Last week was a rapid immersion into Venezuelan culture – meringue and salsa music blaring loudly at every corner, spirits consumed by the bottle and not the glass, fast highways with mega potholes, tropical heat and white sand beaches. A week later, having covered more than 1500 miles, we are still the only Western tourists in sight. We are now up in the mountains in the pleasant town of Trujillo, hemmed in by a mountain gorge and have just been up to see one of the tallest Virgin Marys standing 1700m up on a nearby mountain top, clutching a white dove. It’s an amazing feat of engineering and an incredible amount of concrete. You can climb inside the statue to the top and peer out of her eyes at the surrounding mountain views. This is a bit of a challenge as the last few steep iron stairs appear to give the locals the “heebee jeebies” as they don’t like heights.
The other night we stayed high up in the mountains at a Posada which resembled a hobbit house, complete with pixie characters carved out of wood. It was an oasis of calm and we were treated to the tastiest homestyle traditional breakfast yet, complete with eggs, black beans, stewed beef and steaming hot arepas. After breakfast the Posada owners pointed out all the local spider holes which looked like buried cream hose pipes complete with perfectly formed lids and the local freshwater aquarium in their own personal wilderness, complete with lily pads and goldfish.
We asked the Posada owner why there had been huge queues outside the bank in the colonial town of Coro, the day before. Apparently several banks had been closed and had been merged into the Banco de Venezuela so people had to use this branch. I started to think that maybe what we have recently witnessed in the UK was now hitting this country as production has declined by over 19% over the past year.
The bank queues reminded me of a time when we got stranded in Northern Brazil many years ago when the government closed the banks for five days due to an economic crisis. We had to take refuge in a fishing village for a week until people knew the value of money again. Fortunately money still seems to flow freely here unlike the huge expensive 4x4s on the road which clog most of the narrow streets in the towns. The shanty towns that cover the hills around Caracas and the shacks we have passed en route show that there is still much to be done to eradicate poverty here.
You might ask what all this has to do with Enterprise Britain but sometimes you have to travel away from your own country to appreciate the benefits you have. Despite fleeing the UK’s alleged sub zero temperatures this winter I am pleased that I am not hindered by police check points at every state border which is a part of Venezuelan life. So far the police have been very cordial but I couldn’t help thinking they were trying to find something wrong so they could extort some favour from us. Few women appear to drive here so I think I had inadvertently drawn attention to our car by taking the wheel.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year and may your business flourish in 2010. Let’s be thankful for all the good things about the UK that enable us to run our businesses without the hassles that other countries have to endure.