Venezuela is a country not visited often by tourists due to its reputation of being a very dangerous and expensive country compared to other South American countries. Even knowing this I still did not want to pass up the opportunity to visit the country and see for myself if the rumours were true.
Our first attempt to cross the border on a Saturday failed as we were unaware that elections were being held in the country and all border crossings into Venezuela were closed. So we found accommodations in a nearby Colombian border town and waited until the next day.
Since this country is all about socialism the propaganda for their leader Chavez is everywhere. One reason Venezuela is expensive is due to Chavez's control on their currency. Venezuela has a set currency rate of 4.2 to 1 for the American dollar.
What this has done is created a huge black market economy for the American dollar which we were aware of and depending on in order to make our trip feasible. After talking to a few Venezuelan contacts prior to arriving we new we would be able to get at least 15 to 1 on our money with the exchangers at the border. This has now turned an expensive country into a very, very reasonable country.
Venezuela is a huge oil country and in order for Chavez to endear himself to the people he has basically made gasoline free in this country. The above photo shows that we paid $5 Bolivars to fill up the bikes with 50 litres of fuel. Now if you do the math and divide by our exchange rate of 15, we paid .33 cents for the 50 litres. We have even had cases where we filled the bikes up with fuel and they did not even bother charging us since the amount was to small.
Now I know free/cheap gas sounds great but what it has created in this country is a crazy amount of traffic and people driving with the pedal to the floor. Everyone drives (no one takes a bus) and they all drive 1970 and 1980 vehicles with V8 engines.
As mentioned in prior blogs I have come across nothing but great people in each country willing to help and excited to see visitors in their country. Salvador in the above picture was no exception, he pulled up beside us when we were stuck in traffic in Maracay and asked us if we needed any help. We told him we were looking for a place to stay and he led us to a local hotel.
During our conversation in the hotel parking lot I mentioned I may be interested in finding some tires for my bike. He then proceeded to tell me to hop on his moped and he would take my directly to the shop and help with any translation needs. As you can see from the picture my riding partners had a great laugh as I was saddled up in full motorcycle gear for a ride to the bike shop.
Now there are exceptions to the rule like when we were stopped at a police check point and I had a dirty cop try and bribe me for $5 to pass through. This is when your Spanish instantly becomes poor (which is not really hard in my case) and you know longer understand them. The point is to frustrate the crap out of them so they give up trying to get money out of you. This time I even used the famous trick us riders use when being bribed. Every time he would ask me I would respond with no fumar espanol. What this translates to is I don't smoke spanish and is so confusing to them that it throws them off track and they just give up.
Now as far as dangers go they do exist and were a cause for us to change our planned route a few times. Some of the roads we had chosen were blocked by the military and they would not let us through due to the Guerrilla activity in the area.
Even with the route changes we found plenty of road to travel. Venezuela has three distinct areas: The Grand Savannahs, the Amazon and the Andes Mountains. While driving through the Savannahs you would swear you were in Africa with the tall grass, Acacia looking trees and the sweltering 101 degree temperature.