Monday, October 6, 2008

It's as bad as they say

I went to Puerto la Cruz for a couple days not long ago. Getting there was an adventure worthy of its own post (Dear Managers of the Metro: Please learn to operate a subway system. Love, Hedgehog.) that ended with me sharing a cab to a hotel at 11 p.m. with a pretty, petite Latina from the States -- call her Doris -- who was visiting Venezuela for the first time. She had been traveling 20 hours and was beat. One of the only questions she managed to ask was, "So is this place as scary as they say?"

As you know if you've ever looked at this blorg, my answer was no. There are problems but it's not as bad as they say.

I spent two days out there, with the only remarkable part being an iguana that was well above 4 feet long, wandering around.

At the airport, leaving, I ran into Doris again. That was odd, because she was supposed to be visiting for four days, and only two had passed. She seemed shook up. I asked her if everything was ok, and she said no. That her visit was awful. The only hint she would give me was to say "It is as bad as they say."

We talked more later -- our flights ended up arriving in Caracas at the same time, and we shared another cab as she sought out a hotel -- and she told me that right after she arrived in Puerto la Cruz, after now 21 hours of travel, she was waiting outside her friend's house talking on a phone in his car, and someone grabbed her by the hair, pulled her out of the car, grabbed her ring, her bracelets, and her phone. Her screaming brought neighbors out of their homes and the guy ran off. It sort of spoiled her trip, what with not being able to sleep and just being upset all the time, so she left.

It reminded me of the other friend who was once outside his boyfriend's house while his better half ran in "just for a minute." My pal was out with the car and a couple kids in the back seat. Four people came up with guns and demanded the car. Fortunately they let him take the kids out first.

And the friend who was kidnapped for a half a day before most of her attackers left her in her car with only one guy guarding her, gun to her head as she lay on the floor. Suddenly he was surprised by various guns pointed at him and she was able to leave: police, who had followed the car with aid of a homing device in the trunk, moved in to free her.

And for all of the utter horror of all of this, all three of those stories involve people who got off alive, and even with most of their property intact, in part because of their own privileges. The daily paper is a litany of miseries about people in the slums, who routinely lose their kids to various forms of gunfire, stabbing, muggings, hit and run, you name it. The bodies, after a weekend in Caracas or Puerto la Cruz or Maracaibo, can end up piled up like cordwood in unrefrigerated morgues and police SUVs.

None of which would be so bad if the police and court system worked. With rare exceptions like my kidnapped friend, it doesn't. Many cities pay their cops something close to the (far from living wage) minimum wage, starting at about $7,000 a year (at the official exchange rate, which is about the same buying power as $3,500), even as they spend $100,000 apiece on Toyota 4x4s to make the cops look tough. Few murders are even investigated. The fear, against which I am constantly arguing, is not insane.

No, not kidnapped

I just hid the blog for a minute. It's back. With sloths.

That's a baby sloth eating. Eventually the grown-up sloth eats a bit too. They were going fast. They probably suspected that they, and we, were about to be hit by a tremendous thunderstorm. Must suck to be a sloth in a thunderstorm.

While we're at it, here, also in Parque Generalísimo Francisco de Miranda (No Longer Known as Parque del Este), is an iguana. It knew I was coming and wisely hid behind a chain link fence where it was safe from my driving skills.