Located north of the Monagas State in eastern Venezuela and only a two and a half hour drive from Maturín, Caripe Municipality is well known for being an attractive tourist destination, it is characterized by having a very cool climate, the “Cueva del Guácharo” (Guácharo, oilbird, Steatornis caripensis), and its strawberries with cream. At different times of the year it used to be one of the most visited places by tourists from all over the country as well as foreigners.
By: Jefferson Civira – Correspondent lapatilla.com
For the last five years, the reality in this municipality that depends mainly on tourism has changed radically due to the deficiencies in services that are becoming increasingly worse. Currently, the main problem that afflicts its residents and those who usually visit this area, is the lack of fuel. So much so that it can take up to a month for the tanker truck to come by and supply fuel to the two existing service stations, one “dollarized” and the other subsidized.
Those who still survive by selling Creole sweets, crafts, strawberries with cream, honey-based drinks and souvenirs in the vicinity of the “Cueva del Guácharo”, remember that in other times, especially during the first days of January, the number of visitors was so great that the road that the span of three kilometers from the main road to this natural monument, collapsed with the amount of vehicles.
“During the different holidays of the year, but mainly in January, many tourists came here, both from different states of Venezuela and from other countries. The queue of vehicles along the entire road was impressive. People had to leave their cars and walk considerable distances depending on where the line caught them and we sold quite a bit. Since 2019, tourism began to decline during carnivals, Easter, school holidays and especially the first weeks of January,” recalls Gloria de Zerpa, who has been selling Creole sweets for more than 23 years in a spot near the cave.
Together with her daughter Carolina Zerpa, they try to survive in the vicinity of the natural monument, declared a national park on May 27th, 1975. It is probably the most important tourist attraction in the Caripe Municipality. Other places that receive tourists are “Salto La Paila” and “Cerro Negro” in the “Sabana de Piedra” Parish.
Mother and daughter attribute the very drastic decrease in tourists to the serious fuel shortage in the municipality, since this prevents people from traveling to that area. For more than a year the problem has worsened and added to this is the crisis in services such as electricity, water and telecommunications. Those who have cabins or inns must overcome all these difficulties to try to provide an adequate service.
However, some requirements must be met, such as having spare fuel so that a power plant can operate and thus guarantee at least water service to guests. Electrical failures can be short-term or very long-term and when they occur, people are completely isolated from the world since the cellphone signals of the three operators in the country fail when there is a power outage and customers are left without coverage.
Tourism in a tailspin
Yomaira Licett, who has a creole sweets stand, remembers that in previous years vacation plans were organized by both private companies and the state government, and during school vacations there were many children who came to visit the cave and the national park. However, she assures that after the pandemic “everything fell apart” and it was mainly caused by the lack of gasoline that greatly affects the municipality.
This year, most of the tourists who have come to this town of Monagas are from countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and even Poland. However, what they experience is that there are no communication services after a storm that occurred approximately a month ago and affected the repeater towers of the cellphone operators. “All you have to do is go to the ticket office where they sell the tickets to enter the cave.” There they inform the visitor that they only accept cash, since there is no signal for a point of sale, mobile payment, bio-payment or any other electronic transaction.
“Last year the movement was better in terms of the tourist part, but this year it has been very hard, but everything is mainly because of the fuel situation. We can spend up to a month in Caripe without receiving gasoline, so how can a town that depends mostly on tourism progress if people do not have a way to get around. To come here you need enough fuel because it is two and a half hours from Maturín and if no fuel gets here, how do you get back,” are questions that not only Licett but other residents ask themselves.
Innkeepers at risk of disappearing
LaPatilla was able to talk with the owner of several cabins in Caripe who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals and told of the difficult situation that inn owners face as a result of the crisis in public services, they cannot offer a good stay to tourists. When asked about the percentage that tourism has fallen in this municipality, he does not hesitate to affirm that it is at least 80% in the last four years.
He affirms that tourism is going through a critical situation not only because of the problems in services, but also because of the general economic situation where people do not have the purchasing power to pay for a cabin or an inn for a family or a group of people.
“There is a concept that is used a lot which is socialist tourism or thrifty tourism and that does not work, it does not exist. You can’t look for the fifth leg of the cat, you’re not going to be able to make it fit, that maybe can work as long as you have the support, investment and free provision of a number of government services, starting with transportation by the government. The moment that disappears, that’s the end of the road. Buses full of students from Maturín arrive here, they go to the cave, take photos, have their lunch and snack, but that is not tourism, because there is no redistribution of capital,” the source told La Patilla.
He adds that more than 60% of the hotel companies in Caripe have closed since there are no people who come with the intention of staying, but rather they prefer to stay with a friend or family member’s house. In other cases, it happens that groups of up to 20 people come and are only willing to pay a very small amount of money for a cabin and it must have a kitchen and other services, but they are shown a cabin with all its amenities and they are not willing to pay for it.
“The perception that has been created in towns like Caripe is that everything has to be cheaper regardless of the quality of the service, the cost of hotel sheets or towels. On the other hand, I can offer you a cabin with a double bed, refrigerator, television, kitchen, living room, hot water, and I ask for $30 and people ask for a discount, while some places, with fewer amenities, charge more and people pay this without question,” says the hotelier.
In the opinion of the innkeeper, the town of Caripe stagnated in the nineties in its offer of very few tourism options, that is, the Cueva del Guácharo, coffee and oranges, the latter almost non-existent because there are no crops due to the climate change that has greatly affected the planting of this fruit. He points out that for the national tourist, the cave is not something that attracts them as much as it might for an international tourist who will see it as a wonder, which is why he believes that Caripe should have and establish more than one attraction.
He considers that there should be a peasant museum, one about Humboldt, and another about the artists of Caripe, something that people can visit and that is maintained over time but that adapts to the present, because in his opinion the museum that is near the Cueva del Guácharo became obsolete.
“Unfortunately, Venezuela has never had well-established tourism policies, the only ones who established norms and brought tourism to a truly competitive level were the “gochos” (People from the Venezuelan Andes). In the Mérida State, tourism has been carried out in a competitive way. In Margarita it happened because a lot of people came from abroad. German, Spanish, Dutch, Canadian, Italian, French tourism, among others, brought investment and that influence forced services to be provided correctly, but not because of the government’s national policy,” he explains.
To raise the quality of tourism first good services must be guaranteed, and this includes roads, transportation, fuel, electricity, telecommunications and water, among others. But you must also have professionals trained in tourism marketing. However, it is very difficult to fulfill the promises to tourists when the first they find when they get here is a road in terrible conditions and upon reaching the town kilometer-long queues greet the visitor.
While you read this report, the residents of Caripe are probably without electricity, since the outages have worsened and interruptions are now up to nine hours long and in some cases, an entire day without service. The locals have created a Facebook page where they express all their discomfort about this chaotic situation that the municipality is experiencing. There many protest that something like this has never been experienced before.