10 July 2003
Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela N10.1185 W064.4050
What we know so far
Customs in every Caribbean nation ask if you have a weapon onboard and if you do they want to know the serial number and the amount of ammunition. In Venezuela they ask you if you have a weapon on board and if your answer is no they issue you one! All kidding aside they don't even ask.
Security is utmost in everyone's mind. With high unemployment and an economic downturn people will do desperate things to feed their family. Couple this poverty with the influence of Columbian drug smuggling and the machismo factor, throw in a government that supports the Castro regime and you better watch out for your dinghy and more. The Maremares marina provides 24 hour security with armed agents patrolling the docks. Entry to the facility is tightly controlled as it is at local apartment complexes, malls, casinos and other public gathering places. But at Maremares it just seems more visible. Of course there are poor areas and they're best avoided. One area, Saigon Alley is so bad that even the police avoid it. But hey you wouldn't walk around in East Los or Harlem would you? Our information comes from rumors and innuendo and someone that accuses the police of pulling cars over for document checks right before noon in order to collect a little lunch money. The police force is divided into two major factions in Venezuela similarly as in the US with half preferring Dunkin Donuts and the other half Krispy Cream. See they have all the police jokes that you find in the US. Doesn't it make you wonder what non-US cruisers say about visiting Miami or Fort Lauderdale?
Currency is in a great state of fluctuation. The official rate which is what you get form the ATM or credit card purchase is 1595 Bolivar's to the USD. The unofficial rate for cruisers (possible a tertiary market price) at this writing is 2400 B to the USD and just three or four months ago it was 1900. Major traders in currency exchange at 2800 or so and service the corporation needing goods imported from other countries. The economy is forecasted to contract by over 10% this year creating a burden for the average man on the street. So we're looking at hyper inflation and it is important to understand how we best protect yourself against its impact.
Fuel is inexpensive. Gas is about $.10 per gallon, yes $.10 not $1.00 and diesel about the same. Venezuela was one of the founding members of OPEC and is the third or fourth largest producer in the organization. There are few sailboats in Venezuela with the price of fuel so low.
Any pharmaceutical except for a narcotic can be purchased over the counter at a cost considerably less than in the US. Ten Clairton tablets are 13950 B's or about $.60 per tablet.
You can rent an ocean front efficiency at $200 per month or a beautiful furnished apartment for $3000.00, demonstrative of the disparity of wealth. Nice canal front condominiums sell from $50,000 to $150,000.
Dinner for two is about $15.00 USD drinks included. Venezuela has ignored agricultural production with the importance of oil over shadowing every other industry. The fishing industry appears to be healthy with shrimp, sardines and a wide array of pelagic fish. Neighboring nations provide inexpensive beef, wine and vegetables. Only 4% of the Venezuelan land mass is dedicated to agriculture and yet if any of the rain forest is threatened by farmers or ranchers the international environmentalists hound the government. A very difficult position.
Rum is $2.00 per bottle. A trip to the UNICASA grocery store found a modern grocery surrounded by fast food outlets such as McDonalds, Wendy's, Subway etc. The Kellogg's girl, dressed in red and white, is on the cereal isle ready to answer your questions about Kellogg products (if you speak Spanish) and around the corner you'll find the Gerber girl dressed in blue. At the bar code scanned checkout you pay 16.5% tax. You can avoid the tax by purchasing at the local market and at a lower price. One shops at UNICASA for the convenience and because one can. It's like shopping at Nordstrom's, except for food.
Labor is about $10.00 per day and it takes a lot of labor to prepare the bottom of your boat for painting. Speaking of labor, after the recent strikes the Chavez government laid off a significant number of government employees in the oil industry and cancelled a number of government contracts. Now it appears that no one has anything good to say about Chavez. I tell people that in the US if a CEO announces that a lay off will occur sometime in the ensuing years the stock price goes up and that I can remember an organization called PATCO that Ronald Reagan "laid off".
Most major construction projects have come to a standstill due to the hyperinflation and as a protest to the Chavez government. There is a large pool of qualified people underemployed and several with English skills have focused in on the cruiser community to be as helpful as possible for a price, usually around $2.00 per hour. They provide a taxi service and take you from store to store or to the dentists or doctor or veterinarian etc. and help translate your needs into Spanish and find you the best deal in town.
There is no peanut butter, feta cheese, cottage cheese but Cheese Whiz takes up 20 to 30 linear feet in the grocery store and comes in a variety of flavors.
The marine stores are low on inventory as are most stores due to hyper inflation and the economic slow down.
Everything in Venezuela is more than a few decibels louder than the US. Sound systems are cranked up to reach the hearing impaired in the audience and to create a few if none exist.
Maremares continues to surprise us with cocktail parties every Wednesday night, cruiser potluck dinners every Sunday night, an entertaining 4th of July party with a huge cake decorated like the American flag compliments of Maremare and a most helpful staff and dock master. Ms. America Perez is the dockmaster (see the picture above) and is always most helpful. The marina holds about 50 vessels and is full all the time. Surrounding marinas are only 50% occupied an indication of the world economy, the instability of the Venezuelan economy and the value of Maremares.
Dentists abound and are reasonably priced. Cleaning, fluoride treatment and X-rays cost about $15.00 and the facility we went to was just as or more modern then what we had in the US.
We continue to do boat things and consider our options for our time in South American and what we might do for next season. We did take a one day outing to the local highlands and a scenic view of the local islands with some new found friends and Mike and Barbara from Pelican. We have been traveling with Pelican since Grenada making the passage to Los Testigos, Isle Coch and finally Puerto La Cruz. You cannot meet nicer people.