Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela II – The Pointing Lips Manifestation (May 2018)

1st part

5. Is it safe to travel?

As safe as the Vatican… for a child.

Did I have any bad experience? Absolutely,I went to a bar where they played Jarabe de Palo and Melendi… twice!. OK, just after that I got robbed in the main square in Merida. They punched me in the face and took my $30 phone I had for the occasion. Usually these are straightforward deal, where the mugger pulls a pistol and takes your phone. But the poor dudes didn’t even have a gun so they assaulted me and left me with a bleeding nose and a purple eye. A minor incident compared to listening to Pau Dones “Bonito”. Have to say I was not in my best condition after spending $2 in beer, but that didn’t stop me from moving to the next bar and keep partying.

But hey, someone said that thief is the most honest business transaction, and going to Venezuela and not being robbed is like going to Amsterdam and not…

6. Will Nicolas Maduro anally rape you while scratching his mustache on your back?

Very unlikely, he is too busy plundering the country.

Murió Bolívar y dejó un caballo blanco; el Zorro dejó un caballo negro; Simón Díaz dejó un caballo viejo;…..murió Chávez y dejó un burro !

Someone. You may not know Spanish or understand the references, google is your friend. Or just ignore and carry on
Pico Humboldt. Last Venezuelan glacier. Fading because of global warming, don’t blame Maduro on this

7. Is Venezuela a dictatorship?

It depends where you draw the line. Let’s say it’s not Saudi Arabia, but the democracy levels nowadays are lower than anywhere else in the region. There are elections, but they seem quite rigged. When it comes to deal with authorities, corruption is the norm.

El Comandante

8. What about poverty?

The economy is collapsed. However, extreme poverty doesn’t seem evident. I didn’t see more people begging in the streets than in other places of South America. The saddest sights probably come from Cucuta (Colombia) where many Venezuelans are living on the streets after crossing the border on foot.

So if you want to be featured in humanitarians of tinder, stick to Africa or India. The darker, the best. Always.

9. Show me the money!

Sometime soon, likely one Scandinavian county, will claim to be the first cashless economy, but Venezuela did that already in 2018. Only city buses and a few more things were paid in cash

Pretty much all the Venezuelan bolivars were abroad, mainly in Cucuta so transactions were made by card, or by bank transfer with mobile apps.

When I was there the official exchanges was $1 = 80 bolivars, but market rate was $1 = 650000 bolivars credit or 250000 cash. A bit before my arrival they started to print 100k notes so I was lucky to get a bunch of those. Before bolivars where sold by weight in Cucuta as all the notes were something like 100.

Inflation was above 100% per month, and minimum wage about $3 per month. Prices were changing every day, so was the exchange rate. Imported goods had dollarized prices, so similar to other countries, but local ones were next to free for foreigners

Some reference prices (in bolivars, remember $1 = 650k B or 250k cash):

  • 1 bolivarian beer (22cl) in a nice bar 90k
  • 1 liter bolivarian gasoline 1 or 6 (depending on octanes), yes $1 = 250k liters!
  • Bolivarian city bus ticket 2k (only cash). As most people were only carrying notes of 100 or 50, this was not an easy transaction :), so often need a bag to carry cash
  • 8h bolivarian night bus 450k
  • 40kgs of bolivarian mangoes 80k
  • 1 iced bolivarian coconut 30k
  • Bolivarian bananas, cheaper than bolivarian mangoes
  • OK, I stop… Vegetarian meal 75k (only cash)
  • 1 Pizza in fancy restaurant 600k
  • 1 kg rice 450k
  • 1kg arepas flour 400k
  • 1 SIM card with call and internet for 1 month 90k
  • 1 Stamp for international post 200B (not 200k, only cash) Of course post never arrived. I could write a chapter about my adventures in the post office, next time.
  • Big apartment with 3 rooms $50 month (gringo price)
  • 4 rolls of toilette paper 450k
  • 50 post cards 2000 (only cash), so yes, 1 roll of toilette paper = 15oo post cards (approx) They are a bit rough, but do the job
  • 1 wisdom tooth removal 3.5M
  • For geeks, you can buy Venezuelan state made laptops that they give for free to students and come with Canima OS, the world famous Bolivarian linux distribution

10. Why so much queuing?

Long queues with people waiting inline for hours are as intrinsic to Venezuelan landscape as arepas, and they are not trying to buy the latest iPhone. There maybe several reasons: buying bus tickets, gasoline, public services related, girls that knew I was in town, or just system is down for whatever… But two are the 3 most common:

  • Bank. It was only possible to withdraw 10K from an ATM per day. The bank system was collapsed and banking procedures gruelling.
  • Shops, a truck with subsidized food arrives in the morning with whatever comes that day. Items are rationed, ie 1kg rice per head at 1k Bolivars.
  • Colombian border, Venezuelans fleeing the country. There is a good amount smuggling going on at that border in both directions as well.
Bolivarian lake

11. How are Venezuelans?

Super friendly, honest and usually well educated. They are good fun and very welcoming. Met some amazing people there. And they point at things with their lips! how awesome is that? You don’t have to raise your arm or move a finger.

Bolivarian fun

12. How is it to travel in Venezuela

Things are changing from one day to another so it depends when you go. A few months after I left they cut 5 zeros to the currency, there was cash flowing again and prices were not that cheap for foreigners, a beer went up to almost $1. The government put in place some ideas to recover the economy, like a cryptocurrency called “Petro” or giving citizens gold mini-ingots to protect savings from inflation. Surprisingly they failed 🤷‍♂️.

One thing is for sure anytime you go and won’t change soon, the chaos. Buses break and don’t get fixed, power cuts, water cuts, internet cuts… and services not working are a constant and it doesn’t the situation will improve any time soon. Not as bad as the Western media depictions, but still quite.

Traveling in Venezuela is an experience totally different to anywhere else. It may feel like a black mirror dystopia. I am very happy I went, but was happy of leaving as well. It’s amazing to see how humans adapt to change and difficult environments. I am not Paulo Coelho, so I am not gonna give here a cheap philosophical speech. Just going to say, that I felt privileged to be able to go and leave when I pleased, unlike most Venezuelans that have to live with it.

Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela I: The Toilette Paper Dissipation (May 2018)

“Bienvenido a la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela, en esta aduana no se habla mal de Chavez” – That’s the first sign I saw at the border. Then I had to wait 1 hour to get my passport stamped as the “system was down”. It couldn’t start better.

I painted. I wanted to be a painter. I sang. – Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías

Toilette paper scarcity is a trend nowadays, but I experienced that in Venezuela much before it became mainstream, suck it hipsters. Same can be said about a cashless society, but more about that later.

Probably, this post is unnecessary as you may already be an expert in Venezuelan affairs. As a Galician you may not have a clue who is Portugal’s prime minister, still, that won’t deter you to mention Venezuela in any political discussion. How many activists were killed during last Colombian elections or in a regular basis in Brazil? The 43 students that “vanished” in Oaxaca with narcopresident Peña Nieto looking the other side were soon forgotten. Honduras coup? Haiti? Paraguay? To mention some. Who cares… A hair falling from Maduro’s mustache will get more newspaper headlines than the Saudi army bombing hundreds of people in Yemen. And don’t get me wrong, the situation in Venezuela is critical.

Some Spanish politicians be like

I don’t want to go further into politics, but if you either support the current government or the international embargo I think you are not well informed or just an asshole.

To the point, I am going to give my views and experiences in an opinionated Q/A fashion. Most of it based on Merida and the Andean area where I spent most of my time.

1. Is there toilette paper?

The most important question first.Despite of what I wrote before, there is. Not the easiest item to come across, neither the cheapest. Do not worry, your pretty asshole will do fine unless… nr. 6 happens (yes, that’s in next post, a proper cliffhanger). You will be fine in Venezuela, but ff this is a big concern for you stick to the touristic spots when in Asia..

Found it

2. What do you need to get in?

A valid passport, and a picture of Hugo Chavez.

Bolivarian landscape

3. Is there food?

No, to survive 20 days I had to learn how to do photosynthesis.

Seriously yes, and fairly tasty for South American standards. Most shops have a limited stock but if you go to the central market you will be surprised by the range of food, even many products you wouldn’t find in Colombia.

4. How is it with police officers-army?

Lovely. A real charm. During my stay, I took off my clothes more times for them than for women. They even offer me to sleep in jail for free. They loved chatting with me and were very concerned about my personal issues, checking very often my phone (WhatsApp, fb, pictures…)

They stopped me countless times, usually checking my backpack, I guess they wanted to make sure I have everything with me and my dollars were safe, sweethearts!. Once they even took me off a bus in the middle of nowhere at 1am and retained me for 4 hours of “friendly” chatting. Let’s say we were discussing Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. You’ve got to love them!

Some fine lyrics towards the end

2nd part

Putingrad (May 2017)

So the other day I was having a few beers with my friends Siri and Alexa and they told me I should get back to writing. Not sure it is a good idea but at least I am not trying to make bread. So here we go…

In recent years, Chechnya has become one of the hottest worldwide tourist destinations. Flocks of tourists arrive daily in Grozny to discover the Vegas of the Caucasus. With its characteristic neon lights, the famous party city never sleeps. The place indeed looks much like Las Vegas, just without the casinos, the booze, the hookers, the bars … OK, maybe Grozny is not like Vegas. Actually, I have never been to Vegas, but a friend of mine has. I don’t know.

Fun fun fun, look at the smiles

However, Grozny is a fun place to be and there are plenty of things to do. Such as go for walks in the parks, well, the park, there is only one. But you can walk on the streets, they are quite noisy and dusty though. You can go to the mosque. You can watch people, don’t expect much skin though, because of sharia 🤷‍♂️OK, maybe Grozny is a shithole, but I can say I was there. After all, that is what traveling is about.

If S. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad and Volgograd, Stalingrad (more on Stalin here ), Grozny could well be named Putingrad. The main avenue is Prospekt (Avenue) Putina. All around the city you will find portraits of the sexy Russian President and the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, for ladies’ enjoyment. I would say gay men as well, but Ramzan said there are none there 🙀

So who is this Kadyrov guy? He may not be as hot as his friend Vladimir, but he has his charm with his goat-shagger ginger beard. Ramzan is the son of former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov. Akhmad was a pro-independence leader but he switched sides after Vladimir used his diplomacy, and by diplomacy I mean rubles. So the war was over, the Kadyrov’s were allowed to rule their Islamic Republic as they felt and Putin and Europe were pleased as the oil and gas from Kazahkstan and Azerbaijan kept flowing throw the Chechen pipelines.  That’s the recent history of the place, a short version, my side of it. And Grozny was rebuilt after the war, and now is a good place to live, unless you are a woman, or gay (there are none I forgot). Or you want a beer, or any kind of freedom or human rights, or having fun, or air quality…

Manliest pic ever

Highway to Heaven

In the previous season (6 years ago). Not sure if that would be possible at this time as the Chinese government triggered article 155 on Xinjiang giving Uyghurs a hard time. For “security reasons” (they don’t want you to know what is happening), foreigners cannot roam freely now around some areas. This time I visited the other side of the Karakoram Highway, Gilgit-Baltistan.
Accommodation here often comes with a small carpet so you can pray to Allah for the WiFi to work. Some hight-tech toilette adaptors as well to please gora ass.

Better than Japan

Transport can involve going on top of vehicles, from buses to fire engines or police cars.

Better than air-con

Passu is a quiet place dominated by the Passu towers. There are a couple of glaciers around, a lake good for swimming… A few short treks can be done, in one of them, I had to fight one of my worst enemies, bridges, that here come to a new level.

Looks safe

Minapin is a pretty green village with the usual suspects of this area: friendly locals, goats, yummy cherries, plenty of apricots and some greenery.


From there you can hike to pretty Rakaposhi base camp, and from that one cross a glacier to the Diran one.

Rakaposhi 7.8K approx

Vakaposhi (only makes sense in Spanish)

Kabraposhi (same)

El Clásico

There are some rivalries in sports that transcend the limits of the game being played: Barca – Madrid, Celtic -Rangers, Boca – River, Olympiacos – Panathinaikos…But no doubt the two most important are Depor – Celta and Chitral – Gilgit.

Having witnessed the 1st a few times it was time to aim for the 2nd. The highest polo ground in the world is located at Shandur pass where every year a festival happens. It’s a 3 days event with the big match happening on the last one.

It’s free polo, which means everything is allowed, from hitting the opponent with the stick, to force their horse to listen to Ed Sheeran during the game. There are some basic rules though: you need to ride a horse; donkeys, llamas or komodo dragons or Land Rovers are not allowed.

To get there I was lucky to join a Dutch daredevil who drives his van like a Pakistani and share some crazy travel stories. Certainly, the road was not like a German motorway .
We were lucky to join as well some friendly Pashtuns and a couple of gora (foreigners, get used to the word) who treated as too well and end up spending together a few days. There are some places famed for the locals’ hospitality, like Indonesia or Iran, but here it seems to reach a new level.
Thanks to them, we camped by the government tents and were given free food and VIP access to all events, such as local dancing and of course, the big game. And the usual escort with an AK47.
After midnight, while having a bonfire, the Minister of Tourism came to greet us. A bit disappointing as for a person of my rank I wouldn’t expect less than the Prime Minister. As well we had a few interviews with TV channels and local “influencers”. Being a celebrity is not easy.
Oh, and the most important, Chitral bit Giligit 6-5, in case you were wondering.

The Cheapest Beer in the World – Top 13

Tired of reading useless crap on this blog? Well, here you have a post with some useful information.
Disclaimer: As any ranking, it is subjective and a bit random. Usually based on bar prices at the time I was there. Don’t complain if after reading this you take the first flight to Dushanbe and get charged 50c for a beer. Any suggestion is welcomed, What? Did you find cheaper beer? Where? Burundi you said? I am going!

Please drink responsibly, don’t spill your beer

Hors catégorie – República Bolivariana de Venezuela

About €0.11 for a 22cl ice-cold Polar in a bar (May 2018). Approx price as it can go up overnight so can do the currency exchange.

Other things to do… Find toilette paper and not getting robbed

1. Tajikistan

€0.32 will get you a pint in the local bars around the bazaar in the capital. They pump it from the keg like when you inflate bike tire. The company and curiosity of friendly locals come free. Be careful or you can end up in jail.

Other things to do… Have a buzkashi game

2. Myanmar

From €0.40 a pint, omnipresent beer stations will keep you well hydrated on those hot Burmese days Orwell used to talk about.

Other things to do… Chew on betel nut

3. Georgia

From 1.5-2 lari (0.50-0.70€). Wine and chacha are dirt cheap as well.

Other things to do… Stalin

4. Ukraine

Probably the cheapest in Europe, good range, and quality as well!

Other things to do… Fight for the Donetsk People’s Republic

5. Cambodia

From $0.50 33cl of draft beer.

Other things to do… Blow up a cow with a rocket launcher

6. Czech Republik

It’s said that beer in Prague is cheaper than water. I can’t tell as I didn’t drink water while there. Most Eastern European countries are a good deal as well (Poland, Slovakia, Albania, Belarus, Hungary, the Baltics…) The word “piv@” will get you a long way.

Other things to do… Absinthe

7. Samara, Russia

The Zhiguli brewery is by the Volga. Probably, you will have to queue to get a bottle filled with a hose (1.5l or 5l are the only choices). Then you can join the friendly local folks and enjoy your beer watching the sunset over the river. More on next episodes…

Other things to do… Nothing. The Lada factory is just 90 km away, sadly I haven’t been.

8. China

If your choice of beer is usually the likes of Corona, Heineken, Cruzcampo, Fosters… you will like it there. I was in doubt whether to include China in this list, but well the title says “cheap”, not “good”. Ice cold big bottle of beer at 0.5€. Still, you will need to down a few to feel something or forget about the taste.

Other things to do… Jackie Chan spotting, play real-life Mahjong

9. Nicaragua

Local beers Victoria and Toña are not bad. Rum drinks (mojitos included) are inexpensive as well.

Other things to do… Volcano boarding

10. Laos

1 euro for a 660ml Beerlao, though for the same price you have a liter of Lao Lao (rice whisky, about 40%).

Other things to do… Crash a wedding, opium

11. Kyrgyzstan

If you feel like having a refreshing break from the vodka and kymys (fermented mare milk) you will be forced to drink, a beer won’t break your bank.

Other things to do… Bride kidnapping

12. Belgium

Certainly not the cheapest but I decided to add it because it is the best in the world and totally worth what you pay. Nowadays there is a big worldwide hip about craft beer, meaning you can find great beers and many choices in a lot of places but long before, top quality stuff was being brewed at Belgian abbeys. Good that monks keep their hands with the hops instead of children.

Other things to do… The disappointment tour: Manneken Pis + Atomium + EU bureaucrats

13. Lidl

All around Europe. Especially useful in the most expensive countries. Good value for your money and fairly good beers. And no, I don’t get sponsored by Lidl.

Other things to do… Buy bananas

Hard work

White Shit

This is still about Georgia, haven’t been to Colombia yet, so it refers to Snow. And by Snow, I mean frozen water, not John Snow, the GoT character who died in the last episode of Season 7.

Mountains are calling and I must go. After the first easy days, it was time to start to travel in style, and it all began with this pretty red bus that 4 times a week goes to Barisakho. Despite the color without the help of locals would be hard to find in the Didube marshrutka station. Didube is an interesting place that hosts about half of Georgian touts, though they are very few and quite low profile. Having to wait there is not a problem, as you can have a pint of beer for 1.5 lari (€0.56), very likely some local will buy you a second one.
I spent the first night in Barishako with a lovely lady who explained a big deal about the Orthodox Saints spread around her house, in Russian. Next day I hiked to Roshka and was intended to get to the 3 colored Abudelauri Lakes. Not even close, big fail. Shits loads of snow, sinking in every step with my backpack and dangerous falls into water creeks.
Back to Roshka and if possible try to find a guesthouse as I wouldn’t fancy to camp at -10. The tiny village was still empty as locals only come with their cattle after the snow melts and grass grows. I saw a girl in one house and went to ask. She asked what the hell was I doing there. Hey Miss, I am usually the one asking that question… on Sunday mornings 🙂 Turns out, it was the only guesthouse, but not yet open.

Dangerous local wildlife

I was the first tourist of the season, yay! Apparently, you should go after mid-June. Otherwise, the lakes are frozen. She was lovely and told me I could stay with her and her parents. I had a great time with them, Georgian hospitality didn’t let me down. I end up staying a couple of days and going back with her to Tbilisi.
On my second day, now without the backpack, I made a 2nd aim for the lakes. Failed again after much snow fighting. Too risky to go alone. Still, the hike around was worth it and got close to the stunning Chaukhi range. Apparently, it was the snowiest year in a long time in the Caucasus. If I keep writing, expect more whining about the white shit, this time not about the price.
On my way back I saw 3 Giorgis hanging out. Every man in Georgia is named Giorgi, same as any woman is Nino. For the look of it, I had a guess of what was going on and what was gonna happen. Not a big surprise, they were not having craft beer and hummus.

Chacha o’clock

As soon as they spotted me from the distance they signed me to join them.  In Georgia you don’t look for chacha, chacha finds you. A session of heavy drinking, toasting, and cheerful singing-dancing followed. There is no drinking in Georgia without toasting first and they are good at it. At some point, they will ask you to propose a toast. Say “for Armenia”, they would love it.

No one step back

Gori is not far from Tbilisi and only famous for being the birthplace of Stalin. Long time no see Joseph!. There is a Stalin Museum, located in the Stalin Park, on the main city avenue named… can you guess it? Leon Trotsky? Milton Friedman? Nope, it is the Stalin Avenue.

As the museum doesn’t make any attempt to judge, neither I am going to do here. There you can find random stuff about the State Capitalist leader: statues, carpets, his train, lots of pictures, his pyjamas… As well, many Stalin souvenirs in the surroundings shops.

Another thing nearby you can see (or avoid) is Upshtilike cave city, just saying.

It has been already one week of traveling so let’s see how I am doing with my travel goals list:

Find the cheapest beer in town (€0.56 a pint) ✔
Hitchhike ✔
Lost/damege electronic devices (casio & powerbank) ✔
Learn local language basics:hello, thank you and I didn’t know she was 16 in local ✖
Drinking the local moonlight ✔
Going in a bus with chicken ✔
Crash into a wedding ✖
Small scam from a local tout ✔

Tbilisi loves you

The free wifi network “Tbilisi loves you” will greet you as you arrive at the airport (great for sleeping btw). The same lovable network will follow you around the city center, to make sure you don’t miss on the latest news in Venezuela, your friends’ meals on FB, or your Tinder matches, if that is your thing.

Soon I could see some of the familiar features of former Soviet countries cities: krushyovkas, marshutkas, ladas, leafy big avenues, deep underground with a lady in a cabin by the escalator, supermarkets with a larger variety of vodka and beer than food… That makes easier figuring out how things work. Sure there are some nice differentials particular to the Georgian landscape: khachapuri in all shapes and sizes, good food, and smiley people that even seem kind of happy.

Stalin Chacha, more about Joseph in the next episode…

Overall, Tbilisi is a pretty pleasant city. It has an interesting nightlife, you may just go out for a beer in the evening and be back at sunrise. There are many chances that friendly Georgians will assault you armed with chacha. I was expecting chacha to be like vodka or tequila, but it plays in a different league, closer to absinthe I would say. Chacha loves you as much as Tbilisi, just in a different way. Tbilisi is like the sweet lover you hold hands with in the park, while Chacha is more like the priest that approaches a kid with sweet talk and then… all of a sudden… becomes another isolated case.

One day I visited Sighnagi, in the wine region. There I had a guesthouse for myself to chill out and take a break from the chacha life. I was told the place is good for a couple of hours, but that is too optimistic, I would say more like half an hour. Going for a stroll to the nearby monastery may keep you busy a bit longer. It’s a pretty village and locals are certainly an endearing, laid back bunch. Sighnagi is good if you go, life goes on if you don’t.




Top 10 lamest animals

Because lists seem to be the thing among lazy readers, here you have one with some pathetic creatures I found on my trips. Will try to publish one with the most awesome ones at some point.

1. Komodo Dragon

Awakening a sleeping dragon just cos I was bored

Where? Komodo Island, Nussa Tengara, Indonesia

Why? They don’t spit fire or fly. Big disappointment. They should be called Komodo lizards or Komodo dicks

2. Orangutan

Where? Bukit Lawan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Why? Any red haired primate is meager (think Ed Sheeran). Other monkeys make fun of them.

3. Guanaco

This guanaco voted for Macri

Where? Argentinian pampa

Why? Get stuck on fences and die

4. Yak

Where? Nepal

Why? Like German girls, these hairy creatures don’t shave. Yaks have been known to inadvertently shove people off the path and down the steep slopes while hiking, a dumb way to die

5. Reindeer

Where? Lapland

Why? Will stand in the middle of the road and not move if you are driving a car. Try to get out to take a pic and they will run away as. They provide sleigh rides to tourist and end up on the plate for dinner. Some people admire how they adapted to the cold weather, but if they were smarter they would have moved somewhere warmer.

5. Milodon

Where? Puerto Natales, Chile

Why? Kind of big sloth that got extinct because he was too lazy to move for food. They hug gringos.

6. This Donkey

Happy donkey

Where? Kashgar, Xinjang, China

Why? 5th leg for no reason. Other donkeys are awesome

7. The Paulo Coelho reader

Where? You can find them in any place with a “good energy”, but they thrive in The Banana Pancake Trail. Eat-Pray-Lovers are their relatives

Why? No comments. I am being generous not placing them in nr 1

9. Buffalo

Bondage buffalo

Where?  Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Why? See pic

10. Surfers

Where? Many places, but the Bali ones are the worst of their species

Why? OK, you can stand on a table on water, got it, congrats! and that makes you think you are cooler than other people