Latin Megacity -- 15-point Highway Code

Extracted from The Traveler's Venezuela Companion The Globe Pequot Press. Reproduced with permission.

View looking east from the Parque Central areaWhen compared to the jewels of Spain’s colonial crown, the churches of Quito or the mansions of Lima, Venezuela’s capital never sparkled or shone with quite the same intensity. In fact, it looked decidedly jaded. To make up for its poor start, and with a zeal worthy of the most paranoid conquistador, the city all-but reinvented itself during the boom years of the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1958, the first six-story towerblock broke the skyline until then dominated by the Cathedral. Thirty years later, Caracas was the undisputed Latin American champion of modernist architecture, with hundreds of concrete and glass structures carpeting its valley, and eight-lane freeways pumping right to the heart of the old town.

Today, Caracas' five million people enjoy all the benefits and drawbacks of a modern metropolis, with all the extremes characteristic of the capital of a developing nation. It's frenzied, congested, cosmopolitan, car-obsessed, cool, and contradictory.

Love it or hate it, flock to it or flee it, whatever the Caracas of the twenty-first century truly is, it's undeniably in-your-face.

Despite its traffic jams, urban grime, violence and frenetic pace, Caracas' eclectic mix of people and styles, coupled with its youthful dynamism, can win over even the most profound country mouse. There's a buzz and a joie de vivre about the city that many visitors find infectious, and often irresistible. It also enjoys many saving graces.

Underground, a savior comes in the shiny armor of the French-built Metro. Gliding silently along the city’s main arteries, it shuttles caraqueños to and from work in air-conditioned comfort. The Metro is efficient, cheap and replete with striking modern art - though it has to be said, taxis are far more fun.

Along its northern flank, separating it from the coast and looking like a Times Square billboard plugging “Eden, The Movie”, the verdant slopes of the Ávila mountain rise abruptly to nearly 3,000 m (9,840 ft). Its lush green hills and undulating peaks provide a permanent, serene backdrop to the hustle and bustle of the city below. Like Caracas' numerous parks and open spaces, the Ávila, declared a national park in 1958, provides an escape valve for stressed-out citizens, and a haven for the city's rich birdlife.

The city's museums meanwhile, offer some of the best art collections in Latin America, from the colonial and religious to the contemporary and kinetic. Coupled with culture, Epicurean Caracas boasts variety, quality and quantity - you could dine out every night of the year and still not exhaust its possibilities. Every taste is catered for, from the cheap and cheerful Spanish tascas, through the hundreds of Italian pasta and pizza emporia, and on to the sophisticated sushi bars.
For nightlife, only Río and Buenos Aires rival Caracas. Fuelled by Polar beer, Pampero rum and imported whisky, and enjoyed by one of the youngest populations on the planet, the city's bars, discotheques and salsa joints will have the heads of even the most seasoned night owl swiveling in their sockets.


15-point Caracas Highway Code

1. "Car", in Latin America = "carro". And you thought putting an 'o' on the end was a myth...

2. Waving your hand out of the window means: a) I'm stopping (flap hand downwards) b) I'm turning (hand outstretched) or c) I've had a long a fruitful life and I'd like to take a minute of it to stop here while I contemplate just how thrilling it's truly been (any of the above).

2a. Letting your hand dangle from the car window: a) I can't afford air-conditioning b) back off since I might decide to stop any minute now, c) you got a problem with that?

3. Indicators: ?Que?

4. Roadworks: One big one.

5. Give way signs: "My car is bigger than yours"

6. Cutting people up to get one car-length ahead: positively encouraged.

7. Traffic police: Have white gloves and shiny whistles = look good, do nowt.

8. Hooting for no good reason and at length: no problem, especially if it sounds like something from a Space Invaders arcade machine.

9. Allowing your megawatt car alarm to go off to make sure everyone knows you've got one: Nice one.

10. Motorcycle couriers: Unflinching belief in the afterlife a job requirement.

11. Lane division: White lines are for poofs.

12. Red lights: bit like white lines. If they're isn't a car coming, why stop? If there is, go anyway.

13. When lanes reduce from 3 to 2, or more usually, 3 to 1 in 5 yards flat: See 5.

14. Traffic = "la cola", the queue. And boy, do they queue...

15. Venezuelan saying: "Car parked on the street at night, hot-wirers delight"

Baby you can drive my car...







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