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Caracas Venezuela:: When saving $400 dollars almost gets you put in airport jail.

February 27, 2007

So on friday I set out for what I knew was going to be a sorrowful 4 flight, 4 country, 16 hour journey from Trinidad to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Let me first start off by saying that when I was buying these tickets in October I discovered an odd truth ….. it would be much easier and cheaper for me to get to BA from Kansas City, MO than from Port of Spain, Trinidad… which is located directly off the coast of Venezuela and is geographically about halfway between home and Argentina. Why do you ask? That I am still not quite certain of. Maybe there is no demand for people from Trinidad to get to South America even though they are right next to each other so airlines don´t have many routes from Trinidad to SA. Which I know can´t be entirely true because the last time I came to Carnival I came through Caracas Venezuela. At any rate, when I was buying tickets the Trinidad— BA leg was proving to be very difficult, so me and my equally creative travel agent came up with what we thought would be a trying yet workable and affordable alternative. From Trinidad I would take a 45 minute flight to Margarita Island, Venezuela where I would then take another 45 min flight to Caracas, Venezuela, where I would take a 2 hour flight to Bogota, Columbia where I would then take a 6 hour flight to BA, Argentina and voila! ……. but that would only work if everything went off without a hitch but I thought I had enough layover time in between everything in case something went wrong. Think again lady.

When I arrived in Caracas after my second flight I had 3 1/2 hours between flights. I did as my travel agent had instructed previously, collected my baggage and then looked around for the carrier of my next flight Aerolineas Argentina. Hmmmm, looking, looking…….. pacing, pacing… I saw many airlines, but no Aerolineas Argentina. So I tried asking people at various ticket counters, they all just looked at me like ¨look you non Spanish speaking freak of fucking nature there is no Aerolineas airline here and get the hell out of my country!¨, which I can´t really blame them we treat Spanish speakers no different in the US and Venezuela isn´t really our best friend right now (damn Geoge Duubuya!!) so I start to majorly sweat at this point. I have in my hand a ticket for an airline that doesn´t seem to exist. Then I saw a sign that said International somethingsomething with an arrow pointing to another building, apperantly all the international flights fly out of another building in the airport and I was in the domestic part since I flew from Margarita Island to Caracas. By now an hour has gone by……. still have plenty of time. So me and my luggage roll down the sidewalk about a half a mile to the international building. Hmmm, I see American Airlines, I see Air France, I see Continental, I see Delta Airlines…… still no Aerolineas Argentina. So I ask around and still noone seems to have a clue what the hell I´m talking about (you would think that they would speak English at Continental or American Airlines, but ummm no, not in Caracas) and it took some more hard core investigative work but I finally found the tiny tiny Aerolineas Argentina desk. Whew! With still an hour and a half to spare.

Home free? Nope not hardly. So I am checking in with the ticket guy and he gives me my boarding pass, and then writes ¨$61 USD¨ on a scrap piece of paper, rattles off something in spanish and nods me toward some man in the corner. Umm ok? So through another ticket counter person who spoke a tiny bit of English the man in the corner told me that I had to pay a departure tax of $61 US dollars. Ummm departure tax? But I am in transit…….. how could I owe a departure tax? So as I am trying to discuss this in a ass backwards psuedo Spanish way with the people atthe airline and then they write down on a piece of paper $61 USD $132 USD. Ummm did the departure tax just double in the past 20 seconds? So at this point I am trying to figure out if this is a real fee or if this is some airport bribery/take advantage of the foreigner who can´t speak the language Nigerian style type stuff. I only had an hour before my flight left and only $40 US in cash and about $10 US worth of TT (Trinidad currency) and so I decided to just go to the ATM and get out the Venezualan equivalent of $61 dollars and chalk it up as a lost so that I can make the flight. …………. Long story short, I go to 10 different ATMs in the airport, all with different banks and none of them are recognizing my debit card. O and did I mention that they couldn´t take credit cards at the airline counter? O yea thats a wonderfully fun fact. So after 30 minutes of pure frustration at the ATM I go back to the desk not sure what my next course of action will be. The best plan I could come up with would be to go to the internet cafe in the airport, look up the nearest Citibank ATM and hop in a cab and pray that it would work. But there was no time for that. ……and if at this point you are wondering why I don´t use travellers cheques… they wouldn´t have helped in this situation either because there was no where to cash them. The Friday´s in the Caracas airport wouldn´t even accept them, (nor would they swipe my credit or debit card and give me cash for it but that was a long shot anyway). So walking back to the counter the only plan I could come up with was to offer them the $40 USD that I did have and just beg, plead, and cry if necessary. My worst fear of missing this flight and then having to come out of my pocket $700 bucks was just not an option.

Well when I arrived back at the desk there were two Chliean men having the exact same problem and one of them spoke English very well. He sympathized with my stressed out face and told me to just pretend that we were all traveling together and to just stay quiet and let me do the talking. So I did. Through translation of the arguements the Chilean man (Robert) said something to me about airport jail, and then he turned to me and asked me “do you pray?” and I said yes and he replied “well I think its about time we start doing so because we are running out of options”. So I did. At a point I even tried to cry because the men seemed to get more helpful the more distressed I looked……. but I was so dehydrated that my tear ducts would not cooperate. Finally, about an hour later, after several heated discussions with the airport authority, the venezuelan tax authority and customs …… they just let us go. I think they just got tired. We only made the flight because it was delayed for an hour and half …….. good ole Caracas.

What I figured later is this, while technically I was still in transit (so in my mind I wouldn´t have had to pay a departure tax)…… since the second leg of the trip was a domestic flight (from Porlamalar Venezuela to Caracas Venezuela) they considered that ¨leaving the airport¨because I had to collect my baggage and walk over to the international side in order to check in with Aerolineas. Even though I was still technically in transit when I went through customs on Margarita Island (which is absolutely gorgeous by the way) and then checked in for my flight to Caracas it was considered ¨leaving the airport” because I went through customs….. but its not like I had a choice. Damn me and my funky flight plan.

Lesson Learned:: Dont spend a Quarter trying to save a dime. Though I didn´t end up paying, the emotional stress during those 3 hours was enough to make me look for another alternative. Other lesson? Carry more US dollars on me when travelling through SA….. people love it here.

Let me say it one more time…….. I HATE Caracas Venezuela. I knew that before, but my hate for the city, or more aptly that airport is on a whole new level now.

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14 comments

  1. Tell me about it…

    http://travelvice.com/archive/2007/04/caracas-should-be-nuked.php


  2. I enjoyed reading the POS-BA, via Caracas travel stories. Confirmed i need to brush up on my spanish before going July 08 for a couple weeks. And avoid Caracas. Copa Airlines is supposed to start a route to Panama City in Dec from Port of Spain. And so is a local charter co called Constellation. Direct flights should be easy from there to BA…………I hope.


  3. I’ll post on here next week when I’ve left Venezuela via Caracas. Keeping my fingers crossed…flying from Merida to Caracas to Miami. More as it happens!


  4. The Caracas airport and its employess are infamous for their rude behavior and non professionalism, along with their partners the airport police they intentionally hassle tourists , instilling fears o they can defraud tourists in any way possible. This has been going on for many years with no improvements. Best idea is to avoid Venezuela whenever possible- after all if you do not speak Spanish they are somehow insulted????¿ duh?. Their command of the language being the only edge they have in your presence- Forget them- they are proud to be ignorant


  5. I’m flying in a few hours from BA to Caracas to Valera… after reading these stories, I am expecting the worst!! At least I’m fluent in Spanish, but I’m not sure how far my Canadian passport will help if I end up in these situations. I pray the ATM works for me as Buenos Aires isn’t the best place to buy US cash. Ah! Why do I live in South America? (Ah… because I’m addicted to South America… right…) Cross your fingers for me! jeje. suerte todos


  6. That airport is just the worst thing of the whole country. Most employees are chavistas (they have to) and after so many “revolutionar brain-washing” hours they hate foreigners. It’s sad because that airport is supposed to be the gate of the country. So the worst place to know Venezuelans is that airport or any public office. Add to that the dollar-craving of most Venezuelans, since we can’t buy any foreign currency and the inflation rate is at 30% so saving in Venezuelan currency is just stupid.
    Sorry for the rest of us, and better luck for you next time.
    PS: The city is just OK if just stay in the East Side. But the rest of the country is much better.


  7. Welcome to Caracas. We fly through here twice a year visiting relatives (my wife is Venezuelan) and its a nightmare. It takes up to 2 hours to get bags back and everything has been opened.
    My wife has just arrived back with the children and the departure tax has doubled again without notice. Same problems as above nobody will exchange money and cards don’t work in the machines. Believe me speaking Spanish and even being Venezuelan do not help. We have promised for several years never to fly through Caracas again and enter through Maracaibo. This year has been the final nail in the coffin and if we can avoid Charles de Gaulle (wonderful city crap airport) that would be a bonus.
    Venezuela and the people are great, but the airport gives a terrible impression. They have improved the building but its still crap.
    I believe the saying goes “you can put lipstick on a pig………”.


  8. I live in San Diego, Ca and plan to visit venezuela this yr where would you suggest is the best place to arrive at?after reading all of the above I’m concerned..your reply and suggestion will be very much appreciated Thank you!


  9. good luck to me and all after me..


  10. The best place to enter the country is through Maracaibo. Not much hassel and friendly people. Be ready to wait about 15-30 minutes for your luggage and security checkpoint.


  11. Melissa

    To Port of Spain in Trinidad and from there to Margarita Island is a good option as well. Depends where you wish to visit in Venezuela.

    David


  12. Am stuck in fuck
    ing caracas right now and having travelled through every south american country except the guayanas, can honestly say the worst place on the continent. Hope the rest of ve is better.


  13. I have just returned from Venezuela, where I spent several months living in Caracas. Contrary to what has been expressed above, the majority of Venezuelans do not hate foreigners, nor have they been brainwashed by the government to do so. Most of them are quite friendly and helpful, especially once they realise that you’re above board. Security is major factor of concern in Caracas and it leads to the residents adopting a cautious posture with strangers in case they’re planning to rob them.

    The country is extremely insular and only a minority are bilingual or have been abroad, even just to neighbouring countries, Other languages are usually dubbed into Spanish on free-to-air TV, this means unless they have access to cable to satellite, it’s rare for them to hear other languages. This leads to a culture shock when they encounter foreigners because they’re unable to fathom people existing who speak any other language.

    There is a strand however who are ignorant, hostile and bigoted towards the outside world and the people that inhabit it. Unfortunately that strand all appear to work at Caracas’ Main Airport. I spent 7 and half hours there resolving problems with my ticket and I faced constant harassment from the airport staff and military who subjected me to ten times more searches and questioning than Venezuelans and white foreigners received. My black face and British passport made me a constant target for unfair treatment.

    They refused to obtain an interpreter and a female airport worker shouted at me that I should “learn Spanish!” after I requested a translator simply because I did not understand her questions. The soldiers became aggressive, intimidating and angry with me because of my poor command of the Spanish language. They made it quite clear that they suspected I must have drugs somewhere and thought it hilarious to play practical jokes at my expense and ask demeaning questions that they didn’t ask their own citizens or white westerners.

    In a nutshell, by all means visit Venezuela – I had a lovely time on the whole but think twice if you do not speak much Spanish. Also, avoid Caracas Main Airport if you are a western foreigner of colour – you will be racially profiled and treated like a criminal.


  14. I have the same experience about the airport in Caracas! Me and my husband came 2 days ago from our trip from Cuba and we had a transit at the airport in Caracas. I will tell you what happend so maybe somebody can help me cause I’m freaking out !! So, the lady at the Havana airport made a mistake and put on our luggage ticket with final destination Caracas and not Madrid, as she was supose to do. When we arrive in Caracas we were looking everywhere where to pick up our luggage but nobody helped us. Like you say-if you don’t speak spanish you are not welcome and they will not help you.I found one girl who was speaking spanish and english and they told her that we can’t pick up the luggage cuz it’s on other terminal and we are on transit and we have to pay taxes if we want them and blah blah..That security guy told us that he will arrange to send them on the airplane which will go to Madrid, After some hours we tried (the girl we met) to ask what happend and if they arranged it and some other guy came to take our code number. he returned and said that everything is fine-our luggage will be at the airport of Madrid. Of course, it wasn’t like that! we report it and still wait for Caracas airport people to respond…. I called the office of Conviasa in Madrid 10000 times in last 2 days but the only answer is- we don;t have any information. So, I please somebody to help me and tell me what to do !!! I can’t call the airport of Caracas cuz I don’t speak spanish..Thank in advance !!



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