Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Caracas - Week 1

Shipments

I had 4 shipments out of DC for the move to Caracas. A company came the day before flying out to load my vehicle on a trailer and take it away for loading in a shipping container. They said it'd go from the port of Baltimore to Miami before heading to Caracas. It joins the rest of the stuff in Miami waiting on clearance to proceed including a Household Effects (HHE) shipment from Stockholm.

The other 3 shipments were the Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB), Consumables, and a supplemental HHE. If there's any HHE weight leftover then it's surprisingly easy to ship some more stuff from DC or home leave if you need to buy new appliances or anything else for the next post. It just has to be over 200 lbs of stuff or it isn't worthwhile to ship and the request will be denied. Now it's just a matter of waiting for all of the various stuff to get here which could be several months to transit and clear local processing.

Flights

The flights were good with a Miami connection breaking it in half. It's easier flying for 6 or 7 hours when the time zone doesn't change. It definitely makes going to work the next day a more wakeful experience.


Above was the only decent sign I noticed in the airport as a sort of welcome sign while waiting for my bags. SENIAT is their version of the IRS. I didn't have time for picture taking or pulling out a phone for any reason when I came out of customs. I was surrounded by guys offering me taxis or to change my dollars to bolivars since I looked like a guy lacking bolivars. I quickly found my driver and left.

People

All of the people at work seem great. I keep hearing about how nice and friendly the Venezuelan people are and I've seen it myself so far. Unfortunately for me, many of them outside of work don't speak English so I really need to get busy with the language program at work. Hopefully I can turn my old High School basic Spanish into something useful or at least survivable.

Crime

Caracas is competing for the top spot for crime in the world. Safety has really been on my mind so I'm taking it slow with figuring out how to get around. I also have to take a driving course at work before I can drive a loaner vehicle. I've already noticed red lights are suggestive instead of mandatory. It's not a unique driving style though and I feel like I'd seen worse in my short time in Seoul. My first week has been getting around with work drivers and a few new friends. 

So far, I'd have to say it doesn't feel much different than big crime cities back home. I've been in areas that look just fine but I'm advised to be careful anyway because criminals pop out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. I'll follow the lead of the people who have been here a while and stick to the good areas just like I would in any city back home. I saw these golfers and they're out enjoying the nice Caracas weather. There's also a fence behind them topped with barbed wire. It's a city for cautious living but it is lived in if you know where to be and what to do.


Money

I hear inflation has been crazy this year before my arrival. Below are 2 stacks of 100 bolivar bills which is their highest denomination. This is 20,000 bolivars. It's also about $20. I've eaten for anywhere from $5 to $15 depending on what and where but it takes a big stack of bills to pay for it. I can't wait to get my local bank account setup so I can start using a local debit card instead of this...


Caracas Pictures

I've spent quite a bit of time relaxing in the hotel from an intense week of checking in and working already so I don't feel like a security shut in just yet. It does hamper my ability to take photos since I'm not very mobile yet without a car. Caracas is in a valley surrounded by mountains and it's full of beautiful views and generally good temperatures. It's the rainy season with scattered thunderstorms but I haven't been rained on yet. They always seem to be "over there" instead. It's really nice with the clouds on the tops of the mountains even when they're storm clouds. Here's a few photos I've managed to take until I can get out more:










Friday, August 19, 2016

Training En Route

I don't know about the other career fields but being an IMS is great for training. We have a variety of options for training away from post while overseas and en route between assignments. I just have to keep in mind which courses can be centrally funded as training while at post as another way to get a break during the tour.

Sure, we don't usually get approved for the many months of language training, but at least we can get some courses for a week or two to keep up our IT skills. I'm taking 2 courses in Microsoft Windows admin for 3 weeks. They're fairly basic but it's good to occasionally cover the basics to not miss the details of what we support.

I'd recommend taking at least 1 or 2 classes between assignments because it's an easy extension of the time in the states before heading back out. It saves the government on travel expenses for training so approval is easy unless your new post is antsy to get you there quicker. We also get nice little corporate apartments within per diem and direct billed through the lodging program. Sometimes the government has an easy button that works. I didn't get to use it as a local hire but I'm definitely enjoying the ease of it all now.





Tuesday, August 9, 2016

New Orleans

Home leave is mostly about visiting family for me. There's been a little vacationing between road trip destinations as my family stretches from coast to coast. New Orleans was one of those destinations on the Hotter than Hell Tour of the southern states. I wouldn't fight for home leave to be in the middle of summer. I would pick spring or fall if I could do that based on my family's locations. Alas, home leave is firmly scheduled between overseas moves.

We stayed a few weekdays in New Orleans hoping it'd be a little quieter and that worked. Hotels were reasonable, Bourbon Street was tame, French Market wasn't too crowded, and the hop-on-hop-off buses worked well to get around. The bus included a free walking tour of the Garden District. I have to mention I prefer the European bus tours with headphones and recorded guides including examples of local music. It's much better to hear about the city as you drive around. There's very little time to hear about a site before the next one is in view so a recorded efficiency is good since not all guides understand their job.

The City Sightseeing New Orleans buses had some good and some terrible guides. A good guide provides interesting info before or as you see it. A few really bad guides were more interested in their attempts at barely related comedy routines, interacting with a few people sitting near them, pointing out things from a previous block, and generally standing in the way of actually seeing something. A couple of the guides thought we came to New Orleans to see them so they stood in the aisle blocking the forward view and ensuring they'd be in the pictures. We asked one if he could sit down or move since he was standing near us and he said no. He said he could move a little if I needed a picture but that never works. "Hey duck... oh, never mind, it's gone already." Fortunately they were multiple day tickets and we rode the route a few times. Otherwise the self-important guide would have been a real problem.

Here's some pics of the trip...


































Anne Rice's newer house











Anne Rice's old house






across from Anne Rice's old house






The Ogden Museum of Southern Art included a temporary exhibit of street art along with other regional art.












"computer printout of Stephen King's brain"







The Thinker with cell phone in the painting above. All of the icons of western art have cell phones to communicate with the third millennium.


 took a trolley car back to the hotel after a tremendous downpour at the museum