World"Venezuela is the most colorful country in South America":...

“Venezuela is the most colorful country in South America”: Russian tourists visiting the idyllic island of Margarita

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“At last we came from so far to a country with extraordinary nature, an exciting ocean, dancing and singing people.”

Татьяна (Tatiana) flew 14 hours from Russia to Venezuela, to visit tourist areas of this country, including the idyllic island of Margarita.

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“We kayaked, we saw flamingos and pelicans,” the 43-year-old Russian, who says she has already visited about 30 countries, tells BBC Mundo.

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But Venezuela was not in their plans; Going was “very expensive” and “no direct connection”.

That changed.

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“We saw a new route, we saw that there were direct flights and we wanted to see something new, without fear of being trapped on some scale” due to the coronavirus, continues this woman, who traveled to Venezuela with her husband.

Caracas, which maintains a limited offer of international flights due to the crisis, which led to the departure of many airlines, and due to the coronavirus, opened in May a direct air route to Moscow, operated by the state company Conviasa.

One more example of the close relationship between the governments of Venezuela and Russia that transcends tourism and has been key in the political crisis unleashed by the non-recognition of Nicolas Maduro as president for dozens of countries.

In August, Margarita Island began to receive flights from Moscow through international tourist companies, such as the Russian Pegas Fly or Pegas Touristik.

Margarita Island. (NIKOLE KOLSTER).

Then, “without thinking twice”, Tatiana and her husband planned their first trip to the far away Caribbean.

“We bought the tickets a few days before departure,” with the warning that the flight “could be canceled at any time because the situation with the flights was not clear,” he adds.

They were in the country for 12 days; Besides Margarita, they visited the island of Cubagua and also flew over the famous Angel Falls by helicopter.

“It is worth flying for many hours to see this”, continues Tatiana, who has more than 35 photos and videos on Instagram of her trip to Venezuela, in which light blue colors predominate.

“This is the most colorful country in South America, with a pristine nature, which has preserved intact its beauty and nature of colors,” he wrote in one of his publications.

Like her and her husband, another 5,500 tourists of Russian nationality have landed in Margarita in recent months, a beautiful Caribbean island that for decades received a large number of travelers from different parts of the world: Italians, Spanish, Canadians, Brazilians, Peruvians, Argentines, Ecuadorians, etc …

The Venezuelan crisis, however, has already scared off much of this foreign tourism for years, impoverishing the island’s inhabitants.

Russian tourist in Margarita.  (NICOLE KOLSTER).

Russian tourist in Margarita. (NICOLE KOLSTER).

In 2019, Venezuela was located in the last places (117 out of 140) in the ranking of tourism competitiveness of the World Economic Forum, which is held every two years, and which takes into account travel and tourism policies, environmental conditions, infrastructure, etc. .

Given the shortage of tourists, the arrival of the Russian market in Venezuela “is having its positive, hopeful and very good processes,” he tells BBC Mundo Julio Arnaldes, former president of the Margarita Island Tourism Bureau.

“This foreign market is very interesting, a market with good purchasing power,” he adds.

Hotel occupancy on the island of Margarita in September was 44%, six points more than in August.

For the president of the Federation of Hotels of Venezuela, Alberto Vieira, direct flights with Russia have helped “considerably” the sector, “even through the public sector.”

Arnaldes explains that when “there is understanding and everything flows in a positive way” between two governments, “markets begin to develop.”

Tatiana, a Russian tourist, poses on the beach with food.  (TATIAN GENTILEZA).

Tatiana, a Russian tourist, poses on the beach with food. (TATIAN GENTILEZA).

And Russia has been a key ally of Maduro, as it was of his predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Today both countries share more than 260 bilateral agreements, which include cooperation in military, agricultural, oil, gas, industrial and mining matters.

And now, for example, it is easier to fly to Venezuela from Russia than from neighboring Colombia, because with the latter there is no direct air connection since relations between governments are broken.

“They warned me that they could rob me or kill me”

Nikolay Astakhov (Николай Астахов) took the second flight on the route operated by Russia’s Pegas Fly in September along with three other friends.

“At that time this destination was being advertised and it was cheap,” the 38-year-old Russian told BBC Mundo.

Astakhov, who works in sales, paid for the tour 110,000 rubles or US$1.476,20 To the change.

On May 15, Russia celebrated the arrival of the first direct flight between Caracas and Moscow.  (GETTY IMAGES).

On May 15, Russia celebrated the arrival of the first direct flight between Caracas and Moscow. (GETTY IMAGES).

He spent seven days in Isla de Coche and another four in Margarita, but spent most of his vacation inside the hotel, which included all services.

“The hotel staff told us that it was dangerous to leave the facilities after seven at night. And they did not let us pass beyond the door,” Astakhov told BBC Mundo.

“There is a group chat on WhatsApp for all those who want to go on vacation to Venezuela (…) Many warned me that they could rob me or kill me,” he insists.

In security recommendations, Pegas Touristik explains that “it is believed that it is very dangerous to be in Venezuela, but it applies mainly to Caracas, which in terms of insecurity occupies the first places in Latin America.”

The company warns on its website that you should not walk at night or carry money and valuables in front of other people.

Insecurity and the serious crisis that Venezuela has suffered for years are among the causes that tourism has fallen in a country with immense potential.

Arnaldes, however, asks “to demystify the matrix of opinion where all tourists who go to Margarita are afraid” or “that Margarita is a dangerous island.”

Little English, no Spanish

A Russian flag next to that of the state of Nueva Esparta flies at the entrance of one of the 26 tourist complexes that are ready to host these foreigners during the holidays. However, the Venezuelan flag is missing.

Already inside the facilities everything is written in Russian; directions, activities, food names, etc.

Restaurant on Isla Margarita with menu in Spanish and Russian.  (NILOLE KOLSTER).

Restaurant on Isla Margarita with menu in Spanish and Russian. (NILOLE KOLSTER).

In sight there are only about three couples of Venezuelans, the rest are citizens of the Eurasian country.

The maintenance staff also strives to learn (on their own) some basic words in Russian, aware of the new market.

A young man from Margarita, in charge of one of the pools at this hotel, yells “not (нет), not (нет)” (no, no) to a child who covers the hole in a fountain with his hands.

He has been in that position for two months, and although he constantly complains about his salary, about US $ 20 a month plus meals, he is grateful for it. “Before I was a junk dealer,” he says.

Spasibo (Thank you), spasibo (Thank you) (…) poka poka (bye bye)“says the host of a show in the same hotel into the microphone. He is thanking you for the attention and saying goodbye.

Astakhov, for example, does not speak Spanish or English. “We communicated with gestures and sign language” with a family of Venezuelans they met, he says. “They were two girls and a boy. They are very funny and cute,” he says.

They also used the cell phone translator.

Tatiana, a Russian tourist, poses on the beach with her partner.  (TATIAN GENTILEZA).

Tatiana, a Russian tourist, poses on the beach with her partner. (TATIAN GENTILEZA).

Most of these resorts have direct access to the beautiful beaches of the island. There only a few and privileged local merchants and artisans, grouped in cooperatives, can offer their products and services.

And there these types of scenes take place between Margariteños and Russians.

– “Lobster

-“No, Lan-gos-ta”

– “Lobster? No, no, lobster

A Russian tourist tries to communicate in English with José, a shellfish seller who is on a beach of fine white sand.

He pulls out his phone, shows a photo of a lobster, and the foreigner nods, asking “How much?”(How many?)

– “Cin-cuen -ta”, responds the Margarita, who carries in each hand a large container full of oysters.

– “¿Ten dollars?“(Ten dollars?) Insists the woman, who speaks little English and no Spanish, and is red from the sun.

– “Yes, fifty”, continues José, confused, as he helps himself with his hands to give the price, while trying to explain what the dish consists of.

The sale does not go through.

Ostras en Isla Margarita.  (NIKOLE KOLSTER).

Ostras en Isla Margarita. (NIKOLE KOLSTER).

Carmen, a seller of hats and bags made with palms, explains that to communicate with Russians she uses sand.

“The only thing they say is’how much it is‘ (how much). I write it down in the sand, they erase it and put another price. “

Empty streets

It is noon on a weekend in Margarita and the streets of the city center are practically desolate.

The Santiago Mariño, a long avenue that in the 90s was full of large and elegant brand stores and congested with tourists from all over, is alone, the stores closed.

In the distance you can only see a street food stall. There is also a homeless person.

Tatiana, a Russian tourist, poses on the beach.  (GENTILIZA TATIANA).

Tatiana, a Russian tourist, poses on the beach. (GENTILIZA TATIANA).

With the crisis, what little economic activity there was was moved to shopping centers.

A taxi driver, who travels the island showing his deterioration, also complains about the lack of basic services; water, electricity, gas and connectivity.

“There is a rise and fall but it is not only Margarita’s, it is a product of the conditions that our country meets in general,” justifies Arnaldes, until recently president of the Margarita Island Tourism Bureau.

Tatiana did not suffer from those problems that Margariteños have been experiencing for years, happy to have known the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, oblivious to all its inconveniences.

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