Archive for the ‘Venezuela’ Category

Venezuela – Final Thoughts

Posted: June 2, 2011 in Venezuela

I have to admit that before entering Venezuela, I had mixed feelings about it’s safety and what I might see. I sure didn’t expect to find this…

It’s a country that most nations want for it’s black gold and therefore just like kindergarden kids bash the hell out of it’s politics and everything else they can find on it. Although it’s not a perfect system since there is no such thing on this planet, Venezuela has created a stress free environment for it’s inhabitants. Media from “developed” countries will teach you that happiness relies in wanting more and being able to buy more. Hugo Chávez, the “crazy” president of Venezuela has taken a different approach to “happiness”. Take some of those billions of dollars coming in from Black Gold and create a certain standard of living for everyone, not just the billion dollar publicly traded oil companies.

Venezuela
– has natural beauties that can’t be described with pictures or words

- has the lowest gas prices in the world at around 1.5 US cents a litre for the 95 octane gasoline… GVT subsidized

- has some of the lowest water and electricity prices as well… GVT subsidized

- has free healthcare. Some might argue of how reliable it is, but I haven’t seen any hospitals with 24 hour line-ups in the emergency rooms and I have seen lots of ambulances and hospitals everywhere

- free college and university… meaning that you wont start off your 30s with a 100 000$ debt from studies

- amazing roads… best maintenance I have seen for the roads and there were paved roads even in places I would’n have expected so, especially in the mountains

- Affordable housing. You can buy an apartment or a small house in most places for 5000-10 000$. This means no 30 year mortgage to be stressed about. I’d say that over 90% of people in Venezuela own their homes and everything else out right. Just think about how your life would change if you had no debt? ;)

- Security… this of course is arguable. In most places, if you leave your stuff unattended, it could disappear. Then again, a few cars got broken into on my street in Canada, I had a car broken into twice in the US and another one stolen in the US right in front of my appt window. As for violence, you will mainly find it in large cities closer to the Atlantic and of course the capital Caracas which you should stay away from. The mountains are safe and so are the cities in the mountains. Security is not much different than most other countries…

- Some of the nicest people! I was invited by more than one person I had just met to stay over at their place. What are the chances of that happening in Canada or the US? I was also treated for free food on more than one occasion from places selling food on the street… wait a minute, the people from a “poor” country treating the “rich gringo” to free food?! In Canada or the US, if you visit someone chances are you wont even get a hot dog, let alone someone selling food on the street saying “I just met you but breakfast is on me” :D

Now I’m not going to compare the above to the US cause that would just be a joke when talking about free health care, the bare minimum a “rich” country should provide to it’s citizens, let alone free education…

But if we look at countries like Canada, where the oil and other riches are taken from under the feet of it’s citizens while the government subsidizes with BILLIONS the large corporations doing so and enslaving it’s citizens to large lifetime debt, it makes you rethink everything you know about what a happy country is? US and Canadian pharmaceutical companies make billions off off stress relief and depression pills while people in Venezuela will look at you wondering what you’re talking about when you say depression…

BTW… just a note to think about… in Marketing you might learn that people dealing with depression are some of the best consumers and the number 1 impulse buyers… ;)

I have talked to a many people from Venezuela and most are dreaming about the “American Dream”, the one they see on Satellite or Cable TV. I have also talked to many who have been to the US, Europe or Canada and have returned to Venezuela. This is what they have to say: “The people of Venezuela don’t know what they have.”

If you’re backpacking through South America, visit Venezuela, and if you don’t have too much time, at least take a few days into the Venezuelan Mountains… and most important of all, don’t believe what people who haven’t visited this beautiful country have to say about it…

A quick note and edit: Venezuela is also a country with opened trade borders where you can find anything you would find in other countries, from the latest electronics and house ware to the latest cars and motorcycles. I met people who thought of Venezuela as a dictatorship country with closed borders where products are limited. You can buy the latest gadget and everything you can imagine and can afford. You will see just as many new American and Japanese cars in Venezuela as in other countries… most of which I can’t afford back home.


From Isla Margarita I decided to head back towards Colombia and explore the mountain side. I didn’t know what to expect. It took me I think 3 days till I hit the first mountains. I explored small towns and farm lands on the way. People were super nice and the towns were really safe. I ended up staying 2 nights in one town because it was raining hard and they said the rain was going to pass within 24 hours. I ended up catching the rain on the mountain side, but I guess in the mountains here it rains a lot no matter what. My first impression when I hit the mountains was WOW! Scenery like I have never seen before. Some of the nicest people as well. The paved super twisty roads going from altitudes of a few hundred meters to over 4000m are pure paradise for any motorcycle enthusiast.

Vegetation changes with altitude and within a 30 minute ride you can go from tropical forest to canadian type pine trees. You keep riding through different types of scenery all the time and rain or shine it doesn’t matter because you’re amazed every minute of the ride.

I guess I’ll just let the pictures do the talking…

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You will see hundreds of these old school toyota land cruisers in mint condition…

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Picture at 3000m altitude

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Amazingly clean and welcoming colonial towns forgotten in the middle of the mountains. So clean that you could lick the streets.

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You’ll make great friends. They will treat you to breakfast and try to pull your brains out about your travels. I tasted some of the best empanadas here.

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It gets cold so you’ll see furry mountain dogs

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Monument at 4000 some meters

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Zoom Zoom?

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Cute puppies. 3 of them were left in a rest area where hardly anyone was stopping. They had been there for a while and were really hungry.

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Smoked cheese with sweet bread. I ate some but gave over 2/3s of it to the puppies. It was all the food I had that I could feed them.

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Land slides. You’ll see hundreds of them. Sometimes only a few feet apart from each other. Main roads can also be closed down sometimes for days. Good thing that there’s a maze of smaller roads.

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View from Merida. I spent a few nights in this college city. Had a great time drinking their 40cent beer in the clubs and also tried paragliding for the first time.

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The kind of “stuff” you’ll see on the side of the road.

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Or at night…

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Slept a night in this posada at about 2400m altitude

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The owner of the posada. Made me a great dinner and breakfast. He was also a huge Apple fan and had some of the latest apple computers. Not the kinda stuff you’d expect from someone living up in the Venezuela Mountains.

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Modern church in a colonial town

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The old school cars I told you about earlier.

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More stuff on the side of the road

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A police bike just like mine. Blue KLR 650

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More land slides. A car was stuck at this one.

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A 69 mustang. Can’t immagine the owner would ask too much for it?

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More Zoom Zoom

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I could have taken pictures every minute on the way but it was just too much fun riding the maze of small mountain roads… with signs like this one….

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Missing out on the experience of the Venezuela Mountains on a trip like this would have been a HUGE shame. Every bike enthusiast that’s going through Colombia should at least go in to Venezuela through Cucuta and spend a couple of weeks riding the mountains. There are thousands of kms of pure mountain paved roads in a maze that I doubt you’ll find in any other country. Who would have thought that Venezuela would have some of the longest and best mountain roads in America? ;)

Venezuela – Pt2

Posted: May 30, 2011 in Venezuela

After riding the bike all over the little roads of the peninsula which turned out to be a lot of fun, I continued my trip along the coast. The beaches of the peninsula were really nice but I had been spending over a month on along the Caribbean so I felt more like riding than being a lazy beach bum. Before leaving the peninsula I had to gas up as I wouldn’t have enough gas for long 80 or so km stretch to the main land. I pull in to the gas station and I have the bike filled up. The pump shows 1.15 or so. I’m thinking 115Bs is about the same price for gas as every other country at around 15$ for a tank but I ask the guy anyway. He says 1 Bolivar pls. Now, to make it clear, 1B is about 15 US cents. I ask, 1 Bolivar? He says yes, just over 1B but 1B is ok. So I hand him a 2B bill, I say thanks and I leave in shock. I’m thinking under that I just paid 25 cents for a tank of gas including an 80% tip or so… :D

On the way out of the peninsula, a cargo truck pulls up and a guy yells something from the driver seat. I smile and wave and keep going. Then a few miles down I see the truck again. I honk, he honks and keep going. Then an hour or so later, I pull in to take a break and the truck shows up. Guy gets out smiling and we start talking. At this point I should also mention that I was running low on the Bs I exchanged at the border so I was kinda desperate to find another buyer at 8 to 1 (the regular black market exchange rate). In other words I was kinda asking around which can be pretty dangerous since all of a sudden, everyone knows you’re carrying dollars. Anyway, so this guy pulls up, we start talking bikes and stuff since he’s also a rider and after exchanging with him 20$, it turns out he’s a cop, and also Venezuela’s general’s son. He has a huge love for bikes and has owned quite a few. He’s also been to Daytona’s bike week many times as he lived in the US a big part of his life. His name is Victor. He says that we’re in somewhat dangerous territory and that as we get closer to Caracas, it’s only getting more and more dangerous. He says that I can follow him and he generously offers me to spend the night at his place in Valencia in his apartment with him and his GF. So for the next 200 or so KM I follow this big cargo truck weaving in and out of traffic, stopping for beers along the way, watching him go through police check stops with beer in his hand. We get to Valencia, have a few more drinks, go out driving in the city with the big truck and without worrying about any drunk driving rules… as they don’t apply to police… ;) The next day he hooks me up with one of his neighbors to safely exchange dollars 8 to 1. Problem solved, I don’t have to dangerously ask around anymore to sell my dollars. Thanks again for everything Victor!

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From there, I take the atlantic part of Venezuela while bypassing Caracas through the south. Victor had 2 bikes stolen from him at gunpoint. One was in Valencia right in front of his apartment at night and the other one in full daylight in Caracas.

It takes me about 2 days to get to Isla Margarita. Meanwhile, I pass through small towns, stay in cheap hotels and talk to local people.

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Finally I got to Puerto La Cruz. Not much to do there. I jump on the first ferry to get to Isla Margarita.

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I don’t realize, but the lady at the counter who was texting instead of helping me out, she put me in the VIP section of the boat. An extra 8$ I would have rather not spent. Why would I want to be in the VIP?! The boat crossing ended up being about 50$… OUCH!

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The island is separated into 2 parts, the left side is called the peninsula. So I start riding the peninsula part of the island. It’s getting a bit late and there is no sign of place to sleep. I stop at a nice restaurant and after ordering the meal, the owners offer me to pitch my tent in the back of the restaurant on the beach for free. Awesome place to pitch a tent and a safe part of the island. Thanks guys!

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The next morning I ride towards the other side of the island and I stop for breakfast where I meet Jesus and his family. They serve empenadas with fish. Empenadas are deep friend bread made out of corn farina with fish inside. Delicious! Jesus invited me to eat empanadas and didn’t accept money in exchange.

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They literally scoop up the fish to put the paste into the empenadas.

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The 2 ladies making the empenadas. His mother and his sister. The older lady kept blowing her nose to the side right before picking up the empenadas… extra flavor! :)

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I rode all over the 2nd part of the island without much luck in finding a suitable place to spend the night. The nicer parts were too expensive, and the other sides didn’t have that much to offer. Dying of thrust, I stop at what seems to be a small bodega at the end of Playa Parguito. There I meet Edgar laying on a chair. I ask him if he has anything to drink and he makes me a pineapple shake on the house.

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Him and his buddy were taking care of a bodega there in charge of saving turtles. That whole part of the beach is basically in charge of trying to save the turtles.

This is what’s done when a turtle comes to lay eggs.

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If you come to the island and you want a nice chill place to stay, you have to visit Playa Parguito. Go to the end of the beach where there is a surf shop. Talk to Che there. He is the white guy in the photo. The darker one is Edgar. Che can hook you up with super cheap surfing, expecially if you negociate the hell out of him, you can pitch your tent there for free on the beach or even sleep in one of the chairs like I did.

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We used my stove to cook arepas. Bread made out of corn flower, water and salt.

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The view from around the beach

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And the beach itself

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My bed for the nights I spent there

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One of the days, I went riding around the island. Took pretty much every road I could. There are some nice mountain roads with forest type vegetation. On the way, I found a small old fort.

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View from the fort

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I spent 3 or 4 nights on the island, kinda lose time when all you do is relax on the beach, eat, drink and smoke some ganja. I then took the ferry back and made sure I didn’t pay the extra VIP fee… Over all, the island didn’t cost me that much since I slept for free on the beach, and all I paid for was food and drinks for me and the guys staying on the beach. Bought some fish, a chicken and that kinda stuff, and we cooked it all there. If you go to the island and want to stay in hotels and the sorte, get ready to fork out some cash though. The Ferry in and out wasn’t that cheap either as it cost me 90$ total. Totally worth it though!

Venezuela

Posted: May 21, 2011 in Venezuela

Venezuela is that country you hear so much about on the news, rarely any positive and don’t hear almost anything about from other fellow travelers. It’s a country off the beaten path with a bad rep. Even talking to people in Colombia, I was asked why I would visit Venezuela since it’s so dangerous.

Personally, I would say that Venezuela is one of the best kept secrets. Anyone bypassing it while doing South America is missing out a great experience…

The border crossing in was one of the easiest yet. No one there trying to make money for helping you out and no huge line-ups. Got the stamp on the Colombian side, got the stamp on the Venezuela side and a few miles down the road the duane people did my bike paperwork… for free and without sending me left and right for all kinds of other papers. Since Canada, it was one of the easiest border crossings. BTW, if you bought bike insurance in Colombia, it seems to be good for ALL South America. I also exchanged 100$ at 7 to 1 at the border (legal exchange being 4 to 1… but we’ll get to that later) just so that I would have some Bolivars.

Driving in, the first difference I noticed from Colombia were the cars. Large old school American cars from the 80s. Big V8 gas guzzlers with large tires and super tinted windows. The kinda cars you still see driving around in US ghettoes by pimps and thugs, only here you’d see old farmers and normal families in them.

I stopped at a small roadside restaurant and ordered shrimp. It was a bit on the expensive side at around 8$ but it was some of the best and largest order of shrimp I’ve ever had. While washing my hands, one of the guys there tells me to watch out for my stuff on the bike and not to trust anyone around there. He had seen that I was a tourist so he thought he’d warn me. I’ve had a few of these warnings before crossing over, but then again, I’ve passed all Central America so I’m used to being somewhat careful.

Back on the bike, I realize that I don’t have much gas left. First gas station I find is closed, second one closed, third one… closed. It seems that they keep gas stations around the border closed in order to avoid gas trafficking. When I’m down to less than 50km left in my tank, I start asking around. A guy sitting on a car by the side of the road in a small town say: “Yes, yes, you need gas, here follow this guy down this road on the right!”. So I was told not to trust anyone earlier and now I’m following a guy down a small road in the back of a small town. The guy has a weird mohawk and looks like he could be part of a gang. We go left and right into a small neighborhood where if I got shot no one would even know and then we get to a small trail. It’s a walking dirt trail leading into the back yard of a house. I say WTF, I’ll just follow him with my hand ready to grab the machete on the right side of my bike. I don’t see any gas canisters till we get way back behind the house. I was starting to wonder where this was going but big relief, there is actual gas. A lady comes out and sells me 3 gallons for 10Bs (about $1.40) and back on the road I go.

Starts to get dark and I find a hotel off the side of the road. Not too sure what to expect. The guy wants 120Bs but I bring him down to 100. I get my private driveway for the bike, a really nice and cozy bed, AC, and about 200 satellite TV channels in a nice cabana. The bathroom even has a but washer by the toilet. Not what I was expecting to find in Venezuela.

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The next morning, I head out towards the peninsula just east of Coro. The peninsula sits right under Aruba. On the way there, out of nowhere I find myself in the Sahara Desert, but only for a short period of time… Before hitting the peninsula, in front of a roadside store, I met Andri who lived on the peninsula. After talking for not even 5 minutes, he generously offers me to go and stay over at his place.

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I ride all over the peninsula on nice small roads that seem to lead to nowhere till you hit the ocean shore. In the guide book there were a few paragraphs about kite surfing. It’s one of the best places to do it. Now I wish I would have tried it as it’s also pretty cheap compared to other places, but being new in the country, I was more interested in exploring than doing touristic stuff at that time.

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I didn’t realize how time was flying and it started getting dark. Andri’s town was not in my guidebook map or on my GPS and I couldn’t risk riding at night, so I hit up a Posada in this small town.

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