Saturday 12 October

10 am, in the netherworld of Schipol transit lounge. In the quiet of the upstairs “Comfort Lounge” I bag one of the bulbous red-pepper-like chairs and settle down for a three and a half hour wait until boarding. The day had started with a 3.15 am alarm wake-up, breakfast, and a bleary-eyed ride to Heathrow to check in for flight KL1000 to Amsterdam. There were several Exodus bags to be seen at the Heathrow check-in, but further investigation showed that they belonged to a party bound for Kilimanjaro. Right now, it’s time to catch up on a little sleep.

Finally, the Venezuela flight is away. I have still not identified any of the others in my tour group, so I’m glad when I finally discover that the couple in the seats next to me are called Chris and Julie, and that they too are on tour AUV241. The flight itself is uneventful. We pass through some rather magnificent cloud formations like giant icebergs and about eight and a half hours later, we are down in Venezuela.

Patricia, our tour leader, is waiting for us with an Exodus sign and a smile, which seems to be a good start. She directs us to change $250–$300 into Venezuelan Bolívars here at the airport, as there will be few other chances for the rest of the trip. This proves to be a little more challenging than expected – I am refused at the first two cambios for reasons not clear to me. However, we find a more compliant cambio upstairs and soon emerge with a wad of notes.

In the bus to the hotel, Patricia introduces herself and tells us that we will be leaving Caracas very early tomorrow morning, because there is a large demonstration planned by the pro-government “rent-a-mob”, which we would do well to avoid. There was an anti-government demonstration earlier today and apparently these are always followed by a government-sponsored counter-demonstration – and it is best not to stick around for it. Our driver is called Miguel, and I am sitting next to Debbie, a graduate enginner about to start her first job in Leeds. I’ve already met a few others in the group and the nightmare of remembering names has begun.

I’ve been allocated a room with Michael, a brand-consultant from London around the same age as me. It is a relief to settle down to bed after having been on the go for about 25 hours now, but there is a faint irritating sound of muzak coming from somewhere as I try to get to sleep. After some time of increasing frustration, I locate its source to a grill above the television, and finally discover a knob near the bed that can turn it off. Peace at last.