Thursday, August 15, 2013

Vida en Venezuela - Parte 2, Caracas

With our stamps in hand, we re-entered colombia (illegally) and got our bags and supplies for the bus trip. The bus was supposed to leave Maicao for the border at 4pm were we would then change onto another bus and then head for the capital. We didn't leave 7:45pm.

As soon as the bus left the carpark, which was located between the Colombian and Venezuelan border checkpoints the driver opened the door to the cabin and announced that if we wanted to leave quickly he would need 400VEF (US$12) bolivars so we could skip the queue of other buses ahead of us at the border checkpoint. A lady in the front row stood up and took a collection among the passengers, there were no complaints, just people requesting change for smaller bills.

Once the collection was complete, she counted the cash in front of everyone, took out 400 and counted the remaining bills, and announced the total to the bus, handed off the 400 to the bus driver, put the rest in her bag and took her seat. Just like the driver promised we whizzed past the other buses and started on our way.

I don't know what it was about our driver but he constantly had the look of someone who had a gun to his head. His eyes were wild, and his thin frame didn't help him appear any more settled with his surroundings. In retrospect if I had to drive a bus in the middle of the night to a city with 2700+ murders a year I would be a little gaunt too.

The money that was left over from the initial collection was not for the lady, but for the buses "bribe fund". I discovered this at the next checkout when the driver opened the door and requested the remainder of the funds from the lady. At the subsequent checkpoint he made a another request for funds , with our initial fund being exhausted he started at the back of the bus and worked his way to the middle before deciding he had a enough "lubricant" for this particular situation.

Just before we crossed the longest concrete bridge in the world we were stopped again. This time a for what ever reason a bribe would not work. We were ordered off the bus, and our identification and visa stamps checked to ensure we were there legally.

After this point I became extremely paranoid, I split my cash across my bags and wallet, I hid my USD in my underwear, and prepared a "disposable" wallet with about $40 and some debit cards. I had heard stories of buses being hijacked in safer countries than here, but i had never felt so unsafe during my time in South America until now.

Throughout the rest of the night, every time the door would open, which it did often as it didn't lock properly I would prepare myself to be stormed by paramilitaries with AK47's.

After 15 hours or so I found myself at La Bandera Bus station in Caracas, where the walls are papered with Nationalist rhetoric, like the "people are the heart of the country" and "Chavez said Maduro should be the leader". After a quick costume change we made a quick attempt to get a refund for our return ticket to Maicao, but either the tiredness or the complete lack of good spanish meant that we failed to get it. After a brief sweep of the Station we determined that we could not get to the east of the country from La Bandera. I was tempted to use our fake reservation at a Hotel in Caracas, but at the same time I was cognisant of the fact that this was Caracas. So we did the clever thing and got in a unlicensed taxi and made our way to Terminal de Oriente.

Hector, our cab driver gave us the quick low down on the city. He works in Caracas, but doesn't live there as it's too dangerous. Instead he lives 45 minutes away in a suburb. Traffic during the week is awful, but this was a Sunday so it was fairly clear. He also showed us the most dangerous barrio in the city. 200 (USD$8) Bolivars later we arrived at Terminal de Oriente. We found a bus heading to the south-east of country, Vladimir was heading to Santa Elena, while I was going to Ciudad Bolivar. The ticket was 200 Bolivars, which doesn't quite make sense given that the taxi ride was so expensive, but hey it's USD$8. We had to wait for 4 hours before the bus left so we settled in with some tripe soup and roast chicken.

An hour into our wait, Vladimir discovered that there was flight to Rio from Caracas for US$100 after currency tricky was applied and made a mad dash for the airport. I charged my phone, bought some water, and continued to wait.

That was Caracas.

Thats a lot of lines

My Journey(s) of the last two years

I arrived back in England this past tuesday. Almost a year since I was last here, and well over 2 years since I left. It's been two days, and quite frankly I'm dreaming about leaving again.