Imagine having to carry a backpack full of bank notes just to pay for your meal? This is how it is in Venezuela today and it makes for some interesting encounters.
Currently the largest bank note available is the 100 Bolivar which is equivalent to around three US cents (two pence). When we arrived at Valencia airport in Venezuela we were met by Elias and Jorge who were there to drive us to Caracas. Elias clearly was a wheeler-dealer constantly issuing instructions to relentless callers on his mobile phone.
When we on the road he grappled with a black bin liner under the driver seat to reveal hundreds of Bolivar notes. It was that heavy he struggled to lift it from the car floor. “I’ve got you $200 USD worth of Bolivars at a black market rate of 2,200”. This equated to 440,000 Bolivar (VEF) – 4,400 bank notes!!! The same amount of Bolivars taken from an ATM at that time would’ve cost us an outrageous £35,119 ($44,021 USD)!!! The foreign exchange rate had gone insane.
With thousands of bank notes stuffed into our day packs we entered Caracas ten stone heavier and if you used the official exchange rate we were also very rich!
A couple of days later having rearranged our backpacks to accommodate the bank notes we were met once again by Elias and Jorge to drive us to the airport. Destination – Puerto Ordaz and the Orinoco Delta.
Elias was taking charge and stayed with us until we had successfully checked in our big backpacks which left us with just our bulging day packs stuffed with money. Elias hugged us both and wished us well on our Venezuelan adventure before leaving his card with an instruction to contact him any time day or night if we needed any assistance.
At this point I’m thinking “I think we are old enough and travelled enough to have checked in our own bags” but it was a very kind gesture which I did appreciate.
Two minutes later we are walking through security with our day packs being pulled along the conveyor belt through the plastic ribbons into the X-ray machine and Matt is beckoned to a table where his bag had been placed. I could see an airport official looking into the bag and asking Matt questions. Then my bag was also under inspection. Through snippets of rapid Spanish and constant gestures to the contents of our bags we both knew he wanted to know where the money had come from. Then the words “dame diez dólares” came out of his mouth.
“Gimme ten dollars”!! He wanted a bribe payment from us to let us through or else he would report us to the authorities for obtaining cash on the black market! Matt looked like he was going to throw up. I had flashbacks from my failed teaching career in Indonesia and the airport bribes to get the illegal teacher out of the country before she ended up in jail for five years. “Ring Elias!” Matt dialled the number from his card. Our predicament was quickly explained to Elias to which he responded “give him a gift”.
“How much do we give?!” asked Matt “should I just pull out one 10,000 Bolivar wad?” This was nearly five US dollars. “Yes! Give him that!” was my frantic response. The shifty airport official was getting impatient. Matt went to pull out a wad and the official looked panicked. “No! No!”. His eyes darted around the security area. He didn’t want anyone else to see our hush money.
I grabbed my fleece from around my waist and threw it on the table. “Matt just take a wad and put it under my fleece!” Matt grabbed a wad and hid it under the fleece. I then placed both hands on my fleece and slid it across the table to the official. After several furtive glances his hand darted underneath my jacket and he grabbed the money. This was immediately stuffed into his pocket and he strolled away.
Matt and I glanced at each other, grabbed our bags and ran into the airport! Possible arrests had been diverted but we still had thirteen more days in Venezuela to haul the damn money around!
We used Hike Venezuela for our travels through the country and I cannot fault them in any way! I would highly recommend this company to anyone wishing to vIsis this amazing country.
See popular destinations to visit in Venezuela on TripAdvisor