believe me, there are not many organisations who are doing such things. :)


So… for example, there are 24 LCs* in the UK that are based at different universities across the country. In each Local Committee students are provided with various tasks (advertising the organisation, recruiting new people, running regular meetings and skills improvement sessions, cold calling, sending people abroad, etc.) which is an experience that can’t be received only by doing the degree. Furthermore, students can run for leadership positions and become responsible for a group of people and improve their transferable skills which lead to another great thing – AIESEC is recognised by all the biggest companies and it’s a very good way to improve your CV and get a job during (or after, depends on how you see it) this economic crisis. Talking about it, such companies as PwC, Accenture, Alcatel, Microsoft, GSK, QS, UBS, TATA, Standard Chartered and many others are our global partners.


But that’s not all!
Well… how many of you guys have heard that AIESEC is a cult?.. If you saw all the crazy dances that are part of our routine, you would surely think that there is something wrong with us! The thing is, that AIESEC is definitely not a cult – it’s a culture and believe me, an amazing one! We have a very unique way of saying hi (especially in the UK, haha) and farewell, we have a significant amount of gatherings (local meetings, national and international conferences), even our own language (which mostly consists of a ridiculous amount of abbreviations), competitions (google boat racing aiesec), and, of course, the dances and the biggest parties! But there is nothing wrong about it – it’s a perfect way to get people out of their comfort zone and make them more open-minded and self-confident.

Sooooo… it was quite a long introduction, which most probably became boring (sorry about that!), but hopefully you now have a better understanding of what we do and what’s the point of doing it.


Oh, I almost forgot: LC* – A Local Committee.


And now it’s time to focus on Venezuela!

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