Saturday, October 8, 2016

Sambil Mall and Hard Rock Cafe

I finally ventured out and went to a big mall to see how it is here in Caracas. Sambil may be the biggest with plenty of American and local stores. There are American fast food places like KFC, Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Quiznos, and a few others I'm probably forgetting. There's 3-5 floors to this place depending on which area. There's a really nice Hard Rock Cafe on the 5th floor with covered outdoor seating.

Plenty of people wandered around. There were huge lines for the ATMs and banks as people need lots of cash with the inflation. The restaurants were kind of dead but the fast food places were busy. It seemed like a lot of people were there like me to mostly look around since it was a nice place to do it. I didn't see a whole lot of shopping even though the stores were full of stuff to buy.

Prices ranged from a little cheaper to a bit outrageous from my perspective. Most of it hovered around U.S. prices as far as I could tell with the exchange rate. Local wages haven't kept up with inflation so everything's probably much more expensive without dollars to transfer into the country. It's good for me that I get paid in dollars. :-) If this is what their inflation has done so far then I'm not looking forward to next year if it gets more expensive than this. Hopefully the exchange rate keeps up with inflation. Here's some pics of the mall:

There were a few other customers in Hard Rock Cafe, but with a burger and 2 small local beers for 18,500 Bs then maybe it isn't so affordable to have a lot of customers. Let's say that was around $18.50 for me with easy math. They had the standard Caracas menu of food without prices and a printed price sheet in the back to easily change out for frequent price changes.

Lenny Kravitz

The Edge

Joe Walsh

Stevie Nicks

Here's two examples of prices with very rough exchange rate math:

Converse on sale for 24,999 Bs or about $25 which sounds good.

Samsung 55" Curved TV for 3,551,550 Bs or about $3,550.
It's $900-$1000 in the U.S. so I wouldn't buy it here!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Foreign Service Specialist Tenure

The cable was finally released with the Tenure Board results. All of my IMS new hire classmates made it too so that's awesome. I've heard tenure for specialists is a bit easier to get than the officers, but it's still not guaranteed everyone will get it. If we didn't get tenure on first review then we do get two more looks before time's up. Tenure is required to get past the long probationary period of Foreign Service employment and if you can't get it then you're let go.

Tenure isn't just about current job performance. The policy 3 FAH-1 H-2250 has the criteria for tenure and their consideration of potential for greater responsibilities:
The sole criterion for a positive tenuring decision will be the candidate’s demonstrated ability to perform satisfactorily in the occupational category in which the candidate is serving and the potential, assuming normal growth and career development, to serve effectively in the Foreign Service at higher levels with greater responsibilities in the candidate’s occupational category.
Tenure means transitioning from career conditional status to a career appointment. It also means the entry-level directed tours are done and my next move involves mid-level bidding on the next tour. It'll be like interviewing for my job over and over again to get each assignment. So it's not like work gets much easier after achieving tenure...

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Caracas - Week 1


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 bolivares. 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: