September 24, 2006 GMT
(6) Venezuela: The End Of An Era
With the premeditated precision of a guided missile I made good my exit from Venezuela. I had been through the mess that was Central America too many times and the prospect of passing through in the wet season appealed even less. I made a clean break.
From the Caracas Airport I would be home in 9 hours. The bike would follow separately in a day or two.
It was an easy way to close the chapter on a 6 month odyssey through South America. It was a wonderful trip shared in part by my wife, Sandra...the "Best of Brasil", as we called it.
As I reflect back on the journey which carried me through six countries in six months, it just didn't seem that long. The pace was more leisurely than aggressive and yet I still accumulated 34,000 kilometers. I accomplished all I had set out to do and more.
I met and befriended many wonderful people along the way, some of whom I still correspond with today. I have gained an insight into lives and cultures that were both foreign and very different from my own. I supplemented my Spanish and learned Portugese. I traced the paths of conquerors and therefore history. I made my own history. I fulfilled some dreams.
Some events are more unique than others. Manaus and the journey up the Amazon was one of those. Being so foreign and remote and isolated it was hard to believe I was actually going there, even when I was on the boat.
Some people travel so they can "name drop" at parties to impress their friends. This trip was not about that. This trip was about seeing and understanding a part of the world that had long interested and fascinated me. Now when I return home and supplement my travels with further studies, everything will be much clearer. I have a mental picture of the people, the places and the events. I will better understand the suffering and the plight of the people, but perhaps not the reasons for it.
Greed and lust for money and power have always shaped the world and its cultures. This is not a part of my genetic character, but the places I visited were built on that foundation...were shaped by greed and lust and cruelty.
Few people understand the motivation to travel and experience life on a motorcycle. It is a high energy form of travel often accompanied by fatigue, always suffering the vagaries of Mother Nature from searing heat to freezing cold. There is no feeling of aloneness quite like breaking down in the middle of nowhere and knowing there will not be another human being along that day, who can help you, or the feeling of fighting the clock to make a destination as night closes in on you. There is no blackness like the South American night. It is total. It is absolute.
Those who have never travelled by motorcycle often liken it to a car journey on two wheels. They will never understand the risks or the hardships and therefore never reap the rewards. Their travels will always be diminished from a motorcycle adventure. For that is what it is...an adventure...much more than just travel...an unforgettable lifetime experience. It can easily end in tragedy, but when it doesn't it is the closest you can come to nirvana and remain on earth with both feet firmly fixed on the ground.
Extended duration motorcycle travel is even more demanding on both man and machine. The conditions down here are far more extreme than anything available in North America. Until you have witnessed it you simply cannot relate to it because you have no scale to measure against. You can only measure against that which you have seen. How can you relate to a road that takes 3 hours to travel 60 miles (100 km), if you have never seen one. You simply cannot if you have not been there. The continuous 8 hour per day pounding that you and the machine take as you fight your way through is often more than most people can endure. Why everything does not break or shake to bits is beyond me. But those are the tough days...rewarding in their own sense for their own special reasons.
Equally rewarding are the brilliant days where everything is simply perfect from start to finish...fantastic scenery, lovely roads, good food and good people.
All of those combined are the memories that televisions, cars and cruises can never provide for you do not earn anything. You simply pass through barely touching the surface...barely receiving any sensory feedback...barely a part of anything at all...earning nothing, gaining little.
That's why we do it...to get more out of life. You have to risk more to get more. We risk it all, for the risks are high...but we get more...oh, so very much more. And when we drag our sore asses and wounded bikes home, it takes barely a day of healing before we yearn for the next adventure, start looking at that other far away and desolate place where we can punish ourselves yet again in the quest for the ultimate high.
There's a sadness that comes with the close of a trip. Yes, of course there is the anxiety of going home and the sense of euphoria that accompanies it. But, the sadness is right beside it, matching it step for step. The daily struggle will not be there; the hardship, the suffering, the ever changing kaleidiscope as you follow that ribbon of asphalt; which branch you take determines the outcome of the day. Those choices move behind you when you return home. They are replaced by normalcy, familiarity and things you know well but whose memory has faded during your absence.
It is a return to a familiar land with familiar customs and a familiar language. You are no longer THE White Guy. You are simply any other white guy. You blend in. You become invisible because of your sameness. There will be no Jantar Lady, no mystery meals, no daily plan to dissect and execute. Suddenly I feel like cancelling the whole return. It was the winning against the struggle that I had subconsciously looked forward to but had failed to recognize.
I left the RANA in Valencia. A chance meeting had directed me to this Cargo Shipping Terminal. Valencia was the Cargo place not Caracas. But now I had to get to Caracas. I took the bus, Executive Class, $6.00 for a 2-1/2 hour ride.
Caracas was built somewhere within the navel of the Cordillera which extended to the east, from the main chain of the Andes. A more difficult and fractured terrain is hard to imagine. Also difficult to imagine is the level of gridlock created by such a rugged environment. Perhaps it was pretty once, but not anymore. With over seven million people jammed into the crotch where the slash meets the gash, the city had a distinctive Soviet look most likely a byproduct of its past and present dictatorial regimes. The future was looking the same, unfortunately.
A bevy of Taxi drivers greeted me as I stepped off of the bus. However, they were both intimidated and disinterested by my request for a ride to the airport. 100,000 Bolivares was their best offer. I was expecting 40,000 Bs but settled for 80,000 Bs.
It was 6:30 PM. A block away the wheels of progress slowed to a crawl...the revolutions of the wheels kept pace with the second hand on my watch. And then they stopped. There were no more revolutions as darkness descended upon the land. We waited, as nothing happened, seemingly forever.
I had a twin pack of Oreo Cookies. We consumed those. We got out of the car and walked around. Finally, we began to move...one painful revolution after another. Soon we were up to speed, the tires humming in unison. The lineup heading into Caracas was longer than the one we were in, leaving town. The taxi driver cringed at the prospect of returning.
No wonder the fare was a tough sell. Those who bid said it would take 3 hours for a return trip. We consumed 2 hours on the way out. They would be shy by an hour. I paid the taxi driver more. It wasn't his fault...it wasn't mine. If gas wasn't free here, you couldn't afford to go to the airport.
The only solution is stacked freeways but no one would survive the construction period which would take decades. We need to call in the Americans to nuke this place and level it and begin anew with a fresh layout and a new government. What this place needs is a democratic demographic...just ask George.
I entered the US near Houston and flew overland to Dallas. The orderly arrangement of the farms, communities and roads struck me. Unlike the chaos that had been my constant companion for the past six months and more especially the last month, there was an obvious sense of order and planning evident here. Traffic moved at a leisurely, organized pace. Three lanes of vehicles travelled within the three lanes marked on the highway, not six lanes of vehicles occupying three lanes of highway as had been the norm down south.
There was an obvious observance of the rules governing automobile travel. I smiled inwardly at the norm I was familiar with...a sense of order that would be easy to conform to. I had returned to the area of my roots...I had survived unscathed. An incredible journey had come to an end...a traverse of epic proportions. Not unique by any means but remarkable just the same.
Goodbye my friends. Thank you for being a part of my journey...for sharing my experiences...for listening to my miscellaneous ramblings...for wondering if I would survive...I HAVE.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 12:46 AM
September 17, 2006 GMT
(5) Venezuela: Moving West
It was with reluctance that I left Colonia Tovar. Such a nice, pleasant and relaxed place was hard to find here in Venezuela. Without the pressures and chaos of traffic and the mad crush of markets in the streets, a pleasant lifestyle greeted those who called this place home.
7,000 ft below me life returned to the Venezuelan norm. Dodging traffic and suffering the heat I moved west...not far...just far enough to swing north to the coast across Henri Pittier Nacional Park to Choroni. The 60 kms of road took one hour to climb the coastal range and one hour to descend.
Choroni was one of the oldest Spanish settlements in the New World and retained much of its Old World charm. However, being a weekend and a town only 2 kms from the Caribbean, it was packed with weekenders. There were too many people for my liking. I turned around and rode back out. The Park was much more to my liking.
The little jaunt had consumed the day. It was 3PM when I returned to Maracay and I was searching for an hotel. A yellow 2000 R1150 GS pulled out of a side street as I entered town. That was how I met Jose. He took it upon himself to get me settled before he returned to work. What can I say? The town was busy on this friday and he had his secretary make several calls before we settled on a place that was to his liking...and mine too.
Tomorrow, Sunday was still part of the weekend and I was heading north to yet another weekenders haunt. It was not my choice but if I didn't go now I wouldn't go. The traffic was heavy as I entered Taracay near Parque Nacionale Morrocay. I split laned to get through town in a hurry. Further north, the sister town of Chichivaray was much the same. I had come to view the thousands of pink flamingos and that done I continued north to Coro.
Coro was one of the first cities on the continent. Founded in 1527 it was razed and burned to the ground many times, mostly by pirates and most recently in 1659. Most of its colonial architecture dates from after that period, except for the fortress like cathedral which was started in 1543 and evolved over the next violent century, within the fires that razed the town.
Unlike most Venezuelan colonial towns and cities that fell victim to the whim of the many short sighted contemporary dictator's wrecking balls, Coro for some unexplained reason survived intact. Today it is undergoing that lifetime task of salvation, restoration and preservation. For that it has been rewarded with the honorable title of being the only Venezuelan town to achieve the status of World Heritage Site and appear on the UNESCO list.
Peninsula Paraguana was once an island but persistent wind, waves and sand have built up a sandbar 30 km long, connecting it with the mainland. Inhabitated for centuries by the Amuay, Guaranao and Caquetio Indians, all of the Arawak linguistic group, the Spanish made short work of them and their culture and soon drove them to extinction. Not a trace remains today, of them or their culture.
A few Spanish towns and villages continue to subsist today in this desolate and desiccated environment, revived in part by the current surge in tourism which further serves to strain the already overtaxed and fragile environment. Perhaps the one thing that has remained constant is the thousands of pink flamingos that migrate here to feed in the shallow, nutrient rich waters of the two lagoons on the eastern reaches of the peninsula.
The Parque Nacional Sierra de San Luis was a pleasant surprise. The detailed maps showed several road options all looking like a demented pretzel. How demented I could not tell from here so I went in for a closer look. Very demented! Perched 5,000 ft above where I fueled up it was a forbidding but delightful maze of twisted roads, hairpin corners, cloud forest scenery, small towns, hidden pousadas and more road choices than I thought was possible in this rugged, unmolested terrain.
I started before noon and had my sights set on traversing the area in an hour or two. By 3 PM I was well confused by the list of road choices and by 4 PM I was at least 2 hours short of my intended destination, although now I at least knew where I was.
I gassed up again with the thought I might have to make a run for it to beat the night. However, a well placed question had me reconsidering my options. The service station attendant said there was a 'new' hotel in town although that is a relative term. The town itself was 'well used', and the local hotel had the look that would force even me to race against the night in quest of a more amenable accomodation. Yet another well placed question, directed at the local police, pointed me towards a more contemporary establishment perched on a hill overlooking the town. Built as a tourist hotel a decade or more ago, it had not aged well, but still was completely acceptable and self-contained with its own restaurant.
I hate racing the clock especially since I already had a full day of tough riding under my belt. I could not help but smile inwardly at my discovery, as I settled into a relaxing afternoon and evening to match.
Tomorrow's ride proved my hunch. A hard 2 hours ride to my destination would have had me fighting darkness and fatigue, a combination I do not relish in these third world countries....or any for that matter.
But, what a truly delightful area. You could ride here for a week enjoying the roads, the scenery and the hospitality of these lost and forgotten towns and country pousadas.
I rounded a corner and stared at a pickup truck spun sideways, half in the ditch and half out, its rear rim bent and its driveshaft laying beneath it, possibly the cause of the whole event. A crowd had gathered. I moved on.
I am very surprised by Venezuela. This northern half is extremely rugged. Ridge follows ridge, like accordian pleats, as you move towards the Caribbean. Its proximity to the equator produces cloud forest or rain forest or both. The peaks are not high but a differential of 5,000-6,000 ft exists on this eastern branch of the Andes,as the road snakes it way up, down, around and sometimes through the folds.
Even though they support agriculture, these mountains are difficult to cultivate, because of their sharp slopes, and yield only to subsistence farming at best. Removing the lush vegetation exposes the fragile environment to slides and leaching of the soils, as the abundant rains strive to destabilize the entire land mass and move it to a lower elevation.
What these people do is beyond me. Countless hundreds of young, old and intermediate alike seem to spend their time waiting beside the road, laying on it or sitting on the edge watching the passing traffic whiz by a scant few feet from their heads, seemingly oblivious to the danger involved.
Venezuela was the worldīs largest oil exporting nation until the mid '70s. It was fundamental in setting up OPEC. Today it has been relegated to third position behind Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern country. But that's a moot point. The point is...what happened to those countless billions of oil dollars?...billions of dollars daily at today's prices...billions upon billions of dollars for a least half a century. It didn't go into the infrastructure. It didn't go into the roads. Where did it go? Where does it continue to go? Most likely into some politicians bottomless pocket. And when he dies the money is gone forever...passed on within the family 'ad infinitum'.
As in most of these top loaded, dictatorial controlled countries the poor have no escape. Relegated to mountain tops, cloud forests, city slums and other remote and isolated communities they have no mechanism to better their lot...to change their lives. Educational opportunities are minimal or non-existent, hardly extending beyond the first one or two years of elementary school. Then the roadside existence begins...standing or sitting beside the road waiting for something to happen...waiting for the White Guy to pass by. Turning in unison, to watch him as he moves down the road and disappears around a corner. Who was that masked man? Did it happen? Was it a mirage?
was it Palladin?
Have Gun Will Travel
With the Card of a Man
A Knight Without Armour
In a Savage Land
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 12:38 AM
September 14, 2006 GMT
(4) Venezuela: Little Germany
Yesterday I had only half a plan, so I stayed up late studying and came up with three quarters of a plan. I wanted to get on the west side of Caracas without going through Caracas and yet not spend the entire day doing it.
I took the fast road and when I was 60 km away from Caracas, I stopped and assessed my options. I could avoid the crush if I went south and west of here to Santa Teresa and then north to La Victoria. Little did I know what lay in store.
The small 2 lane road was well travelled but not overburdened. However, the wet season had caused a few slides and washouts which had not been repaired and maybe never would be...not impassible but requiring care and time to negotiate.
In spite of the slower pace my destination seemed achievable. The rain forest environment created a natural canopy for the road with the trees merging overhead to create a green tunnel. It was a wonderful experience combined with sawtoothed ridges that were crossed and followed as the road meandered every which way, travelling five miles to advance one.
I arrived in Santa Teresa just after noon. On the way out of town I spotted the "Golden Arches". Macdonald's is well franchised throughout Venezuela. Little did I expect to find one here in this small, out of the way place. Normally I don't give them a second thought. Maybe it was 6 months of travel without a hamburger, maybe it was the familiar sign and the need for something "Western" or maybe I was just hungry. Whatever it was, the last few days I had been supplementing my diet with a Big Mac, Large Fries and Medium Coke...a No. 1 on the menu list.
The young, bronze skinned, black eyed and black haired beauty took my order and I paid up. Then in perfect english she said "Thank You Sir". "You're Welcome", I returned my face creasing into a broad smile. I finished lunch and then went back and presented her with a CANADA pin. She was the envy of all of her friends. Later, out at the bike she presented my with a Macdonald's Happy Face. It's funny how a simple gesture can put a whole new shine on the day. Suddenly I was no longer alone.
I had a big day riding...I burned up 85 cents worth of fuel and 425 kilometers worth of road.
These roads are still slippery, even when they are dry. I was humming along enjoying the ride. Yesterday's events were behind me and quickly fading into the past. The road snaked this way and that and I enjoyed the relaxed, fun pace. Suddenly in the middle of a corner the back tire broke loose and swung out. I opened up on the radius and went wide on the curve to recover. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic to complicate my life even further.
I am really going to have to watch these roads. Aggressive riding cannot be part of the menu. I must be on guard at all times.
I checked my coordinates and adjusted my plan. Colonia Tovar was perched in a northern branch of the Andes at 7,000 ft. I was at sea level. I headed up the mountain. It sounded like a good place to chill out for a couple of days.
Colonia Tovar rose out of the high altitude mists that wafted across her streets and buildings, like ghosts dancing...now shrouded in a feathery white blanket and then magically reappearing as if a curtain had been withdrawn to reveal a stage. Founded in 1843 by German peasant settlers from the Black Forest, their arrival was in direct response to a Venezuelan appeal for European migrants to assist in colonizing the new country. After the first group arrived the edict was cancelled.
Led by Augustin Codazzi, an Italian cartographer who was fundamental in preparing the first detailed maps of the newly formed Republic of Venezuela (1830), they were brought to this Andean cordillera, to a site specifically chosen by him. With the cancellation of the edict, Codazzi withdrew from the colony and returned to his mapping efforts, leaving the 376 immigrants to fend for themselves.
Left largely on their own in a new land, isolated from the outer world by a lack of roads they became self governing, following the mother culture, language and architecture for nearly a century. Effectively self contained, internal rules forbade marriage outside of the community. It was only in the 1940s that Spanish was introduced as the official language and the marriage ban lifted. Still isolated by a lack of roads the population was barely 1300 by the early 60s when a sealed road finally conncected it with Caracas.
Today, it still retains its charm and culture as it endures the hordes of tourists that arrive on weekends, from Caracas, to taste and experience a little piece of Germany and purchase the strawberries, apples, peaches and blackberries that the temperate climate nourishes.
The church is a curious, if not unique 'L' shaped construction with one nave for the women and the other for the men. The altar is positioned at 45 degrees, at the crotch of the 'L', so as to be visible to both groups, perhaps, but not likely, symbolizing the union of the two sexes in this world and beyond.
Up here in the misty, mountain realm it is hard to imagine that only 70 kms away the country is shimmering in 35 C heat. Tomorow I would prove it as I descended back to sea level. I had given my over-taxed sweat glands a much deserved rest even if it was for only a day.
One thing about these Germans...they may not know much but they sure do know how to make Stroganoff. Sandy should be here to capture the moment and the recipe. The Brasilians had made such a mess of the dish I was almost afraid to try it for fear of forever destroying my liking for it. Now, full to capacity I silently wondered if I would be able to carry my over-loaded frame up the hill to my Cabana.
As I rode through La Victoria a teenager and his girlfriend pulled up beside me on a scooter. He raised the question "Where are you from?" The answer "CANADA", astounded them. They asked again to be sure they had heard correctly. They had. The traffic separated us and they stopped to share their discovery with a friend in a passing car. It was too unbelievable to comprehend. At the next light they were both beside me...the car and the bike. He beckoned..."Tell my friend where you are from." "CANADA", I repeated. Now she believed him, but not before.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 05:55 PM
September 13, 2006 GMT
(3) Venezuela: Moving West with Black Ice
In Barcelona 5 roads merged into 1...10 lanes into 2. The traffic snarled. The temperature rose to 40C and with it the tempers. The bike baked and so did I.
I split laned my way through the maze to keep from melting. Then I saw the problem. The problem wasnīt only the merging of the roads. That happened with reasonable Latin efficiency. The problem was there was a Police Check-Point just downstream. Those STUPID F**king Bastards! They created the traffic jam. They created the mayhem. What ignorance. What stupidity. I should have brought my gun...but NO! On second thought what good would it do? There werenīt enough bullets. I would need several million to solve the problem.
With that stupidity behind me I moved northwest towards the coast. I stopped to wash the bike. It looked good...for exactly 2 minutes. A passing shower made short work of the shiny job.
One of several shallow passes separated me from my destination. I moved on enjoying the road and the scenery. Another shower passed before me as I climbed. The road arced to the right and the surface tilted to the center of the curve. The bike broke loose and slipped sideways. I kicked it back into line. It slipped again. I pulled it back. Again it slipped and squirmed. What was wrong? Did I have a flat? It felt like it.
The slope of the road pulled me towards the edge. I tried to move out towards the center but I slipped again. A pullout appeared just ahead and I eased the bike towards it...off the road and onto the dirt. I looked down to check the tires. They were fine! I walked out onto the road. I could barely stand it was so slippery. BLACK ICE at 33C.
A semi-trailer truck pulled up the hill. The slope of the road pulled him to the edge. He stopped next to me, out of road. The semi behind him jack-knifed and then straightened before coming to rest on the edge of the road.
We three held a conference in the middle of the road, pressing on its slick surface with our boots. A light drizzle prevailed. The road texture, the rain, the rubber on the surface, the oil...it all contributed to the extremely slick surface. An hour passed. Just when the road surface looked like it might dry another shower returned. The road steamed in protest. In my waterproof jacket I was as wet inside from perspiration as outside from the rain.
We continued to pace the road. A Honda 90 riding double came down the hill at 5 mph. They skidded sideways in front of us but did not fall. It was worse up the hill they said, where the higher elevation produced more rain. It would be 7-10 kms to cross the pass. It was 3:30 PM now and two hours more to the nearest town with possible accomodation. I had spotted a $100 hotel as I exited Barcelona early in the afternoon. It was looking pretty nice about now.
Barcelona was an hour away at least. Yesterday I had come into town after dark because the ferry was an hour late. I was hoping to NOT repeat that experience again today. The truckers held a conference. They would turn around. I did the same.
The one foot apron of the road had more grip. It was not polished smooth...it was not oiled...it provided a margin of safety for me. Down the hill the surface became dry. I moved off of the edge and geared up. Ten minutes later, the rain started again. I thought originally that just the hill was slippery, but NO. This lower, level section was too. I could feel the bike slip.
We moved along at 60 kmph. A long line formed with me somewhere in the middle. Ahead the traffic snarled. A truck had spun out on a curve and was upside down in the ditch. An ambulance fought its way through the Ignorant Traffic. What people are these that will not even give-way to an Ambulance? They have no respect for anything...the living...the dead...the injured...What an ignorant f---ing society.
A mile further down another truck was in the ditch...wheels down this time. The driver was circling his precarious vehicle, canted at 40 degrees in the sharp ditch. Further on the road dried and the pace picked up. It had been 2 hours to Barcelona not 1.
The Hotel was like a mirage in the desert. With a swimming pool as big as a football field, shaped like a big 'S', a fine dining area, internet, cable TV...the works. Home never looked so good.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 02:18 AM
(2) Venezuela: Further North
It was 36C. The humidity was 3 times that but it didn't rain. How could that be? I don't know...maybe my calculation was wrong. I felt like I was standing in a rainstorm. I looked like I was standing in a rainstorm, but the sky was blue...cloudless...full sun.
Trinidad was only 7 hours away. I was in Guiri, Venezuela, the furthest east you could go by road. From here I would have to take the boat, if I went further east.
What a beautiful ride from Caripe to Guiri. There was hardly a straight section of road. Perhaps that explains why it took more than 6 hours to go less than 300 km. The road spiraled up and down, folded back on itself, and then in a reverse Archimede's spiral wound itself back down to sea level. That was where the heat built up...became intense...drove me to exhaustion.
By early afternoon I had found the perfect place to stay. As part of a government funded project it provided accomodation, sightseeing, a water buffalo preserve and much more.
But government means rules...too many rules. You could only stay if you had an advance reservation. I didnīt have a reservation but I was physically present. I was also their only guest. I didnīt care about the tour or anything else...just the room, the location and the water buffalo stew that was cooking. It was not to be. They did not have a phone and I would have to drive to the nearest town to make the reservation. One hour there and one hour back just did not make sense. That was when I decided to go to Guiri.
By the time I got to Guiri I was demoralized, tired, hungry, thirsty and heat exhausted. I walked across the street to the Hotel Vista Mar. I walked into the restaurant. An Arctic blast hit me squarely. I moved deeper into the refrigerated environ. Hotel California by the Eagles pounded through the speakers. An easy relaxed feeling replaced the tiredness I had carried with me. Suddenly everything looked just fine.
I settled into a "boy" sized cerveza. They served these little 222 ml beers here for 75 cents...two swallows and you were looking for another. One guy like me can keep a waitress occupied full time.
As the Eagles faded into the background Simon and Garfunkel with Sounds of Silence moved to the fore. Hit after hit pounded through the speakers as I time travelled to another place and another time.
With sustenance and nourishment behind me I moved out onto he street to look around. Guiri didn't look like much but 25,000 people and one white guy called it home.
Later that evening I met Jimmy. He was from Guyana. He was manning an elaborate stainless steel barbeque setup. He was cooking up some Franks and I fancied one. His perfect English startled me in this far eastern reach of Venezuela. "We speak English in Guyana", he said "and one of our special characteristics is that we can mimmick any accent readily." "Guyanese English is a broken English where words are chopped into a sing songy rythm", he carried on. He spun a line for me. I could grasp it but I had to listen carefully, almost like some of the jargon blacks from the deep south US speak.
He kept busy cooking franks and we talked. Two hours went by in an instant. He had moved to Guiri, with his family, five years ago to make a better life and it was working. He liked the town and business was good. He had carved out a little niche for himself. "Will he go back?" "Only if the politics in Guyana improved so that he would be allowed to make a good living." We parted company. It was getting late. He had work to do and so did I.
These Venezuelan drivers are just plain STUPID. They make the Brasilians look normal and that's going some. They pass right into you like you weren't even there. See a pothole in your lane...don't worry the other lane is OK. Don't slow down. Swerve out to go around it. Who cares if someone else is there in the other lane. Perhaps he will get out of the way...perhaps he won't....
See your friend while driving downtown. STOP!!! Beckon to him to come over and say hello. Shake his hand. Never mind the 2 miles of traffic stacked up behind you.
Spot something you want at the corner Kiosk. STOP...call the lady over. Tell her what you want. Send her back. When she returns tell her you want the other one, not the one she brought. AARGH!!!
RED LIGHTS. What are they? Not for them. Slow down maybe, but mostly keep going. If there is a lot of cross traffic passing on their green light, simply nudge your way into it until it finally stops so you can proceed. If you stop for a red light you run the risk of being rear ended. If you proceed through the red light you run the risk of being broad sided. Both times you loose.
Gas is so cheap they just drive around to go nowhere....round and round to see how many people they know that they can stop and talk to. Mostly they just drive old beaters...Indian Cars...from the 70's and 80's. There isn't a straight piece of sheet metal between the roof and the wheels. Alot of them burn more oil than gas. I have seen a car stop and leak a quart of oil in the time it took to complete a transaction.
And then out of the blue haze drives a 1982 Mercury Grand Marquis, simply shimmering in its sandy bronze color with contrasting dark chocolate vinyl roof. It looks like it was built yesterday but it wasnīt. It was built 24 years ago. It wasnīt restored. It is an original!
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 01:08 AM
September 09, 2006 GMT
(1) Venezuela: The Road North
With only a week or so remaining on my 3 month Visa it was time to leave Brasil. It was time to continue north and enter her neighbour, Venezuela. I looked forward to the encounter.
It was 33 C in Boa Vista by 8:30 AM. I was soaked before I hit the curb. I back-tracked to where I had had my Federale encounter and turned right. I headed north for Venezuela, confident in my route by the large green sign that shouted "VENEZUELA...FRONTERA."
The mostly naked terrain that had guided me to Boa Vista accompanied me north. There were no more services to be seen. No service stations, no restaurants, no towns...just me and a few dozen suicidal Portugese drivers practising for the "old timerīs" version of the Grand Prix. As they whizzed by I turned my beam on HIGH and gave pursuit so the light reflected off of their mirrors and distracted them from their driving, hoping they would get the message I did not approve of their STUPIDITY. It was a wasted effort but it gave me a tiny bit of satisfaction.
After 2-1/2 hours of nothing I began to think about fuel. I had been humming along at 110 kmph and normally I had only a little more than 3 hours of fuel at that pace. I had expected at least one service station, but none appeared. Then I started to climb. The paced reduced to 2nd and 3rd gears as the sharp turns moved me upwards. I climbed from 300 ft to 3800 ft. The fuel gauge moved lower as I appeared to move away from my destination rather than towards it. Finally there it was...the FRONTERA.
Brasil stamped me out. They cancelled the 15,000 Reais paper that was my penalty for not removing the bike from their country. They issued me a receipt in its place...proof that I had conformed to the rules and regulations and had no liability. STAMP, STAMP. I had left Brasil. It happened so quickly I did not realize the gravity of the event. I had escaped. She did not try to hold me back. She released me without reluctance.
I moved forward into "NO MAN'S LAND"...that space between borders that belongs to no one...is but a buffer zone...PURGATORY. There was a Service Station in this zone...a Venezuelan Service Station. There was no Brasilian Service Station. Venezuela provided the fuel for the Frontera, for Brasil and for themselves. And, why not. How could Brasil compete? No one here would buy her fuel. She could not compete with Venezuela. Fuel sold for 4 cents per liter. I filled up for 80 cents...pocket change...that would be the norm for as long as I remained in Venezuela.
I moved forward to the Venezuelan Frontera. It was almost noon. The buildings were unmarked so I casually joined the first line I found, hoping it was the correct one. The Official locked the door behind me and the four others in front of me. He would accept no more business before noon. I had just squeaked in.
With the clock ticking on his lunch break he processed those in front of me quickly and released them through the locked door. Finally only I remained. He was expecting trouble...he was expecting I would not know what to do...he was expecting I could not communicate. None of it was true. As fast as he could type I was processed and stamped into Venezuela...at least the Moto was. I would have to wait until after the lunch break to go to the next build and get myself processed. Other than waiting for the line-jumpers to get processed my event lasted less than 3 minutes. "How much time do you want," was all he asked. "45 days" came the reply. STAMP, STAMP and I was in. It was 10 km to Santa Elena.
There was a problem brewing in Venezuela. The problem was money. The one bank in Santa Elena did not like my ATM card. I converted my few remaining Reais to Bolivares with the "Money Changers" on the corner. The next big town or City was at least 2 days away. I exchanged more cash. Then I paid for my room and went for dinner. The next morning I exchanged more cash. I had to be sure. I did not know how long it would be before I would encounter a bank. I knew I could feed the RANA but I needed to be sure I could feed me.
Flush with cash I moved north. The 'Gran Sabana' averaged 3500 ft ASL and provided a pleasant respite from the low altitude heat and humidity I had suffered through for the past month. It would last for only a day but beggars canīt be choosers.
Day's end found me at El Dorado, a turn-of-the-century gold town that never grew up. I thought I could find accomodation here but I was quickly losing hope. I kicked myself because I had passed up a nice, new hotel one hour ago. Now it was 4:00 PM and this dirt water town was not to my liking.
I turned off of the main highway to follow the sign that pointed to El Dorado. The road disappeared into a pot-holey slough. After 7 km I gave up. If the road was this bad I didn't want to see the town. I retreated to the highway. The next town was an hour down the road. That last town was a hour down the road the way I had just come. I moved forward cautiously. I was down to half a tank of fuel.
3 kms down the road there was another sign to El Dorado. I pulled off the road onto the wide apron. A pick-up truck pulled up beside me. "Do you need help?" came the query. "I am looking for an hotel" I answered. "There are two in town," he said. "Follow me". I hesitated, as I watched him drive away. A few hundred meters away he turned left onto a good paved road. My spirits picked up. I followed. That last road must have been an abandoned access to town, I reassured myself.
The town was the shits. He waited for me at the turn off to the hotel. It was down a dirt track. I followed cautiously, picking my way around deep holes and rocks. I could see his truck in front of the hotel. I moved forward. What I could not see was the motorcycle parked in front of his truck. He was talking to them...the motorcycle owners. "Your friend is coming," he said. Maia peered around the truck. She later said when she saw me coming she thought it was a mirage. She thought the heat had distorted her vision. She saw a big motorcycle coming down the road, throwing up dust. It became bigger and bigger until it was almost bigger than life. I pulled up beside them. Each of us was equally astonished to see the other. Maia and Andy rode a R100GS with a sidecar. They were from Scotland. We were all competing for a dirt-bag-hotel in a one-horse town that had No Vacancy. It was 4:30 PM.
I laid out the options. An hour to the south was a nice new hotel...condition and vacancy unconfirmed. After that there was nothing. 3 km to the south I had spotted an "Encampamento" sign. I had not checked out the premises. "Letīs go there", I said and check it first. It will be dark soon.
The rough dirt track through the tall grass did not look promising. Around the corner a hotel and restaurant complex with manicured lawns and a camping area greeted us. I was simply astonished. The river passed by on one side. We took the camping option, set up camp and then settled in for an evening of swapping stories. At midnight we paused for a rest. The next day we did it all over again. The third day we left. They went south. I went north.
In Cuidad Bolivar, a city of a few hundred thousand I tried my luck with the ATM machines. They either didnīt work or didnīt like my cards in spite of the Cirrus and Visa Plus signs posted everywhere. Frustrated, I retreated to a park bench to ponder my next move. Eureka, I had it. I would go inside and tell them my problem and see if they could help me. The two hour line up tested every ounce of patience that I had. The clock ticked on towards 10:30 AM. I had wasted the entire morning so far, having started the exercise at 8:00 AM.
Finally it was my turn. I had made up my mind I was not going to do this ridiculuous routine every week. I would get enough money to last several, in spite of the risks of carrying too much cash. I would take a VISA CASH ADVANCE and then phone Sandy to pay it off within the hour. That should work.
"How much do you want?" came the question as I settled into the chair and placed my plastic in front of her. "One Million Bolivares", I replied. "I am sorry, I cannot give you that much. I can only give you 500,000." My heart sank. "If you want more you will have to go over to the main teller." "I do not want to wait for another hour", I said. "No problem." She gave me a ticket and put my number up on the screen. I was next. The teller told me he could not give me any cash. I had to go back to where I came from. I could have screamed. I could have shouted. Instead I drew another number and waited. Finally after another half hour had passed I was back in the chair.
"How much do you want?" came the question.
"One Million" came the answer.
"Wait, can you do more?"
"Well then, I want One Million Five Hundred Thousand".
"Are you sure?"
Five minutes later with my pockets bulging I walked out of the bank, a frustrated but happy man. It was too late to leave town now. I would stay another day. I had a million and a half bucks in my pocket. Surely I could find something to do....
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 01:36 AM