Recognize this country?
This was Gran Colombia. Bolivar's dream that didn't last. If I am the last of the Yugoslav nationalists, then I am definitely the last of the Gran Colombianistas. Will the last General in his labyrinth turn off the lights?
What was Gran Colombia broke down into Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and parts to a number of other countries. What a colossus it could have been. A South American giant with everything from fertile lands to oil to gold. A counterweight in the South to balance out the Americas.
So instead, I am in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, home of the "Bolivarian Revolution." I have seen signs around town of Commandante Chavez in fatigues with the words "1954- por siempre (forever)," but his so-called revolution seems to be on fumes. There is graffiti calling Chavez' successor Maduro an assassin, and showing unflattering caricatures of his bigote.
And so what to make of the vaunted Caracas? This city called the "Baghdad of South America" for its high crime rate.
Well, it feels like any other South American city I have been to. I got some permission to walk around the general area, so long as I did not bring my other guests with me, and I got to walk through the city center a bit.
Just like any other city, with finely dressed business men smoking cigarettes and chatting on their phones. Workers in t-shirts filling pothole ditches. Latinas in tight jeans strolling in high heels. Kids in school uniforms flirting and laughing as they walk back from school. Choked, snarling traffic as the commuters try to get home after a long day at work. In short, life living out its daily existence with no care to how the media portrays it from the imperfect snapshot proffered.
Caracas has some charm to it. A soft Caribbean breeze fills the city streets and sends the palms leaves rustling. I sipped tiny plastic cups of coffee at 5 Bolivars a pop (either $1 or 12 cents, depending who you ask) and I watch people chat under canopies of trees or wander in and out of markets. While I am not planning on pushing my luck, the Caracas bogeyman is just that.
As always: Kol ha'olam kulo-- the world is a narrow bridge, you mustn't be afraid to cross it. As always, journey on.