Thursday, March 15, 2007

Getting to Trinidad

Getting here wasn't easy. In fact, there was a lot of uncertainty about the whole trip from Caracas to Port of Spain, so when I finally woke up this morning it felt like a bit of an accomplishment.

There were two main problems with coming here from Caracas. One, I had no bookings for any hotels or guest houses. Whatever I found on the internet was too expensive or too vague. Two, the ferry from Venezuela had no internet presence, and nobody in Venezuela that I talked to knew about it. In a Lonely Planet guide I'd read last month, it said the ferry runs once a week on Wednesdays. I wasn't too sure about the price, and I didn't have too much Venezuelan currency left either.

I spent the last day in Caracas (Monday) looking for some travel guides. Since all my travelling for the last 10 months has been a bit unpredictable, I've resisted from buying any travel guides which I'd have to lug around. Caracas isn't a very tourist friendly place so in spite of going to all the main bookstores I couldn't any information or book about Guiria (where the ferry runs from) or Trinidad. Finally decided that the best thing to do was to leave for Guiria that night so that I could hope to get to Guiria by Tuesday afternoon, find out about the ferry and in case it didn't run, head back to Caracas and take a flight.

There was no direct bus to Guiria, so I took an overnight bus to Cumana and reached at about 6 in the morning. The bus terminal was pretty small and decrepit, and at that time in the morning the main ticket office was shut. Went into a grotty waiting room and hung around for an hour. Finally went in to the ticket office after it opened, and realised that the first bus to Guiria was at 2 in the afternoon. That meant reaching Guiria at 6 in the evening, which was too late. Found out after a lot of gesturing and consulting my bible (the Spanish for travellers book) that one could share taxis till Curapao and then another shared taxi to Guiria.

Ended up in a very old run down Ford, which was probably from the 70s considering the design. Dozed through most of the ride and reached Curapao at around 9 and then found another shared taxi for Guiria. These taxis don't leave till they're full, so had to wait till we could find 4 more people heading there. The drive was beautiful though. All along the coast, with the brilliant blue waters sparking and thick jungle on the the other side of the road. Reached Guiria around noon.

As small towns go, Guiria is possibly the most decrepit, rundown, dirty and shady place I've ever encountered. It's the last town one can drive to on the Northeast coast of Venezuela, and exists only because of the docks and the Coast Guard presence. I'd heard about the beaches in the area and had pictured a pretty, small town close to nice beaches where I'd spend the day loitering around. The beach was pathetic and the whole town looked like it was in serious decay. There were two posadas (motels) in town. I took the one where the room had airconditioning as it was blisteringly hot, esp after a week in the Andes.

Asked around about the ferry and found the office after a bit of walking around. The ferry was running as scheduled on each Wednesday, but I had to pay about 70$ in cash. Since I didn't have much currency left, I went to the only ATM in town, but realised that international cards don't work. 3 days earlier I'd overheard a conversation about this, and 2 Germans had mentioned the way to withdraw cash was to go to a big bank in the morning before noon, with your passport and other details. Since it was 3 the bank was shut, so I had to wait till the next morning. I had barely enough money to eat one meal, and the few euros and pounds that I was carrying had no value. Only US dollars I was told. Found a dirty, roadside Arepa place and munched on a couple of Arepas before heading back to my room and sleeping early as there was nothing else to do.

Woke up early, and went straight to the bank and managed to withdraw some cash with the help of a teller. Then went to the Ferry agency, but they refused to let me buy a one-way ticket. Since I wasn't sure of when I plan to leave the Caribbean, they wanted proof of return. It was time to head to the only internet cafe in town and make another booking on AA.

The internet cafe had really old computers, but like idiots they'd installed an illegal copy of Windows Vista. That meant the computer hung about 3 times, before I managed to make a booking. Turned out the printer was connected to the main computer and they weren't networked. The only way to print it out would be to save it as a text file and then transfer it. Thankfully, I had my ipod with me and managed to transfer it onto that, plug it into the main computer and print out a very shady looking ticket itinerary. It was almost 11, so headed straight to the Ferry agency and then managed to get the ticket. Was told to report to the docks at 2, and the ferry would leave at around 4. Bumped into a French couple and we agreed to share a taxi as the docks area looked really shady.

Reached the docks, and after a long and thorough check of everyone's bags and a long wait, managed to leave the docks around 430. I was really tired by now and wondered if I would have been better of taking a flight from Caracas (it would have cost about the same). But within 20 minutes of leaving, it was worth it. The water was incredibly clear, with great views of the Venezuelan peninsula and loud calypso music on the deck. Suddenly, the world cup looked much closer.

While sitting on the deck, I ended up talking to a Venezuelan who now lives in Trinidad. I asked him about Port of Spain, and he was shocked that I had no bookings at all. Since we were going to reach around 8pm, with a long customs check, he said I had no chance of reaching Port of Spain before 930pm, and doubted if there would be any buses to take from the docks. The French couple decided to help me out and gave me their Lonely Planet guide and helped me write down the names and addresses of some cheap hotels. Then Mr Venezuela, gave me some Trinidadian cash (there was no money changer at the docks), his phone number and as soon was we were within range of his cellphone coverage, let me make phone calls to the hotels on the Lonely Planet guide.

After calling 3 places, I managed to find a very affordable place close to the stadium which had one single room left. Mr Venezuela was even nicer, and gave me a ride all the way to the Guest house, waited till I'd found the room and headed off. He told me to call him sometime, and explain cricke to him. Considering all that he did for a stranger, I'd be happy to oblige him for more.

Did I ever mention, I love all Venezuelan people?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

BC pondy!! The testicular fortitude that you've displayed has earned you THE TICKET.

BC MC!!!

Anshuman

Tabula Rasa said...

how do you manage to outdo yourself EVERY TIME?!

bandafbab said...

Planning is inversely proportional to adventure.

Dunia said...

My friend... I'm venezuelan and some girls from Poland have requested my help to get to Guiria and do the same route you took.. So as any venezuelan in Caracas I was no idea were guiria was, but after a long search on google, turns out they have opened a new bus terminal that gets you there straight but this is since April this year. I admire you for getting to you final destination safe and want to tell you that I'm EXTREAMLY embarrased on our country in tourism matter... and in many other aspects aswell.. I'm sooo sorry you had to go through that and well.. the only way to move around here is by car.

I'm glad to know you liked the ppl though... XD

Take care and PLEASE when coming here (south america) ALWAYS book something in advance! this is NOS europe!

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I begin on internet with a directory

Anonymous said...

awesome info! i will be doing the opposite route starting tuesday morn in barbados. couldn't find any info on Guiria, but now I feel a lot better having read this! oddly reassuring...at least now I know something. thanks!