BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for August, 2005

« Home

Crossing The Border

Monday, August 29th, 2005

28 August 2005 (Sunday) – San Cristobal, Venezuela to Cienaga, Colombia

I called Juan a few times in the morning. He had switched off his cellular phone. Hmmm… I weighed my options. Frankly, I feared I did not have enough bolivares to really last another day, including expenses for crossing the border. It was always better to have a little extra, than to be caught with not enough money just when you were leaving the country. Also, I really wanted to get out of San Cristobal as I could not stand this city. I figured there was no use of me staying here beyond my check-out time of the hotel, especially since I was not even sure if Juan was in the city. After all, he had said he MIGHT be back on Sunday and had suggested that I give him a call on Sunday morning to confirm. Well, I did. His cellular phone was switched off.

I decided to leave Venezuela. I preferred to leave plenty of daylight time for me to get myself safely across the border.

At the bus terminal, there were several taxis leaving for Cucutá, the border town of Colombia directly. I made inquiries there and when I asked the driver if he would stop for me to get my exit and entry stamps, he decided not to take me. Puzzled, I asked around and finally decided to take a colectivo to San Antonio which is the border town of Venezuela and figure something out from there. I asked the driver to show me where the immigration office was.

About 2 hours later, we arrived in San Antonio. I bought my departure tax stamps and got my exit stamp at the office. Strange. This immigration office was right in the middle of town. It was not at the border, or anything. I had to walk a few blocks further to catch a bus that would take me to the Colombian border.

Usually, in other border crossings that I had experienced in South America, the bus or taxi would stop at the customs and everyone needs to get out to get his or her identity card or passport registered or stamped. Yet, here, apparently, the Venezuelans need not clear customs at all! The bus just zipped right through the border without stopping!

As I was paying the fare-collector, I learnt that I was already in Colombia. Shit shit! Unlike the Venezuelans, I needed my entry stamp! He hastily yelled at the driver to stop the bus and I alighted and walked back towards the bridge which marked the border. Phew, thank goodness, I was alert enough to ask these questions. Otherwise, I could be w-a-y into Colombia before discovering this mistake!

After getting my entry stamp, I returned to the main road and promptly found another bus to hop onto and this finally brought me to Cucutá bus terminal, several kilometres away. The guidebook had written that Cucutá was not a nice place, a very dodgy frontier town. The bus terminal had tricksters and con-men of every creations, and we were never to leave our bags unwatched. Frankly, I was a little nervous being out here by myself.

But at a money exchange, I got to chatting with the people who worked there and as I was Chinese, they got really curious and friendily invited me in. Then, they helped me with my bus-ticket to Cienaga and even asked me to teach them some Chinese words. Later, I even left my bags in there while I went to find lunch. I ended up watching a kungfu movie outside while they took care of my things. They all seemed very friendly.

Finally, at 5:30pm, I got onto a nightbus to Cienaga. Many people had all sorts of colourful warnings for me whenever they heard that I would be going to Colombia. One of the warnings was never to travel on a weekend, and never to travel on a nightbus due to increased guerilla activities in hijacking the buses. Gee… here I was travelling on a NIGHTBUS on a WEEKEND.

Gum On My Shirt

Monday, August 29th, 2005

27 August 2005 (Saturday) – Mérida to San Cristobal, Venezuela

After breakfast, I hopped onto the local bus to get to the bus terminal. I made inquiries for buses to San Cristobal and found one leaving at 10am. It was 9am then, and I was apparently the first to sign up for the trip. I sat on the bench, reading, until the bus slowly filled up and got ready to leave at around 10+am. Then, we seemed to be waiting for someone else as the bus sat there near the exit, ready to leave but yet not leaving.

Finally, someone opened the door and hopped in. Hey, I know this guy! I waved to him, “Hey, Richard!!!” Yep, it was German-Richard whom I met in Caracas last week. Strange to see him here. I thought he would be travelling much faster than I as he had only 2 months to make it from Caracas, Venezuela to La Paz, Bolivia, while I intend to make the same trip in 3 to 4 months.

The bus stopped for a snack-break at around mid-day. It was only then that I discovered that someone had left a piece of gum on the back of my seat!!!! ARGGHHH!!!!!! So, now, my Wallace and Gromit T-shirt had sticky gross gum stains all over the back, and my jacket, both inside and outside, was ruined as well! Horrors!!!!

I was really mad! I mean, I know I am always the butt of chewing gum jokes whenever people learn that I am from Singapore. But I am proud to say that I am GLAD Singapore banned the import of gums for the past 10 years. What use does chewing gum serve anyway? It only dirties the streets and ruins clothes and shoes. This person put the gum here on purpose, NOT BELOW the seat in an attempt to dispose it, but AT THE BACK of the seat in an attempt to cause damage. My blood was absolutely boiling when I discovered the mess and continued to boil for the rest of the ride.

All the way to San Cristobal, I tried my best to remove the sticky stains. Not very successful. I wondered if a lavanderia could remove them.

Anyway, when we arrived in San Cristóbal, Richard got ready to hop on another bus straight to Bogotá. Gee… I was a little nervous when I thought of crossing the Venezuelan-Colombian border by myself. So, now with Richard around, in a way, I could cross the border with him. But I had an obligation to stay a night in San Cristobal. So, I could only bid farewell to Richard and wish him well, perhaps, we would meet each other later in the trip.

I came to San Cristobal because, way, way back in Manaus, my guide for the jungle trip whom I had named Jorge, was from Venezuela. And, being very helpful, he had given me various names and contacts here. However, he later told me I could not go to his sister’s place as she was travelling in Europe, and I later changed my mind about going to Choroni where his mistress was, and I did not contact his sister-in-law in Mérida because I sensed bad blood between them, and I figured it was unwise for me to impose on her… And his final contact was his ex-business partner living in San Cristobal. He is Juan, and he apparently owned an organic cacao farm. Jorge had seemed very keen that I should meet his ex-business partner. Frankly, I was interested as well to visit an organic cacao farm.

I had contacted Juan back in Mérida, but he told me he was in Valencia then, and MIGHT return to San Cristobal on Sunday, 28 August. As San Cristobal was enroute to Colombia, I decided to come here, stay a night, contact him tomorrow, and see how things go. Perhaps I could visit his farm and stay overnight at his place.

If not for this, gosh… there was absolutely no reason to stay in San Cristobal. It feels like a very horrible city. It did not feel safe, it felt like a frontier town, although it was not really at the border. It was dirty, noisy and a mess. The 2 hotels I walked to turned out to be half-demolished or closed buildings. I finally found another one. It was a tad expensive for me, but the lady at the counter insisted that this was a ‘family’ hotel. Hahaa, she seemed to suggest that any hotels cheaper than this were used by prostitutes. Guess I was better off here.

Los Nevados

Saturday, August 27th, 2005
25 August 2005 (Thursday) - 26 August 2005 (Friday) - Los Nevados, Venezuela I had heard that the Los Nevados excursion is an interesting trip to take from Mérida and apparently, one could go by yourself, without a tour agency. Thank ... [Continue reading this entry]

Pico El Aguila

Friday, August 26th, 2005
24 August 2005 (Wednesday) - Mérida, Venezuela Today is Jorge Luis Borges' birthday. Today is Yasser Arafat's birthday. Today is Paulo Coelho's birthday. Today is Steve Guttenburg's birthday. Today is Stephen Fry's birthday. Today is my birthday. And I woke up to a ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Taste of Eternal Love

Friday, August 26th, 2005
23 August 2005 (Thursday) - Mérida, Venezuela I did not sleep a wink last night. Not because I was freezing cold. No, I was in my fleece jacket as I was rather prepared. But the elderly couple behind me could not stop ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Long Wait

Wednesday, August 24th, 2005
22 August 2005 (Monday) - Tucacas to Valencia to Merida, Venezuela When I reached the highway to try and catch a local bus back to Valencia, I was shocked at the huge crowd waiting there, lugging their luggage and their babies. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Parque Nacional Morrocoy

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005
21 August 2005 (Sunday) - Parque Nacional Morrocoy, Venezuela Parque Nacional Morrocoy is a series of mangrove islands with amazing-looking beaches. The water is calm, clear and very warm, all characteristics of Caribbean waters. There are some corals and ... [Continue reading this entry]

¡Hola china!

Monday, August 22nd, 2005
20 August 2005 (Saturday) - Caracas to Valencia to Tucacas, Venezuela Although Venezuela is in South America, it is in the northern hemisphere. That is why now in August, it is the summer vacation and everyone is on holidays! ... [Continue reading this entry]

Ready To Leave Caracas

Monday, August 22nd, 2005
19 August 2005 (Friday) - Caracas, Venezuela There really isn't much left to do in Caracas. I think the reason I am still here is perhaps due to inertia, as I was pretty comfortable where I was staying and I really ... [Continue reading this entry]

Play It Again, Sam

Friday, August 19th, 2005
18 August 2005 (Thursday) - Caracas, Venezuela Before I came to Caracas, I had written to a handful of people asking for accommodation. Besides the great couple I am staying with, Rafael and Rosa, I also received a reply from a ... [Continue reading this entry]