You ready? I just asked him if it was dangerous and he just went… Very reassuring. Doing that for eight hours… My God! I’m on a bridge
in the middle of the jungle, straddling one of the largest
rivers in Latin America. These are the waters
of the Orinoco Basin and I’m here because this
week, they’re playing host to the longest speedboat
race in the world. There’s 120 speedboats
racing nearly 900 miles, and the craziest thing of all is that all of this is
taking place in Venezuela. A country on the verge of collapse, in the grip of a severe economic
and humanitarian crisis. Surely not the time or
place to be indulging in an expensive hobby
like powerboat racing. This annual event is little known
outside of the dwindling ranks of the Venezuelan elite. Despite their country spiraling
into economic and political chaos, they’re carrying on a
four decade tradition of speeding across the
country in expensive boats, while guzzling cheap beer
and expensive whiskey. We’re going to be the
champions of the race! But for most Venezuelans, everyday life is intolerable. Food and medicine
are dangerously scarce, while crime, inflation
and unemployment rates are dangerously high. And when we arrived, a million people had just
flooded the streets of Caracas to demand the ouster of
Venezuela’s authoritarian president, Nicolás Maduro. In an attempt to suppress
media coverage of the march, the government was deporting
foreign journalists on arrival. Because we came to
film a speedboat race, we slipped through the dragnet. But in Venezuela, not even something as
prosaic as a boat race can avoid being
co-opted by politics. Hence why, we weren’t the
only TV crew on this bridge. We’re at the María Nieves bridge. Desperate to divert attention from the growing anti-government
protests in Caracas, state television
was bizarrely recasting this phalanx of well-heeled
Venezuelans as foot soldiers in the Socialist revolution. The people of this race, of
“Our Rivers Are Navigable,” have been and are dreamers
just like our Commander [Chavez]. We avoided the protest
and immediately hit the road. Here I am, on my way out of Caracas. We’re barreling towards
the Orinoco Basin. It’s going to be a five hour
drive out to this boat race. Each day, the boats race to a
remote location along the river, where we would spend the night. So far away from the city,
and the crowds and the nightmare, is this rather pleasant countryside. I was about to spend a
week bombing down rivers on the longest speedboat
race in the world, with Venezuela’s one percent. But the accommodations
were to be, spartan. Apparently we have to
camp in someone’s like, courtyard or something? This looks fun! This village has limited
running water and electricity, but every year, the locals
offer up their backyards for the racers to pitch their tents. That’s going to be me
in the middle of the night. Come on. It doesn’t help to scratch. -Hi.
-Hi. Charlet, good to meet you. We’re in the Cunaviche community.
It’s the first stop in the ‘Our Rivers Are Navigable’ event. And this is where we’re going
to set up camp. So go ahead and unpack your things.
We will all be safe here. Safety is a constant conversation
during the race. And our military escort
was never far away. Venezuela has one of the
highest murder rates in the world, and kidnappings for ransom have
risen a 170% in just the last year. So a load of expensive speedboats
moving throughout the region on mass is like blood
in shark-infested water. Because while these boats
may not look super flashy, those who own them, doctors, engineers,
entrepreneurs, businessmen, have it all. In a country where
everyone else has nothing. This is beef from
Cunaviche, Venezuela. Thank you so much. Where shall I put my tent? Any place. Ant’s nest. Ants. Ants. It’s bad. -Not good.
-Okay. So yeah, we got to put our
tents up before it gets dark. Never put a tent up before. Powerboat racing and camping. Get you a girl who can do both. I was quickly learning that while
these races might have money, there was nothing
pretentious about them, as they got down and dirty, leaving me in the dust
with their party stamina. It got way past my bedtime,
so I retreated to my tent to try to sleep, but lay there,
listening to the music, which never stopped. By way of a wake-up call, they simply turned up
the volume at dawn. You’ll never be able to get a
good night’s rest during this race. In this race you have to
nap through the day and relax. That’s how the races are here. It’s too exciting to sleep. No, no, you’ll never get a
full night’s sleep. Every day, we’d be hitching
a ride on a different boat. The race was divided
into several categories, including speed, endurance,
family, even jet skis. And, appropriately, a prize
for the best party boat. Is this your first time
at this rally? No, no. I’ve attended
about 15 races. And now it’s a family tradition. Are you competing at all this year? Overall, we facilitate the logistics needed for a race of this
magnitude. And we’re responsible for assisting
anyone who needs help during the race. We were at the mercy
of Mother Nature. The Amazonian delta
is fairly hostile territory and it’s easy to get lost
in the tributaries, with hidden rocks
lurking under the surface, ready to crush the dreams
of inattentive racers. Only about half the boats
make it through the week. Some of these machines reach
speeds of around 100 miles per hour. Miss Twister is a
highly organized team with a powerful racing catamaran. The captain runs a tight ship,
leaving nothing to chance. It took us four to five months
to prepare for this event. We travelled, looked for replacement
parts and prepared our engines so they can perform
at the highest levels. Every year we come here to win.
The races are very competitive, but we’re also highly prepared
to win the race this year as well. The team Sarataka, while no less confident
in their abilities, take a slightly different approach. Sarataka means
that you’re kind of drunk. We’ve been champions
five times already. How many whiskies? -How many whiskies?
-That’s a lot of whiskies. How many whiskies? I mean, this box. A lot of whiskey. A lot of whiskey. -A lot of whiskey.
-A lot of whiskey. And why whiskey? Because it tastes really good. -Tell her why Venezuelans
love whiskey. We love whiskey because
it’s good for our health. It’s good for your health. -They love whiskey. What makes a champion?
Is it whiskey? No, no, it’s our perseverance, but they’ve labeled us as a
disorganized, boisterous team, but we’re actually very organized.
We’re a team of five close friends. What were the challenges
that were here this year, that weren’t in previous years? The challenge was to get parts
through customs. It was challenging
to find spare parts. Since last year we haven’t
been able to find a motor filter. You can’t find it in Venezuela. The country’s current situation
is not very good. I don’t want to talk
about politics because politics are a waste of time. What we need is to be happy
and have peace in this country like we are having now. Enjoy the race and Venezuela
as we are doing now. This is beautiful. Don’t you think so? We’ve come here to refuel. I’ve never seen anything like it. You see, there’s a tanker
up in the bridge, and then there’s all these pipes
just leading down to the water and that’s how people are refueling. I haven’t seen a toilet since
I left Caracas airport. I’ve had to become very resourceful in how and when and where
I empty my bladder. It wasn’t easy to start with, but, today I’ve found three
unique ways to pee that I’ve never done before. In a bucket, in the woods,
and off the back of a boat, to name just three, so,
don’t believe the hype. We have choice here in Venezuela. Capitalism is alive and well. Up on the bridge I met Daniel, the race president. Our event doesn’t have the
infrastructure for refueling so that’s why we have to
circulate these gasoline hoses. The supply is guaranteed by PDVSA,
the government-owned gas company. In Venezuela you only pay
one US cent per liter. We still have, without a doubt,
the cheapest fuel in the world. Well, one liter bottle of
drinking water costs way more than a liter of fuel. Daniel wasn’t exaggerating. Venezuela sits on the largest
proven oil reserves in the world. All of that production is
controlled by the government, which subsidizes the price of fuel. Meanwhile, bottled water
isn’t subsidized, and government mandated
price controls have insured that it’s expensive
and hard to come by. Even on this race, we were
constantly drinking weak beer, which is more readily available, in a futile attempt
to quench our thirst. -See you later, ma’am!
-See you tomorrow. This is Urbanita. Doesn’t look very urban, does it? Irony that the name
Urbanita is not lost on me. As I looked for a spot to
pitch my tent for the night, we were summoned to
an initiation ceremony. A sort of hazing ritual
for first timers on the race. I have to give you this. I have to give you this
because apparently, something bad will
happen to it otherwise. Egg! Egg! She wants egg! Okay, go with God. You’re all rosed! All right, all right! She makes it look good. And no race day was complete
without a party deep into the night. Morning! Breakfast! We stopped for a minute. It’s day three. Already, the landscape
is completely… Three, is it? Yes. Yeah. It’s day three already. The landscape has
transformed gradually, it’s basically jungle and you can
really feel like that we’re in like, the lungs of the world. We’re on our way to
Colombia, just for one day, it’s only half an hour away. While the competition
was still going strong, this stop in Colombia had
nothing to do with the race. This was a shopping trip. A chance for these Venezuelans to fill their boats with
provisions to take home after the race was finished. Because not even the Venezuelan
elite are exempt from shortages. We’ve seen so many of the racers,
people with means, you know, people who have money but there’s
just nothing to buy in Venezuela. Stocking up here on bags of rice, boxes of vegetable oil,
bags of sugar. It’s crazy, because
everything is available here. How difficult is it to find this
stuff in Venezuela right now? You can’t find it, and if you do
it’s very expensive. A single deodorant costs $5-6,000
Venezuelan Bolivars [$540USD]. And a box of six deodorants costs
$7,000 Colombian pesos [$2.33USD]. Six deodorants costs
$7,000 Colombian pesos [$2.33USD]. Even if you have wealth in Venezuela, does it make it any easier to
stock up on basic necessities? No, it’s not easy, it’s not easy. Everybody is in the same boat? Everyone, everyone. You may have the money,
but not a place to buy those things. It’s been really, really hard
to get cash in Venezuela because dollars
are basically illegal, it’s illegal to exchange dollars
for Bolívares, the local currency. And it’s just also a nightmare, there’s no infrastructure
to help us do that. Can I exchange $100 US? $100?
Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Twenty… -Forty.
-Forty. This is kind of on the
very edge of legality, because Bolívares aren’t
meant to cost that much, but this is $100 US dollars. I can’t do this any more subtly. Anywhere else in the world,
you can just pay on your card, but if I was to do that here, I’d be getting the official government
regulated currency exchange rate which is 12 Bolívares to one dollar. So, you’ve got to do it in
cash to get the street value, which is 1,000 Bolívares
per one dollar. With their boats stocked full of
Colombian toilet paper and toothpaste, everyone turned their
attention back to the race. The booze-fueled Sarataka had
broken down and dropped out. First boat’s coming in. But the disciplined favorite,
Miss Twister, was repeatedly the first
boat to arrive each day. That noise makes me feel funny! This is crazy. We’re on a bus, driving off road in the torrential rain to visit an indigenous community that lives
in this sort of Amazonian region, because part of the race is to provide sort of
social work, social services for those more needy. I call it a bus, I should have said ‘party bus’. The birthday girl!
The birthday girl! This is wild! The racers were providing aid
in the form of free medical care. Many people blame the government
for the state of the country, so it felt strange posing for photos during the gifting of government
branded desk calendars and T-shirts, to some of those most affected by
Venezuela’s economic nightmare. I can’t hear you! One, two, three! Our Rivers are Navigable! What are you doing? I’m extracting his second molar. He has a substantial amount of
calcification loss, it’s very advanced. And I’m going to perform
a simple extraction. There is very little access for
them to even get to the hospital, or to any
state-run clinic. And… [as doctors] on this boat race,
we do all of this… We do this every year. Emperor Nero was criticized for
playing the fiddle while Rome burned. So in spite of the altruistic
intentions of the racers, a speedboat race on the Orinoco, underwritten by a government
being protested by millions, could be seen as partying
while Venezuela drowned. The minute I stepped off the boat,
one of my fellow racers said to me, “Take your earrings off,
hide your necklaces”. It’s funny, because I mean,
yes, I can hide my jewelry, but, it’s going to be a bit harder to
hide those very expensive boats moored up in the harbor. To better understand
the relationship between the race and
its government sponsor, I caught up with one of the racers who helps lead the
relief effort each year. The race is funded by sponsors, and one of those is the
government oil company. And I noticed you were handing out things on behalf of the oil company. Does that mean that
you work for the government? No, not at all. We simply find
sponsors, as you call them, and we take advantage
of the assistance they offer. We try to spend the
least amount possible on mobilizing our team. But it all goes to the
communities that we visit. Why would the government
want to be associated with an event like this? For publicity. And nothing else. It’s not because they care,
but simply for publicity. They’re trying to project through
you or any media outlet that everything’s fine here,
but it’s not. It felt hypocritical that a government willing to bask
in the reflected glory of this race also placed hating rich people
at the heart of its ideology. Denouncing the rich was a key
political strategy of Hugo Chavez, the founding father
of Bolivarianism. Condemn the rich. To be rich is to be an evil
person, an inhumane person. And every day they’re drinking
whiskey. Almost every day! And they do drugs,
cocaine and travel. But that’s their culture. They just party. And Nicolás Maduro,
Chavez hand-picked successor, is peddling the same message today. The bourgeoisie class
don’t care about their country. They’re unpatriotic. And as Venezuela spirals further
towards complete collapse, the government still
relies on this narrative, transferring blame from its own
mismanagement of the economy to a shadowy cabal of elites. This race has been
running since the 70s. To get a sense of how things
have changed over the years, I spoke to veteran racer,
Joaquín Sánchez, who has hardly missed a
single event in three decades. You’ve been to about
30 of these races, is this year especially different because of the economic situation? Yes, of course it’s different. Many people can’t participate
in the race for this reason. But what started happening
17 years ago is that they’ve been trying to install
a communist regime here. And that’s important because look
what happened in other countries like Russia, Korea and Cuba. And that has deteriorated
our economy, but we’re going to
continue with our races. And we believe in
continuing this tradition because we’re sure that
better times are coming soon. But better times couldn’t feel
further away for most Venezuelans. We have woken up after no sleep. In our, motel? I can’t decide if it would’ve
been best to camp. My poor producer woke up
and there’s not an inch of her legs that aren’t covered in bed bug bites. The law respecting
virtue and honor Glory to the brave people
who shook off the yoke. The law respecting,
virtue and honor. -Venezuela!
-Long live Venezuela! But they’re speedboats, they said. You’re going on a glamorous
speedboat race, Charlet. We need oil for the engine, so we’re stranded here, currently. I’m a bit broken, I’m in that phase where nihilism isn’t a setting. Throughout this race, we’re stopping off in places that
are arguably some of the worse hit by the economic situation here. How does it make you feel,
what you’ve seen? Look. I’ve been coming here for decades. And these towns hosted
this race with a lot of joy. In this northern part
of the country, because I like to walk around town, I would hear people say,
“Those assholes are multimillionaires.” I would hear them. “That boat is worth
more than my house.” I would never hear
things like that before. That kind of resentment. This country, in spite of all the
things that they’ve done to us, in spite of all the
limitations we have, in spite of… well, I won’t elaborate
too much on all the problems, but, we are brave people. And we are alive! Fuck! During these past two years we’ve been able to organize
this event in Venezuela regardless of the difficulties
we’re going through. But thanks to all your support
we’re able to keep this going. Because of your passion
we’re able to continue working and putting a lot of physical
and mental effort into this. And we’re very proud that we were
able to pull off this worthwhile event. Venezuela is destined for great things,
and our event, Our Rivers are Navigable is an example of that. A round of applause to you
on behalf of the Board of Directors. Why is it so important
to push that message, that the rivers are navigable? We want to show that Venezuela
is more than what you see. It’s a tourist destination
that has a lot of potential then what is commonly portrayed
on the international stage. This is another side of Venezuela
and it’s a side we want people to see. This year was more difficult
than the previous year both economically
and logistically. Thank God we were sponsored
and supported by both the private sector
and the government. We can’t get away from the politics,
it still affects us and our event. We were all very worried, but we
continued to organize our event. Lately it’s been very difficult in Venezuela
to organize an apolitical event. My organization is very grateful
that you were bold enough to come to Venezuela
and see a different side that you don’t normally see
on the international stage. It’s the last day of the race.
I can’t believe it. I can’t believe we’ve made it. Day seven, this is the sprint leg. So, all the people in
the racing category have been saving their
engines for this moment, to try and win the sprint. That also means that
we have to go a lot faster than we’ve been going for the
past week, to keep up with them. It’s going to set off any moment. We don’t know who’s going
to win, but I’m really excited! Everyone, the mood
has really changed, the party is over, people are like,
tinkering with their engines, it’s very serious now. Serious business. Oh no, there’s a
problem with our engine! Can I help? -Can we help you?
-No. Just like that. We’re toast. Mother’s cunt! -Something happened?
-Yes. I was going super fast… -Here goes nothing.
-Hit it. What did he say? When we determined the
boat wasn’t going to start, we had no choice
but to abandon ship if we were going to
make it to the finish line in time to watch the
winning boats coming in. We eventually made it to the
final destination of the race, where a lavish party was
unfolding at the finish line. At last, everyone was able
to let their hair down in style. Everyone except me, that is. This is the finish line, we’re all
here peering into the horizon, trying to see which
boat’s coming first. They should be arriving any minute. There’s a very charged
atmosphere right now. Oh my God, I can’t believe it! Their hard work paid off! As predicted, Miss Twister
took first place. There was only one winner, but on this race,
the cliché ran true. This week, it truly was
the taking part that counts. thank you all. We will see you next year. The race is over and
I’m just about in one piece. I’ve been pushed out
of my comfort zone. And that’s been hard, this is a country where daily life
is devoid of comfort zones. And the people I’ve
spent the week with have chosen to spend their
spare time struggling on this logistically
challenging rally. Venezuelans have a profound
love for their country. In a way, this rally sort of
provides a way for them to reconnect with
their beloved homeland. And reclaim their Venezuela,
which, to be honest, their government’s
been doing a stellar job of squandering over the past decade. This rally has to be one of the
most challenging to pull off, anywhere in the world. And yet, I can’t imagine this
happening anywhere else, not only because Venezuela offers
the rivers to support such a race, but perhaps because of the tenacious
nature of the Venezuelan people. My hat goes off to them. This could only happen in Venezuela.