Trip Start Nov 05, 2009
32Trip End Apr 26, 2010
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The journey continues....
Caracas is a very scary place....rated in the top 5 most dangerous places in the world with one of the highest murder rates...as one kind person told me as I left lovely, sunny Tobago. I have to admit that I was petrified about arriving, particularly as the airport is one of the dodgiest places. I think the most unsettling thing is that you can't even trust the police as they are renound for being incredibly corrupt - planting drugs on tourists, extorting money etc etc. The taxi drivers also are not to be trusted as it is common place for tourists to be driven to cashpoints and forced to withdraw cash at knife/gun point. In a place like this who the hell can you trust?
Drugs traffiking is obviously a major issue here and I got my bag searched....I was petrfied that they would find my illicit stash of pesto and pasta that i had hidden in my rucksack for an emergency dinner....thankfully they didn't find it so all is well
Before I had even collected my bag from the luggage carasel I had been dealing on the blackmarket, exchanging some US dollers for some local currency with a guy that seemingly had some official capacity at the airport. It seems that corruption and dodgy deals is a way of life here. The official exchange rate is half that of the blackmarket and if you don't use it Venezuala is a very expensive place to be. The guy warned me not to walk straight out of the airport as it is very dangerous...what the hell am I doing here?....
Caracas is a very busy, dirty, frantic place...the complete opposite of Tobabgo and a total shock to the system.I had researched exactly which buses I needed to get to reach the main bus terminal so that i could whizz out of venezuala as quickly as possible...hmmmm...but this is S. America!. The bus station that i ended up at had maybe 100 buses but none of them said where they were going and no one could understand where i was trying to get to (I later read that this bus station should be avoided at all costs as it is very unsafe....eeeek).
It was here that I stumbled across my first guardian angel of the day. He was the only respectable looking, well dressed gentleman in the place (in retrospect I think that he might have been head of the bus mafia as he accepted hand fulls of cash from a couple of buses we passed) and despite not speaking any english and not understanding any of my feeble attempts at spanish we managed to communicate on some level. It became clear that the bus I needed did not actually run from here and I would somehow have to get across the city to another bus station
Thankfully I was right and he very kindly took me directly to another bus station where I eventually understood that there were no buses running to the south until january....arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Enter stage left my second guardian angel....a guy that had lived in London and spoke English....hurrah! He said that my best bet would be to get one of his taxis to a lovely (hmmm)place 4 hours away along the east coast called Puerto la Cruz where i would be able to get a bus very easily. I was suspicious as ever but again felt that under the circumstances I had little choice and I had no choice but to just trust the guy. I felt better that there would be 3 other passengers in the car too and they were all locals
And here begins the most frightening journey of my life.....
The driver was a little weasle like venezualen guy who spoke quite good English as his Grandfather was from Manchester (what a great combination Manc and Venezuelan).
He loved speaking on his mobile whilst driving which is bad enough but he also loved to use his hands to express himself as he talked, consequently there were many times that he had no hands on the wheel at all as we careered through the streets of Caracas. Very aptly he was playing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody on his stereo and I clung onto the lyrics 'Mama...oooh...I don't want to die' as a mantra in the many times of stress for the rest of the trip. It got worse as we got out of the city and we hit the winding, potholed country roads. We spent more time on the wrong side of the road overtaking anything in our path, hurtling head on towards lorries and buses, swinging into the other lane at the last possible moment, even when there was seemingly no space to move in to. Maybe it was his Manc genes that gave him his perchant for driving on the left? Stopping distance...what stopping distance...for the majourity of the 4 hours we were 2 - 3 inches from the back bumper of whatever was in front...at one point we were overtaking another car that was also overtaking....is that double taking?? We travelled at all times at nothing less than 150km per hour unless we hit a traffic jam which didn't stop him as he would just over or undertake it
Our driver was actually a really nice guy and turned out to be my third guardian angel of the day. He offered to come into the bus station with me to help buy my ticket. Sods law that the bus had just left an hour ago and there was not another one until the same time tomorrow (so much for the 10 buses a day in my guidebook!). He said that i had to be at the bus station at 6.00am the next day to ensure I got a ticket for the 3pm bus. He offered to drive me around the town to find a hotel for the night...alas being new year and peak season there was no room at the inn. We eventually came across a hotel that had a room and he went on his way. What a lovely guy.
I can quite see why the hotel had a room available....shithole doesn't even begin to describe it. It was located on the seafront....fittingly enough the road was called the Paseo de colon...this whole place is like something that has passed through many colons. My room was basically a windowless cell in the bowels of the building. There was an overwhelming smell of fish and something else revolting that i couldn't quite place. The room was filthy and full of insects, mainly cockroaches and their offspring. Some of which were crawling about on the bed...mmmm
The next morning i woke at the crack of dawn (yes I actually did sleep for a while) and headed down to the bus station to get my ticket. Puero La Cruz is a horrible place, very run down and smells disgusting. Suprisingly it is a popular holiday destination despite the oil distillery and the polluted sea. Litter is a real problem here in Venezuela which i just can't abide....grrrrrrr.
The bus from Puerto la Cruz to Boa Vista (just across the Brazil border) was amazing....very comfortable, with fully reclining seats and super strong air con ( I had to use my 4 season sleeping bag to keep warm). The journey took 20 hours in total including a chaotic border crossing. The lanscape in southern venzuela is very beautiful with sweeping savanna, gushing streams and table top mountains. Looks like a fantastic place to go walking and camping.
Arriving into northern brazil was fantastic...seeing the start of the rainforest for the first time was superb and a very exciting moment.
We had a day to kill in Boa Vista before our next bus to manaus at 9.30pm. I had met up with 4 lovely french guys and a guy from Chile on the bus so we spent the day mouching around Boa Vista which is quite a pleasant little place. I already much prefer Brazil to Venezuela.
The bus from Boa Vista to manaus (the capital of Amazonia) was very uncomfortable and due to the compacted mud track a real bone shaker....12 hours later we arrived in manaus.
UnfortunatelyI was unable to book the kayak trip because I am on my own and they have no other trips running that I could join, so have decided to get straight onto the boat that will take me up the Amazon to Peru. I will be travelling on a small cargo/ passenger boat like the one that Bruce Parry travelled on in his series 'Amazon'. The journey to the border takes 6 days and I will be sleeping in a hammock slung from the roof of the boat. I have heard that you are often the only foreigner on these boats so I'm hoping that my spanish/portugese will have a chance to improve. I leave tomorrow and am expecting a pretty uncomfortable journey with plenty of back ache, noise and lack of space....can't wait!!
I spent new year having some beers with a couple of Argentinian girls I met at the hostel where i am staying. After the past few days travelling I was exhausted but managed to stay up until midnight and see in the new year.....just!
I'll be in peru when i next update my blog.......Adios!