Friday, June 29, 2007

Venezuela!

It's been a little while and it feels like we've done a lot, but I'll try and keep this brief.

After spending a couple more days in Manaus, in the pretty nice Anna Cassia Palace Hotel with a swimming pool on the roof and view over the docks (see photos), it was time to make the move towards Venezuela. We debated flying as far as Boa Vista, but ended up taking the bus due to the cost saving. Actually it was a total palaver due to miss-information but we eventually got the tickets and were set to go.

The road from Manaus to Boa Vista must have just about the worst Karma ever, much much worse than the Newbury Bypass. This is due to the fact that it passes through an Indian reserve, and when the indigenous people protested at the building of a tarmac strip straight through their land the government simply bought in the army and did away with anyone in their way. Picture Swampy being gassed out of the tunnels. However, flying is kinda bad Karma too since it is so polluting so we took maybe the lesser evil. And we were punished too since the road surface resembles corrugated iron with the odd chasm thrown in for luck, so sleep was out of the question and we arrived at Boa Vista sleepy and fed up. We then had to jump another bus for three hours or so that took us up to and across the border into Venezuela! Border formalities were thankfully very easy, the most chilled out looking bunch of immigration people you can imagine, even laughing and joking with each other...they were more concerned with our Yellow Fever vaccination certificates.

So then we arrived at Santa Elena a few kilometers over the border, a pretty small town but useful as the first stop and a place to change money. It's great to be back somewhere where Spanish is the language, they understand me and I understand them, fantastic. Didn't stop us from getting ripped off with our first street-side money exchange however...

Here in Venezuela there are many exchange rates. The official one is about 2000 bolivars to the dollar. But on the street you can get up to about 3800 if you´re lucky, and 3300 for travellers cheques. Kinda irritating that we got 2600...oh well, you live and learn. It´s funny to hand over a few hundred dollars and walk away with over a million bolivars. "one miiiiilllioon..."

We spent one night in Santa Elena before heading off on a tour of the Gran Savana. That area is home to the unique mountain formations known as Tepuis, which are formed when the rest of the land is washed away and only the harder stuff is left over. This means that on the top there are unique ecological regions, which strange fauna and flora adapted specifically to those environs.
From Gran Savana
You can take a trip and walk up one of them, Riorama, but we opted for a two day tour around with Adrenaline Tours instead - which involved lots of walking up rivers, jumping into pools and sliding down rapids. Unfortunately it´s rainy season and our second day was a bit of a wash out, however our guide was great and led us on a tour of the area explaining about the lives of the local Indian populations and the wildlife.
From Gran Savana
Last night we took yet another night bus for ten hours up to Ciudad Bolivar. Thankfully we only stopped at one of the dreaded military checkpoints, where they took a cursory glance at our day-packs and passports. After hearing so many stories of entire bags being searched through in the dead of night we were pretty grateful to get away so easily - no doubt it wont be long before we are party to the full blown affair.

My back has gone all stiff after riding around in the jeep the last two days so I´m planning on staying horizontal for the next day or two before we continue north to the Caribbean coast! We´re back in the Northern Hemisphere now, come on summer!

Told you I'd keep it brief.
Oh, and I bought a cheapo guitar too...

2 comments:

suzy cue said...

do you and your girlfriend both speak spanish fluently? if so, did you learn it along your trip or did you prepare ahead of time?

lee bazalgette said...

Hi Suzy,
I lived in Spain for a bit so speak pretty good Spanish. Leah did some classes in London before we left and has been practising out here. It´s definatley better if you speak the language!