When you love something, or someone, so much it´s easy to be blinded to their faults. That Fray loved Venezuela was never in dispute, but he was most definitely not blinded to the suicidal tendencies of the Venezuelan drivers, their Mad Max styled death machines nor their seemingly war-torn roads.
Within minutes of leaving the airport he bore witness to the lunacy and carnage that occurs day in day out on the streets of Venezuela. This truly was a baptism of fire as Caracas drivers are head and shoulders above all others with their disregard for the conventions of driving. Road markings are treated as graffiti… an ancient scribbling who’s meaning has long been forgotten. If it’s a one lane road they’ll all too happily drive 2 abreast… inches away yet with not a hint of panic or rage, just a stubborn, concrete refusal to give ground until the very last nanosecond! In all other walks of life the Venezuelan people are relaxed to the point of being borderline comatose, saturated by the Bermuda Triangle-esque phenomenon known as Venezuelan time….. yet stick them behind the wheel of a ‘car’ and they go freakin nuts!!! If there was even the memory of a gap in the traffic YOU GO FOR IT! Blink at the traffic lights and you’re subjected to a chorus of horns, damning your 0.3 seconds of indecision. Weakness is not tolerated. Any hesitation or etiquette or manners (or sense of self-preservation) and you’d forever be stationary, never daring to even switch on the ignition.
So you’d think that with your life on the line whenever you hit the streets that you’d need a sturdy, reliable machine beneath you for peace of mind….. silly Fray! The combination of a shortage of raw materials, an increase in legislation granting workers more holidays and issues with the US has all lead to car production dropping by 66% (ooohhh! Fray dropping some factual bombs!). It’s nay on impossible to purchase a new car, with second-hand proving equally as illusive. This all means that you need to hold onto what you’ve got, patch up any bumps, scratches or write-offs with as much duct tape as financially possible and just get on with the job (It’s rumoured the creators of Robot Wars were Venezuelan). Couple that with the daily destruction derby on the roads and you’ve got a myriad of shapes and colours, styles and redesigns… all looking as scary and potentially lethal as each other.
So they give certifiable lunatics driving licenses and drop them into hodgepodge death waggons… “What else” Fray pondered, “could they possibly do to tremble my sphincter even more?” Oh you daft, naive little wanderer… why do you ponder such things? The answer would be to create the most hideous driving surface this side of the moon. It would appear to the untrained eye that Venezuela suffered a devastating aerial bombardment in yesteryear, followed by an invasion of giant moles. This would seem the most likely explanation for the holes, craters, lumps and bumps that ravage the roads. It’s clear that a lot of money has been invested in shopping malls, entertainment venues and public buildings… yet to get to them you’ve got to swerve and weave through giant pockmarks on the street surface… yet again, nobody seems to bat an eyelid. It is merely just another fact of daily life.
Police and National Guard checkpoints are set every 200 yards, with the cheerful and friendly forces always willing to offer a smile and wave (insert raucous belly laughter here). Their actual purpose Fray had not yet discovered, but he was sure they were providing a vital public service.
Psycho’s in time bombs weaving though potholes with zero regard for other road users, a winning combination on anybody’s card, but there was just one ingredient missing….. now what could it be? Guns? No… gun crime is a major problem and the threat is ever-present, but there was something just a little more scary…
…….. mobile phones!!!
In Venezuela, above rum and Baseball comes the love of mobile phones. Venezuelans are the most sociable nation young Fray had every met. You don’t just meet your friends for a beer at the weekend, you see them every night, alternating between residences, coming and going, dropping in and out… but you’re forever in touch. If you’re not with them in person you’re Whatsapp’ing them (cheeky product placement… if anyone at Whatsapp is reading this… you’re the best! Please email me for my bank details!). But what happens when you have to drive somewhere? That’s right! You spend the entire journey texting! It doesn’t matter that you’ve got criminally insane whacko’s careering along the streets in vehicles Mad Max would scoff at… why should that deserve your full, undivided attention? No… stare down at that screen, divide that free hand between steering, gear changes and honking the horn at other like minded lunatics… why not? Everyone else is doing it!
Fray’s decision to use only buses to get around the continent suddenly seemed a lot more exciting!