Friday, April 23, 2010

Country 15, Venezuela

Leaving Brasil was an easy task but getting into Venezuela was an all day endevor as I had to drive 18km into the country, buy insurance, and then drive back to the border to obtain my import papers.
At 3 cents a litre gas seems almost free. This gift from the president Hugo Chavez Rivas has fueld the continuation of muscle cars and gas guzzlers that flood the roads. I filled up 5 times since I've arrived and have paid nothing more than pocket change, my average fill-up being 20-25 cents USD. (1.70 Boliviars) A plate of food and 3 beers generally costs me 58 Boliviars (8 Dollars USD)

An interesting bridge that I maybe mistaking for the bridge that was designed by the same archetecht who designed the Ifle Tower. (cant spell foreign words)

Marcio, the fellow at the camping ground at the Warui river just 10-15km out side of Sant Elena. In the morning he showed me to a water fall that no body knows about and then fed me breakfast all free of charge. Upon leaving I noticed that his gear shifter was falling off and he explained that it was a trouble that had plauged him for several weeks. I pulled out my supply of metric bolts and fixed his problem, he was so happy he just took off with a smile and left me alone before I took off in my direction into the Gran Sabana.

The Military here shows their presence and their love for pets. Apparently they love cats.

I departed Boa Vista at 900am and realized as I rolled out of town that I'd be arriveing at the border just in time for lunch......DOH! Departing Brasil was pretty easy, however, the woman entering my customs data was slower than a snail. Next, I crossed over nomansland to the border office on the Venezulean side. Here I got my stamp right away and then proceeded to Customs. The woman at the customs desk explained to me that it was necessary for me to ride 18km into town and buy insurance for my motorcycle. What she was really saying, was that I needed to speak with the Polizia seguranca. I understood that I needed to speak with the police to have a security clearance rather than speak to a person about a security policy (insurance policy). Anyhow I rode to the police station who had no clue why on Earth I was there and simply directed me to the transportation police next door. The guys next door informed me that their boss would return to his desk in 3 hours and that I'd have to wait. Finally I showed the fellows at the transportation Police what the woman at the customs office wrote down. They inormed me of the address where I could find the Poliza Matre, beside the police station. At this point I realized that I really didn't know how to speak any spanish.
I arrived in front of the insurance office and saw that the person had already gone for lunch. It was 1145am so I figured that they would probably return at 100pm.....yeah dream on. In the mean time I decided that I'd look for a person to exchange Reals for Boliviars (Venezuela currency) I traded my remaining Reals for Boliviars with a person waiving a fist of bills among a few other men at the side of the road, from here I headed toward the gas station. I decided to cut the line of more than 100 cars waiting in a uniform line for gas. Fuel in Venezuela is less than 3 cents per litre so hundreds of people from Brasil cross the border everday to buy gas for for less than a dollar a tank. Those that get caught smuggling extra gas back into Brasil get their cars confiscated.
I figured that my endevor to buy gas would take all day but my trick of cutting the line actually worked and I had my gas topped up for 24.9 cents...ha ha ha ha...!!! It was now only 1230pm and I decided to grab a bite to eat and then look for a bank machine as the money I exchanged was not enough to get me through Venezuela for more than a couple of days. To my dissapointment no bank machine would work for me. I realized that I was in big trouble, however, as my back up I had a reserve of US dollars.
I waited outside the office for my insurance person until 3 pm when finally the woman returned from her extended lunch break. The insurance process from here was little more than 20 minutes and 223 Boliviars (30 USD). At this point I had to return to the border to prove insurance and then obtain my import papers. The thought of no money plauged me so I stopped at the money changers for the second time and traded a crisp 100 dollar US bill for Boliviars. The guy argued with me about the exchange rate and finally met me somewhere in between. Off I went to the border. I got my papers and decided to ride back into Brasil to a bank machine on the Brasillian side. (As there are so many cars passing through just to buy gas there are only cameras recording who enters and who leaves, its up to you to check in and speak to an official if you are importing or entering the country). Alas, the Banco Brasil would not dispense any cash because it would not recognise my international card. I was stuck with the decision to return a third time to the money changers to exchange yet another 170 USD. The Exchange went pretty easy and I rode back into Santa Elena. I asked a guy on the side of the road for directions to the hotel listed in my guide book. He pointed in the opposite direction down a one way street, thus, I had to navigate the cob web of streets just to get one block back to where the hotel was. I took off and moments later a friendly looking dude waived me to follow him on his motorcycle. I thought "wow the guy who I just spoke to is showing me the way". You see, every one does this formotorcycle travelers here. Next thing I knew the street dead ended..I thought to myself for a second that the guy got lost or something. That is until he placed his motorcycle in front of mine so I had to stop. The guy turned out to be one of the money changers and he strarted going off about the money that I had given him. Apparently I had only given him 150 instead of the 170 he exchanged for me. When I realised that this guy had lead me down a dead end street and was now attempting to rob me I flipped out and pointeddirectly in his face with my finger. My point was clear, I wasn't an easy catch and he backed off for a second. Next thing I knew he was coming in for a second attempt and again I made it clear that he was in as much danger as I was. I considered popping the clutch and driving right over him, or putting the bike on the kick stand and stabbing him with my switch blade that I had convieniently placed in my tank bag within easy reach. Fortunately for him, and me, a taxi pulled down the alley and this gave me the 2 seconds to decide on fight or flight. I decided on flight and gunned it down 3 one way streets in the wrong direction until I found the police. I was shaking like a leaf but in survival mode so I wasn't scared was the weirdest feeling. I told the police that I wanted to find the road north because I exchanged too much money with the money exchangers and now they were looking for me because they thought I was full of money. The police lead me to the exit of town and I blasted up route 10 into the Gran Sabana.
At about 10 km into the Gran Sabana I was flying over a hill into a sharp dip when I saw lone man standing in the middle of the road with his hand up. I whizzed right by slowing only to about 50km per hour as my mind was focused on escape from town, because in my mind the money exchangers were following me. Fortunately for me, I looked over my shoulder and saw the man adopt a shooting stance. I immediately nailed the brakes and pulled a u-turn recognising the man as military. I was directed to a parked unmarked truck where an official military man checked my documents. I asked the gunman how many more meters before he would have shot me. He replied that I had until the second cone before he shot me right in the head. To prove the point further came came over and poked my helmet and made a poof sound with his lips. I knew he wasn't joking but I laughed anyway and thanked him for not shooting. My sense of humor kinda got me off the hook and after I was asked where I was going before they set me free.
Not 3 km down the road I saw a camping ground and decided to pull in. It was only 30 minutes until dark and I needed to set up camp. The guy working at the camping area charged me 3 USD 20 Boliviars for the night. The black flies were horrendous and referred to as the Plauge directly translated from spanish. There were two lovely big german short haired pointers that roamed the campground all night barking. I was happy to be tenting in the Gran Sabana with my guard dogs looking after me, shortly after almost being robbed and nearly shot in the head by a military gun man.