Saturday, December 3, 2011

Black Market exhanges in Maracaibo

Our first stop in Venezuela was in Maracaibo to couchsurf with Alejandro. Thanks to our new and improved GPS maps (thanks to Terry on the Stahlratte), we were able to easily navigate to his house, which was in a very nice residential area of the large city. Alejandro is currently renovating a home that has been in his family for a long time. His sister lives in one half of the house while he and his brother live in the other half while they fix the house up. The house is massive, and there's still a bit of work to do.

(the brother lives upstairs, just climb the ladder on top of the weight bench)

One of the first things we did with Alejandro was try to exchange money. In Venezuela, the legal exchange rate is about 4.5 bolívars to $1. But, on the black market the rate is 8 or 8.5 bolívares to $1. Although it is technically illegal to buy or sell dollars on the black market, it is a very, very common practice. We went to the local grocery store and although we could not exchange that evening, were able to exchange the next morning no problem. Luckily we had enough money then to buy flour, eggs and cheese. With that, we were able to eat homemade arepas for several meals. Arepas are the most popular traditional cuisine in Venezuela and can be stuffed with various combinations of meat, veggies and cheese. They taste pretty darn good and are super cheap and easy to make.

(Alejandro making arepas, the crazed look is not usual, just happens to be the picture we have)

A majority of the time we just hung out with Alejandro in the room he gave us to sleep in. It was equipped with air conditioning, a tv, and computer with internet. We took advantabe to catch up with both our emails and the Kardashians. Seriously, Alejandro knew a lot about American pop culture and we actually did spend a lot of time watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians (and Jill is now hooked).   To reclaim at least some of his masculinity, Mike did get the TA washed to fully knock the salt off from our ocean voyage.

Another highlight was going to the local bar/cantina and drinking beer in the street with the locals. The beers came in miniature glass bottles (maybe 8 oz) and we wanted to try both kinds (Polar Ice and Regional), so we kept switching back and forth between beers each round. The robust bartender lady thought it was hi-la-ri-ous, absolutely losing herself in a fit of laughter when we got our 3rd round. An old drunkish guy was also nice enough to give Mike a shot of the rum he was drinking straight out of the bottle. That was pretty entertaining for everyone too.

Overall we enjoyed Maracaibo but were glad we had someone to show us around as the city could have been much more uninviting in a different neighborhood or without a local host.

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