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.

• 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.

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.

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