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Lonely Planet or Off The Planet

I wouldn't recommend putting too much faith in LONELY PLANET'S Venezuela edition., If you are planning a trip to Venezuela

This is Holy Week. In Venezuela, it means that a multitude is filling the streets in processions and in attending Catholic Church services. It also means that tens of thousands are also heading to the beaches. Some are doing one or other of these activities; many are doing both.

From Caracas the nearest beaches are west of the airport in Catia La Mar or east of the airport in the direction of La Guaira.

A horrible tragedy hit this coastal area in December, 1999. Some estimates of the dead were as high as 50,000 inhabitants. The massive landslides wiped out not only humble dwellings but even multiple-story apartment buildings. Ship containers were washed into the ocean and survivors had to be evacuated in helicopters and military landing craft. Hardest hit was the area east of the airport.

A drive from Caracas along this eastern area today reveals a completely different picture. Some beaches are larger than before as the landslides pushed the coast maybe a hundred yards further into the ocean. A six-lane road covers a part of the coast where before one had to take a slow drive through a coastal town. Flowers, bushes and trees fill the brilliant yellow curbing that divides much of the way. In other places the cement dividers are painted in pastel colors. Long walls are covered with colorful mosaics. Hanging from the lampposts are decorative and bright drums and maracas, seahorses and crabs-illuminated at night.

The beaches have new restaurants and stands for vendors. And, the beaches are packed this week with visitors.

Now read what the 2004 edition of LONELY PLANET had to say about this area:

After the 1999 events, "The whole area from La Guaira to Naiguatá became a sea of ruins,.... Macuto, Caraballeda and Naiguatá, once thrilling seaside resorts for ‘caraqueños,' were turned into ruined ghost towns, and remain much the same. It will take decades before the urban fabric is fully rebuilt, if ever."

In 2004, the authors of LONELY PLANET's Venezuelan guide saw no hope-possibly forever-for the region. But it didn't take decades to restore the area. It didn't even take half a decade. In other parts of the world it probably would have taken decades. In Venezuela, it didn't.

A few days ago, a visitor showed me his 2007 edition of the book. LONELY PLANET doesn't seem to be aware of what has happened here. The same words of the 2004 edition are basically repeated, although now the book at least gives the names of a few hotels in the region, something they didn't do in 2004.

I suppose one can forgive the authors for not being able to foretell the future in 2004 (although progress was already happening), but to repeat their mistaken forecast in 2007 was a case of blindness.

And speaking of blindness, the 2004 edition presented a constant bias against the current government. The "Snapshot" in the opening pages said: "Chávez has proclaimed a continuing ‘Bolivarian Revolution,' which frequently invokes the name of national hero Simon Bolivar, but rarely delivers anything of substance on serious issues like poverty, inequality, environmental damage, drug abuse and lawlessness on the Colombian border." Oh? From where were the authors writing the book? The 2007 edition does try to give a more balanced picture. Someone must have complained about the matter.

The LONELY PLANET guide certainly has a lot of helpful information for the traveler. It is just a shame that it was so politically tainted and even today isn't as up to date as it should be.

 

(Charles Hardy is author of ­Cowboy in Caracas: A North American's Memoir of Venezuela's Democratic Revolution, published by Curbstone Press. Other essays by Hardy can be found on his personal blog www.cowboyincaracas.com . You may write him at cowboyincaracas@yahoo.com.)