And the award for most crazy ass driving in all Latin America goes to....Venezuela !!

Merida Travel Blog

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oooh, scary.. we had heard some horror stories about this country, of course 7 months ago when we booked the flights we were simple creatures and totally clueless. So as we got closer to the visit we started looking at the interenet for places to stay etc. and were hit by a barrage of horror stories... " dont stay at this hotel, the police stake it out and wil fleece yoiu for your cash!' or ' At the border, they know you have cash , so the boarder guards will rob you", not to mention the dubious award of having the most dangerous capitol city in all south America.... Caracas.
So cash stuffed in socks, books etc we arrived on the overnight flight to Caracas airport with some mild trepidation. The first thing we needed to do was get some local currency ( see last blog for the reasons why this is tricky) , and so had our first encounter with 'dodgy geezers' changing money at the airport. Luckily we did not get ripped off as the nice lady at the tourist ofice ( one of the best we have been to so far) helped us by showing us some local currency so we could avoid fakes, and to only change money with 'airport workers'. These are the porters and security guards that make a bit on the side on the black market.
In Venezuela as a whole, 'officials' were always easy to find as everyone,and I mean everyone, has some sort of laminated badge to thrust under your nose when either helping or hindering you, so to find somone to change money was not a problem. This in itself was quite fun ( if you look past the fear of gettting scammed, arrested etc) as the money changers sometimes put on elaborate shows to make it look like you were not changing money..." yes sir, flights to isla margarita.. this way" they would shout after the clansestine 'cambio?, cambio?' and walk us to a quiet part of the concourse where cash was exchanged.. all very hugga mugga !!
Anyway, cash in hand we had decied to give Caracas itself the slip, and move out directly to the beach. There was a place (apparently) about 3 hours away that was the capitals holiday weekend hotspot, Puerto Columbia, so we thought we would head out there ! A bus ride into the town centre, a taxi to the bus station ( after narrowly avoiding getting ripped of by the first taxi driver), we arrived at the west serving bus terminal ( chaos, hundreds of people) where another nice man with a badge took us under his wing, guided us right through the station to our waiting bus to Maracay. At Maracay things got a bit more confusing ( as we were to later learn in detail for bus stations in Venezuela) as we could not for the life of us find a bus to Puerto Columbia ! I searched for about 30 minutes ( H was not feeling too good) and asked about 5 people, all of whom directed me in totally differeent directions ! Eventually, I must have looked a bit desperate as a very nice venezuelan lady came up to me and asked me where I was headed ( in English!). Luckily, she was an english teacher and was heading to the same place. There were no buses for 2 hours but if we liked we could all share a taxi ! Winner ! so I grabbed H and we all set off together ( she was with her boyfriend also).
The taxi ride was to be indicative of general road rules in Venezuela ! It was insane, and I mean really insane..Sega Rally insane ! Our driver carerred up through the rainforest , taking hairpin bends at 60 mph, overtaking on every corner, throwing the car all over the road, all with one hand on the wheel, one out the window and blaring out samba ! We had to ask our new friends to ask him to slow down as H was about to be sick ! The upshot of this however was that we arrived in Puerto Columbia after only 1 hr ( the bus ride was 2.5hrs) so that was good! We found a reasonable and cheap hostel and went for a walk to see the town ( dissapointing midweek) and the beach ( wonderful) but as we had been up all night, we basically Crashed out early !
We stayed in Puerto Columbia for three days, there really was nothing to do in the town except hit the beach, so thats what we did. A 1km long strip of carribean coast backed by palm trees, it was beautiful. The wind was up so we had great fun splashing about in the waves and watching the surfers. It was Crazy hot and we were enjoying topping up the tan for a couple of days ! The evenings were, well, quiet. The town was a holiday weekend resort, and midweek most things were closed. So we either ate in a deserted restaurant, or( my favourite) ate hot dogs and beer on the sea front. But after a few days of this is was time to move on !
Next stop planed was the Colonial town of Coro, famed as being the most beautiful town in Venezuela. But first we had to get there !
We caught the chicken bus out of Puerto Columbia back to Meridia, and I think the driver must have been related to our mad bastard taxi driver, or at least attended the same driving school. He Carerred the bus round the same hairpin bends, over 200m high terraces with the gay abandon of drunken Danny la rue ! ( who will be sadly missed). And his attention was split between hollering at every woman he passed, chatting with his mate and cranking up the samba beats to near ear splitting levels (no time for attention to the road of course!) But via miracle or luck or whatever, we rolled back into meridia in one ( if a little green) piece and boarded the next bus to a place called Valencia.
2 hours and 200 decibels later, we arrived in Valencia to find a bus going to Coro. We were approached by many nice people with laminated badges who "reliably" informed us that there were no buses to Coro and we had to take a collective taxi..This was the "standard" we later learnt in Venezuela. there are many collective taxis, usually classic beat up old fords from 1950ies america that run set routes and go when full (more of these later).They wanted to charge us a fortune, but then a little lad overheard us ad ran us over to the real Coro bus that we boarded for a fraction of the price of the taxis! 5 hours latr we finally rolled into Coro,and after our hearing returned and the tinnitus died off, we made our way to the hostel. We searched the town that night for a restaurant ( but all were closed. odd for a saturday night)but found a shop with Bacon and Bread and so had butties for tea. The hostel was nice and was full of Germans. We sat with them for a while and chatted, then after H went to bed ( we were in a dorm as it was full) I helped the germans finish off their rum, then went out to a samba "club' with a swiss guy ( for club read plastic garden furniture, bar and loud music in a courtyard) till about 4am, after which I rolled back into bed.
The next day ( a little hung over) we booked a night bus out of Coro, wandered around the very pretty town ( which was closed and deserted as it was a sunday) and caught a local bus to see the towns natural wonder, the mini sahara ! (Medanos de Coro - http://www.venezuelatuya.com/occidente/coro2.htm). a fantastic place, but mind numbingly hot ! We wandered around the dunes for a bit doing our best " water.. water.. " impersonations, the after a taxi ride home in one of the fantastic old american cars, we set off on the overnight bus to our next destination, Meridia - adventure sports capital of Venezuela !
We arrived at stupid o clock ( as usual) after the night bus and were met by a german tout ( why is EVERYONE in Latin America a German !!) after ditching his hostel for a much nicer and cheaper one, we set off to explore the town. The main reason for coming here is the worlds longest cable car that goes from for a total length of 12.5 km. (longest in the world) reaching an altitude of 4765 m. (highest in the world), sounds pretty cool eh ? we thought so too, except for the fact is was knackered and would not be fixed for the foreseeable future ( approx 8 months !!) But on alternating Wednesdays, they did open the terminal so you could take a photo of the cable car !! THANKS !!! so that was a bit of a big let down ! and we were advised not to try walking even part of the route as we would be almost guarenteed to get mugged or worse.. fun eh ? !! So we stayed in the town, we could have gone on a 2 day adventure trek into the jungle ( that is the other big thing to do in Meridia) but after the week in the Amazon we just had, we did not see the point, and so just did some shopping and sightseeing ( there was a dance festival in town that we watched) had a nice dinner and went to bed !
THe next day we thought we would try to visit the zoo and sort out our departure, the zoo was great and really nicely arranged ( but a nightmare to get to, again we ended up on the wrong bus in the middle of nowhere in a shanty town !!) but we did feel quite bad for the big cats that had cages smaller than those of the monkeys or Tapirs, which was a lot crap !! The highlight of the day ( and indeed the town) came that evening as we hit a couple of bars, including ( in my opinion) one of the best bars we have been to in all south america. It was a student place, 3 levels, music, nature documentaries on silent big screens and lots of cheap beer. Excellent !

For our last day in Meridia, we decided to visit the beautiful mountain town of Jaji, about 90 minutes bus ride out of town. Well, the idea was good, but 45 minutes into the( again, amazingly dangerous) bus ride, the heavens opened and did not quit ! We arrivedin Jaji, ran out of the bus and in the 2 seconds it took for us to get under cover we were soaked ! we found a bar ( where some other Brit backpackers were also hiding from the rain) had a beer and some chips and then had to head back into Meridia as there was no way to see the town through the downpour ! it was just like an english summer day at the beach !!

Things got a bit interesting when we finally got back to the hostel. We had checked out earlier in the day,and our bags had been put away safely under lock and key, but when we came back to get them, there was no one at the hostel to let us have them ! everyone had gone out ! The lady that had locked them for us had left us a number to call if we had any problems, so we called, and it rang out in the hostel !! the owner had gone out without her mobile !! ARRGGHH, and with the night bus leaving in one hour, we were stranded without bags !! Eventually, 30 minutes before our bus was due to leave , the owner breezed in, we grabbed our bags, jumped int the first available taxi ( in the pouring rain, and massvly overpriced) and just made the bus in time for the next leg of the journey, the 12hour ride to Tucacas !
Rock on!
M&H. xxx




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Merida
photo by: AndySD