From Pirates to Preaching Bus Drivers to Smugglers to A State of Shock


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South America » Venezuela » Andean » Mérida
August 21st 2009
Published: August 21st 2009
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What a couple of days we've had.
Our bus journeys have often provided entertainment - normally with people selling food, drinks, toothbrushes, dvds, arthritis creams and assorted other stuff, but from Cartagena it was something else again. As the journey started the 2nd bus driver gave a little speech, he started off talking about the toilets, rubbish bins etc but then he started to get excited, after a while we realised he was preaching !!! after about ten minutes he led the bus in prayers !!! he was like a Colombian version of the American preachers you see on the tv !!!
Crossing the border was straightforward on both sides, although the taxi fare in Colombia was more when we got out than he'd quoted when we got in, but I guess that's life. The interesting bit was from the Venezuelan immigration to San Cristobal where we needed to go to catch our bus to Merida. Our Colombian taxi driver flagged down each passing car and asked them whether they were going that way and if they'd take us - for money, obviously. One guy said yes, so we jumped into his car and off we went. In a mixture of Spanish and English we managed to chat a bit and he told us he was a contrabandista (smuggler) !!! Because of the subsidies Hugo Chavez pays on things many products are way way cheaper in Venezuela than in Colombia so there's a thriving smuggling route for petrol, rice, cooking oil and a bunch of other products.
The shock came when we realised, too late, that the Venezuelan bolivar is fixed to the US$ at a rate of 2.15 We'd changed Colombian pesos at the border and calculated the effective $ rate we'd got there was >6 !! A bit of research has told us there is an unofficial black market rate of 6 - 7 bolivares, but only for cash, we have some US$, but not as many as we need :-((( at the official rate Venezuela is horrifically expensive so we'll be doing the minimum here unless we can find a solution.

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