A day in the life of Caracas shortages

Guest blogger Miguel Octavio writes how a brief errand after work can turn into an all-night wild goose chase.

By , Guest blogger

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.

On a recent visit to Caracas, it was Friday early evening after an intense week (as usual) there. I decided to stay home, relax, watch a Red Sox game. I did need to get a medicine, so I went home and waited for traffic to decrease, which begins to happen around 7:30 p.m. It should only take ten minutes to go to Locatel and get what I need. Then relax!

But it was not to be. At the Locatel drugustore they were out not only of what I had the prescription for, but also for the competing product. But they were very helpful, told me that I could find the competing product in either their Caricuao or Alto Prado store, a little bit far from where I stay when I go to Caracas. So, I started to do what many Venezuelans do, go from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for what I needed. (Twitter has even become a place where you ask: Do you know a drugstore where I can find x?) After trying about three of them, I realized that it would be best to go to the far away Locatel, rather than keep wasting my time. But I was low on gas. In a city with free gas that should not be a problem.

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But it was.

After being in line for about ten minutes at the first gas station on the way, I was told that they had no 95 octane gas, which is what the manufacturer recommends for my car. So, my hunt for the medicine had to be delayed, I needed to get the gas first. Went to the nearest gas station, which was closed. Went to another, only 91 octane, but my fourth try proved a success and I have a full tank now (At Bs. 4.5 for the full tank, a full dollar at the inaccessible official exchange rate.)

By now, it was so late, that there was no traffic going to Alto Prado, where I readily purchased two packs of the medicine I needed. Twenty pills per pack at a bargain price of Bs. 7 per pack. No wonder you can’t find the stuff, how can they make twenty pills, package it in aluminum foil, all in a cardboard box and sell it at this price?

By now it was close to 10 p.m., the Red Sox were losing, but my favorite arepera (arepas are a typical Venezuelan sandwich) was close by, so I stopped by, and the arepas were as good as ever. But the cheese was different: the 50-plus year provider shut down after they invaded the farm, according to Maria, who has been running the place since when I started going there as a teenager. I don’t go as much now, it is far from home, and you must drive by areas that are not the safest (but maybe there is no such thing as a safe area in Caracas).

Oh yeah! Right before and right after the arepera there were police “alcabalas” with gun-toting cops looking at you like you just stole some cheap medicine from a drugstore, and they are ready to shoot you if they see the bag. But in a country where most people don’t use seat belts regularly, having mine on seems to be as good as a DISIP or PSUV membership car and I was waved on readily. It did make me feel like I must have committed a crime sometime in my life, even if I don’t remember it, and if they stopped me I would break down and confess.

And yes, I got home way past 10 p.m., the Red Sox had lost by then. Some relaxing evening! The arepas saved the day!

– Miguel Octavio, a Venezuelan, is not a fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. You can read his blog here.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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