Got to Bogotá yesterday, but there was barely enough time to pull my undies out of my backside before I was bang! on another overnight bus heading up to the border with Venezuela. For some reason, Colombian buses must be kept at a constant -5 degrees C at all times, so I was forced to wear pretty much all the clothing I own and my sleeping bag. But that’s the way they like it. We were roused from our collective slumbers at about 7am for some breakfast on top of a mountain. And I thought the bus was cold…! Luckily, the driver kept us all locked out of the coach for half an hour so we all got to experience the full freezing coldness of an Andean mountain on an early Sunday morning.
What is this with countries near the equator being cold? I don’t get it. I may have to right a letter to the Secretary General of the UN about it. It’s just not cricket.
I arrived at the border with Venezuela in good time – around 12 noon, expecting to breeze through the formalities in good time, but ended up waiting for an age. I got chatting to a Venezuelan teenager called Mario, and he and his mum would be my guardian angels for the next couple of days.
My first taste of Venezuela was for the taxi driver to rip us off something rotten – charging $30 to drive a mile or so. Fairly cheeky, one would imagine – but it’s taking the utter p*ss when you remember that Venezuela is an oil state and it costs $2 to fill your tank. Or $1 to fill your car, if you’re not playing Grand Theft Auto.
Actually, it was a good introduction to life in Venezuela – it’s expensive. Very expensive. In a crappy, rippy-offy kind of way.
And awkward. Very bloody awkward.
So far, The Odyssey hasn’t been a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination, but at least I’ve been able to turn up, buy a ticket to my next destination and jump on the bus.
I think Venezuela has been taking lessons from the appallingly crap public transport system we have in the UK.
So – let’s put not enough buses on during public holidays! Let’s have no express services! Let’s make it impossible to pay by Visa! Let’s employ thoroughly unpleasant and unhelpful staff! And, just to kick Graham in the knackers, let’s make sure the only ATM in the terminal is broken.
The world and his mate seemed to be trying to get home this Sunday and the coach companies were not playing ball.
Mario and his mum looked after me, though. They were heading home to Cuidad Guyana – and I had to pass through there on the way to Boa Vista in Brazil. We combined forces and they managed to blag me on board a bus to Puerto La Cruz with them using someone else’s ticket and I managed to pay in US dollars. Baring in mind all the other buses were sold out until Tuesday, this was a lucky break for your ginger host.
Everything was sweet, and so after a pleasant afternoon spent sweating and choking on the exhaust fumes in a dirty concrete bus station, I was on my way – a roundabout way of getting to Brazil, but a way nonetheless.
WOKE UP to the DEAFENING SOUND of a pirate copy of ‘Death Race’ being played on the bus at MAXIMUM VOLUME.
This continued until Jason Stratham got sacked from his job as a steel worker and then, inexplicably, the televisions turned themselves off. Maybe that’s what passes for an alarm clock on a Venezuelan bus.
So rudely awoken from my slumber, I realised we were passing through Caracas, the capital of Venezuela.
Oh deary, deary me.
One day the town planners of the 60s and 70s will be hunted down like Nazi war criminals and made to pay for their crimes.
Yep – you guessed it – all the old colonial buildings were razed to the ground in the decades that taste forgot and, in their stead, guess what dreaming palaces were built…
A teardrop on the face of eternity? No – ugly utilitarian nightmares of concrete and despair. Whoop whoop! Good job Venezuela has the highest waterfall in the world – I doubt many people would come here to reveal in the architectural terrorism of the latter twentieth century.
We breezed in to Puerto La Cruz around noon and after a quick trip to the bank, we were on our way to Cuidad Guyana. My bus for the border was leaving at 9:45pm. We had better be fast.
We weren’t fast. We stopped at every damn town and rest stop on the way. On the plus side, I got to show Mario how to play shithead. On the minus side, we finally got in at 10:00pm – arriving just in time to see my bus to the border leave the terminal.
Now I’m up a creek of poo and someone’s stolen my paddle.
Let me explain – bus takes 10 hours to get to the border with Brazil. Arrive Tues 8am. Over border, 2 hours to Boa Vista, bank, 1 hour to border with Guyana – arrive about 12noon. Get safe bus in nice bright daylight to Georgetown.
Having missed the bus, I’d have to get one in the morning, meaning I’d arrive in Guyana on Wednesday – and the good safe bus doesn’t run on Wednesday – only unsafe minibuses, which according to Lonely Planet are ‘prone to robbery and hijacking’.
I’m already 3 days behind schedule as it is. This is not good news.
What I should have done is got in a taxi to the nearby San Felix terminal and forced my way onto another bus, but it was late, I was hungry and Mario’s offer for me to come to his place, get a shower and have something hot to eat and have somewhere comfortable to sleep was just too overwhelming.
If we can point to a moment in time when this whole expedition fell apart like a Jenga piece stacked too far to the left, this very well might be it. But for the minute, let’s soldier on.
Woke up in Mario’s house. His family had been so accommodating, taking in a big ginger stray like me for the night and looking after me on my trip through Venezuela. I can’t thank them enough. I headed back to the bus terminal and jumped on the first bus to Santa Elena on the border with Brazil.
Oh, you might be looking at the map and wondering why I can’t just enter Guyana from Venezuela. I wondered that too. Well, that would be because Venezuela for some god-only-known reason thinks that it owns Guyana. Yep – it’s marked on maps and ‘Land to be reclaimed’!
Never mind that it has been a British colony since 1796 (before then it was Dutch and before then Arawak – the native people of the land). Never mind that it has never been Venezuelan, ever, or that it’s people speak English, are part of the British Commonwealth and play CRICKET for goodness sake!
Stupid Venezuela. Silly, silly Venezuela. Guyana is an independent nation and nothing to do with you. Get over it you bunch of oil-rich weirdos.
On the bus, I got chatting to a wonderful old dude called Francisco. He was 81 years old, his parents were from Trinidad, he was born in Venezuela, his wife was from Grenada and he now lives in Washington DC, where he will be selling flags for inauguration day next week. He reckons five million people are going to turn up. A good day for flag sellers – a great day for mankind. I only wish the incoming President got to ceremonially kick the outgoing President up the behind with a pointy shoe.
So we headed up into the Grand Savannah – an area of Venezuela filled with vast flat mountains – tepuis – like gigantic loaves of bread or Ayres Rock grown by several hundred miles outward. Covered in grass, these vast plains-on-top-of-mountains are the home of the Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world – 16 times higher than Niagara. The only way to see it is to fly or hike for days, so it’s not on my itinerary this time.
The driver was powering along the road like a man possessed and I thought I was making good time.
But Venezuela had one last trick up its evil little sleeve – the border closed at 7pm. I got there at 7.15pm.
So not only could I not continue to Boa Vista in Brazil for an early start on Guyana in the morning, I had to stay on the border in an overpriced prison cell, sorry, “hotel”. The shower was cold, my room smelt of turnip and thank god mosquitoes don’t like me much or I’d be downing the quinine like a man possessed.
Damn! Why does this keep happening? If the border closed three hours previously, it wouldn’t be so frustrating.