Edit Blog Post
Published: August 7th 2007
smile for the camera!
wouldn´t like to meet this fella down a dark alley. Click to enlarge, and check out the blood on the teeth!
It was time to head deeper into Venezuela, and we had a happy reunion to kick things off. Dave "The Hat" and Cameron had finally caught up with us. Dave "The Hat" is so called because no-one has ever seen him without a hat, and he has a collection of SEVENTY hats. It is entirely possible that he showers in a hat. Cameron is our overland truck, named after Cameron Diaz. (all the Dragoman fleet are named after supermodels and actresses). When she turned up, half our group ran over and gave her a big hug and a kiss.
Dave did not have an easy time crossing the border from Colombia. The main troubles were on the Venezuelan side. He was sleeping on the truck when he was awoken by the National Guard. They waved him off with their machine guns, not even giving him the chance to dress. So he was stood in the middle of the road only wearing his underpants and his hat, while they searched the truck. The next day while driving, he was stopped a further 17 times by the National Guard! "I was just stopped two minutes ago" he fumed at one point "Don´t
The Los Llanos cowboys rounding up the cattle (to the nearest decimal place)
you guys keep in contact?" During one search they tapped the ceiling with a gun and it sounded hollow. "Insulation" Dave said. "We think you´re smuggling cocaine" they replied. "Wait while we fetch a drill". At one point he was part of a miltary convoy, driving down the road amidst jeeps and armored vehicles.
One frightnening thing about the National Guard is the element of corruption. While the vast majority are doing their duty, there are some bad seeds. Dragoman have had trouble on previous trips with the National Guard coming on board and taking what they want from the passengers, such as cameras. One time they took a football off the bus. There were protests of "what do you want that for?", but when a machine gun is waved in your face, you soon back down. There was a car in front of Cameron at one point, a car of tourists. The National Guard took everything, including their backpacks and sent them on their way. This is possibly one of the reasons that Dragoman is one of the few tour companies covering Venezuela. Explore and Exodus did tours too, but one of those has now pulled out. But
the National Guard themselves are not untouchable. Tourists complain to their embassies, and the embassies speak to the Venezuelan government and say "what´s all this about our citizens being robbed by the National Guard?" Investigations are made, and heads roll. In some places, Chavez has pulled the National Guard and replaced them with police. But all this sounds worse than it actually is. Over the coming weeks we were pulled over and checked countless times without problems. For every tourist mishap, hundreds of people pass through unaffected. Luck of the draw really. Different roads, different checkpoints, different guards.
But enough of tales of terror and gloom. Next stop, Los Llanos! These are the wild, open plains of Venezuela. Not a mountain in sight, just rolling grassland, trees and wildlife. Cowboy country. They breed ´em tough out here. When Venezuela overthrew Spanish rule, they did it with thousands of Llanos cowboys on horseback.
Our guide for the next few days was Alan Highton again. With of course, his endless jokes. Alan is the Steve Irwin of Venezuela. Picking up snakes, wrestling with caimans and generally dicing with danger. On an early 5am safari on morning, he spotted an anteater,
Alan wrestling with a caiman (this one was already dead however)
a mere speck in a distant field. "Hang on a minute" said Alan "I´ll just go and get it for you". He disappeared over a hedge, and minutes later there was a second speck next to the anteater, waving it´s arms and shooing it towards us. Five minutes of chasing, and the anteater burst out of the bushes near us. We saw plenty of other animals, including a two-foot long guinea pig type creature that I shamefully can´t remember the name of. It looked like it would make a damn good steak though.
One morning we took a boat down a river and spotted some freshwater dolphins. Cheeky little chappies with pink underbellies, teasing us with brief appearances far away from the boat. Alan had a theory that making noise would attract them. So Jules, Sally and myself leaped over the side of the side of the boat, put our heads under water and started shouting. Noise does travel underwater. We then tried singing the Dallas theme tune underwater. It didn´t work. We just felt like a bunch of pillocks.
Tot: 1.971s; Tpl: 0.027s; cc: 32; qc: 156; dbt: 0.041s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb