Venezuela: A Country Torn Asunder by Oil

Posted by in Yoga on the Road

A fellow digital nomad, Beth McIntyre, living in Colombia recently took a trip down to the Colombia-Venezuela boarder and crossed over for a day. What she found was shocking. Once the richest country in South America with massive biodiversity and known for their oil export, the country has been in almost total ruin since 2013 when Hugo Chavez died – she shared with us some of her impressions over the boarder.

Where are you visiting in Venezuela and what brought you there?

We entered from the Colombian border that runs between the Colombian city of Cucuta and the Venezuelan town of San Antonio. From there we drove about an hour to a city called San Cristobal.  Since moving to Colombia a year ago, I had learned of the current conflict in Venezuela.  When I knew we were going to be going to the border town of Cucuta (where my boyfriend has family, and spent a chunk of his life living) I was determined to cross the border and see first hand the situation destroying a country that was once the richest country in Latin America.

What was your first impression?

When crossing the border, you have to walk about 100m over a bridge that connects the two countries, as the border has currently been closed to vehicles for about 2 years.  Crossing, the magnitude of people is astounding. I have crossed many borders before, but never had I seen so many people.  Upon entering the Venezuelan side of the border, the entire atmosphere is different.  Firstly the amount of people, there is a lot. We went in the morning, when I believe it is the busiest.  A long line to exit, another for passport control, literally hundreds of people. People leaving for the day to buy supplies, and others leaving to make a new home in Colombia. I had never seen so many people at a land crossing before.  The town we entered was run down.  The streets filled with pot holes.  Street vendors on both sides selling mostly food.  Walking through the streets, most of the places appeared to be shut down.  A friend of my boyfriend said the town used to be filled with businesses that had been forced to shut down.  Later, at a supermarket, there was a long line to people waiting to enter, and more people inside.  The feeling was a somber one, and although to me, the run down feeling felt like any other small border town in Latin America, the general feeling of the place felt sad and tense.
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What has been most shocking?

We were only there for a day, so I didn’t get to see the full extent of the situation, but some of the most shocking things were seeing shops with nothing in them.  There was a shoe shop, with literally 3-4 pairs of shoes available.  Many shops were just completely shut down, including big store names.  Victoria’s Secret had almost nothing in it.  We entered a shop that used to be like a department store, and it was really just depressing with how much they had spread out the remaining goods to fill the large space.  We only had cash as we had exchanged pesos at the border, and people would approach us every time, asking to exchange our cash for them paying for our things on card, as the ATMs there have a daily limit of 10,000 bolivars.  Which is nothing.  For comparison, a bag of flour costs 20,000 bolivars.  And most shops do not accept card, so people are scrambling to obtain real notes at every chance they get. Also, the value of the notes is insanely low.  I was carrying around 1000 bolivar notes, but I saw most people with huge stacks of 50 and 100 bolivar notes – which appeared to be the most common.
I was also surprised at the prices, a few people had told me it was cheaper than Colombia, which some things were. But because now almost everything is imported, in general, things were the same price as Colombia.  The difference between Colombia and Venezuela though, is that the minimum wage in Colombia is around 700,000-800,000 pesos (about $350USD), where as the minimum wage in Venezuela I believe is somewhere just under the equivalent of $100USD – so you can see how these people are really struggling just to obtain basic supplies (if they can even get them that is).
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Can you Describe the Vibe there?

As I said before, it was odd. Like sad and tense.  But the people were just so lovely. Everyone paints a picture of it being a super dangerous place at the moment – which I’m sure in areas it really can be (tension is much higher in Caracas, the capital for example), so when the people are just so friendly and upbeat it’s really nice to see; especially given the circumstances.

Another odd thing was the propaganda.  In the mall we went to there was various signs, while at the customs there was a sign saying “Here in this customs, you don’t speak badly of Chavez” (Chevaz is the ex-president, basically the guy that turned the country to shit).

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What have you loved about it?

The people. Even though I only saw a small part of it, the country is very nice itself too, the nature etc.

Could you see yourself visiting in the future?

Yes, I would like to visit again. Probably best to wait until the conflict is over, but I could see myself returning to Cucuta to enter through the same border and travelling a little further in to see a friend I know.

In terms of mindfulness and mindful living, where do you see Venezuela on the spectrum?

Given the nature I saw, I would say if the country was in a much better place, it could be a good country to have retreats and yoga studios.