There really isn’t a dull moment in Venezuela; in my previous post I mentioned an unsustainable “Snapshotted reality” and how everything seemed to be stuck and unable to move forward. I’ve also mentioned in the past how we can’t say “Well it can’t get any worse” because it can, and it will—turns out that it happened: it got worse.
If last week’s woes involved water in Caracas, this week’s calamities involve power on a nation-wide scale. Venezuela just went through its worst back-to-back blackouts in decades and hasn’t fully recovered from it.
I certainly had simple plans of my own for this past Thursday, March 07th: Laundry, our weekly house cleaning, push a new post on my website, work on some miscellaneous content, polish my novel’s lore entries, and finally get to play a long-anticipated wacky wahoo pizza man video game during its launch hour—and then it all happened around 05:20p.m.
This is a “Journal-esque” personal account of what happened to my brother and I during these very excruciatingly long blackouts:
Thursday, March 07th
Power went out while I was working on things on my computer, much to my dismay. I first thought that it was gonna be one of those 1-5 hour blackouts that have plagued our lives for so long, little did I know was that we were about to go through thirty hours of our lives without electricity.
My mobile phone still worked when power went out, I managed to read a few tweets that informed that this was a nation-wide blackout, with 18 of our 23 states being affected (at the time); cell towers died a few minutes later though. I had zero signal, couldn’t even make phone calls to my family to see how they were doing—all phones were completely dead and our landline phone stopped working months ago.
It was a weird experience, usually when a blackout happens you still see lights in the distance and cellphones at least work to a certain degree, so you at least have some ways to stay informed and communicated.
My brother and I felt disconnected from the rest of the world—and we were quite so. For all we knew, the end of times could’ve been upon us and we had no way to be informed of what was going on in the country and the rest of the world for that matter.
Running water (which we only from Wednesday evening until Sunday morning) didn’t came back until that Thursday morning; however, water supply failed in our building by the time the dark night blanketed Caracas.
I don’t know much about plumbing, but we have two tanks in this building, a large one in the lowest floor and one above that actually supplies water to the apartments; without power, the building’s pump couldn’t do its job and refill the upper tank with the lower one’s reserves. I really wanted to take a shower, which was part of my evening plans.
That night was a very atypical one, pitch black aside from the stars in the sky and very faint candles and flashlights in nearby buildings. You couldn’t hear a single thing: no cars, no dogs, no cats, and no people—the city was dead and everyone in my vicinity was locked tight in their respective apartments
With my evening plans ruined by the blackout, I managed to entertain myself doing some work on my laptop until I had to cannibalize what was left of its battery in order to charge our phones a little. My brother stayed in my room for a while and we talked, he was quite anxious about everything but he managed to calm down a little, myself as well in the process; my brother went to his bedroom and tried to rest.
I repaired the old Galaxy S3 that I once gifted to my mom and been using it ever since the battery on my phone began to fail earlier this year. My old phone had some battery in it, as well as my music playlists—a cathartic music jam session ensued for as long as the dying battery held.
Power came back at around 12:50am and went off a few minutes later, a faint glimmer of hope that rapidly vanished away. We still had no idea of how severe and grave the situation was since we had no information whatsoever. From what little I could read, the regime’s authorities had addressed the nation sometime during the evening in order to denounce an “Electric war”, a moot point considering that basically no one had power to listen or watch the broadcast.
I stared at the ceiling and bounced ideas back and forth with it regarding Sins and Soul of the Nation, the planned second and third installments of my upcoming book series. We both tried our best to sleep only to be partially successful at it, there wasn’t too much of a cold breeze going on.
Friday, March 08th
The next morning I woke up very early and most worried about the few beef and chicken that we have stored in our refrigerator, thankfully it was all still frozen. Our kitchen doesn’t get much natural light but I managed to cook an arepa for my brother, I may have added too few salt to the mix though.
Without water we weren’t able to take a shower the day before, and I certainly wanted to take one even more after that long night without a fan or air conditioner. I had plans to restock on groceries during that Friday morning but with the city devoid of power that was not going to happen; Caracas was dead and I still had no way to inform myself of anything.
I also had important plans and appointments for that Friday, some of which are related to my new escape plan. I suppose that these first steps will have to be pushed forward until next week, when hopefully the country has some normalcy back.
Power came back temporally sometime around 02:15pm, I managed to turn on my TV only to see that the usual game of blame had begun. Maduro’s regime blamed the opposition (and Senator Marco Rubio of all people) for this new “Electric cyber warfare against the grid’s brain”.
Before I could check more information or even grasp my head around the buzzwords being spouted by the regime’s authorities, power was gone again. I continued to be worried about the state of out frozen goods but these were still safely frozen; this old refrigerator had amazed me—it certainly has some godly insulation.
From blaming Marco Rubio to Juan Guaido, the government rapidly crafted a narrative that exempts them from any responsibility, it’s what they’ve always done—it’s what they’ll always do even when they stop being in power.
I inferred that they’d soon cry wolf and say it was an attack on our power facilities even though they militarized the entire electric infrastructure years ago when our grid began to seriously collapse in 2009 due to disrepair—my presumptions weren’t too far from reality.
Power came back once more sometime around 04:30pm, I managed to read some further news and get some charge on my laptop but it was a short-lived victory, power went out again a few minutes later.
I heard a commotion outside our apartment, a neighbor and his daughter were stuck in the elevator as they were heading down to check on our water pump’s status. I joined some of my neighbors and we were able to get them out of the elevator, it was halfway in between floors. The rest of the neighbors tried to calm down the little girl—she was quite scared, but the worst had passed.
Sunlight was waning and I managed to heat rice that I had cooked two days prior on a pot and cook a bit of chicken in a state of near absolute darkness, guided only by our cellphone’s flashlights. I also had a talk with my brother about what he’d like to do in the future once we get out of this country—gamedev he said, that’s what he wants to learn, I promised him that I will work so that he can achieve this dream of his.
We also talked about other personal plans, the future, and all that stuff; he’s a very introverted man and has it hard when it comes to socializing and speaking his mind, but we had good talk and he was out of that mental shell of his. In the absence of candles (they’re absurdly expensive nowadays), we had to eat lunch using my partially charged laptop’s screen as illumination.
The next hours were excruciatingly long, and I was extremely worried about the frozen items in our fridge. I could hear a few protesters not too far but couldn’t pinpoint their location nor see them; the constant chorus of “Maduro Coño’e tu madre” (son of a bitch) was yelled from nearby apartments as the evening hours began.
Unlike the first night of the blackout, we could see a few sparse lights in the distance and across the other side of the city, although our surrounding areas were completely devoid of electricity. Power finally came back around 11pm, but we still had no water and we really, really wanted to take a shower and finish cleaning up our home. I made the mistake of assuming that we were still receiving running water and it was just a matter of getting the pump back on.
Cold water had never tasted so good. We also charged our devices; I do have a nine year old tablet but I completely forgot to charge it—in retrospective, I should’ve loaded up some books on it…
My brother and I were both sleep deprived yet unable to rest (I’m pretty sure most of the country was in a similar state), we assumed that we’d have water by the time we woke up—boy was I wrong.
Saturday, March 09th
Running water had stopped coming sometime during the blackout but the building still had some reserves. I couldn’t sleep well through the night so I kinda overslept; by the time we woke up we missed the morning ration, I would have to wait for the evening one to finally freshen myself up.
A second blackout hit the nation around 11:30am, twelve hours after we had regained power, I was now beyond upset. This time, cellphone signal died instantly.
Hyperinflation certainly complicates things during a blackout. Since there’s not enough paper cash and what few exists in circulation can’t keep up hyperinflation’s march; everyone relies on plastic cards and wire-transfers, that’s how we’ve kept running whatever is left of this country’s economy.
When the entire nation is going through a nation-wide blackout then you realize how flimsy it all is, without power no one has access to their accounts. The entire banking network was down; debit and credit cards were rendered useless as a result, and even if by some dumb luck you were able to find a working ATM with cash amidst the blackout (a unicorn indeed) it wouldn’t dispense you enough cash to make a meaningful purchase of anything.
For all intents and purposes, the Bolivar was a dead currency during the blackouts.
I started to worry once more about our refrigerator, but the previous blackout served as a precedence of how good its insulation is; plus, our frozen items had received proper refrigeration for twelve hours, so that gave me some respite.
This time I cooked our lunch earlier in order to get more sunlight, rice and beef patties. I’ve never been known for my culinary expertise but I tried my best to cook with the limited illumination and water at our disposal.
We walked to our aunt’s place to check out on our family, they live in the same building. We played a few card games with our younger cousins in order to pass the time; we went back to our home as the sun began to set while we waited for an emergency water ration in order to finally shower.
A neighbor knocked on our door to inform us that they’d soon open the water tank for a few minutes at around 7:00pm. This was it, our time to finally get a shower and do dishes if possible.
We took a shower at last, a very cold one, but most refreshing—water was goddamn cold I’ll tell you that. Taking a cold shower in pitch black darkness was quite the experience, to say the least, but finally the two of us weren’t stinky; instead, we had this pleasant lime smell courtesy of the cheapest bar soap brand I could find a week ago.
With the main goal (shower) achieved, we did our dishes before the water ration was done. Now all refreshed up and with clean dishes, we went to our Aunt’s place again and stayed there for a bit, I bought some coffee, sugar, and flour to make arepas for everyone.
One of my older cousins managed to turn on a battery-powered radio and tune in to one of the State’s stations. The usual narrative was being spun, that this was a terrorist attack from the “Ultra-right”, that we shouldn’t protest and instead have faith in Worker-President Maduro.
Lots of rhetoric and very little information, just like the Regime loves to do it. We went back to our place after an hour or so; we hadn’t slept well for the past two days so we tried to rest, a cold breeze kept us chilly—while it lasted.
By now I had mastered the ability of walking around our home without being able to see anything, I was one head shave away from becoming Riddick. My brother managed to fall asleep but sleep eluded me even though I felt tired.
I prayed as I do every night and while my body was surely exhausted, my mind was not at peace and I couldn’t conciliate sleep. When my mind is idle, it becomes prone to fall into existential dread—it’s something I’ve been struggling with for the past years of my life, given all that’s happened to us.
My inner demons began to run amok; regret, doubt, longing for the old days when I was happier, and so many other things, coupled with my already existing stress of varied nature, some of which involve upcoming events and it’s something that is taking it’s toll on me. I am after all, a monument to all my sins, and that night my mind reminded me of it.
I got off my bed and sat on my chair, then back on my bed, then walked to the window to see if there was any lights but the city was covered in absolute darkness. March 09th was also the first year anniversary of when my mother’s health began to rapidly worsen until she passed away three weeks later.
I gazed at the stars above, perhaps the only good thing to come out of this blackout, the skies were clear and calm. I squeezed what battery life I could out of my “needs to be in constant life support” phone and listened to my saved music playlists in order to steer away the discourse going on my mind—I was only partially successful at it.
I honestly needed someone to talk to that night, but there was no one or no way to do so. I felt like I was going to lose my mind with all the turmoils, regrets, and worries that danced in my head, my only comfort was that my brother was asleep. I eventually succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep at some point past midnight.
The opposition had scheduled a series of rallies and activities on that Saturday—aside from the participants, no one had any idea of what happened since there was no way to be informed of anything.
Sunday, March 10th
I woke up feeling like crap. While I had slept some hours I just didn’t felt rested at all; I had a terrible headache to boot and everything just ached.
Headache aside, I tried to wake up around 07:00am but I just couldn’t, I only woke up when I my brother did; the banking network was allegedly back online, which meant that I could actually pay for stuff. I managed to muster enough energy to go to our nearest supermarket in order to get stuff to cook pasta for lunch using the leftover ground meat from the day before (which somehow froze when I put it in the powerless freezer).
The supermarket was jammed packed and had power thanks to their diesel generators. Everyone was trying to get anything they could get their hands on (and afford as well); the checkout lines were endless, but after doing countless lines over the past years one more wasn’t going to kill me.
This supermarket, which is the one I mostly go to due to its proximity, has an upper floor with a cafeteria, everyone was taking turns charging their phones on the cafeteria’s power outlets. Cell phones still had no signal but they had an open WiFi network—it wasn’t working though.
After almost four hours at the checkout line, the banking network had gone offline again—and just like that, the Bolivar had died again.
While not unusual anymore, the supermarket was allowing people to pay in foreign currencies (namely USD or Euro) since no one has enough Bolivar banknotes; this is a trend that replicated across all the country and it serves to show just how useless our currency has become. Truth be told, some have speculated with this to the point of usury over the past days, preying on the desperation of some who seek to have something to put on the table for their families in order to get their hands on the much coveted foreign cash banknotes.
We don’t have much USD cash and what little we do have saved is meant to be used for our eventual escape from this country. I certainly didn’t want to spend a single dollar but I had no choice. They had closed the doors of the supermarket so I had to talk to the supervisors to let me go grab some money and return; I left my brother with our groceries in the line and ran as fast as I could to our home and back.
I had to pay for everything using a ten bux bill (insert your favorite #MyersTwitter edit here) to cover for the groceries in our cart, which weren’t much to begin with. Since they weren’t giving out spare change I added a cold orange juice to the list in order to balance the bill out, my brother could’ve used a cold beverage anyways.
When we were finally back home I started cooking the pasta sauce right way. We had our lunch—third one in a row without power; we had nothing else to do afterwards, laptop had no battery, my brother’s handheld console had no power, and we still had no way to communicate with anyone.
People were parking at the sides of the highways, hoping to get cellphone signal in order to make phone calls.
2:55 pm Caraqueños se estacionan a un lado de la autopista Prados Del Este buscando acceder a servicios de telefonía celular, ante el colapso eléctrico que sufre el país y que ha afectado a las empresas de telefonía móvil. En la mayoría de las urbanizaciones no hay señal. #8Mar pic.twitter.com/8lmVWkD2LT— HispanoPost (@hispanopost) March 8, 2019
We had resigned to sleep early once the sun set, and I actually managed to sleep for a little over an hour. My brother was the first to notice that there were actual lights and buildings with power over the horizon, this gave us some faint sense of hope that we’d soon get power.
We were chit-chatting until power finally came back around 08:00pm; at last, the second ~30 hour blackout was over. The building’s water pump was bought online and we had a brief water ration—long enough for an extremely hasty session of shower, dishes, and laundry.
Power was far from stable, with a few brownouts throughout the night, but it managed to hold in our area. More regions of the city and country regained power but that didn’t meant that the crisis was over, far from it rather.
Reports of an explosion in a power station at the other side of the city began to show up on social media.
The State’s main TV channel was instead airing a marathon of a Turkish drama show, as if nothing had happened.
I tried to read the news, and was finally able to play some of that wacky wohoo pizza man game I’ve been looking forward to until my brother was finally sleepy, I went to sleep shortly afterwards.
Internet access has been unstable as well, both mobile and domestic; it comes and goes.
Monday, March 11th
We finally had a decent night’s sleep. It had now been four days since it all started, four very long and uncomfortable days for the country. We lost an entire weekend, I’m trying to get back on track with things after loosing so much precious time.
I had already lost some days thanks to the extended carnival holidays courtesy of our worker-President and Driver of Victories™ the week prior, crucial days for our new escape plan, but aside from this unexpected delay, it all continues as planned.
We tried to take it easy through the day but my respite was short-lived, as the things I’ve been contending with remain unresolved.
Banking network is still not 100% operational and many places have begun to sell things at high discounts before they spoil or turn bad, yet paying for stuff is still riddled with hardships until things get more stable. Food has been given away in some places as well, better than letting it rot.
Can’t say the country has much productivity during this still ongoing crisis, we all spent these past four days going through a bizarre nation-wide solitary confinement—and there are still cities that haven’t received power yet.
Power brownouts and surges happened through the day in this area, it finally got stable towards the evening.
More reports of patients dying in hospitals due to lack of power were announced, which started during the early hours of these blackouts. Medicine and vaccines that requires constant refrigeration have been lost during this disaster; in my personal case, I still had some vials of Erythropoietin (EPO) that belonged to my mom which I intent to donate, I don’t know if they’re still good since they went through two thirty hour periods of no refrigeration—chances are they’re not.
It enrages me since I know how difficult it is to obtain this crucial medicine, which is often used for post-chemotherapy recovery. The only reason I hadn’t given it away yet is because of logistics; with our car busted I can’t bring it anywhere and no one hadn’t been able to come pick it up as well.
The crisis is far from over, and now we’re facing an even more dire water shortage across the nation. People have become so desperate for water that they’ve resolved to collect residual water from the Guaire river; the issue is that there’s not enough power output to bring the water distribution system online.
Caracas has been crumbling for years, but it finally feels the bottom has completely fallen out. Residents in San Augustin are flocking to a terribly polluted river today to collect water that would ever bathing in — let alone drink. pic.twitter.com/wa6UeYq9cY— Andy Rosati (@andrewrosati) March 11, 2019
We opted to stretch our building’s waning water resources as much as possible, only using thirty minutes of water per day; we also turned off the building’s elevators just in case.
As if we didn’t had enough things to be stressed about as it is in this country, now we have to add a constant fear of loosing power at any time and at any moment, which makes up for an even more stressing environment. Some lost more than time, food, or resources during this calamity, they lost the lives of loved ones, friends, and family.
That’s a loss that can’t be properly described in words.
Numerous incidents of riots and looting have taken place over the past days, but you won’t hear about them in our censored local media.
So, what happened?
That’s the thing, we don’t know for sure. There’s many rumors and a lot of hearsay going on; whatever happened, you can be sure that the regime will never openly tell the truth.
My bet is that this is just a glimpse of the impending collapse of our electric grid, one that has been warned about for the past ten years. Our electric grid has been under a precarious state of disrepair and lack of maintenance ever since the power sector was completely nationalized back in 2007.
Thermal power plants were constructed a few years ago in order to bolster our electric generation but the reality is that these are pure crap; most of the money destined for this project was embezzled and stolen by the so called “Bolichicos” leaving the country with something that barely works; we’re now paying the price of yet another socialist mismanagement.
The government will carry on saying that this is all a part of a “Terrorist cyber-electric-warfare orchestrated by the US Empire” and they’ll stick to this narrative they crafted until the end of time if needed; they once dared to blame a large blackout on an iguana that ate a cable, so everything is possible with them (yes, that happened).
Hell, Maduro even said that an EMP was responsible for it.
This is one of the most complete and concise information threads (in English) on twitter regarding the state of our power grid:
I went to the heart of Venezuela’s transmission system in Guarico to try to find out what’s going on with the grid. Here’s why partial blackouts are unfortunately likely to persist for a while. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.— Anatoly Kurmanaev (@AKurmanaev) March 11, 2019
The regime continues to patch things up, but we need proper repairs and revamps so that this does not happen again. In any case, I hope this situation gets resolved soon, as Venezuelan citizens don’t deserve to go through yet another calamity.
In the end, we survived (or are still in the process of surviving) through the worst blackouts in Venezuelan history and we didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt.