“After that we’re going to Venezuela”
She pulled a face, “Isn’t that a bit like self destruction?”
She’s blonde. Blue eyes. Beautiful blue eyes. German. Very German. “I heard this story…”
Everybody has a story. Everybody knows Venezuela, the inside, and it’s funny because none of them have been, it’s all a motherfucking jive, but it’s funny because hearing it said kind of makes me want to go more.
She tells me her story and I don’t know what to do with it.
“We’re not going to Caracas, just hopping over the border”
Venezuela is three times as violent as Iraq. This is a kind of truth that is bitter and hard to dispute. I am certainly aware that Caracas is a no-go zone, but I have convinced myself that where we’re going is safe enough.
She goes through what we should do in the US, and that’s it.
And I read. And I read. And I read.
It takes me a few days to completely convince myself. The things I read worry me. We could get robbed, raped, or shot. Or something. But that could happen here too. We were in Cali and the same evening five people staying at the hostel had been held up at knife-point walking back from a football game.
It’s all Boxhead’s fault. N and D asked us to go with them and he blindly accepted. When I walked into the room they were all looking at me hopeful. What could I do?
I thought about going to Ecuador instead, the Spanish is cheap, but I too know the inside. Ecuador is easy, predictable, no black market, many more backpackers, no rusted lemons carting people around. I decided that we would go to Venezuela, god damn our weak bravery. I guess I need something to write about.
We caught a bus from San Agustín to Bogotá, and we sat in the bus depot for three hours waiting for the bus to Bucaramanga. We finally got on. I sat there neither grim or happy or sardonic, just there, because I was waiting for it, but it would seem we were moving! The little traffic there was just flowed flowed, it flowed, I tell you, it FLOWED!
In Bucaramanga, we got some dollars to exchange on the black market. We packed our bags and tried to think of places to hide our dollars from the cops. I put some under the soles of my shoes and the rest in my backpack’s secret pocket. Then early in the morning we got a bus to Cúcuta. The road was quiet, beautiful, a thin grey line winding through the mountains. Everywhere outside the bus was a VIEW.
After a few hours we stopped for breakfast. The coffee was good, sweet. We were sat waiting for our food when a voice behind me said, “Where are you guys from?”
He was well put together. His hair was neatly slicked back. He wore glasses, a smart checked shirt and cream trousers. He sounded European.
We told him. “So what brings you to Colombia?”
“Umm”, I said.
He had us stumped. It might have been the girl that appeared at his side. She poked her head around his arm. The next thing there was another one on his other side, standing right by him STARING at us.
“We’re actually on our way to Venezuela”, N said.
A third girl arrived, all sweet, young, full of the thing. YOUNG girls. They couldn’t keep their hands off him.
“Oh yeah? I work for this organisation…” STARING “…we’ve just returned from a seminar in the mountains, but we have a restaurant too. You should drop by if you’re in town”.
“Yeah? Sure! SURE WE WILL!”
He gave us a card. Another guy appeared behind him in dark glasses. With him were some more girls. The put together guy raised the dark glasses, “This guy here needs to practice his English!”
“Where are you from?”, I asked the put together guy.
STARING. On and on. We’d finished our breakfast. What weirdness! Everything about them screamed CULT CULT CULT. They finally left on a big old American school bus.
We started descending down the mountain to Cúcuta. It was good, we were halfway there. Then D couldn’t find her phone (again). We turned around and went back to the restaurant, it wasn’t far, the school bus passed us on its way down. She’d left it on the table. We got it back and started down the mountain again and an old man turned in his seat and said,
“DON’T FORGET, COLOMBIAN PEOPLE ARE GOOD PEOPLE!”
At the bus terminal in Cúcuta they were all circling. We hadn’t even made it inside before one of them was on us. N and I went to get some more dollars. When we returned Boxhead and D had been talking to somebody. Well, D had anyway. He was offering to take us across the border to San Cristobal for $10 each. D thought it expensive and checked with N who said it WAS expensive (N had made the crossing a few months back going the other way).
I won’t go through all the dialogue, mainly we insisted that the price was too high. They said it wasn’t. We said it was. Then everybody was talking all at once from all directions, even the girls working the restaurant who it had nothing to do with, greasy miserable faces, crumpled meat on bone, BLAH BLAH BLAH. We discussed it between ourselves, TRIED discussing it. Everybody was still talking at us.
“MOMENTO, POR FAVOR!”
“Yes, yes, sure!”
They became silent for five seconds, then began talking shit again.
N and D went looking for other drivers. I sat down at a dirty table with a Coke, not listening, sweating sweating as if faucets had been turned on. I wanted out. Boxhead was hooked. The guy who had approached us at the very beginning was sat next to him and had began again.
“Just tell him you don’t speak Spanish”
“I ALREADY HAVE!”
N and D came over with a different guy. The first guy looked at him and the new guy walked away. We went with the first guy.
We stopped to get an exit stamp on the Colombian side, then again at a checkpoint on the Venezuelan side. A beautiful girl walked past and when I looked up, I saw our driver’s face in the mirror, looking at me, leery smile, spasming, crazy.
The guard told us to get out the car and to remove our bags. She showed us to a little room. A little dog was in there. The guard searched our backpacks then the dog was told to check our big bags that were heaped on the floor. The dog went from one bag to the next, frantically sniffing. It was horrible, like waiting to die. The dog kept going back to N’s bag. We were told we were free to go but N had to stay behind and empty his bag…
We waited for N by the car then got back in and drove to the Venezuelan immigration office to get stamped. After that we drove on until we were stopped at another checkpoint. A young soldier told us to get out of the car and remove our bags. We did. We were showed to another room. The soldier emptied ALL of our bags, throwing stuff out onto the table. What a mess, I thought. I’d had it packed perfect, even managed to get my jacket in.
I stood there and watched his hands carefully and worried about my dollars. When he’d finished, I just had to throw everything back in. My jacket wouldn’t fit.
The car didn’t sound too healthy. I prayed, no break downs, not here, Christ, not now, then we arrived in San Cristobal. We wanted to get a bus or taxi to Mérida if we could. The last bus was at 5pm. It was after 5pm and darkness was coming. People conned us with words saying there were more buses when there weren’t.
A man in an awful hurry told us that he had a cab that could take us.
The ride began. Then the driver hung up his phone and said that we had to go back because he had to drive a bus to Caracas. Another driver was going to take us instead. At the terminal we got out, were given our money back. There was no other driver. The man who had put us in the taxi said that we’d come back because the car was too heavy with all the bags in…
All the LYING – why did everybody hate so much? The world could easily be made better with less lying.
N and D tried finding SOMETHING. There wasn’t anything going and for some reason nobody wanted to drive us. A young Venezuelan noticed our plight and told us that it was possible, but we would have to break the journey into two stages. He added that we really should GET OUT of the city because of riots going on that were only going to get worse tomorrow, we should get out NOW.
This was news to us. I still didn’t think the journey worth it and Boxhead was ill. The night kept on coming. I didn’t want to be around there for much longer. We went to another window to arrange a ticket for the morning. The woman behind it told us there were NO BUSES in the morning.
“THAT’S IT! WE JUST COME BACK AND GET A TAXI FIRST THING IN THE MORNING!”
D asked the taxi driver about the riots. He said they were student protests. I felt better after that.
We found the hotel and the door opened and a man was sat behind a desk and we said we need a room, and he said I don’t have one, look elsewhere. The place opposite didn’t have one either. All we wanted was a room. We were shut out. The streets didn’t look very good. This can scare the shit out of you, can KILL you.
Boxhead and I stayed with the bags in the first hotel while N and D went to find somewhere. I was panicked. My mind got at me good:
OH MY GOD, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO! ALL THOSE PEOPLE WERE RIGHT! What if they can’t find anywhere? IS THIS THE WAY IT ENDS!?
Eventually they came back. They had found somewhere not far from where we were. We still thought that perhaps we should take a taxi. Something was very odd. It was only 7.30pm and there were no people in the streets. Then the man in the hotel said that he did have a room.
“THEN WHY TE- Never mind”
“You’ll need $2 each”
He showed us the room. The walls were stained and worn, the television was old, there was no window. There were three beds, my sheets were bloodstained. Boxhead looked like he was going to cry. I didn’t care. We went to the store and brought some bread and chocolate milk and a bottle of Coke then we were locked in safe. Behind doors, behind gates. With our possessions, our beautiful possessions. It’s funny. We had hundreds of dollars between us yet we couldn’t buy more than bread and milk. We were broke. We hadn’t exchanged money at the border, instead waiting to do it in Mérida. N had a small amount but we needed what was left for cab fare. We had to plead with the guy in the hotel to accept our dollars.
It wasn’t much, but under the cold shower I was laughing, laughing, and in the morning I would get a bus to Mérida and I wasn’t dead yet.