Monday, November 28, 2011

Paramaribo, Suriname

Hello from Suriname, the nicest place you've never heard of. The capital of this former Dutch (and British on occasion) colony is a bit like Georgetown. Except cleaner. And safer. And the street lights work. And the drains are underground. Actually it's nothing like Georgetown. It is, however, awseome. It's also a non-presence on the tourist trail unless you are Dutch. That's a crying shame as this place is very, very pleasant.

I'm a happy and relaxed boy now but my entry into the "Land of Smiles" was a bit less joyful. I had to get up a stupid o'clcok in Guyana after going to bed very late courtesy of some night club near my guesthouse. It took 11 hours to get here, 4 of which were centered round crossing one river. The ferry takes 30 minutes but the Guayanese authorities have one person to do all the border stamping. The Surinamese had 2 but they compensated by having a customs check. I decided to sod waiting for my bags to be rifled and walked straight through. I might be missing a customs card but I am leaving this place on a canoe into French Guyana. No customs for me there.

Anyhoo I got here and saw very little open but shitloads of people milling about. I had arrived in Parbo the eve of the Surinamese Independence Day. This meant 2 things: My stay here would be interesting and I was absolutely fucked for lodgings. I resigned myself to a long time of trudging around with my gear getting bounced out into the heat and/or rain. Not so. The second place I tried told me they had no rooms but sat me down, sorted me out a Parbo beer and started to work the phones . For the few people who knw this place the Surinamese are known to be friendly and helpful. What could have become another traveller war story was reduced to getting a mild buzz while trying to understand Dutch. I was booked, directioned and settled an hour later.

The next day I had my morning coffee while watching the manager of this place hastily put on a police uniform with all the parade trimmings. Turns out he isn't filth but he is a very good trumpet player. I endeared myself to him by taking photos of him while marching. The pics are odd though as he was not allowed to smile or acknowledge me but at the same time he is Surinamese so his instincts go against that. the result is a picture where he looks a bit like a schoolboy with a smoking fag-end at his feet trying to look innocent.

After watching him march alongside his cop (or other drafted musicians) buddies, I loafed around the waterfront where people where eating, dancing and drinking. Boy were they drinking. Pretty soon, so was I. Suitably beered up, I made my way to the square in front of the presidential palace to see what was going on. The cops were there and laods of infantry types including a bunch of visiting French and Brazilian soldiers and a funky Surinamese unit all camoed up and armed with AK's. I was quizzical about this as the only purpose I could see of having a guerrilla type unit here would be in case of war with either France or Brazil.

My musings were halted by torrential rain. I tried to find shelter under a tree, realised it was pointless, wrapped my camera into a plastic bag and decided to stay wet and drunk. A wise move as I got to see the highlight of the parade which was their President review his people. He decided having an aide de camp with a brolly was for girls and marched out into the rain to do some looking and saluting. This was met with great approval by the crowd. Equally interesting to me and some of the gentry were the French female sailors in their white shirts after a good deluge.

The President himself is a bit of a quandary. He used to be the dictator of this place and has a standing Interpol arrest warrant on him for drug charges. He still managed to win a reasonably fair election and a lot of people I talked to like him. Oddly enough he doesn't object to a plaque commerating the 15 prominent opponents of his coup that were murdered in December 1982. This is unusual for a strongman as he must have had a hand in it especially as he used the bullshit "shot while trying to escape" line at the time. This plaque is in the old Dutch fort a few hundred yards from his residence. Then again he didn't mind a huge concert and piss-up in front of his place either. I can't imagine anyone holding a Sound System on Downing Street.

The next day after a suitable recovery period I went into town. Acording to locals Parbo is pretty dead on the weekend as everyone gets out. The weekend after ID day was even more so. Still it's a nice town. Say what you want about the Dutchies but they leave prettier burghs than the Brits. There are shedloads of churches including the Catholic one that also claims to be the biggest wooden house of JC. I'm starting to wonder how many of these I will see. I tried to find a cool gospel service with people dressed in their exotic Sunday best but all I could see through the doors was sagging heads. No thanks.

Of note is the Zeelandia Fort and museum refered to above. It was an unsettling experience to say the least. It's a small star shaped fort built by the Dutch after one of the rounds of pass-the-country they had with the Brits. It was the way I visited it that was unsettling. Let me recreate the experience. There was a huge group of Nederlanske folk getting a tour so I nipped up onto the battlements and started doing the visit in reverse. First I went through a room all about the native people. Lots of bows, stone axes and cassava root strainers. More battlements, a canon and another room. This time the theme was colonial times. It had pipes, more pipes, really long pipes, looms and other daily life stuff. Further battlements and a small room with a cobblers shop. Down the stairs to the ground level and then a right to the old apothecary. There was lots of ye olde jars, vials, instruments and HOLY FUCKING JESUS WTF IS THAT DOING HERE?

There was a plaster mock-up of a severed leg and foot from a black person. The way it was displayed it looked like it was amongst the wares. The info here was not translated into English but from what I could decipher mutilations were one of the ways of controlling the "negers" (sic). I appreciate the desire to reflect the horrors of the colonial past but a bit of warning would be in order. Next to the pharmacy of horrors there was more grim stuff. There is a small jail which is supposed to hold an eternal flame to all the people who died here including the 15 mentioned above. There was a hurricane lamp on the ground. It was out.

To be honest Parbo has not got many great sites per se. It's still an awesome place thanks to the atmosphere and the locals. The majority of tourists here are the Dutch and they are usually sound people. It's a bit weird when everybody at the table switches language on your account but then again they have the skills to do it. This is also the case for Surinamese people. They all speak Dutch but can switch to English effortlessly. I guess if you are Dutch you would force your sprogs to be good linguists as this place is about the only one where their tongue is spoken (I know the Flemish speak it but half a country doens't count). Also, unlike the Italians and the French they can't hope to meet a few dedicated people who studied Dutch for the beauty of the language. Dutch sounds like someone took German and tried to make it sound more evil

Parbo is a great place to see once everybody gets back to work. Here is a quick compendium of the little things I thought interesting and that you can't find on Wikipedia. The Israeli consulate shares a building with the admin of McDonalds. The Dutch colonist cemetery is completely overgrown, avoided by superstitious locals and amusingly nicknamed the Orange Garden. Children have birthdays parties in specially decorated roofless buses that cruise around town blasting fun music. Santa apparently likes Parbo beer if the posters are to be believed. A 50 year old woman groped my package in her street before striding off and laughing with her friend.

That's it for Suriname. I have been offered a ride to Cayenne tomorow from the border. French Guyana is basically written off as too expensive and with not much to see. My run to Rio is also being finalised and I have to be in Belem on the 9th at the latest. I have cooked up a plan to stay for cheap in French Guyana. It involves hiring a car and sleeping in the jungle, on the beach and maybe in a few decent campsites for washing purposes. European Space Centre (not in Europe), here I come. Not sure when I will be able to post again.

Take care,


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Georgetown, Guyana, South America (maybe)

The reason for the ambivalent location of this post is, as I said in the first post, this place feels much more like the Caribbean than anything else. The ethnicity of the people, the accented English, the food and to a certain extent the history makes this country feel closer to Kingston than Rio or Caracas. It's not just me that feels this way either. Guyana played a big part in setting up a Caribbean economic union of sorts.

The Guianas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana) are a sort of losers corner of South America. After the Spanish and the Portuguese had divvied up this vast continent, the Dutch, Brits and French wanted to play too. They grabbed whatever malarial jungle the other 2 couldn't care less about (although there is a dispute with Venezuela on some areas) and then set themselves up in wonderfully ethical commerces using shedloads of slaves. Guyana was run by the Booker clan who held a monopoly on the sugar trade here until the 70's. All the authors who got themselves a Booker prize can thank the African slaves, indentured Indians and decimated Amerindians for their pot of cash.

The sugar trade explains many things here. The ethnic make-up, the availibility of very good food from curries to dim sum via jerk chicken and this town itself. Georgetown is a dilapidated colonial town. The houses are airy and wooden, the city is a straight grid and everywhere you can spot the remnants of British colonial life. Cricket pitches, churches, freemason lodges and the names of the streets are all wonderfully quaint even if they are going slightly to ruin. The location itself is revelatory. It's on the mouth of the Demerara river and it's below sea level so it had to be protected by a large sea wall. The streets all have deep drainage ditches clogged up by the polystyrene boxes the eateries use here (there are fishes in them though).The one reason to put a town here is to shift the sugar from the plantations to the boats (Or the slaves in reverse routes).
So have I gone into Carribean holiday mood? Have I spent my time here in the shade, drinking beer and imbibing the message behind the omnipresent reggae (forging a new identity through spiritual emancipation and self-awareness to redress the rootlessness and suffering of enslavement, displacement and impoverishment) and reggaeton (I'm tough and I like pussy. A lot)? Not really. I get bored quickly to be honest there is not much to do or see here. There are some jungle trips available but I can do it, cheaper, better and safer somewhere else.

Guyana is one of the countries many South America tourers don't bother with. It feels good to believe that they are missing out because of a character flaw they have but I don't. People fail to come here out of ignorance, unwillingness to rough it a bit or outright cowardice. In reality there is a good reason why people skip Guyana. It hasn't got much to offer, it's a fucker to get around and it's bizarrely expensive as they produce very, very little here. It's also a very poor country so the combo of high prices and low wages put the locals in dire economic straits. Kind of puts some perspective on what's happening back home. Occupy Carmichael Street any time soon?

Georgetown is fine by day but by night it's really shifty. Not Caracas dangerous but a bit unsettling. There are lots of half crazy homeless guys here and very little public lighting. One particular chap who got me looking aaround for escape routes was a twitchy junkie spouting religious crap and toting a Mad Max style homemade totem consisting of a long pole with a bicycle inner wheel and a machete at the top. To be fair I don't really think he even saw me. I also nearly got knocked into a drainage ditch by one of the seemingly feral horses trying to graze the banks of what must have once been a canal. All good fun but I'm leaving soon.

Another reason I am getting out is that there is an election looming. Normally I would feel blessed and stay here to watch the fun but I have set date to be in Rio and I can't be late. There has been violence in the past after voting here and all the soldiers and cops have voted early to so they can swanp the streets. I don't think the outcome is really in doubt though. The ruling party, the PPP/C has got huge banners and billboards all over the shop with their candidates looking presidential and prime ministerial. The opposition has A3 posters nailed to electricity poles. The posters are fun and sometimes they go too far and it ends up looking more like an add for a whacky comedy than anything else.

There are some plus sides to Guyana. The people are great and love to chat with anybody. They are also quite twee and formal in their manners and greetings. The food is brilliant and spicy and fascinating people-watching more than makes up for having little else to see. Still I will leave soon. I got a Surinanme visa faster and with much more ease than the interwebs suggest. Their embassy has a dress code and some of the blogs out there claim they are really officious and annoying. I applied in the morning in less than 5 minutes and picked up the visa six hours later. I am wondering what makes Suriname so great that it's the only country in this whole continent where Brits need a visa. We will see.

Soon I'll be on another fun run to Paramaribo. 2 rivers, one border and shitloads of checkpoints between here and there. Should be intersting.

Take care,


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Georgetown, Guyana

Finally made it to the land famous for..........mass suicides? I like Georgetown although it feels more like the Caribbean than South America. I will do more on it after some exploration tomorrow. For the moment I will write about the 48 or so hours it took to get from Santa Elena to here.

It seems pointless but for me it highlights one of the essential backpacking experiences and what differentiates backpacking from going on holiday: The ridiculously arduous trip. Venezuela shares a border with Guyana. A look at a map would seem to indicate that if you follow the coast you will hit Georgetown quite quickly. If only. To get here involved going to Santa Helena, crossing over to Brazil, heading to the Guyanese border then making it through the interior to Georgetown.

Let us start at the beginning. I went to the share taxi place in Santa Helena to get a ride to Boa Vista in Brazil. It's possible to short hop it to the border but I wanted to unload the rest of my useless Bolivares Fuertes. I was then re-introduced to a crucial part of travellling outside the First World. Faffing about waiting for the ride to be full. It was then I also realized my lack of Portuguese is going to hurt me in the future. You can't just sod off and come back later either as that could mean losing your place. I did have a 15 minute window to walk about when the driver went into a motel with what I'm pretty sure was a hooker. I stayed put.

Eventually enough people showed up and packed the cab and off we went. The border crossing was uneventful and so was the trip to Boa Vista. In the cab I was even more struck with a problem that I am sure will exacerbate itself later in my travels. I can read Portuguese, I can understand 20% (weirdly enough the more complex the dialogue the easier it is for me to understand) of what is said but I am incapable of making myself understood. A linguistical coma, if you will.

I blinked stupidly at the cab driver when he wanted to know where to drop me off and had to be helped by my fellow passengers to indicate the bus station. However, when we passed Boa Vista airport we saw a trashed row of shanty homes. No roofs, no doors and smashed furniture. The driver explained that the cops had smashed the place up so that the poor would not ruin the expectations of tourists. My immediate thought was that I could understand rumours about state sanctioned social cleansing but I can't answer when someone asks my name. My second though was. What fucking tourists?

Boa Vista is a brazilian state Capital but it's mainly a place of transience and not tourism. The only tourists ignorant enough to be shocked by the levels of social inequality in Brazil are the ones that should be made to see a shanty town. Anyhoo, being a capital it had a few amenities like cash machines that deliver currency at a real exchange rate, a nice bus station and a very comfy bus that took me right to the border with Guyana in less than 2hours. Guyanese fun started right then.

My first 10 hours in the country where basically as an illegal. The Brazilian Policia Federal stops securing its borders at 18.00 and goes home. I got there about an hour later. Fortunately the Guyanese border guys could not give a toss and told me to get into town and come and do the stamping the next day. It seems that the Guyanese authorities are from the Theresa May school of border control. Of course there is the question of who tries to smuggle himself into a poor country. Another protection is the shiftyness of the local plod. They are constantly trying to find you at fault for something so they can get a bribe. Being squeaky clean is a must.

Anyway I had also missed the minibuses to Georgetown so I had to stay at a small hotel. Something I am now rather grateful for. The next day I went back to the Brazilian border so they could let me out properly and got my Guyana stamp. The border guys were nice if slightly full of themselves. As I found out at other cop checkpoints, they have signs ordering the removal of hats, leaving beverages outside of buildings and other pompous crap. I then faffed around the wonderful border town of Lethem and participated in the local sport of hiding in the shade doing nothing as it's criminally hot. Around 17.00 I went to bag a good seat in a minibus to Georgetown. More waiting as the beat up Toyota with a cracked windshield got filled up with people and goods. Around 19.00 we were off.

It's about 600 kilometers form Lethem to Georgetown. Back home that's a six hour trip with breaks. Less if nothing links me to the car's plates. Allowing for the crap roads I still thought we would be in Georgetown by next morning. I was oh so wrong for the next 20 hours. For starters only the last 100 k is paved. The driver really works for his money. He had to avoid potholes, go through streams and occasionaly change a tire. He still kept up a very good, if terrifying, speed most of the way. Unfortunately that didn't change squat.

There were numerous halts, bent cops and checkpoints on the way., One bunch of rozzers finally got a bribe out of the driver when they realized driving in sandals is illegal. They were annoying but not a real problem to me. The snag is that there is a National park halfway to Georgetown. It doesn't allow people through between 22.00 and 04.00. After that there is a ferry crossing. Also only daylight hours. Therefore it was hammock time near a roadside shack for all of us. There was finally a plus side to being on the side of the road in the jungle at night in a dirt poor country. A phenomenal sky. The brightest and most numerous stars I have ever seen. No electricity, no light pollution.

Anyways we eventually got here so what's the problem? The snag with these kind of trips is what to do with your time. An obvious solution is to blog as I go. The problem is that it seems unwise to pull out a netbook in the sticks, in a country towards the bottom end of GDP rankings and where people repair flip flops with string. Another option is to read but that would require a few moments of stability. Not this time. The other equally obvious and sociable option would be to chat with people. The obstacle here is the apparent requirement in Guyana to blast music at teenager levels of volume. I'd like to say I was introduced to local music but no such luck. Our driver was a big fan of singers like Celine Dion, Maria Carey and Lionel Richie. To be fair this morning he switched to Christian pop which is shite unless it's classical or gospel. All the rest is like Blu-Ray DVDs or a reformed House of Lords. Good effort perhaps but some things should be allowed to die

I did get to chat with people at stops. I learned that there is an election coming. That a lot of the people on the bus wanted a local version of Hugo Chavez. I had 2 separate entreaties to come back as a colonist and retake the country (literally myself as it seems I was living the bullshit cliche that a traveller is an ambassador of sorts). One was by a roadside stall owner who wanted me and Prince Charles to come and stop tribal people killing giant otters for food and help preserve the ecology. This all being discussed 200 meters from a mining camp BTW. The other plea was from an Amerindian on the bus who believed (perhaps with reason) that things went to shit after independence) an that the firm guiding hand of Britannia was needed again. I tried to explain that the UK has long ceased to know jack about good governance and management but he would get distracted and ask me to debate the impact (his words) of "We are the world". He occasionally reminded of the lyrics too.

One less amusing thing I noticed was the tendency of people at stops to group themselves along ethnic lines. The black guys got together and spoke in their patois, The Guyanese-Brazilians (predictable for this bus route) went off to fala Portuguese and the Amerindians also grouped up. I was a sort of floater. Apparently this is one of the political problems they face here.

Beyond that there is little else to say. The suburbs of Georgetown have amusing names. Houston, Diamondville, McDoom and, my favoutite, Eccles. I guess I am writing this slightly whiny post as it is fresh in my mind. I've found a nice guesthouse in an old colonial house with very dainty rooms, I've used up half a bar of soap to get the dust of myself and I've started to relax. I am still weary and tired and am going off to sleepsies once I post this. What I want is a record of how I feel now before it all becomes some amusing tale. This kind of travel is much more interesting than taking a 2 hourflight (an option from Boa Vista) and is what makes backpacking different from a holiday. I know that tomorrow I will feel good again and won't hesitate to do another fun run so I should try and commit to writing that, at the time, it can be hard.

Tomorrow it's off to visit Georgetown and try to score a Suriname visa (the only country in South America to require one from Brits). Hopefully I'll also do a less grumpy post. Just thought I'd share.

Take care,


Friday, November 18, 2011

Santa Elena de Uairen, Venezuela

Got to Ciudad Bolivar. No prizes for guessing who the city was named after. There is a plaza and statue in his name along with several statues of chicks representing the various states of Gran Colombia, the short-lived superstate that he had created before giving up and declaring South America ungovernable. More interesting is a plaque on the side of the cathedral sanctifying the place where one of Bolivar's generals got put up against a wall and shot. South American politics was born.

There isn't much more to see in the city. I indulged in a few cliché ridden moments on the banks of the Orinoco. Chatting to old guys in hats, watching people shout and being annoyed by sterotypical Latin American music of different sorts blasting from different shops. I also noticed the vast amount of Yank cars here. A lot of them are big 70's mammoths. The few new cars tend to be big feck-off SUV's. The reason for this is that petrol here is very, very cheap. You can fill up for less than a dollar.

The main reason turistas come here is to use it as a base to go to Angel Falls. For those of you who don't play trivial pursuit, it's the highest waterfall in the world. Google it and you will see why it's worth the trip. Or rather, you won't but that's why it's worth coming here. The fall comes of a tepui which is a tabletop maountain. The big ones can develop funky ecosystems but the ones around Salto Angel are a bit too small for that. A picture would show you a rather thin waterfall. It looks like a trickle becase it's nearly a kilometer long. To really enjoy it you have to get close to it. From the base it's very impressive and the dribble of the picture becomes the awesome giant noisy scary thing.

The Falls are usually visited as part of an excursion. Getting there is really good fun and gives you a nice impression that you are an explorer. Albeit an explorer who gets coffee on demand, doesn't have to dig his own toilet, is certain of finding something and of returning safely. All the time reflecting on the beauty of wilderness, the power of natural forces and the sheer fucking luck that the pilot who crash landed on this was called Jimmy Angel. That's where the name comes from, nothing religious. It could have been Salto Smith

Me and a few others flew out of Ciudad Bolivar in a small Cessna. The CB airport authorities have aspirations so you can't take a knife with you although the other way you can do what you want. The plane flew at about 3000 feet so we got to see a lot of countryside and tepuis. We then landed at Canaima airport which is now my favourite airport in the world. It's a large thatched shelter with some folk selling snacks and trinkets. Security consists of a waist high fence, an indolent Guardia Nacional chap sitting in the shade and it's possible the dogs running around the parked airplanes had some sort of function. Refuelling is done in such a hardcore manner I wondered if it was part of the show. Sone guy clambers on top of the plae with a jerrycan of gas and a hose and suctions the gas into the plane.

We then set off by motorised canoe to the overnight camp near the falls. It's a 4 hour trip with the odd halt. The camp itself is a bizarre jungle dorm. It's 50 or so hammocks swung under a shelter. Chicken was roasted on a spit and served up. We then all went to bed for a nice quiet night. Sort of. I happen to love the jungle and the sounds of it. When coupled with snoring it's just horrendous. Some things don't mix. Also sleeping in a hammock sounds more relaxing than it really is. I know the trick is to go diagonal but there is a reason the locals buy beds when they can afford them.

The next day was the hike to the falls and predictable oohs and aahs. Return to camp then back to Canaima. The best bit of the trip was on the third day. I think it's a time killer they came up with as the flights tend to be in the afternoon. There is a lagoon in Canaima from which you can access a river island by boat. From then it's a short hike to a regular waterfall (low and fecking big). If you go down a small trail along the side of the waterfall you can access a hidden path behind the curtain of water that leads you to.......Well, the other side of the waterfall predictably. Unbelievably good fun and you can experience the ultimate power shower if you can stand it.

After that it was back on the Cessna to Ciudad Bolivar and onto a night bus across the Gran Sabana to where I am now. Santa Elena is a border town with Brazil whose economy revolves around taking tourists on trips to Roraima (a huge tepui that scientists love due to the unique ecosystem that developed there) and smuggling petrol into Brazil. Half the shops here sell meter long pieces of garden hose. People caught with jerrycans get their car impounded. It's rather dull but it's restfull and it's safe at night which means I can walk around a bit this evening which is a rare treat in Venezuela.

Tommorow I am off to Brazil and then on to Guyana but the trip looks a bit sketchy so Christ knows when I will be able to post again. Hence I will finish this post with my thoughts on Venezuela as a whole as my 6 days here have give me such wisdom and insight.

For me the curse of Venezuela is the crime rate. It's a pain in the arse, puts you on edge and is genuinely fucking a country that has a huge tourism potential. It's also a bit revealing. Venezuela is a petro-state which means gazillions of dollars are pouring into it. Why then should I worry about some kid shooting me for a few dollars? I met many Venezuelans from Caracas in Canaima and their life has been reduced to home, commute, work and back again. There is enough money to have a good go at crime too. Find out what the cops make with bribes, make that their salary and institute a zero policy on corruption. Plough money into the barrios and education and giving people some options better than crime.

As for Hugo Chavez, I am none the wiser about him for having been here. I was always a bit confused as to what he truly is. Some guy trying for a Cuba 2.0? A cheap populist scoring points off Bolivar and anti-gringo feeling? A man genuinely trying to find a true alternative to corporate oligarchy? The locals I have met don't seem to like him but, to be fair, most of them where middle class folk. They are dubious about the cancer story but quite hopeful that he is on the way out. Guys who rewrite constitutions to stay in power are always a bit scary but then again he drives Fox et al round the bend.

There are some sinister things about the country. The night bus stopped many times for army checkpoints. The socialist blather is a bit less amusing when it's on the walls of the school (the pictures of Bolivar doing everything from educating Yanomami kids to marrying people is still funny). Completely unrelated but still creepy are the occasional flocks of vultures circling around.

Anyhoo, that's it for Venezuela . It was a short but good re-introduction to backpacking. Hopefully my next post will be from Guyana

Take care,


Monday, November 14, 2011

Ciudad Bolivar, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (No, Really)

The puffin has landed. I have left Korea where the blog died. It was the victim of my usual MO. I get settled, I get accustomed and then I can't be bothered to write.

It is now arisen since I landed yesterday in Caracas. I was too tired to reflect that I had just landed on a continent where I had never set foot before. I was also trying very hard to look alert as this place has the kind of rep usually associated with areas that produce hip hop artists.

I am now on my way out again for reasons of cowardice. I stayed at a local hotel and decided not to set foot in Caracas. The interwebs has various opinions on Caracas. Some will claim that you are guaranteed to spend the night in the boot of a car as your kidnappers wait for another go at your ATM card. Others claim it is maligned and they went to the worst neighourhoods of the place and met such refreshing local people because they are open minded and/or well 'ard. The deciding factor for me was someone from Venezuela who was firmly in the "you will get robbed at the very least". So it's in and out for this Gringo. This means that the only observations I have for the moment are what I could glimpse on the way to the hotel (it looks poor) and the airport itself.

Airports are usually poor barometers of what lies beyond. They are often government ego projects and are usually much cleaner and modern than the country itself. The notable exceptions being Paris CDG (very crap airport but the town is worth a peep) and Heathrow (it's shit and so is London). Simon Bolivar airport does have some interesting features. Everyone and his dog is trying to change money as the government did one of those artificial hyperevaluation thingys that guarantees a thriving black market and a forced re-introduction to basic maths for the backpacker.

Also fun is the revolutionary language. There is a lot of gumph about HC being for the people and a nice use of Bolivarian Socialism (no idea what that entails) as an excuse to make you declare your crap at customs. My favourite though has got be the motto of the Customs bureau (or maybe the whole govt.). It's a wonderful demonstration of the importance of punctuation. In English it's : Country, Socialism or Death, We will vanquish!. Exactly what our the choices on offer are or what will be defeated is amusingly unclear to my pedantic mind.

I had made vague promises of putting a detailed plan of my South America trip on this blog for anyone who wishes to join me. I have already ballsed that up. I got comfy in England and therefore left later than planned. I also have to be in Rio by the 15th. In between I must visit or at least spend some time in Venzuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana. So far my plan is to go to Angel Falls in Venezuala and have a look at the Papillon islands in French Guyana. I haven't chatted to fellow backpackers yet so I don't know what to see and do in the other 2. Basically, any kind of plan will have to wait until Crimbo. Until then it's getting back to travelling with a fun run.

I am already getting in the spirit of being put in annoying circumstances as I think my bank has just frozen my card . I have decided to use my British bank account and am already paying the price as they love to block your card if you use it anywhere else than a home counties Marks and Spencers. The best bit is that you can warn them all you want they will still do it. I wouldn't mind having some Bolivarian Socialism heaped on the clowns that came up with that system.

Anyhoo, It's fun to be blogging again so take care,