Posted by: Larzizou | September 3, 2008

Caracas and Los Roques, Venezuela

Getting from Taganga to Caracas has been the most traumatic experience of my trip so far. Delving maybe too much into the details, the chain of events…

(A) Missed the daily 20h direct bus. My only other option : make one stop before the border, at Maicao, and one after, at Maracaibo.

(B) The first bus, Santa Marta to Maicao : five hours in an over-air-conditioned hell vehicle. Successively, two movies : a Steven Seagal-like opus, and Shoot’em Up featuring Monica Bellucci and Clive Owen. The first movie, 478 person killed by hand in less than 90 minutes. The second one, in the same length, twice as much. But by various sorts of machine guns. It did not help that the volume was set unbearably loud. And that the sound system was terrible. Within an hour, I was sneezing and coughing. The cold I got, I kept it for over two months.

(C) Second bus, from Maicao to Maracaibo: The minute I step out of the bus in Maicao, I am assailed by half a dozen taxis fighting to get my attention and myself in their – what I believe is a – bus or collectivo. I randomly opt for one, as I do not want to spend more time than necessary in what is notoriously known to be an “unsafe and lawless city”, change pesos Colombiano for Venezolenos bolivares, and pay the driver. He directs me to his… car. An old car from the 70s, with a distinctive smell from the 70s too. There are people in the car, but they are more from the 50s. Three in the front row (including the driver), four on the backseat. I sit at the front. Next to me sits Rodrigo and… two eyes-covered chicken on his lap. Thank g.od the trip to Maracaibo must last only 2.5 hours.

(D) Alternating from heat to cold, I quickly get a headach. We reach the border. I forget to get stamped out of Colombia when I reach the Venezuela immigration and have to – mistrustfully let my suitcase in the trunk and – get back to get stamped out. When I come back, the driver is still there. Sigh. And aggressively asks me for money, because – from what I understand of his Spanish – “I am making everybody late”. Firmly, I refuse. A man has to stand.

(E) Now begins trouble. Every 50 to 100 meters (I am not exaggerating), a police check point. In most of the case, unlike my fellow travelers in the car who hold Colombian or Venezuelan id., I have to get out of the car and am asked about the purpose of my trip and various other questions related to drug possession, consumption or smuggling. Yes, this border is known for drug smuggling, stupid me. Every time we hit a check point, Rodrigo hides his poultries on the ground, which is another occasion for them – if they ever needed one – to bite my legs in the process.

(F) The ride goes on, with countless checkpoints, chicken biting my right leg, nauseating smell of gas invading my nose, and the whole company discussing in Spanish, very often ending their sentences by “Frances” (French, i.e. me) and followed by burst of laughs. After five hours, instead of the 2.5 planned, and numerous threats to abandon me made by my driver as I get pulled out of the car, we arrive in Maracaibo. Safe, sick and exhausted. Same scenario : half a dozen of drivers try to get me in their – this time – double-decker, properly air-conditioned- state of the art buses. I opt for one of them, indifferently.

(G) It seems my luck has turned, and maybe it has. I take two large reclinable sits, feel comfortable. No loud TV. About to begin a 10h pleasant ride to Caracas. Or am I ? Ten minutes into the ride, I hear a lion roaring, a dragon sneezing or…the guy behind me snoring. A 300 pounds Venezuelan you don’t want to mess with. In vain, passengers whistle. I sigh. It’s gonna take thirteen sleepless hours to reach Caracas, g.od knows why.

(H) At last, in Caracas, 23h after having left Santa Marta. As I head to the “salida” (exit), a police officer stops me, asks me my passport and to follow him to the station. I am brought to a small rectangular room and asked to open my backpack. Everything is opened, turned inside out. Four officers in the room. One goes through my stuffs. I have to explain the use of everything, from electronics to medicines. Another views the pictures contained in my camera and asked me questions, sometimes related (“where was this?”), sometimes unrelated (“do you like geishas?”). One of them, demands a hand held fan I have in my bag as “regala” (gift), I comply. The last one asks me to hand him all the money I have on me, which I do. I have a lot of cash since Venezuela street exchange rate is twice as good as the official one, because of the currency control. All tourists come with thick wads. So at the same time, I try to keep track of my camera, my money and my ipod on the table. I am then asked to undress, which I do, to kneel down, which I do. Back up, I am asked to remove my socks. Problem. Aware of the potential risk, I have hidden 200 euros in each socks. I remove my socks. Am asked to shake them. I do, stupidly, without turning them upside down, hoping it will do the trick. The officer does not seem to notice and tells me to dress up. Sigh. I can pack my things, get my ipod back, my camera, my wad of bills. I have spent over an hour in this narrow room.

(I) I exit the police station, still shaken. Check the money wad. Just what I thought : 200 euros are missing. I am not going to confront them – and risk being beaten up. Reach my hotel at noon… but have to wait 2pm to check in. It has been a tough day.

I meet later the friend I came to see and in need of culinary relief, I stop – once again – at Astrid y Gaston, this time in the Caracas branch. This has to be the less conclusive of my experience in all their branches.

My friend brings me to a Dudamel recital. He’s the national pride – and quite a superstar here. Very energetic director.

Getting skilled at using Picasa.

The city, surrounded by hills.

On the cerro atop the city.

We decide to go to Los Roques for a day, the dreamy destination of lovers and others.

The colors are quite unique.

We spend part of the day on a catamaran.

Random people on the beach.

Other random people.


Digging a hole to the center of the earth, without success.

We like Los Roques a lot and want to stay but…

… cannot : I have lost my passport and must leave the country within a few days. So back to Caracas airport the same day… where I find my passport left at the internet cafe.

Trying local delicacies > cachapas.

Arepas.

The very controversial Chavez, almost – if not – daily on air. I failed to capture him with his red shirt; he wears it 84% of the days.

My friend tells me that “we don’t walk in Caracas”, it is too unsafe. I am inclined to believe it. Recently, tourism has been really bad in the country. So we drive.

This is the Monte Libano. A monument erected to inter-religious brotherhood.

Yeah, I have taken these pictures for my much appreciated smallBROTHER…

… also going by the name : Tarek Daher…

… or ugly unabrow man.

The complex is nonetheless magnificent.

Better view.

El Hatillo area.

A Rolls Royce. Some people have money in Venezuela. Especially, according to what I have been told, the chavistas. People surrounding Chavez who enriched themselves surprisingly very quickly after he came to power.

You will find anything concerning Venezuelan culture in Hannsi. Really.

The local beer.

I, for a second, am Venezuelan.

And a harpist. That was my dream as a child. Never fulfilled. My parents never wanted to give me lessons. I have a clue as to why…

You may know Davy Croquett, but do you know Betty Croquer ?

Platano ! Beans ! Rice ! Meat !

Meat ! Platano ! Beans ! Rice !

Yeah, that’s what Venezuelan food is constituted of.

And the odd churros. Even better covered with Nutella and dipped in thick hot chocolate. I think I gained three kg this day.

The city lights – from the entrance of a bar where I was not let in because I was wearing flip flops.

At the airport, en route to Bogota…

Te tenemos en la mira ! (You’re in our radar !). El trafico de drogas es un riesgo peligroso. (Drug trafficking is a dangerous risk to take.) En cualquier momento… te vemos ! (At any time…we see you !) Se inteligente. Evita riesgos. Dile no a las drogas. (Be wise. Avoid risks. Say no to drugs.)

You have been warned.

Next comes Easter Island !

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Hassles are really inevitable part of travelling. But with the magnicent pictures, which are evidence that you had a wonderful time, I am sure those hassles are just petty ones after all.

  2. Dude, I am about to take this bus trip, I have read your story with my jaw dropped, would you have a moment to give me some more info.

    (1) Can you think of a reason why the police targeted you for this treatment upon arrival in Caracas? For example, did you look “well dressed” compared to others??

    (2) What language did the police officers speak to you?

    (3) Did you hear of anyone else who had this experience, ie do you think this happens regularly or does it seem you were extremely unlucky.

    Your response would be very very much appreciated =)

    Sarah Weller

  3. Hey,

    Hope you get this in time.

    (1) I was very modestly dressed, nothing fancy or shiny. Wearing regular-looking shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers. I am also dark skinned and am not usually taken for a tourist, unless spoken to.

    (2) At arrival in Caracas bus station (and anywhere else), the police officers spoke to me in Spanish. It is only when I replied with my shaky Spanish that they realized I was a foreigner.

    (3) I had read many reports along the same lines online (search lonely planet thorn tree forum and google); so I was aware of the potential issues. I have not met anyone who had the same experience however. I do not believe I was particularly unlucky : at the bus station in Caracas, many foreigners with backpacks were waiting before/at the police station and were apparently going to go through the same hurdles I did. So based on what I saw, my case was not an isolated one.

    I can only recommend that you fly, or if it’s too expensive for you, that you take the direct bus from Santa Marta. Believe me, you don’t want (and absolutely don’t need) to live what I lived. I guess these long distance charter buses get into much less trouble that small minivans and independant cars.

    Let me know if you need further information.

    Suerte !

    P


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: