My final research expedition was a roundup of handy hotels near the Caracas airport and a wild ride through the cargo port. The previous edition of the South America guidebook mentioned that savvy budget travelers could hitch a ride to Los Roques on one of the small supply ships that occasionally leave from the docks. Being prone to seasickness, the mere thought of a 12-hour shake-and-bake in a tiny boat made me queasy, but I dutifully chartered a taxi to investigate this extreme travel tidbit.
Besides the stacks of containers, the Bay Area ports I know have nothing in common with the mayhem of La Guaira, Venezuela's principal shipping dock. In La Guaira, monster cranes with wheels that dwarf cars tear through impossibly narrow corridors of freight containers, hoisting boxcars into the sky and tossing them onto others. The cranes scramble in all directions without warning, and unlike everyday buses, there's no supersonic beep-beep-beep when they reverse, and no spotter to made sure that car and truck traffic doesn't get squashed underneath.
At one point, my cabbie dodged around a wall and we were suddenly face-to-face with a gargantuan wheeled apparatus barreling at us with its pinchers grasping a multi-ton rectangular building block. I exclaimed a number of unprintable things, but the driver thought the most hysterical was "ohmigod," which he repeated with excellent English pronunciation. As the container cast a shadow on our car, I convinced him to back up so I wouldn't have a heart attack imagining the crane losing its grip and watching the container topple and crush us.
OHMIGOD, this place is crazy! Don't people ever get hurt here?
Ohmigod! Ohmigod! Giggle. Sure, all the time.