Goodbye Venezuela, Hello Colombia
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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On the way out of town we spotted a propane bottling plant, and were very happy to get our two tanks filled without too much hassle. Now, if there were only more places to camp! On down through the valley and then up over a couple of mountain passes, dropping precipitously to the little town of Coloncita. The local population were up in arms about poor water supply, so had decided to block the main highway through town. Nobody was going anywhere today. After a long diversion we finally reached our next anticipated stop, San Cristóbal - only to be confronted with another large city totally congested with berserk traffic. We headed for the hills again looking for a campsite that someone had mentioned in La Petrolea, where the first discovery of oil in Venezuela had been made. We managed to avoid all the mud slides on the road from the recent torrential rain, but made a mental note of the numerous roadside memorials on the winding, narrow road. The campsite project had apparently never become a reality, but the Park Warden kindly allowed us to stay overnight in the parking lot. The next day we decided to head for the border.
The nearby sleepy little town of Rubio was more our style. We stopped to munch on our empanadas in the plaza and several school kids stopped to chat and ask about our van on the their way home for lunch. None of them could believe that we didn't have a TV. In the square in front of the striking church a statue of Simón Bolívar
Another name that is literally everywhere in Venezuela these days is Hugo Chávez. The flamboyant left-wing President is running for re-election on November 3rd and the country is plastered with huge posters extolling his many accomplishments. You get the impression that not even the most modest construction project or road repair is completed without the personal supervision of Mr. Chávez.
At the border town of San Antonio we filled our tank for the last time for a grand total of $2.50 and headed for the international bridge. There was a heavy stream of local vehicles back and forth and before we knew it we were on the Colombian side. We parked the van and trudged back to Venezuelan Customs and Immigration. Getting DC3 through the official exit procedures in the Carnet was no problem, but we were then directed 15 blocks back into town to the Immigration Office to pay the departure tax (another first) and get our passports stamped by a sullen bureaucrat. Two sweaty hours later we were again on our way over the bridge, but not before we were nearly knocked over by a soldier wielding a hefty automatic rifle chasing down an errant driver with something to hide. We had visions of being caught in the crossfire, but no shots were fired in anger and instead the soldier calmly got out his notepad and jotted down the vehicle licence plate number.
On the Colombian side the story played out in reverse. Our sixty-day tourist visa was issued without ado but then we had to track down the Customs Office seven km away near the airport in the border city of Cúcuta. This turned out to be another two-hour exercise in frustration, instead of the five-minute procedure that we've become accustomed to in most other South American countries (must be warming us up for the torturously complicated shenanigans at Central American borders!). After much head-scratching, numerous photocopies, and shuffling from office to office we were ready for the grand inspection to verify all the details on the van itself. When it came time to check out the engine number we were quite piqued that the customs official declined our invitation to crawl under the van and check it out for himself!
Now that we're through with all the formalities we've really enjoyed our first few days in Colombia.