Saturday, December 23, 2000. 4:30 p.m. Hotel Tampa, Caracas.

Today I again explored Caracas on foot. I walked from my hotel to the University of Central Venezuela, described in the books as a 70,000-student campus. There were guards at the entrance, but seemed only to be checking vehicles. I walked in and did a loop around the campus. It all seems fairly new and well-kept. I was especially impressed with a long awning-covered walkway lined every few feet with chalkboards. They all had notes on them from classes, although the campus was basically deserted for the day. On the way out of the university, I passed the Botanical Gardens, but they were closed.

Next, I walked toward Parque Central, passing the bus station I was at yesterday. The park is easy to find because of the two tall, blue glass buildings that stick up out of it. These look like they were once impressive, but suffered from neglect and air pollution. The Parque is a collection of neatly designed museums, theaters and businesses, including the Hilton complex. I first went to the natural history museum, which cost 2,000 Bs. to enter. It was worth it, if only to relax in some cool air. Across the plaza from that museum is a large, free art museum. Part of the gallery is stacked up on a series of ramps, which lead up about seven levels to a nice rooftop overlook. I went up there to sit on a bench in the shade and was startled when a large vulture jumped out of a bush and hissed at me. I picked another bench. The main exhibit at the gallery was works by Gigo, who's signature pieces seem to be hanging mobiles built with wires. In both museums, guards outnumbered the visitors.

My next stop was the overpass where the airport shuttles are supposed to wait. I wanted to be sure I knew how to find them. Sure enough, there they were, exactly as described in the Lonely Planet book. How does one know these things without the book? Beats me. From there, I walked to the market-lined Avenue Universidad. I bought a grape soda. Next, I returned to Caracas' Plaza Bolivar, where I'd walked earlier in the week. The book said the Pantheon, where Bolivar's remains lay, is five blocks north of there. It was, but it was closed. I sat on a bench in the shade at the top of a hill. A group of kids played baseball in a parking lot nearby; some others were on skateboards.

I walked back down the hill, through the crowds of Christmas shoppers. There are also lots of children buying and lighting loud firecrackers on the sidewalks, which scare dogs and birds and activate car alarms. I ended my foot journey at the Capitolo Metro stop, five stops from where I began the day. I rode back to the hotel amid the crowds. Now, dinner.

Saturday, December 23, 2000. 6 p.m. Hotel Tampa, Caracas.

I realized I was running short on Bolivars, ate a slice of pizza and did another lap through Sabana Grande near the hotel. I'm ready to leave this place. Caracas is an amazing city, but I'm tired of fighting through crowded streets. It will be nice to be home for Christmas.

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