I admit it, I was already a wee bit stressed about Venezuela after all the stories of police corruption I’d heard from travellers that were passing through Manaus fresh from the country, but I had my little heart set on a few places and with the political situation in the country rapidly deteriorating (don’t ask me the details, if I’m part of a conversation about politics for more than 4 minutes my mind tends to wander off and I find myself thinking about ice cream and shiny things) I might not get the chance to visit Venezuela again.
I woke up that morning to my womb wringing itself out, the scabby mess on my back was still making its presence known every time I leaned back, and I had 15 hours on a night bus to look forward to. Oh joy. When I rocked up to the rodoviaria to find out that my bus would be an hour late I sank down onto my bag, clutching my stomach and cursing my womanhood for asserting itself at the most inconvenient times. Not that there’s ever a convenient time to bleed profusely from one’s vagina but some times are definitely more convenient than others. Ah well, nothing I could do about it so I positioned myself by the R$1 coffee shop and worked my way through their thermos of hot, black, sweet, caffeiney goodness.
A guy I’d bought a packet of nuts off also plied me with yet more coffee and a packet of sweets, and once the bus arrived and by the time I boarded I looked like a crack addict. I frittered to my seat, stared wide eyed out of the window and fidgeted. With everything. Curtains. Vents. Buttons. Things that weren’t buttons but looked like they should be buttons. Hat. Bag. Pillow. Bag. Buttons. Hat. Curtains… I resolved never to drink my weight in coffee before a bus ride ever again. If my bladder could glare at me I’m pretty sure if would have.
Given my gift of being able to sleep through anything I dropped off despite my womb cramping, my scabs complaining and the coffee pumping through my veins and woke up in Boa Vista. I’d be getting a shared taxi to Santa Elena in Venezuela because I’d heard they thoroughly search everyone going over the border and it was quicker if you weren’t on a bus. So the first taxi dropped me just before La Linear and I walked a short distance to get my exit stamp. Easy.
It’s a 5 minute walk to where the Venezuelan officials do their stuff so off I trotted, looking so much like a gringa I had my photo taken my a random bloke as I crossed the line. I waved. He gave me the thumbs up whilst grinning broadly. Then I wasn’t sure where to get my entry stamp so after looking lost for a while I asked a soldier in my best Spanish where I needed to go whilst trying to ignore the fuck off great big gun he was holding. This resulted in 5 minutes of him and another guy scrutinising my passport, asking me where I’d been, where I was going and what did I intend to do in Venezuela. Entirely in Spanish. And not only did I cope I managed to do it with my bestest smile before I was directed into the correct building. Yay me.
Hmm. Ok. No search yet then and they actually seemed quite pleasant despite the terrifyingly massive firearms. I located the office, got my entry stamp, no questions asked and no search. Ok… Off I went. I wandered right over about 10 metres from the barrier, keeping an eye on the group of soldiers in case they called me back. Nothing. A taxi pulled up and asked me if I was going to Santa Elena, I said I was and jumped in while we waited for another guy in the taxi to get his passport stamped. Onward, and not even a minute up the road we were sent round a diversion. Ok, I figured I’d be searched here then. The driver opened his window and said something to a soldier and we were waved through. I almost relaxed but again we were stopped, about 30 seconds later, and told to pull over. The driver opened the windows and jumped out to open the boot. Then a soldier came round, inspected the passengers and looked straight at me, speaking to me in Spanish. I had no idea what he was saying, at all, but this must be it. This would be where I’d be pulled out of the taxi and have both my bags searched. I was sure of it. He asked for my passport which he flicked through and studied before wandering off with it, then another guy appeared and spoke to me in English.
“Is this your passport?”
“Yes, it is.” I replied. Big smile of course, as if being stopped and interrogated was one of my favourite things to do along with inserting hot pins into my eyelids and pulling my fingernails off. He flicked through it a couple of times, stopping at a page here and there.
“Are you Irish?” Oh fuck… is there a right or wrong answer to this one? I know most of the world hate the English but how much do they hate us here? I opted for the truth, if I even think about lying I can practically feel my nose grow.
“No, I’m English.”
“Are you on vacation here?”
“Yes, just travelling around.” Well what was I going to say? No, actually, I’m here on business and I intend to transport a large quantity of cocaine and firearms to Colombia. Is that ok, señor? Again he studied my passport, page by page, as if he thought if he looked at it enough something would change. I wasn’t worried, I knew my papers were in order right down to my yellow fever vaccination. This went on for a good minute. Then he simply handed it back to me, said, “Ok.” And off we went.
And can I just say how much I love my room at Posada Michelle in Santa Elena? I got my own, huge room with bathroom for BsF45 (bolivares) a night. Divide that by about 7 and you have it in US$ if you change your money on the black market. This is the good thing about going the opposite way to most other people, you get all the advice you need and the lowdown on the current situation. When you go to Venezuela, take American dollars and change them on the black market because you’ll get nearly twice the amount than if you use an official casa de cambio or withdraw from an ATM. Anyway, plenty more bus journeys, plenty more military checkpoints and plenty more chances for my very own police corruption horror story. Not that I want one, in fact I’d be very very happy if I make it through Venezuela without one. But hey, it’d make a good read, right?
Santa Elena de Uairén, Bolívar, Venezuela
Stayed at: Posada Michelle