Published: April 2006
Meredith Davenport

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

Some locals invited me to a block party in one of the rougher neighborhoods of Caracas. Venezuelans can be really gentle, warm, and open. And they're very hospitable. They invite you into their houses easily, and they love to have a great time. They're all about getting dressed up and going out on the town. If you don't experience that part of who they are, you're missing some of the best things about them.

Initially, people were very wary about me taking pictures. But once the party heated up around 3 a.m., everyone relaxed. The guys from the neighborhood who invited me asked me to dance. I love dancing salsa, and it always surprises people when they see that the gringa can dance. I stayed out dancing—and shooting—all night.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

Venezuela is the world's fifth largest exporter of oil, and I needed to get pictures of Lake Maracaibo, where there are thousands of oil wells. But the Venezuelan government refused to let me go.

Lake Maracaibo is plagued by an invasive plant that feeds—in part—on petrochemical pollutants. This threatens shrimp farmers, who depend on the lake's bounty for their livelihoods.

The bureaucracy is so impenetrable in Venezuela. I called everyone involved again and again and, in the end, I only got permission to photograph this essential part of the story for three or four days rather than the full week I needed to show the human face of the oil industry.

Taking photographs in Venezuela is frustrating. It requires a massive amount of effort, even for seemingly simple shoots. Officials made numerous excuses and repeatedly cancelled appointments. They asked me to resubmit letters of introduction that included my professional experience. It took an average of at least three or four phone calls to get anything done on any given topic. I ended up reserving several hours a day just to make follow-up calls.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

In Caracas, most people take modern taxis. They look like the Yellow Cabs in New York, except they're white with a checkered stripe. It's an expensive car for this area, and I heard that the cabbies sometimes rob you. So I opted for another mode of transportation: a moped taxi.

Mopeds are a great solution to the oppressive traffic. A guy named Raul drove me around on a little Vespa scooter. He was really street savvy, and I trusted him as we flew around Caracas. Nobody could believe it when I would arrive on the back of a moped. They thought I was crazy. While I was on this assignment, a friend asked me how it was going. "It's great," I said. "It's just me and Raul and the wind in my hair."