It’s not often that someone is willing to exchange your money and give you ten times the official value of the local currency. But that is exactly the current state of money exchange for the Bolivar. Of course, on the black market and therefore it is not actually legal. A year ago the Bolivar would trade, against the dollar, around three times its value, by the end of 2013 around 7x and by now 10x and higher. Inflation is a common factor in the economy and there is no need for me to explain it, but I would claim that it is rare to experience the short moment of time when it explodes.
As awesome as it is for a foreign person to take advantage of this situation – of life almost for free in Venezuela, grows the disadvantage for the natives for whom their savings are worth half every other month. Riding in any kind of transportation around the country is more charged symbolically, as the dollar would buy up to 20 liters of gasoline.
Prices slowly adapt to the new value of its money and imported goods are almost not available anymore. Even some basic goods start to become very scarce. Endless lines form in front of supermarkets and stores, just to buy milk or flour.
Other than that, I felt very glad to be back in South America. Everything seems to have this extra punch of emotion. Openness and happiness as well as the disposition for aggression appear with a greater and faster dynamic than at home. Still, the shady condition of most cars make me laugh; windows attached with duct tape and couches as front seats are more the norm than the exception, but as long as it moves it seems to be legal to drive.
After travelling for almost a month with my two new found friends, Nina and Roman, it was time to part our ways and travel alone once more. On the way south I stopped at the border town of Santa Elena to climb Mount Roraima. The tallest table mountain on the planet, it offers scenery unseen anywhere else. This spectacular site is also used in the Pixar movie “Up”. The standard tour takes six days from the small town of Paretepuy to the top and back. After the physically lazy days on the boats, I though it was a good idea to join two Germans and do the trek in four days. Hiking up the mountain left me with a strange impression. Almost like entering an alien planet, which was untouched for millenia and created its own climate. Mist would appear out of the nowhere and leave you without orientation. There are plants and animals that are only found on this mountain. My tour partners pushed the pace even further and we returned after three physically challenging days back at Paretepuy, just to find ourselves there without a ride back to town. But once more spending the night with drunken locals, beer and grilled chicken would eventually make up for all discomforts.