Between all our intercultural activities, preparations and UCABMUN-classes, we also take the time to discover the city of Caracas. Or what did you think? Caracas is not just a capital like the rest. The city is contained entirely within a quite small valley and seperated from the Caribbean coast by a big national park. Last Wednesday we decided together with one of our local host fathers, Jesus R., to take a closer look at the park’s fauna and flora. A short, climbing shoes (read white Nike’s…) and some bottles of water would suffice to our first introduction into the Venezuelan ‘jungle’.
To start with the facts: El Ávila National Park covers part of the mountainous region of the coastal area of north-central Venezuela. The park gets its name from the Cerro El Ávila (or better known as “El Ávila”), a long-streched beautiful mountain with a peak of 2.740 meters. By hearing this name we had to immediately think back to the historic city Avila we had passed through by train on our way to Salamanca: cycle lovers – like us – will never forget the legendary victory of Frank Vandenbroucke on the medieval walls of the city in the Vuelta of 1999. Well, no historic walls on this mountain, but its slopes were at least as steep: our first climb in months (or years?) felt like carrying a backpack of rocks, rather than water.
However, for Jesus, our 67 year old guide, this little mountain track was just a weekly! appetizer. With a background in the Venezuelan Oil industry and a passion for history, politics and biology, he led us on our way through the beauty of the mountain and the history of Venezuela. We walked and listened carefully, fixing our eyes on the path and our ears on his voice. For the past decade Venezuela had been turning in to a socialist state, he explained us. Since president Hugo Chavez took office in 1998 a whirlwind of nationalizations and threats to private companies had changed Venezuela’s economic climate. The whole petroleum industry, banks, telecom companies, electricity providers, etc…have now been turned from “capitalist private companies to a state run socialist enterprises”.
We sat down, ate some Guayava (“fruit with the most vitamin C“, you dont eat this in Europe, eh boys”) and reflected on his words. Can big companies be run effectively by the state? Profits spent on installing social projects, but what about long-term investments in those businesses? Looking at the state of public transportation and the barrios of Caracas, did the nationalization programme really close the massive wealth gap? We were realistic and sceptic at the same time and understood the growing concerns amongst the middle class people..
We did not plan to reach the peak (that is on our schedule later). The luck of having a local guide is rather that he knows the secret spots and must-sees. So, surrounded by tropical colored birds, enormous trees and plants Jesus led his four apostles to a 1600m high small lake with an incredible waterfall. Birds of a feather flock together, so like in ancient times each one of us baptized himself by the strength of the ice-cold water. We cleared our mind…to be ready for an intensive conference-weekend…