ast week Jinny and I traveled to Caracas, Venezuela. It was only a 5-hour direct flight from Toronto so we arrived in good shape around midnight local time. Caracas has the odd distinction of being eastern time plus 30 minutes.
The office had emailed a picture of my driver so I was a bit relieved since all of the travel websites suggested that riding in one of the many unmarked taxis from the airport was a sure fire way to get yourself robbed at gun point.
The long drive up the side of the mountain into Caracas was spectacular at night with the glimmer of all the lights in the favelas decorating the hillside like christmas ornaments. We arrived at the Intercontinental Tamanaco in Las Mercedes, the trendiest shopping and entertainment district in Caracas. The lobby was full of soldiers from the national guard as well as Russian news crews. It turns out that both Dmitry Medvedev (the president of Russia) and Daniel Ortega (the president of Nicaragua) were in town along with the still floating bits of the Russian Navy to pay homage to his bombastic holiness Hugo Chavez, el President de Venezuela. (1)
I spent the next two days working leaving Jinny behind to peruse the hotel. There's a decent breakfast buffet, a swimming pool, a brick oven pizzeria and even a casino but the property is definitely a bit dated. You must be very careful when leaving the hotel grounds--only use marked taxis or drivers arranged by the hotel. Tourists are frequently mugged even in Las Mercedes. Also, I never found a single operational ATM anywhere in Caracas even at the airport. You must bring at least twice the amount of cash you think you will need in US dollars. The offical exchange rate is something like 2 Bolivars to 1 US dollar but you can readily get 4:1 from the locals, shops and restaurants. Also make sure you have enough cash leftover for the airport departure tax. We had to pay an extra 161 VEF (officially USD80) each just to leave!
I was free on Saturday and we hung out at the pool since it was too cloudy to justify taking the Teleferico (cable car) at Avila Magica. The ride takes about 15 minutes and promises spectacular views of Caracas and the mountains on a clear day. The swimming pool at the Tamanaco is a meeting place for a colorful cast of characters all with apparently large amounts of money and no obvious reason to be in Venezuela. We quickly meet a Greek-Australian-Trinidadian starlet who ordered us an endless stream of champagne, whisky and brick oven pizza to while away the afternoon.
We also discovered an incredible Las Mercedes steak house called the Maute Grille (+58 212 991 0892), Avenida Río de Janeiro, entre Calles New York y Trinidad, Caracas 1060. If you love steak you will have an orgasm at the Maute Grille. However, please make sure you let them arrange transportation for you back to the hotel.