I got to Maicao in about four hours, a place my guidebook warned me was going to be gritty and possibly dangerous, while there I needed to"watch my back." Heartening, that.
When we arrived, the door of the bus was crowded with jammering men demonically leering, wanting to sell me services. I was mildly disoriented, and my Spanish, which usually is quite solid in everyday situations, fled me. I was understanding less than half of what they were saying. I was not happy, and felt mildly threatened. I was in no mood to trust anybody, but I needed directions. I got one of the guys to cart my bags into the terminal on his dolly. I always take advantage help with my luggage these days, because the 50 cents or so I tip saves me the stress of lugging my overpacked bag, which is well worth it. This time I got a little paranoid, thinking he might run off on me. I ran behind him as he sprinted off to the collectivo office. I wanted the counter of the main busline, but was in no condition to interject myself properly into the situation.
There, there were more men shouting at me, pricing the trip in three currencies, and wanting to change my money.. They kept telling me that the border was closing in an hour and a half, if I wanted to go today I needed to make my mind up right away.
Way too much to handle. I needed to clear my head. I tipped the luggage guy, grabbed my bags, and fled into the open air.
I asked a man where the main busline counter is. He pointed the way. One man from the collectivo office is following me. I try to ignore him. He taps me on the shoulder.
I turn, about to lose my temper, which is a very, very rare thing for me to do. But I'm on the edge.
He hands my wallet to me. I'd dropped it. I take it, stammer my thanks, and run to the busline office.
I ask if there's a bus. No. Tommorow? No. Monday? Again, no. Why the hell not?
The guy looks at me, and hands me a brochure with Hugo Chavez's face on it. Because of the elections tomorrow he says. Would I like to change my money? He starts spouting information about collectivos again.
I get defensive once again, and start to lose my mind. I need a pen and paper. Write everything down. Prices. Exchange rates.
I told him that the bankrate on the Venezualan Bolivar to the dollar is 4.25, because that is what the internet said. He said their rate was 9 to one.
First the thuggish looking collectivo dude gives me back my lost wallet, and now I'm getting quoted and exchange rate twice the official rate. Surreal. What is going on here?
At that point I just surrendered, and realized that paranoia was getting me nowhere. I decided to trust these people.
Next thing I know, I am hurtling toward the border bouncing around in the back this,
|I found Kenny's Old Truck in Venezuela. Who'da thunk?|
Crammed alongside a bunch of campesinos, with twice as many Bolivars as I'd initially thought I'd have in my pocket.
Hugo Chavez decreed in 2007 that Venezuela be a half hour - that's right a half hour - timezone ahead of Columbia, just to make arriving in his country just a little more annoying than it need be. That Hugo. Crazy guy. We'll see if he wins today..
Four hours in the back of Kenny's ramshackle old truck later, I'm now safely ensconced in a hotel in center Maracaibo, which the a major oil hub here.
The guy at the hotel desk keeps putting his finger to his eye everytime I walk by him, squinting and hissing "cuidado cabellero: indigentes!"
I ignored him, and went out looking for a bottle of water. I saw a bunch of gypsy ladies on the corner running what looked at first as I approached like a hotdog stand. I went up and asked if they had any drinks, but when they turned around the one closest me had this wicked orcish looking five inch blade in her hand, and I saw that the box they had wasn't of hotdogs, but was instead a pile of raw offal. Viscous entrails, that is. The woman was wearing a black dress and bandana, and looked as if capable of gutting me there on the spot. They all snarled and glared at me, and croaked "no" in unison, like they were the witches in MacBeth or the Fates or something.. I fled, beating a hasty retreat back to my room, where I am reduced to drinking tap water for the first time since I've been in Latin America, hoping it's safe..
The hotel is a cheap one, within a few blocks of the bus station and the cathedral, which is convenient, because I hope to catch mass in the morning, and then leave for Caracas tomorrow afternoon.
I'll keep you all posted as I get along. As always, keep watching this space..