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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Got “Taken” in Caracas, Venezuela

As I was planning my trip to the Region of Barlovento, the hub of Afro-Venezuelan culture right down to every last detail, I learned that I had to pass through the notorious capital city of Caracas, ranked #3 as the most dangerous city in the world. Venezuelans living here in the US actually warned me saying, “dude, the barrios of Caracas are way worse than Harlem, where I grew up,  and Oakland, where I now live, which is ranked as #45. One of my co-workers who happened to be from Caracas used to look at me with sad eyes as he kept giving me subtle hints that I should consider other places to spend my vacation. 
Well, when it was all over, I not only came back home healthy, ed, and in one piece, I actually had a nice time. I just happened to have met the right people on www.couchsurfing.com (a web site for travelers) who looked after me, took me in their homes, and showed me around. I didn't notice any hints of all the horrible things I read and heard about Caracas. Even the biggest and the “baddest” hood in the city, Barrio Petare, where I had to catch my bus to Barlovento, appeared tranquil. It was as if I was being watched over by a higher power. I was even able to get a much better exchange rate in Venezuelan currency for my American dollars, thus having much more spending power.
Despite an overall successful trip, only one thing went wrong; nothing as serious as the things of which I've been warned. I got taken for my money buying CDs of Venezuelan music as part of my souvenir collection. In the region of Barlovento, I did not see any major music stores like what we have here in the US, only guys on the street selling pirated CDs. Those CDs turned out to be tolerable, but of poor quality. Even worse, back at the airport while waiting for my flight out of Caracas, there were hordes of young people, many in their teens, hawking their collection of pirated CDs. I bought about $35.00 worth only to find when I got back home that those kids, or whomever they were working for, got over like big, fat rats. Those CDs were blank. 
I just sucked it up as a lesson learned. In the days of iTunes, Spotify, and Rhapsody, I really do not have take anymore risks here or abroad.