It’s been 11 days since I left Venezuela and the shock is slowly dissipating. For the first few days I was walking around in a daze, not quite sure what was going on. The heartache of leaving my good friends behind, combined with two long days of flying from Colombia to Mexico to Guatemala to begin a tour through Central America, and being thrust back into ‘tourist’ mode all added to the shock no doubt. However, after just two months in Venezuela, I’d acquired a few habits necessary to survive there, and they haven’t left me yet.
My phone stays locked up in the accommodation when I walk around the towns, or hidden in my luggage when we’re travelling, and I still carry only a small amount of money tucked away in my bra. I don’t wear jewellery because even if they’re just cheap items, there’s a high chance someone will try to steal them from you in Venezuela. I don’t carry a bag, or anything of value. Not even the sneakers I purchased – even on cold days I prefer to wear my flip flops because they’re not attractive to thieves. For identification I take only my drivers licence, tucked away in the waistband of my shorts.
Consequently, I haven’t yet taken any photos of Guatemala or Honduras on the tour. Not that we’ve been anywhere really interesting I’ll admit. We’ve just seen the more touristy places, which honestly end up looking the same as every other place. A few nights ago we stopped in a non touristy town, for 12 hours, just to sleep and break up the long two days of driving to Nicaragua. I could feel the different energy in the place, and some of the other people on the tour complained that it wasn’t a very nice city, it was too dirty and ugly. Well, yes, that’s more like the real Honduras for you. We’re spoilt and protected to on a tour, shown just the selected, polished, ‘acceptable’ areas, and often you don’t see the true grit of a country.
Why bother visiting a country if you’re just going to see the shiny touristy areas and you’re not going to experience it like the locals do? You could ask the same of me for joining the tour, but to be honest, I signed up for it because I’m tired of the constant negotiation and concentration required when travelling by myself. I just wanted someone else to organise all the logistics, all the accommodation and transport, for a few weeks. I haven’t done many of the ‘day tours’ offered, because I’m not interested in spending my time here doing activities – I would rather walk the streets, speak to locals and learn about the place as authentically as possible.
Admittedly, I am equally frustrated and annoyed at some people who ‘holiday’ in their blind, first world bubble, where everything is wonderful, cute and fairytale-ish. They complain about the quality of towels in the bathroom, or the amount of milk and sugar in their cup off tea, or the missing remote control for the air conditioning unit. They seem oblivious to the fact that many people around the world have never felt the soft warmth of a freshly laundered towel, and many people are grateful just to have some food and shelter, let alone the luxury of milk and sugar or air conditioning. Don’t complain to me about sitting in the cocoon of a tour bus for eight hours when thousands of people are standing in a line for eight or more hours in the hope of buying one kilogram of powdered milk at the supermarket, once every week.
I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh though, for if you don’t notice the woman with three kids squirming around in the line behind you, in desperate need of a toilet, why should I expect you to notice the bigger concerns of a country? If you are so self centred to bang your wheeled suitcase down two flights of stairs at 5am and wake everyone else up, because you packed too much and you can’t carry it, why should I expect you to be conscious of what really happens in the countries you’re visiting?
Yes, I’m extra sensitive at the moment. Living in Venezuela was a shock, and required such intense brain activity that my head is still in overdrive. I’ve found it difficult to ‘relax’ on this tour, when so many things seem trivial, common occurrences still make me nervous, and I’m still stringent about basic necessary items. I don’t care if your hairdryer doesn’t work on the power supply in Guatemala – at least we have constant power and running water all day, every day here.
Forgive me if I’m jumpy every time someone approaches our bus when we’re stopped at traffic lights, or when a motorbike rider comes close to where we walk – the memory of all the robberies that occur in Venezuela are still fresh in my mind. I’ve always been careful to save things like napkins and serviettes, and am more so now because that was often the only toilet paper I had in Venezuela. When I was offered some real toilet paper I was reluctant to use it because I knew how rare it was.
Even after just two months of restricted food supplies in Venezuela, I was surprised by my surprise at the variety of items in the supermarket the day I crossed the border back to Colombia. There were so many things to choose from, so many flavours and colours, I was like a kid in a toy shop. I stood in the middle of each aisle, amazed. And sad. Sad that the reality I’d experienced for just 67 days was what some young people were growing up with, believing was normal. And who, for some people, would remain that way for what time they have left on this earth.
Having travelled from Venezuela to Honduras, the two countries listed as having the world’s highest murder rates, the main differences are:
The reasons you’re likely to be killed. Most of the homicides in Honduras, are concentrated in the capital of San Pedro Sula, and are drug and gang related; Murders in Venezuela occur everywhere, and are for small individual items like mobile (cell) phones, small amounts of money, jewelery, shoes and clothes
Hondurans earn a minimum salary of $300USD per month; Venezuelans earn a minimum of $9USD per month
Hondurans are free to move to neighbouring countries at will; Venezuelans are effectively trapped in their own country. The government has closed the land borders with neighbouring countries indefinitely, so unless you have money to pay for a flight out, you can’t leave the country