Archive for December, 2007

Exchange rate woes in Venezuela

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Arrrrgggghhh! They say if you fail to plan, plan to fail. My foray into Venezuela was not planned, so I was not completely prepared for the place. I usually check out the exchange rates on line before I enter a new country, so when I change money I know what I should be getting. At the border, when I changed my Colombian pesos into Venezuelan bolivars, I got almost twice as much as I expected. At first I thought the guy made a mistake, but I did not have time to check it out.

 Well as it happens there are two exchange rates for bolivars. An official one and a black market one. Since September the value of the bolivar has fallen so much that the black market rate is more than twice the official one. Now if I had been on the ball I would have withdrawn a bunch of Colombian pesos and changed them all at the border at the higher black market rate. Unfortunately I did not realize this until after I had withdrawn bolivars from the ATM and paid hotels with my credit card. These transactions are converted at the official rate of 2100 bolivars per dollar. So this misstep cost me over $500. As I said, arrrrgggghhh! Live and learn I guess.

When I realized my blunder I began looking for black market currency traders. Although illegal, many countries barely enforce the law. The last time I had to trade on the black market was in Romania in 1993 where I had to meet this guy in a car and do the deal. Here, the hotel manager cashed my travelers checks in the lobby, albeit at a low rate of 4000 bolivars per dollar. In Valencia I needed more cash. This was trickier. I had to go to the bus station and ask a few people quietly where I could buy bolivars. They seemed nervous discussing the idea. I guess you can get in trouble for trading. Finally, through, I was directed to the Portugese owner of a jewelry store who gave me 5000 bolivars per dollar, even through he was a bit unhappy I did not have euros. The weak dollar is not too popular in Portugal I guess.

Anyway, enough of that. My girlfriend Jenear came to visit for Christmas. We stayed a couple days in Caracas then went to the Caribbean coast, to the beach town of Puerto Colombia. It was recommended by the usually-reliable Lonely Planet, but somehow did not live up to expectations. The low point was discovering a huge cockroach in my glass of rum and coke.

 Here are a few shots of Puerto Colombia.

 p1030667.JPG   p1030681.JPG   p1030691.JPG

This one is great. The more I learn about Hugo Chavez the less I like him. They actually have a doll of him. It was hanging on the wall of a little cafe. Is that egotistical or what?

p1030671.JPG