May 2002 - big trip - diary - venezuela - may 2002


Armed and dangerous

Sunday 12 - Tuesday 14 May

On the road again we headed south deeper into the state of Zulia sandwiched between Lake Maracaibo and the hilly Colombian border. We drove along the hot straight roads through green marshy landscape, stopping only for the frequent police and army checkpoints. We reached a toll station as daylight was starting to wane and camped there for the night. Surprisingly there weren't too many mosquitos but, instead, thousands of black beetles which suicided themselves into the lights. We ate with one of the policemen on duty and ate his government supplied food of fish and rice while the beetles continued to invade the offices, falling on the ground face up and lying there helpless. They seem to be a pretty stupid creature if they can't even land the right way round! Periodically the policeman, armed with a pistol, an M16 and a brush, swept the hapless things into a pile and outside. After a bit of a jog down the road we slept well and woke early for the drive to San Cristobal.

Back towards San Cristobal

Plowing the old way

Green hills

As the road started to rise into the mountains it was lined with shacks selling aluminium pots and pans of various sizes, some big enough to boil a person in. Higher up we found a more useful shop selling fresh fruit juices and salads which made an excellent breakfast. Reaching the town in time for lunch we had a quick look around and did some emails before heading deeper into the Andes for Merida.

Traditional shack and toyota

local party folk

camped next to the pool

The trundling hills took longer than we thought and it was getting late. Just past the town of Tovar we took a dirt road on the right to look for somewhere to camp. By an big stroke of luck we found a proper camp site, hidden in the narrow valley by the river. There was a pick up truck already there with some local guys and girls drinking and dancing, even more luck. We introduced ourselves and soon ended up drinking too much cheap and very nasty 'Scotch' (made in Venezuela!). After an interesting night we bade our farewells to the locals who drove off home, all the worse for wear. In the morning we bathed in the river which had a 'swimming pool' section the owner had made by hand. He told us it had been washed away twice too, a lot of work but worth it. His wife made us some arepas (like taco cakes) and scrambled eggs before we had a game of boules on his purpose built boules pitch. Despite all the hospitality he refused to accept payment, a fantastic place.

Yet another Plaza Bolivar...

...this time in Merida

As we approached Merida we had the impression that it was going to be like Antigua in Guatemala or Cuzco in Peru, full of gringos but also with good places to party. It's off season so we didn't see any other gringos at all nor was Wednesday night much of a party night either. The famous cable car going 4765m up the mountain was closed indefinitely for repairs, leaving not much to do.


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