Trip Start Oct 23, 2006
Trip End Apr 15, 2009

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Flag of Venezuela  ,
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We leave the hot and humid lowland behind today, as we head north to Venezuela, and the Gran Sabana.
An easy border crossing at the nice new, efficiently manned crossing was a treat, and we breezed through into a language we can at least understand somewhat!
So, this is Venezuela? good highways, well marked, decent surfaces. What's wrong with that? We get to the first town, and find that the 2 bank machines don't work. hmmmm, not good. We find a street cambio, and offer her some american cash, she laughs. OK, try the 50 Real note that's all we have left from Brazil. YES, she likes that. Strangely, and inexplicably, she gives me 100 Bolivares. Well, not having been apprised of any changes, I had expected some more than that. Like maybe 60,000! It is still not clear in my head what happened, and I'm now convinced that we were the first ever to be LONG changed by a change merchant. Apparently Venezuelans just knocked some zeros off their currency and didn't tell me. So I should have got 60Bf, not the 100Bf I actually received.
Soon we find ourselves gassing up, and for the princely sum of 4.65Bf (2.20$C) we got 45 litres of dino juice. Hmmmm, so this is about 40 times less than the last time we bought gas in Brazil. So, is this the way Venezuela's going to be?
We find a great spot to sit for the night, the nearly deserted highway is barely audible in the distance, and we enjoy the cool breeze of the plateau of the Gran Sabana, the highlands of Venezuela. It's great to be cool again.
The next day we try to visit Kavenayen, but it's raining hard, and the sand/mud road is pretty bad. After 45km an even bigger rainstorm looms ahead, and we turn back. Disappointed, but not stuck in a ditch, we head back to the highway and turn north until it starts to get so rainy and dark that we just stop at a roadside parador (restaurant/play area/rooms_for_rent) for supper and ask to stay for the night. The owner says park over there away from the traffic a bit, and we are lulled to sleep by the sounds of the occasional car, and woken by the local chickens playing tag.
So, this is OK. Venezuela seems fine, the people are friendly, and fuel is cheap. What can be bad?
Our first city is Guayana, actually two cities, the old colonial city better known as San Felix and the new spanky skyscrapered better known as Puerto Ordaz where the middle class and rich live on the opposite bank of one of the two rivers running through this place.- the Orinico and the Coroni. Massive industrial plants line the rivers. It was difficult to see where one plant started and the other finished, maybe it was just one continuous business. Oil and gold are the natural resources here and Brazilians like to come to buy gold and gas.
In Cuidad Bolivar we finally made time for grocery shopping but ended up in a Costco type place. Bulk packages are not our scene unless we start pulling a trailer so we went in search of a market and there we begin to see the downside of life here. So, the fuel is cheap, but everything else is expensive. 1 litre of synthetic oil 24$C, silly me thinking that OIL products would be cheaper here.. Tires that should be 60 are 140. Basic goods in a supermarket are easily twice what they would have cost in Brazil, and they weren't cheap there. If you look at their overall cost of living, we couldn't figure out how they could possibly survive here. Who can know what is better? Expensive fuel/cheap food? cheap fuel/expensive everything? How about cheap/cheap, like in Bolivia? or Peru? or Argentina? I guess it's all an experiment, on us. I think we begin to see the downside to a petro-centric nation, but it's not fair to try to paint a complete picture based on just a few days. We do know that many people survive outside the system. Good for them is what we say.
Here, the cars are all right out of the old "Dukes of Hazard" tv show. All big fat tires and loud engines. Everyone pretends that they're a taxi, but you know better, right? it's pretty funny really, except they all drive flat out, all the time. More so than most Latinos. Mid '70 Chevy Caprice classics, all decked out with low-riders and fat tires, screaming by at probably 200km/h, Old Toyota BJ landcruisers, doing 150km/h? not so safe and here we are amongst them trying to speed a little because we've got gas to waste. But instead lets go off road and drive around aimlessly because we've got gas to waste. Good off road adventures are everywhere, just don't get stuck on the wrong side of a major storm....
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