Crossing into Venezuela.
Maracaibo Travel Blog› entry 8 of 27 › view all entries
June 9th, 2008 – by: gopackjo
I had breakfast at the hotel, packed up my crap, and got a taxi down to the bus station in time to catch a 9am bus towards the Venezuelan border. There were basically two options I could have taken. Option one is the easy one, which get me a direct bus from Santa Marta to Maracaibo. This would have cost me about $35, and saves the hassle of changing busses along the way. Option two is to take a bus to Maicao, then catch a colectivo the rest of the way. The direct bus didn’t leave until noon, and the Maicao bus left at 9am. Decision made.
The first bus cost about $12, which seemed like a pretty good deal for a four hour ride. I was also encouraged that I could feel air conditioning coming through a vent at my selected seat. Since I ran to catch the bus the conductor didn’t ask me for my backpack to put underneath in the cargo area.
The ride went very well. The A/C well pretty good, the movie wasn’t too loud (The Marine with WWE wrestler John Cena), traffic was light, and the driver was brave. We were stopped at three or four checkpoints before one of the highway patrol officers asked me to grab my stuff and get off for an inspection. Not everybody, not five people, just me… the only gringo aboard.
They asked a few answerable questions, then they got to the one asking why my pack was next to me as opposed to below the bus. Thankfully the shrugging ‘I don’t know’ seems to be universal. They went through my things semi-seriously. They asked about my anti-malarial pills, and how much my nicely hidden laptop cost.
Soon after that we made it to Maicao and were dropped into a mass of people yelling “Cambio!” and “Maracaibo!” I needed both but wanted to get the lay of the land before jumping at the first offer. Upon checking things out I settled on a guy that had the info I wanted, and could make himself understood to me in Spanish.
First was the money changing. I was very pleased with the rate offered, and changed $200. The rate was 72% better than the one I was offered in Cartagena a few days ago, so it pays to wait for the right time I guess. With the new exchange rate the price for the colectivo came down to about $14.50. This got me a seat in an early 80’s Chevy Impala with four other people and the driver.
We left by 1:15pm and started on our way. This may have been the most careful driver I have ever encountered. Despite the seemingly stout suspension in the old American car he slowly nursed it over or around every bump he could see. This included long stretches of driving on the wrong side of the road towards oncoming traffic.
We got to the border and drove right past the Colombian formalities. I hope that doesn’t come back to bite me, as I didn’t get an exit stamp. At the Venezuelan side I had to get out for a quick stamp, and away we went. Between the border and Maracaibo we were stopped at about 10 different checkpoints and made to show id. Nobody hassled us, but they were really looking for something I guess.
Along the way gas prices had decreased in Colombia. And I began to see small roadside ‘gasolineras’. These featured two or three liter soda bottles filled with gasoline, which was presumably smuggled from Venezuela. I had seen this once before in Morocco near the Algerian border. Once getting into Venezuela proper the first four gas stations I saw were closed. I had heard there was a government crackdown on foreigners buying gas here, so that must be the result. I guess gas in Venezuela is about $0.15/gallon so that would certainly explain things. Some quick calculations in my head seem to point to gas in Colombia being cheaper than the current price in the United States as well.
There is also an excess of old American gas guzzlers here in Venezuela. There are very few of the Toyotas, Fiats and Renaults seen in Colombia. Every 70’s and 80’s Ford, Chevy & Dodge product was in evidence on the drive in. It reminded me of all of those stories you hear about Cuba, but subtract a few decades on the age here. Some versions were in better repair then others, but they all appear to have had substantial work done at various levels of skill.
The non air-conditioned ride was ok. I had a window seat, and the car had plenty of room. I was next to a 30ish Venezuelan woman on the ride, and not much was said during the trip. I pulled out the iPod and listened to some tunes unless we were approaching a checkpoint (which was always). The drive took forever it seemed. I had thought it would be about two hours, but it turned into three. I think I even caught the driver asking for directions along the way. Once hitting Maracaibo’s stop and go traffic the cooling breeze stopped, and all in the car started to sweat buckets. Mental note to get one of those little washcloths that everybody uses to wipe sweat in just such a situation.
After getting to the Maracaibo station I found that the next bus to Merida was an overnight leaving at 9pm. I was about 4:30pm, so I looked around for more money changing and an air conditioned place to hang. I had already changed all of the US Dollars in my wallet, so I needed to find a secluded, secure place to get to my hidden stash.
I found the bathroom, and there was a shower stall free. I grabbed more money and changed $400 more into Bolivars. I guess I should probably do more later, as I am not sure what I will run into inland. The rate I’ve been getting is 28% better then the official rate, and I would hate to be stuck with that rate if I need to use an ATM or credit card. And who knows what the opportunity will be to exchange money from Bolivars on Isla Margarita before heading to Trinidad. This will be a tough decision.
I am writing this blog on my laptop in a McDonalds near the station. There is no internet, but I needed a spot to hide my money and chill. I needed food and air conditioning, and it was the best I could do. I am also recharging my iPod for the overnight bus ride into the Andes.
Tomorrow I am hoping for a cool mountain temperature and a room with wi-fi. What do you think my chances are?
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