I've never tried to get a hotel at 6am.

Merida Travel Blog

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Merida's Plaza Bolivar.
Hello All,
When I last left you I was heading back to the train station in Maracaibo to catch my overnight bus to Merida.  I waved down an old Ford Falcon taxi and was actually offered a reasonable price to start with by the driver.  Let's see, so far I've been in a Chevy Impala, a Chevy Nova, and a Ford Falcon since getting to Venezuela.  It is certainly gas guzzling heaven here.

There was a line at the internet cafe in ther bus station, so I tracked down my money changing guy to get another $400 in Bolivares.  For the first time I got the 'cool it' signal from the guy, signaling me that some sort of police or authority figure was nearby.  This reminded me that this whole thing was pretty damn illegal.
View Southeast from Calle 24. That is a town a very long way down next to the Rio Chama.
 It is really strange to think that the official rate is so much different then the black market rate.  From what I understand, the street rate has actually fallen from as much as 4VBF/$1 down to the current 3VBF/$1.  So things are getting closer to what Chavez thinks the rate should be.

The bus backs out of the bus station stall right at 9pm, but we didn't get out of the station until after 9:30pm.  For some reason it took that long for the authorities to verify that everybody had paid the $0.35 station tax.  We made it out and then ran into another waiting game at the entrance to the bridge over Lago de Maracaibo's mouth.  There was one bus waiting in front of us, and there was some sort of highway patrol officer on board that bus, so I guess that's what we were waiting for.
The Catedral de Merida. Construction started in 1803, and wrapped up in 1960.
  This took another 25 minutes believe it or not.  And the officer never even boarded the bus.

The A/C was on full blast, and I was actually able to nap a bit along the way.  We stopped at a truck stop at about 2:30am for some food and restrooms.  I was about 4 minutes from the end of a South Park episode on my iPod, so I stayed onboard to watch the end.  I put everything away and went downstairs to leave the bus and found that I was locked in.  I peeked my head into the drivers area upfront, looking for a door release button.  There were many of the buses passengers that could see my predicament through the front window, and they were all smiling at the trapped gringo.

I pulled on one lever that I guessed was the door release.  It made a noise of escaping air, and I was optimistic for a second.
Statue in Plaza Bolivar. I'm gonna guess that the statue is Simon Bolivar.
..  and then nothing.  Maybe it's not such a good idea to start fiddling with unlabeled buttons in this enormous, idling bus.  I then figured out that if I could get by the steering wheel that maybe the door over there would be open.  Still with no bus company employees in sight, I made a break for it.  The door opened, and I was free.  I looked around, and nobody seemed to be pissed off, and the few that had been following my dilemma seemed not to care so much.

I hit the bathroom, grabbed some Chips Ahoy and a Coke, and 15 minutes later I was back on the bus and rolling.  About an hour later the A/C switched off, and I figured we were getting closer.  We pulled into the station in Merida at 5:45am.  I grabbed my bag and headed into the mostly closed up station.
The Canasta de Tostones at La Mamma.
 I checked all of the bus company windows to see which ones offered service to Ciudad Bolivar.  One company offered the service, and actually had all sort of info about the trip.  Departure times and prices were all evident without even having to ask anybody.  That is a real rarity in South America.

I checked into taxi rates to get to the middle of town.  They seemed a bit pricey, so I started looking in bus windows to see in any of them said Centro or Teleferico or something.  I crossed the street and hung near a bus stop for a few minutes before seeing one the indeed said Centro.  I hopped on board and paid the $0.90 fare.  I figured I wasn't in any kind of hurry to get downtown anyway, so this should work out pretty well.  I was able to follow along with the map in Lonely Planet, and it wasn't long before we were at the mid-town stop.

I walked the seven blocks to the hotel row area, and found that every hotel was closed up tight.  I rang one bell and found a decent option close to everything, but I wasn't sure it was what I was looking for.  So I proceded to look at about 12 different places for more than two hours before finally deciding on staying on the first place I looked at.  This is by far the earliest I've ever tried to look for a room, and I would not recommend it.

I napped for about five hours, and then caught up on some internet.  The main reason I picked this hotel is that it may have had the only free wi-fi in town.  I went to a tour agency to check into area options.  Merida is a big adventure sports area, and just about everything is offered in the area.  I decided on Para-Gliding and I made a reservation for Thursday morning.  It is very scary, but I always wanted to do something where I jump off of a mountain...  just to prove that I can do it.

I also verified the info about busses to Ciudad Bolivar, and asked for a good restaurant in the area.  The recommended one was closed, so I again leaned on Lonely Planet and ended up at La Mamma, an Italian restaurant and sushi bar.  I was very happy to find an excellent appetizer called Canasta de Tostones.  It had my favorite ingredient, plantains, and they were made into small cup-like versions of tostones.  On top of these was a delicious tomato and vinegar mixture similar to what you would find on brushetta.  But there was also avocado mixed in there.  It was a delicious Italian-Venezuelan fusion.

I got back to the hotel and crashed hard.  Tomorrow I plan on hitting the Teleferico cable car, and maybe firming up my next destination.

Later, Phil
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Meridas Plaza Bolivar.
Merida's Plaza Bolivar.
View Southeast from Calle 24.  Tha…
View Southeast from Calle 24. Th…
The Catedral de Merida. Constructi…
The Catedral de Merida. Construct…
Statue in Plaza Bolivar.  Im gonn…
Statue in Plaza Bolivar. I'm gon…
The Canasta de Tostones at La Mamm…
The Canasta de Tostones at La Mam…
photo by: AndySD