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Venezuela

 

(2 487km - 46days - 24 January - 09 March 2012)

 

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24 January - Indiu Village, Brazil – Santa Elena, Venezuela - 40 km

By early morning it was already scorching, and as more hills were waiting, I left while Ernest was still busy packing up.

 

It was a slow climb of a near 1,000 metres, in the sweltering heat, up to the Gran Sabana plateau, Pacaraima (the border) and onto Santa Helena in Venezuela. On arriving in Pacaraima, I bought more Brazilian coffee, which became a favourite of us during our travels in Brazil and then waited for Ernest to arrive.

 

I was concerned about my Brazilian visa, which had expired 16 days previously, and wasn’t quite sure what the procedure would be. Fortunately, the fine of 132 reals was only payable on re-entry into Brazil. This was great news, as the more cash one was able to take into Venezuela, the better. At the time of our visit, it was believed that changing money on the street was twice as good as drawing from an ATM.

 

After clearing immigration, it was a short cycle into the touristy border town of Santa Helena where there was ample accommodation as it was the starting point for people who wanted to climb Mount Roraima. I would have loved to have done it, but my cycling partner wasn’t one for such ventures.

 

 

25 January - Santa Elena 

On crossing the border into Venezuela, the first thing one noticed was the cars. Old, fuel-guzzling monsters bounced along at a snail’s pace. I guess at 5 US cents a litre, the petrol price was no major concern.

 

On looking around, the lack of infrastructure was surprising, and it was hard to believe that in the 1920s Venezuela was the world’s largest exporter of oil and, at the time of writing, Venezuela, with 300,878 million barrels of proven reserves, had the largest amount of proven oil reserves in the world. To me, it meant it was a country with vast wealth, and it wasn’t “new money”, but they had it for the past 100 years!

 

The next day was spent in Santa Elena, which was scorching as the rainy season was coming to an end. I feared it meant we’d missed any chance of rain cooling us down. The day was spent doing laundry and trying to get a new SIM card for my modem.

 

26 January - Santa Elena – San Francisco - 71 km 

The following day, the map indicated the route ran north through the Gran Sabana National Park and showed a few villages scattered along the way. I soon learnt the map wasn’t to be trusted. Even the shortest of distances were wrong, and place names didn’t correspond with signboards along the road.

 

It was, however, a stunning route with the road disappearing over the grassy hills of the Gran Sabana (Great Plains). Something about it reminded me of Africa; it must have been the wide-open spaces. It was so utterly different from the Amazon basin where we'd come from, I stopped numerous times for photos or just to admire the views. The park was a large one and included both the Angel Falls and Mt Roraima. Much of the park was characterised by wide-open savannah, scattered with Moriche palms (known as the palm tree with one thousand uses). The park was indeed a unique area; situated on a plateau of the Guyana Shield, one of the world's oldest geological formations, dating back over two billion years to the Pre-Cambric era. The park was also known for its tabletop mountains, some of the oldest landforms on earth which were created long before the continents drifted apart. I found those numbers mine boggling.

 

Late afternoon, a shelter provided camping. Although it must have been on someone’s land, there was no one around to ask and, after kicking aside the old cow dung, tents were pitched, and an old petrol tank made a good enough seat for the evening. No sooner were the tents up, and the midges descended upon us with a vengeance!  I couldn’t get into the tent fast enough; the things were a darn menace.

 

27 January - San Francesco - Waterfall - 53 km 

Waking under rustling Moriche palms was something rather special, but it also meant another day of cycling into the wind. After a leisurely start to the day, the way (as expected) was slightly hilly and into the wind. Our route continued through the National Park, which was dotted with grassy hills, waterfalls and indigenous villages. On spotting comfortable-looking accommodation with huts, lush lawns and a lovely waterfall, I called it a day.

 

By evening, a Czech cyclist pulled into the same accommodation. He was travelling from Alaska to Ushuaia and had been cycling for seven months. There was much jabbering until the lights went out, which was around 9 p.m. At least there was enough time to charge the laptop and write the update before the power was lost.

 

28-29 January - Waterfall - Las Claritas - 120 km 

Fortunately, it was a cloudy day, which gave some relief from the heat as the path continued over the hills. On reaching the end of the National Park, the grasslands came to an abrupt end. The route climbed up to the high point with thick and dense forest on both sides. On reaching the forest area, it started raining, and it continued raining for the rest of the day.

 

I cycled like a person possessed, pulled my cap down low and climbed higher and higher up and over the ridge. It was bucketing down; people in passing cars were cheering me on, probably thinking I was quite mad. Once over the high point, the road dropped steeply for the next 30 kilometres to the small mining community of Las Claritas. By then, I was frozen, and with teeth chattering, sped downhill and was happy to reach level ground and even a slight incline where one could start pedalling to warm up.

 

I only saw Ernest once at around the 30-kilometre mark, and once in Las Claritas, and found accommodation which turned out a disappointment. It was expensive, the water ran out, the shower was cold and just about nothing worked. At least the power didn’t go off, and one could close the door to ward off the midges. For that, I was grateful as, by then, I was covered in bumps - literally from my scalp to my toes. Amazingly enough, some antihistamine tablets were located in one of my panniers, which relieved the itching.

 

I loved towns like Las Claritas. The village resembled something out of a Wild West movie. The main road was a muddy, potholed road, where old cars slowly bumped along, spewing black fumes in the air, and where barbers did business under rickety, corrugated shelters. In fact, the whole road was a bit of a shantytown where every man and his dog had a leaking stall, selling anything from toilet paper to sweets.

 

Ernest, again, had bike problems (which I believed was due to his overloaded bike) and needed to do more maintenance. We, therefore, had to stay yet another day.

 

30 January - La Claritas – El Dorado - 90 km

As always, when in a new country, I found Venezuela somewhat of a surprise. Firstly, I don’t think I have ever seen so much trash alongside the road. Secondly, for a country with so much wealth, the lack of infrastructure was shocking. Trucks still delivered water to houses in the villages, and in a country with so much rain, just about no one seemed to have had a water tank for harvesting rainwater. It was, therefore, not unusual to find the taps dry, and no one seemed perturbed by it.

 

Our route ran through densely-forested areas with light traffic, making it possible to chat while cycling, not something that was possible every day. Although Ruta 10 was wide with a good shoulder, it was overgrown and at times quite narrow. It appeared maintenance wasn’t very high on the Venezuelan agenda. The lack of infrastructure came as a surprise after spending so much time in well-organised Brazil.

 

After 90 kilometres, El Dorado made for a convenient overnight stop. It was another typical Venezuelan town which, to us, appeared disorganised, with muddy, potholed streets, a small market and central square. A few Chinese-run shops lined the main road and old V8 cars were lined up at the petrol station to fill up. The queue extended from the start of the village, down the main road, and into the petrol station!

 

The place located to stay couldn’t have been more basic: with a cement screed floor, a hole in the wall for a window and two wobbly, sagging beds. Although it had a bathroom, there was no water in the taps and, therefore, useless to us. I must, however, point out it had a TV with one English Channel! I had to laugh and quite enjoyed the craziness of it all.

 

The name of the village conjured up images of the search for gold in the mythical place of El Dorado. Interestingly enough, it was indeed situated in the centre of an immense basin containing most of the gold deposits in the country. Over the past centuries, many came to find their fortune, but few did.

 

31 January - El Dorado – Tumeremo - 71 km

It was raining on waking up, and it didn’t stop for the rest of the day. Cycling was in a constant drizzle, something I quite enjoyed, and it only cleared just before reaching the small mining town of Tumeremo. More dark clouds loomed ahead, making us find a room. It was good thing too, as no sooner were the bikes unloaded when it came bucketing down. At least it appeared the rainy season wasn’t over as yet and gave some relief from the heat.

 

A dash was made for the bakery, and I bought fresh bread and ingredients for a soup. Afterwards, Ernest peeled and chopped and cooked up a vegetable soup which went well with the bread.

 

In later years, sleepy Tumeremo would become infamous for the two massacres that took place on miners in the town. I understood that on 8 March 2016, 28 miners were murdered and kidnapped. However, according to reports, the National Armed Forces and the CICPC claimed there was no evidence of any such massacre or confrontation. The governor of Bolívar state declared: "There wasn’t a single thing to show they have died or been massacred.” In October 2018, another massacre took place, and this time a Colombian guerrilla group was held responsible for the murders.

 

1 February - Tumeremo – Guasipati - 61 km

It was a short ride to Guasipati, another place whose economy depended heavily on gold. Although there was more rain along the way, it was a scenic ride. The traffic scared me at times as it appeared vehicles could only drive at one speed, which was top speed. Nothing seemed to slow them down, neither potholes nor sharp corners. They came flying past, squeezing between us and oncoming traffic, all at top speed.

 

The small village of Guasipati didn’t look like much, and I could hardly believe that in 1853 "The richest gold mines in the world" were discovered there. There was, however, no sign of its former glory.

 

2 February - Guasipati – Upata - 101 km

It was once again, an enjoyable ride. Our path wound over hills and through forests until reaching Upata. Once in Upata, it was off to the supermarket, as usual. By then, I was quite used to being stared at, but it was the first time I was asked whether I was a hippie! I didn’t quite know what to answer; I guess I was.

 

3 February - Upata – Roadside camp - 107 km

For the past few days, Ernest had stomach problems and wasn’t feeling well, but wanted to continue. At last, our path came with a wide shoulder, which was much better than the narrow road until then. Roadside stalls sold huge pieces of crackling, obviously a favourite in that part of the world, but I couldn’t imagine eating it.

 

The road continued past Cuidad Guayana until reaching a roadside restaurant with a shelter which made a good place to camp for the night. Although the restaurant was closed, the friendly owners presented us each with a large plate of food. On getting ready to crawl into our tents, not only the dogs but also the cats and chickens, all settled around us, providing company for the night.

 

 

4-6 February - Roadside camp – Cuidad Bolivar - 71 km

I left long before Ernest as he was too slow in packing up. It was a comfortable ride to Bolivar as it was flat, and I had the benefit of a tailwind. Halfway down the road, a truck stopped and out jumped two friendly guys from Caracas. They took a few pictures, gave me a cap and were on their way again.

 

I took my time as I suspected Ernest would take a while to catch up, stopping a few times for coffee at roadside stalls and ambling along slowly. On reaching the turnoff for the city centre, I waited for Ernest and then cycled into the city.

 

Bolivar had an old historic centre with a lovely square and equally charming renovated buildings. It was, however, on top of a rather steep hill with cobblestone streets. I pushed my bike up the hill and were lucky to find a small pousada right behind the cathedral with rather interesting rooms and a casual vibe.

 

The following day was spent enjoying the historic centre with its gorgeous ensemble of brightly-painted colonial buildings, shady squares and the famous Paseo Orinoco overlooking the Orinoco River. The town was named after Simon Bolívar, Venezuela's independence hero. As it was a Sunday, it looked like the entire town had closed for the day. I needed to use the internet and, therefore, stayed the following day as well.

 

7 February - Cuidad Bolivar - Tollgate truck stop - 95 km 

 

I was reluctant to leave our cosy accommodation, but it was time to move along. The map indicated a distance of 120 kilometres to El Tigre. With that information, we headed down the steep hill to the river and left Bolivar via a large bridge over the Orinoco River. Fifteen kilometres out of Cuidad Bolivar a sign indicated El Tigre was still 165 kilometres, making a total distance of 185 kilometres, and I wondered what happened to the 120 kilometres. As the sun started setting, a toll gate came into view, providing camping for the night. It wasn’t the best spot and rather noisy with a strong smell of oil, but water and toilets were available, and a few roadside stalls sold food.

 

 

 

8 February - Tollgate truck stop – Anaco - 108 km

As one can imagine, there was no sleeping late at a truck stop, and it was up and away at an early hour. Plenty of rusty, old roadside shrines lined the road, something that didn’t come as a surprise, considering the way Venezuelans drove.

 

Roadside stalls sold interesting nibbles, mainly cassava flatbread made from the cassava root. The bread was very popular and eaten with just about anything. I can’t say I had much of a taste for it as I found it slightly dry and chewy.

 

It must have been a day for things to break as not only did it appear my front hub was coming to the end of its life, but one of my sandals also gave in, and it wasn’t like I had another pair. Fortunately, cable ties did the job, and I hoped it would see me through to the next big town.

 

9-11 February - Anaco – Barcelona - 90 km

 

 

Barcelona turned out more interesting than expected. Founded in 1671, it had its fair share of old colonial buildings and churches. The pedestrian mall was a lively place, packed with clothing stalls and delicious-looking food.

 

That evening, while looking at the map, I also realised I had crossed yet another continent – it took a while, but I had finally arrived at the Caribbean coast of Venezuela.

 

 

12 February - Barcelona - Puerto Píritu - 60 km

The 60 kilometres between Barcelona and Puerto Piritu was peppered with roadside stalls, selling freshly-baked pies, which I couldn’t resist. It was a short ride to Puerto Píritu at the coast, and I had my first glimpse of the Caribbean Sea, and, as expected, it came with the obligatory palm trees and hammocks.

 

I wanted to stay right on the Caribbean coast, but it was much harder than expected to find lodging and, in the end, had to settle for accommodation in one of the back alleys. Rooms were rented by the hour, and customers were coming and going all night long, precisely on the hour.

 

Instead of listening to the ooh’s and aah’s of our next-door lovers, I took a walk to the lagoon and what a sunset it was! Brown pelicans descended on the quayside where fishermen were cleaning fish, all waiting their turn for any bits being thrown their way.

 

13 February - Puerto Píritu – Cupira - 104 km

 

 

The way to Cupira was lush and green and, as can be expected, overgrown, making it rather narrow. I love the tropics and enjoy the heat and humidity but didn’t appreciate the many snakes basking in the sun. Cupira came after 104 kilometres, and the town centre just a few kilometres down the road. As was the case with many of the towns, it seemed utterly hectic, but I was warming to the chaos and managed to find a lovely little pousada which was ever-so homely.

 

 

 

14 February - Cupira – Caucagua - 101 km

Although it was quite a mountainous area, it was a stunning ride. Along the way, villagers were selling cacao, and I was dying to try some. It wasn’t as tasty as I had hoped. In fact, it was extremely bitter; I was perplexed to find so many motorists frequenting these stalls and wondered what it was used for. After tasting it, I was convinced it wasn’t eaten raw.

 

Caucagua was situated on top of a hill, and a narrow cobblestoned path led to the (by then expected) chaotic town centre. There wasn’t anything of interest there, and it was best to head back to the turn-off. The petrol station at the junction had toilets as well as a few shops and appeared a good place to camp. It ended up being one of the worst areas as it was extremely noisy and smelled strongly of pee. Locals warned us it was dangerous and that one could be robbed or, even worse, killed during the night! We camped anyhow, and I was relieved to wake safely in the morning without having been robbed, shot or any of the other things warned about.

  

15 February - Caucagua – Higuerote - 46 km

It was a nice ride to Higuerote over the mountains. Once again, I was astounded at the state of the cars on the road: old rust-buckets bumped along without shocks and it was quite astounding they were still going.

 

16 February - Higuerote

What a shitty day it turned out to be. As usual, Ernest took forever to get ready (he was always dreadfully slow in the mornings). In the meantime, I sat playing on the internet at the little table outside our abode. The pousada had a charming small courtyard, although builders were working on the upper floor. I popped into our room for a second and, on returning, found my notebook gone! Just like that!

 

I was seriously pissed off, as most of my recent pictures and my diary was on it - bummer. Everyone was running around trying to locate the culprit – presumably one of the workers – but he was long gone, and I’m sure never to return.

 

Off I went to the shop, bought a new notebook and modem, and spent the rest of the day loading programs.

 

 

17 February - Higuerote – Chuspa - 40 km

First thing in the morning, I went back to the computer shop, as the modem I bought wasn’t working properly. As it involved downloading a program, I went back to the room, packed my stuff and returned later to collect it.

 

It was after 11h00 before getting away and onto the coastal road in a westerly direction. Soon after leaving, the path deteriorated and later disappeared altogether. It became rather muddy, and with no bridges over the rivers. Fortunately, the rivers were small, and one could push your bike through. But, if I thought it was terrible, the worst was still to come. Cars and motorbikes wisely decided to turn around, leaving only 4-wheel drive vehicles and us.

 

I got completely bogged down, as the sinking mud sucked both me and the bike in. Trying to push the bike along, my feet pulled out of the sandals, which then disappeared into the mud. After spending some time retrieving them, I continued barefoot through the slippery mess.

 

On reaching Chuspa, it was already 16h00, and the search for lodging was made rather tricky in that Chuspa was a tiny seaside village and it was carnival week. The village was packed and most rooms full. People were in a jovial mood and all wanted to help find us accommodation. With the help of locals, a lovely guesthouse was located, which had only five bedrooms around a tiny, pleasant courtyard.

 

18 February - Chuspa – Naiguata - 64 km 

The stretch of road between Chuspa and Naiguata was only 64 kilometres and was first a stunning and rather innocent-looking way. Soon, however, it started climbing steep hills through thick and dense forest. It was hot and humid as the road climbed hill after hill, only to descend steeply down to the ocean after which it was straight up the mountain again. If it weren’t so incredibly beautiful, I would have had a serious sense of humour failure. Although it was challenging cycling, the views were stunning. It was, after all, Venezuela’s Caribbean Coast.

 

By the time it is necessary for the authorities to make grooves in the road surface to prevent vehicles from sliding when going either up or down, it’s steep! Even cars and motorbikes had difficulty encountering these hills. A man having his car towed away burst out laughing when he saw us cycling up the very hill his vehicle couldn’t. It was a tough day on the road, and on top of that, I had three flat tyres, and Ernest two! On reaching Naiguata, people were astounded to learn where we had come from. It was clearly not the route taken by most.

 

Being carnival week, hundreds of people were out enjoying the holidays, and it was fun camping on the beach amongst other holidaymakers. Music was going at full-blast right through the night, and I thought it amazing a car battery could last that long. It was like the battle of the bands as each campsite had its own music going.

 

19 February - Naiguata – Maiquetia - 27 km

Packing up was a slow process as, by then, the festival atmosphere made for a relaxed mood. The path levelled out, and it was relaxed cruising along the coast to where the route turned up over the mountains to Caracas. The traffic was hectic, and bumper to bumper. People were in a good mood, all dressed up in colourful wigs and spraying us with foam as we negotiated the traffic.

 

Instead of tackling the climb up to Caracas in the carnival traffic, I thought it a good idea to find a place to stay and continue in the morning. Locating accommodation for the night was, however, more difficult than expected. It took hours to find something but we managed in the end. The place even had hot water, something I hadn’t had in quite some time. By then, there were seven inner tubes to fix, and Ernest set to work immediately.

 

20-21 February - Maiquetia – Caracas - 37 km

Although it was a short ride from the coast to Caracas, it was a steady climb in the heat of the day, making for exhausting cycling. Fortunately, we were travelling against the traffic (which all seemed to be heading to the coast). The two tunnels encountered made me nervous, and I chose to push the bike along the pavement rather than cycling along the narrow road with cars flying past at high speed.

 

On arriving in Caracas – a sprawling, densely-overpopulated, crime-ridden city – I had the feeling one had to barricade yourself in a hotel room. Caracas was situated in a valley, at an altitude of about 900 metres, and shantytowns were stacked along the steep hillsides around the city.

 

Although I didn’t plan to go into Caracas, we landed up there anyhow, and came upon a reasonable hotel and settled in. It was an old hotel with large rooms and old Formica furniture which didn’t seem to have been changed for the past 50 years.

 

Although I didn’t like the vibe in Caracas, Ernest wanted to stay the following day. There was no sign of the country’s famous beauty queens. Not much was happening in the city, and all the shops were closed, and the open ones were trading behind thick bars. Most people seemed to have gone away for carnival week, and there was hardly anyone around, and the centre deserted. I didn’t much care for Caracas and couldn’t wait to get out of the place.

 

22-24 February - Caracas - La Victoria - 103 km

I wasn’t sorry to say, “Bye-bye, Caracas” as I cycled out of town via more tunnels and past more steep hills with colourful shantytowns. Once again, it appeared our path led against the traffic as most people were returning home to Caracas after the holidays. The route just seemed to go down and down until reaching a kind of a valley, after which the road, fortunately, followed the valley, making for effortless riding.

 

After another flat tyre, I realised it was time for a new back tyre. The next settlement was La Victoria, where it was a simple task to locate a bike shop. One couldn’t mistake it was carnival as colourful banners decorated every little town. With my purchase of a tyre and box of patches for fixing the damaged tubes, it was off to the nearest abode to do the necessary repair work.

 

The following day was also spent in La Victoria as I was coming down with a cold and didn’t feel too well.

 

25 February - La Victoria - El Limon - 49 km

 

Although I wasn’t feeling 100%, I was keen to move on to another place. The intention wasn’t to go far, just far enough for a change of scenery and we followed the highway which was flat with a good tailwind, albeit a bit uninteresting.

 

We were firmly entrenched in mango country, and neatly-arranged and colourful stalls lined the road. On stopping to buy a few, the friendly stall owner gave us an entire bag for free. Just off the highway, signs pointed to El Limon, a suburb of Maracay, located at the entrance of the Henri Pittier National Park. It was a beautiful area on the foothills of the mountains and, fortunately, it was still early enough to enjoy the scenery.

 

 

 

26 February - El Limon – Naguanagua - 73 km

The following morning it was back to the highway, as it was the only road through the valley. Although not very interesting, the people along the way more than made up for it. I don’t think I have ever had so many people stopping and taking photos in one day. We were offered beer, water, cupcakes and even places to stay.

 

The tunnels encountered were, fortunately, short and not of the hair-raising kind. At one of the roadworks, an electronic ‘flag-waver’ did the job, which appeared more reliable than the real one, as we saw the real one sitting fast asleep on an oil drum!

 

27 February - Naguanagua – Tucacas - 95 km

It was time to leave the valley and climb up and over the misty mountains. It looked like quite a steep climb, but somehow there was very little climbing involved. Instead, the route ran steeply downhill to the coast from where it headed in a westerly direction.

 

Cycling along, I got the feeling Venezuela was 50 years behind the rest of the world. Big, old V-8 Ford cars came rattling past (generally without any shocks), arm hanging out the window and beer in the other hand. On seeing a woman on a bike, their heads spun around – they whistled and usually shouted something in Spanish, after which they returned the elbow to the window and continued down the road. I swear I could hear a good belly laugh as they disappeared over the hill.

 

28 February - 1 March - Tucacas - Chichiriviche - 42 km

Soon after leaving Tucacas, we met another cyclist who had been cycling for seven years. At the time, we thought it a seriously long time to be cycling. Little did I know, 12 years later I would still be on the road. On spotting a sign for the Morrocoy National Park, I had to turn off to see what it was all about. It turned out a stunning area consisting of beautiful, isolated beaches and small islands, as well as mangrove swamps teeming with birdlife. At last, I had the opportunity to see the Red Ibises close up and couldn’t have been happier.

 

I came down with a chest infection and stayed for the following two days. Fortunately, Chichiriviche had a very comfortable pousada with loads of books and a cute little garden area. Later that evening, on a walk to the pharmacy to get some medicine, police stopped us. They suspected us of smoking dope and frisked us, looked into our bags and, eventually (and very reluctantly), let us go. Ha-ha! I thought it very funny.

 

2 March - Chichiriviche – Mirimire - 84 km

After two days of R&R, I felt a whole lot better, loaded the bike and headed back to the main road, passing a vast lake with literally thousands of pink flamingos. Ernest had a flat tyre, allowing me plenty of time to take pictures of those beautiful birds. Later in the day, it was my turn to get a flat tyre, but Ernest fixed it in no time.

 

On reaching Mirimire, I looked for an ATM which would accept a Visa card but all to no avail. In fact, it was so rural I felt somewhat of an alien. There was, however, budget accommodation for the night. It was the most basic room with a door that couldn’t close. We piled all our noisy equipment in front of the door, hoping it would make sufficient noise to deter any intruder as well as waking us in the process.

 

3 March - Mirimire - Puerto Cumarebo - 97 km

 

It was a day of bike problems: first, Ernest had a puncture, then later his tyre tore along the side. Not much one can do about that, and he sewed it up with fishing line, which did the job. The route was reasonably hilly but, fortunately, it came with a strong tailwind which made for comfortable riding. The reason for turning into Puerto Cumarebo was to find a bank but, again, it was to no avail.

 

I did, however, still, have enough money for food and beer. After shopping for essentials in town, we headed out and sneaked in behind the petrol station to camp at the car wash. A friendly couple stopped to chat and then proceeded to give us 50 VEF. Just how nice was that?

 

 

4-5 March - Puerto Cumarebo – Coro - 43 km

After coffee, it was on to Coro, one of the loveliest colonial cities in Venezuela. A good tailwind helped in reaching Coro in good time where there was a cosy hostel with rooms around a courtyard. The courtyard had birds and wind-chimes, which made for a delightful stay. Fortunately, there was a Mercantile Bank, which appeared to be the only bank in Venezuela where I could draw money. Coro was a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where cobblestoned streets and old colonial buildings abounded. I took a walk to the bakery and came back with loads of photos but no bread.

 

6-7 March - Coro – Dabajuro - 130 km

What I thought would be a dreary day turned out to be precisely the opposite and, on meeting some fascinating people, I felt sorry for having such a poor command of the Spanish language.

 

It was a long 130-kilometre day on the bike, but at least a good tailwind helped us along. As the road headed in an easterly direction, the scenery changed entirely and became drier, hotter and windier. Ernest, once again, had a flat tyre but quickly fixed it. Strange roadside stalls kept us amused. Some sold goatskins with the bones still attached, and we had plenty of theories on what it could be used for. By the end of the day, I was happy to reach Dabjuro, where accommodation was available on the outskirts of town.

 

8 March - Dabajuro – Santa Rita - 137 km

 

It was another long day on the road, and on reaching Lago de Maracaibo (the largest lake in South America), I had enough for the day. It’s from under this lake that Venezuela gets much of its oil, but it was a surprisingly scenic lake. It was getting late, and in the process of looking for a place to pitch the tents, a lakeside restaurant looked like the perfect spot. The owners were busy closing up and allowed us to camp inside the restaurant, on the deck overlooking the lake. Soon after arriving, they brought us each a cold drink and, soon after, two plates of food arrived. How very generous the Venezuelans were.

 

 

9 March - Santa Rita - San Rafael del Mojan - 77 km

The only way of crossing the Tablazo Strait was via the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge (Lake Maracaibo is connected to the Gulf of Venezuela by the Tablazo Strait). The bridge was 8.7 kilometres long, and it wasn’t allowed to cycle across it. The only way across was to hitch a ride with a friendly Venezuelan. It was surprisingly simple to find a lift, although he drove like a bat out of hell, I still managed to snap a shot or two. Our kind Samaritan dropped us on the opposite side of the bridge, from where one could continue in the direction of the Colombian border.

 

The route changed direction and came with a strong headwind as our path headed in a more northerly direction.

 

On reaching San Rafael del Mojan, the owner of the beer store got on his motorbike and escorted us to a local pousada, which turned out to be right on the beach as well as inexpensive.

 

10 March - San Rafael del Mojan, Venezuela - Macao, Colombia - 90 km 

It was a surprisingly lovely ride to the border along a salt lake and, although it was quite windy, it was a scenic ride with plenty of birdlife. Interestingly enough, our path led past a spot where, on 26 February 1998, people came from far and wide to watch a total eclipse of the sun. Soon afterwards, the road reached the border, and it was an uncomplicated crossing into Colombia.

 

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