Lessons learnt in South America

Today we are paying for our trip up the Orinoco river as we assess the lumps and bumps caused by the nasty river flies. It was a great trip from the sleepy town of Puerto Ayacucho where we learnt a salutory lesson on the dangers of too much sun as the Piaroa tribe who travelled with us gazed at our red scorched skin in amazement.

We also learnt the dangers of too much government interference. The government has taken over the only decent hotel worth staying in the town and the level of service was unbelievably bad, so much so that guests had to check themselves in to dirty rooms as all the staff had abandoned the hotel on New Year’s Eve and left the guests to starve as there was nowhere in the town to buy food or water. Any complaints were met with threatening responses which brought one elderly guest close to tears. We arrived the next day and the restaurant staff advised us with a big smile that they could not serve us as their gas had run out so they could all go home early and the guests could starve again as all other restaurants were still closed.

This evening we are enjoying first class service in a hotel in Ciudad Bolivar which is only fractionally more expensive and wow what a difference some service makes to your stay.

So why such a massive contrast in the levels of service? This is a country in meltdown with many of its population incited to commit violence against its own people. In just 2 days over the New Year holiday 157 people were violently killed in Caracas and journalists are being locked up as their freedom of speech dwindles and TV and radio stations are silenced. Many fear that their ability to travel may be curbed in the future as the country veers towards a Cuba like state with greater state control which will limit their movements and food supply. We’ve met some bright teenagers who are planning to study and work abroad as they are so frustrated with the government and do not see a bright future.

One thing I have learnt on this trip is that too much government interference in business is extremely injurious to levels of customer service. Several banks here have been closed and consolidated and poor customers subjected to the worst banking queues I’ve seen since the fall of Northern Rock with the double whammy of having to queue in intense heat to get access to your money. I trust Mr Brown is taking an interest in the recent events in Venezuela so that he may learn about the dangers of dividing your people by class and too much meddling in business. Meanwhile I shall be investing in more insect repellent and stronger sunscreen and finding a way to Caracas airport without having to visit one of the murder capitals of the world!

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