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August 17th 2010
Published: August 17th 2010
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Hey Guys

Greetings again from Venezuela! I am back in da police state of Chavez, and it´s not going too badly at all. Since I last wrote, I have pretty much left the backpacker-trail of Colombia and followed the Andes mountain range more or less towards the north and east, and just this morning crossed the border back from Colombia to Venezuela, and am now in a baking hot city called San Cristobal de las Casas, in a very welcoming hotel with lovely food again nearby. It´s going great.

But how did I get here I hear you ask? With a lot of short journeys stopping off in a few places on the way, crossing over 3 high mountain passes with beautiful vistas and towns housing poncho-clad persons, over the dodgy border between these two countries who are just recently coming together politically again, and hopefully finally arriving in my next long-stay destination, Mérida, tomorrow for a bit of a break from numb bums and bumpy bus/taxi rides.

What a trip! And I´m still having a great time, although now passed halfway and only 10 days of my journey left. Still, looking forward to a nice Sausage and Egg McMuffin when I get back, and my own bed…!
I believe I last wrote from Bogotá, from where I took a loooong 7 hour trip by minibús which had no toilet, and resulted in the second worst time in my life of badly needing the boys´room. After 3 hours of not being able to stand one more bump in the road any longer, I just had to ask the driver to stop at the side of the road, and what a relief! A couple of hours after this the bus stopped in a queue of traffic with a large group of people at the front, and my heart just sank! I thought it was another road block, and after hearing about road blocks in Mexico where people are robbed, kidnapped and stuff, I was very relieved to see it was (only) an overturned lorry ahead. We were soon moving again.

Finally arrived in San Gil, being assured by the taxi driver who took me to my hotel, that there are no guerrillas in the town (what a relief…!), and spent a nice 2 nights there. Dubbed as the Adventure Capital of Colombia, it was full of Whitewater rafting, abseiling, bungee jumping and the like. But since my previous experience in Africa with Whitewater rafting, I´d sworn never to touch extreme sports again, and instead opted for a nice 20 minute hike to a nearby waterfall, Las Cascadas de Juan Curí, which at 180m was certainly beautiful, and a swim in its pool extremely refreshing after the hot hike. However, kept thinking to myself of the final destination of my trip, the Angel Falls, at 5 times the height, and looking forward very much to this, hopefully at the beginning of next week sometime.

Yesterday, from San Gil, took a bus then a shared taxi to a town called Pamplona, high up on a cloudy plain and surrounded on all sides by high mountains, not far from the border with Venezuela, and what an odd place this was. It was recommended in my LP to stay there instead of the actual border town of Cúcuta, which is supposedly as dodgy as hell, but not really sure what to make of the place. The town was certainly nice, but the people certainly were the least friendly of all the places I´ve been in Colombia - and that´s saying something, as I´ve found the Colombians in general to be some of the most helpful, polite and friendly people I´ve met (even their phrase for “you´re welcome”, “a la orden”, meaning literally “at your command” indicates this cordiality and hospitality). They really are great people, but in Pamplona I wasn´t so sure. I kind of got the feeling they hadn´t met many people even from neighbouring towns before, let alone any foreign people, and was met with a lot of complexed looks when I tried to speak to people. I noted from the hotel register where I stayed that since the beginning of July, aside from locals, only 1 Italian and 2 Spanish travellers had stayed there, and what an odd hotel it was too. The owners were truly surprised to see me, and then offered me a room with a short walk across a prívate balcony to the outdoor bathroom (in a town with an average temperatura of 15 degrees). Very odd. Anyway, slept well and that´s the main thing!

Today, took a shared taxi to the dodgy border town of Cúcuta. Dodgy as apparently it used to thrive on its trade with neighbouring Venezuela, until the troubles started between the 2 countries a few years ago and cross-border trade was significantly reduced. Apparently this has affected the town quite badly, and maybe cos of this some people have turned to less savoury kinds of employment? Stayed in Cúcuta just as long as it took to get another transit across the border to the Venezuelan town of San Cristobal de las Casas, about an hour inland from the border, and this time with a rather funny taxi driver who shouted insults at most people he drove by, including an old man taking ages to cross the road “vayase ya viejito” - come on Little old man! He also was amazed to learn that people in England speak English, as he thought the language came from Canada and English people had to study it at school (I´m glad I put him straight, in that English originally came from England…!). After a couple of extra Passport stamps to add to my collection, arrived in San Cristobal around mid-afternoon today, and apart from the fact that the UK Foreign Office warns against any travel to within 50km of the Col-Ven border (I think San Cristobal is over 50km from the border...), this seemed the best town to spend the night before continuing with a 5-hour bus journey to Mérida tomorrow.

Indeed, I´m just mentioning this now, cos I didn´t want to worry anyone, that this border zone is not recommended to be visited or travelled through by the FO, mainly due to guerrilla activity. I still Heard travellers doing it though, and it saves a lot on a plane ride at least anyway. And border crossings are pretty much adventures in themselves anyway, so here I am.

And I´m still not sure what to make of Chavez and Venezuela. I certainly observed that Colombia felt much more developed, relaxed, friendly and welcoming, although these things aren´t lacking in Venezuela. It seems there is just more fear here, and paranoia, and I think I´m guilty also of feeling this. Everyone here has told me not to stay out after dark, not to arrive anywhere new after dark, watch my belongings, don´t trust the pólice. I´m sure that there´s truth here, but maybe the worrying about it builds up the fear which makes you feel less comfortable and more cautious of the people. Certainly here in San Cristobal, as with my first
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The local San Gil delicacy: "Big-Bottomed Ants"...
week on the trip, the people have been great, super-friendly, and extremely welcoming of someone from England. It does seem strange though, that the country with the largest known oil deposits in the world still appears poorer and less-developed than its neighbour of less well-endowed natural resources.

Anyway, I feel I´m rambling in this one, so will cut it short here and start uploading pictures for this leg of my trip.

Next up: Mérida tomorrow, Andean tourism capital of Venezuela, and then on to the El Dorado of my trip: the Angel Falls!! Can´t wait!



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