Venezuela – Azita Jacobson (2006)

Azita Jacobson is a graduate student in Public Health at New York Medical College. Azita received a scholarship of $1500 from Sara’s Wish Foundation in order to support her study of the effects of harmful household environmental pollutants on pregnant women in Marcibo, Venezuela.

Here are Azita’s travel safety tips:

Maraciabo is blistering year round, so plan to take hot weather appropriate clothing. Most of my long distance travel in Maraciabo was by car. If you are the type to get out and see as much as you can, then I strongly suggest using registered taxis as opposed to unmarked taxi services. There are phone numbers for registered taxis published everywhere. Usually from public places, like a shopping district or tourist attractions, there are always registered taxis waiting. From other areas like residential areas and areas less traveled, you can call up a taxi. Registered taxis have clear published fares and radio their assignments to their headquarters.

Local bus travel can be particularly dangerous. This is not because of theft or violence, but instead due to the extreme over crowding. In the mornings I had to ride the bus from my home to the clinic in which I worked. People literally would hang on to the open windows panes from the outside of the bus (formally a school bus) because there were so many people squashed in the seats and aisle.

Most of my case studies and house visits were during my study were reached by walking.

By caring a calling card you can ensure a way to make a phone call in emergencies at the payphone booths. You can buy them online for a fraction of the cost that they are sold for on the streets. You can also access international calling from any of the numerous convenient phone kiosks/news stands around the city. These kiosks have multiple cell phones chained to a table, you can call anywhere locally for an extremely reasonable price.

During my time in Maraciabo, the metro train system was not up in running in my area. So I have no experience with this mode of transportation. However, I rode the Metro train in Caracas. There are subway maps around each train station and the individuals at the information desk are very helpful. In Caracas, most of the taxis in the city center are registered. So I highly recommend taking a taxi, indefinitely, during late, dark hours. I would strongly recommend investing in ground transportation, such as a shuttle or a taxi service to get to and from the airport as soon as you land in Caracas. This will ensure a return trip to the airport. I failed to do this and when the major bridge connecting Caracas to the airport (approximately a 30-45 minute drive) fell due to the rain waters, I had no way to return to the airport. Unregistered taxis will solicit their services for ridiculous amounts of money. What they fail to tell you is that their “alternate” route is though the extremely sketchy neighborhoods along the “Caretera Vieja” or the “Old Highway.” This is an area that not even the military will go without being highly armed. So try to confirm your way to and from the airport in advance if possible.

If you plan on traveling outside of Maraciabo via airplane, plan on paying with cash or with a credit card of a resident from Maraciabo. Most travel has to be arranged by a travel agent and they usually do not accept US credit cards. In my experience, travel agencies that were more lenient with accepting more forms of payment were more stringent in travel restrictions.

Most importantly, make sure that even though you may think as a pedestrian that you have the right away…think again, pay close attention, and be ready to run when crossing streets by foot.