Welcome to Venezuela
Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
105Trip End Jun 08, 2006
We are a couple of days earlier than originally scheduled since we decided not to dwell in the unattractive city of Lima. We have also decided to get out of Caracas as quickly as possible. Our plan is to take a night bus directly to Cuidad Bolivar.
We pick up our bags and head out of the secure area into the airport concourse. We want to get some Venezualan Bolivares, but none of the ATMs seem to work with our cards. There are plenty of shady money changers around who apparently give a much better black market rate for dollars so eventually I change a small amount with a fat dark-skinned mustachiod guy who looks like a drugs baron.
Rachel is feeling scared and doesn`t seem to be able to relax. She thinks we are about to get mugged before we´ve even left the airport.
We walk briskly down to the domestic terminal where we buy 16,000 Bolivares tickets (GBP4.00) for the bus into central Caracas which is more than 20km distant. The hugely overweight driver, shirt buttons straining in the gut area, directs us impatiently into the dark interior of a Mercedes minibus. The bus speeds off up the motorway towards Caracas, and the journey appears to be going well until we hit roadworks. It appears that the roadbridge has been washed away by a river and the traffic soon knarls up on the single lane as it wends its way to the city centre.
Before long the traffic is in complete chaos, and a policeman at a crossroad holds his head in his hands as drivers completely ignore him. Not far from us an ambulance is stuck with its siren wailing continuously. All around us impatient and angry drivers blast their horns. It feels like we have arrived in hell.
Eventually our driver barges his way through the traffic and we stop outside an underground station. Despite having managed perfectly well in Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, we can´t understand a word in of the slurred Spanish our driver is saying to us. So we decide to stay on the bus until it reaches its final destination in the centre. We curse Lonely Planet who give so little information about getting around safely and efficiently in the Caracas.
The bus stops in a dingy deserted layby under a road overpass in some unknown part of town. The only taxi driver there offers to take us to the bus station for 30,000 Bolivares (GBP8.00). It doesn´t look like a good place to go wandering off to find alternate transport in the night, so we take it.
After twenty minutes or so of driving, we arrive at the bus station. The taxi driver warns us it might be quite busy this weekend as its Mother`s day on Sunday. We walk over to the information booth and ask the lady when the next bus to Cuidad Bolivar leaves. Theres one at 9pm, in just over an hour which seems perfect.
Then we walk round the corner and see the queue. A seething mass of people milling chaotically infront of a few sales windows. We join the queue and realise after 10 minutes that we are not going to get a bus before midnight if we remain where we are.
I leave Rachel with the bags and head away from the 'buy ticket' booths to the 'change ticket' window where there are only a few people. I ask the attendant how long the queue is likely to take and she shrugs her shoulders. I ask her if there's a special place for tourists to buy tickets and she asks for my passport. Good sign. Within two minutes I have two tickets for Cuidad Bolivar on the 9pm Cama (sleeping) bus. Rachel looks at me increduously when I show her the goods.
We eat dinner in one of the greasy little cafes upstairs. People seem incredibly rude and push each other around and bark at each other. There are no smiles here for anyone. A lady thumps her 5 year old daughter hard for not eating properly. The little girl doesn`t cry but stares out into space.
Eventually we find the right bus, which is another challenge in itself, and we get on board. There is a well-built local man with a thin moustache in my chair, and he won`t budge. I get Rachel to take her seat next to him and I start trying to find out why he´s in my seat.
He won´t show me his ticket and people in adjacent seats mutter about the bus company double-selling the tickets. The bus driver holds his hands up in the air and refuses to get involved.
There are other seats, so I point them out to the man but he refuses to move. Rachel feigns chicken flu by having a coughing fit next to him and eventually he moves off elsewhere. Not one person on the bus intervenes on my behalf. Rachel decides that Venezuela is a bad place.
Once in my seat the journey is a comfortable one and we reach our destination of Cuidad Bolivar early in the morning. I recognise the town from a suspension bridge where I can see the vast brown Orinoco and the narrowing of the river where the town is located.
We take a taxi, sweating in the early morning heat, and check into a German run Posada Don Carlos in the historic central part of town.
Rachel`s nerves are shattered and she`s only just arrived. Later that day we read a message from one of Rachel`s distant relatives who lives in Caracas advising us on no account to take the night bus in Venezuela because as tourists we will be spotted and we will be at great risk. Unfortunately we got that advice a bit late.