Monday, April 02, 2007

A day on the road

Wake up at 7am. Where am I? The sound of the surf. OK, I´m still at the beach. The World Cup was just a dream, or was it? Got a long journey ahead. Kiwis wake up, and in 10 minutes everyone´s ready. On the road again, Kiwi 1 mumbles. We´re all half asleep.

Walk 10 minutes through dirty streets to the Terminal. Buses don´t run for another 2 hours. Haggle with a taxi driver to take us three to Puerto La Cruz. Drive through winding roads, crowded beaches and islands on the horizon. Touts accost us at La Cruz. Ciudad Bolivar for me, and Caracas for the Kiwis. Quick handshakes, email addresses exchanged and we all head off. Me towards Brazil, them towards Columbia. Probably never see each other again.

The bus isn´t crowded. It´s Easter week and everyone´s headed to the beach. I´m going the other way, so it´s quiet for a while. Then, the music is turned on and Salsa blares loudly, drowning out my Ipod. I doze on and off. The countryside is pretty barren. Feels dry and arid. I know it´s blazing hot outside, but the aircon inside makes it freezing. I´m prepared with my sweater and jacket though after many overnight bus journies in this country.

Stop after a few hours at a dusty roadside stop. Greasy Arepas and fresh juice is my first meal of the day. Not entirely healthy but there´s no choice. A potbellied guy with gelled hair starts talking to me. Speak slowly, I say. He realises I´m an outsider and starts talking about his life. Hates America, lived there illegally for 7 years. Paid to get married to a Gringo to get a Green Card, but got deported. Works as a tourist guide now. Venezuela is 85% national parks and 70% of the population is women, he says. I nod and see him eyeing every girl who walks by. Girls half my age have makeup and flimsy clothes and clearly enjoy the attention from him. One girl walks up and sits next to him. His daughter, I think. No, his woman. Go hiking in the Roraim area he says. It´ll be like nothing you´ve seen. I make a note of what he suggests. Get back on the bus and a bunch of people get on trying to sell drinks and food. No Gracias.

Reach Cuidad Bolivar at 3pm. It´s hot and dry. Get a ticket for Santa Elena for 8pm. 5 hours to kill. Leave my backpack with the bus agency. Walk out to a cyber cafe and it´s closed. Where else? Guy shrugs. It´s a Sunday. Everything´s closed. Anywhere in the main city? He motions towards a general direction. Very far, he says. No option but to go. 5 hours in the bus terminal will be boring as hell. Keep walking in the heat. A starbucks cafe, with comfy chairs, a cool latte and wifi would be perfect. Not in this bustling, dirty city though. The heat is getting to me now. Wait, is that an oasis? A 24 hour cybercafe. It´s open. It´s airconditioned. It´s got some drinks as well, and the connections are fast. Perfect place to kill 3 hours and catch up on what´s happening in the world cup.

Head back to the terminal and pick up my backpack and board the bus. Take out my sleeping bag as it´s a long overnight ride. 12 hours to Santa Elena, the border town. Doze off and wake up to see a Hugh Grant movie in Spanish. He sounds as stupid.

Reach Santa Elena at 8 in the morning. See 2 other backpackers in the distance and walk up. German, British or Australian? German. Thankfully, not from where I was a few months ago. Know a cheap place to stay? Ja, Ja. The bible is opened and it points us to a place. Want to share to make things cheaper? Ja, Ja. Heading to Brazil? Ja, Ja. Reach the hotel and look at the rooms. Another dingy room. A table fan, pink walls, 3 separate beds, and a private bathroom. The shower is a tap about 6 feet high. Good enough for a night? Ja, Ja. Should we get something to eat? Ja, Ja. How many months of travelling now? 3 months, they say. 11 months, I say. Want to go on a trek through the Gran Sabana tomorrow? Yes, I say. Got my own tent and sleeping bag so all I need is a stove and food. We get a guide, rent a stove, share a jeep and head off to the Gran Sabana for 3 days.