The flight from Houston to Caracas was long and tiring, especially since it left at midnight. Adding to the morning arrival experience is the fact that Venezuela is 30 minutes difference in time zone. I was told that I would be greeted upon arrival and be escorted from the international zone to the national zone to check in for my flight to San Virgo.
I then find out that Venezuelan Bolivars can't be traded internationally. I can buy them using US dollars, but it would be next to impossible for me to go in the opposite direction, especially outside the country. This trick of the IMF is playing a critical role in every American's life who is here working. It means having a bank account here would be crazy. I could never change my money to dollars if I wanted to transfer any of it to an American account. There's no reason for the IMF to change Venezuela's status simply because Chavez is president.
The Venezuelans have it even tougher. If they are to do business internationally, they need dollars. No one will accept the Bolivar thanks to the IMF. So they have to spend another 50% above and beyond the official rate in order to have dollars to use internationally. The burden imposed by the IMF is huge and is never reported in American propaganda news.
Our internal flight was diverted to the very touristic Margarita Island due to airport problems in San Virgo. Everyone was ecstatic. Unfortunately, we wound up only visiting the inside waiting room at the airport. I've seen better. I did meet two gringos from the flight who were working at the same site and I decided to tag along with them rather than attempt completing the change in venue by myself.
Arriving at Hotel Gringo was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience, thank god. This is the first time I met my boss at 8 pm on the steps of a hotel . And he's younger than my kids. Not only that, he's drunk. Well, he's not plastered, but you can tell he's been having a good time. About 4 more gringos pile out of the bus right behind him.
"Hey, John, I'm your boss."
Now, I'm tall, but Honcho is three inches taller. A real Southern guy, he talks, chews and spits all at the same time. That's multitalented. He promises to show me around the site in the morning. "Looking forward to it," I reply. Hoo-doggie. Tomorrow promises to be a real eye-opener.
The Old Fart is right behind. This guy is from South America, but has lived in the US for several decades. By his every demeanor, he personifies Anthony Quinn, albeit in a quite shortened, squat version. Imagine Pancho Villa in a near-midget's body.
I had already been at Hotel Gringo for four hours and came to one very startling conclusion, it's friggin' hot. The hotel itself seems rather modern, but isn't located on any major thoroughfare. Apparently, someone thought that an obscure street that barely allows one car to pass is the precise location for the as-yet-unfinished, building in which we reside. There are spaces for tons of shops on the two floors below, most of which aren't even finished being built yet.
Ah, but it's home.
And the 5:30 am wake-up call seemed like the beginning of a dream. Breakfast is served on the first floor, planta baja, and we pass by these very same unfinished future offices and soon-to-be tiny, little cubbyholes of stores. Now begin the, "And just what the hell do you do?" questions. I wish I knew myself.
At the site, Honcho introduces me to 500,000 people, all with strange ancient Sanskrit names that made it impossible to remember, gives me a book and points to a large fenced-in yard the size of a football field and says, "You need to inventory it." "It" turns out to be 21 shipping containers, several generators and turbines, many giant, heavy-looking objects that probably do incredible work and are surely very sophisticated, and assorted welded piping in twisted, Hitchcock-style patterns.