You could argue that you can’t judge a city in a couple of hours. And yes, you’d probably be right. That said, my three hours or so in the Colombian city of Cucuta left a lingering, lasting impression meaning it is unlikely I’ll ever want to visit Cucuta again. Just to see if there is actually anything worth seeing or doing there. Pictured from above, Cucuta is spread out over a vast area. You don’t see any high buildings there, and you could easily get lost in its non-descript repetitive street patterns (in regular squares).
Arrival into Cucuta was by an overnight bus from Sopo. The bus journey was entirely uneventful and drab, to the point where counting raindrops on my bus window while stopped in unknown Duitama would have added excitement. Whatever happened after Duitama is confined to Colombian darkness, though I know the main road was closed hence why we didn’t pass through Bucaramanga, but we did pass San Gil and up and down mud roads all night. As dawn broke my bus found its way from Pamplona to Cucuta for a less than glamorous “rainrise” entrance to this north eastern Colombian city right on the border with Venezuela.
My reason for visiting Cucuta then? Simply to get off my bus and work out a way to get to Venezuela, some 200 metres away from the edge of the city. Then it was my mission to get myself up to Caracas on the Caribbean Coast, also the capital city of Venezuela.
Wooden road side shacks and wheelbarrow pushing vendors on the way in were wet,worn and old. They were shops, opening for the day. Locals prepared fruit, vegetables and cigarettes along the side of the road and on every corner. Our bus hit light traffic on the edge of the city and these grim, dodgy shacks served as my introduction to Cucuta. I had read all I could about Cucuta in my guidebook on the bus. It cited Cucuta as “hot and uninspiring” and also noted that “unless you’re on route to or from Venezuela, there’s little point in visiting it” which was exactly why I was here.
I got a hot fluster on the bus and began to stare aimlessly at this odd city from my window. I thought,what is the purpose of Cucuta?
About 25 minutes after arriving on the edge of Cucuta, we reached a dingy old bus station. Old, discrepid, dirty and it looked dodgy, edgy, sketchy and even dangerous. My guide book had described the bus station as sketchy and full of people trying to scam you. It said to point blank refuse the help of anyone (except I trusted the guy beside me on the bus).
Once we pulled up in the busy car park, I rushed to get off. I hadn’t moved in 18 hours from my seat. Fresh air, stretched legs and to be reunited with my rucksack were the first priorities. Then relax for a bit before heading for Venezuela. There was also the option of course to do some sightseeing in Cucuta. But having been so tired from the bus trip, hearing that Cucuta was shit and been pretty impressed by Colombia so far, I just felt it wasn’t worth actually venturing out and seeing the city – I basically just wanted to get into Venezuela.
I had been sat beside an older Venezuelan guy called Gabriel on the final part of the Duitama to Cucuta bus journey. We had chatted briefly and he luckily gave me some advice about “La Frontera” (the border). I had done 4 border crossings by foot/overland so far in South America and I had reckoned this one would be the hardest one.
Not just security and customs wise, but there must be a lot of gangsters and criminals lurking in these parts. Colombia and Venezuela are known drug and gun countries, even to innocent foreigners. Gabriel had told me NOT to get the cheap border bus. His reasons were mainly that it was risky for me as I was travelling alone. And I could get mugged, robbed or stabbed. I was alone with all my valuables so I trusted him. My book had also mentioned the option of a shared border taxi, and Gabriel recommended this idea. I had initially feared it would be a lot dearer, but that turned out to be a myth. The share taxi rank, was at the back of the bus station he told me. Once I got my bag, I thanked him and headed away from the crowds to the inside part of the bus station.
It was very dirty, old, just nothing I was used to. Tramps, beggars and probable drug addicts more than likely took one look at me and chose not to hassle me. I couldn’t have looked or smelt much worse. Ugly uncombed, sweaty hair from the 18 hour bus ride, hot dripping armpits, an out of place beard and totally non descript clothing made me almost look like a Colombian tramp myself.
I kind of hoped I smelt really bad not just to avoid the hassle, but almost to blend in with the Cucuta posse. So I didn’t bother sightseeing, just hung around in the bus station and sussed out the share taxi ride to San Antonio del Tachira (in Venezuela). I had a quick look around before making my choice.
In the end I didn’t actually know WHAT CHOICE I had made. I asked a guy if he was heading to Venezuela in a share taxi and as he puffed on a riefer, he gave me a price of 27,000 Colombian Pesos. At the time I didn’t actually have enough money to pay him, but I didn’t tell him that, I blagged that I did. I also thought it was rather dear, but knew it was probably a safer option. So I went outside into the rammed car park and hopped into the guys taxi. He opened the boot for my bags and I put both my bags in the boot and got into the middle seat in the back of the car. I swigged my water and was ready for the next part of my journey. I had finally found a toilet in Cucuta too. The quality of which, obviously left a lot to be desired.
I must also say that the bus and taxi information in Cucuta is very unclear. And it was one of those places where I just didn’t feel welcome.
There was also the little matter of my CUT bag in CuCUTa. I cannot remember if my bag was cut on the bus, in the bus station or where but there was a rip along the side of my backpack. It must have been a thief trying to nick something. They didn’t manage to nick anything, but the bag needed replaced as the rip had gotten a lot worse by the time I arrived in Caracas the following morning.
So I was now inside the share taxi, a comfy vehicle. I still had no Venezuelan Bolivares and just under the 27,000 Colombian Pesos I would need to cross the border. The taxi said on it “Taxi San Cristobal” which made me wonder, as I knew that the border city in Venezuela was called “San Antonio del Tachira” and that you could get a direct bus from there to Caracas, which I thought is what I’d end up doing. It now appeared that this taxi would drive me all the way to San Cristobal. And since the price was reasonable, I contented myself with that idea.
Another view of Cucuta from above. I certainly couldn’t be arsed doing any sightseeing.
Though this statue was on the road opposite the bus station, and therefore probably as touristy or easy on the camera as the city could get.
The driver got in and moved his taxi behind another one, which meant we wouldn’t be leaving straight away and I worked out we were just waiting for the taxi to get full.
There was then a funny moment when a taxi pulled up beside us with the letters UVF on it. Any Northern Irish person will know that it stands for Ulster Volunteer Force (a loyalist Protestant terrorist organisation). This not only made me laugh out loud, but was surely a sign from the Gods that I would be safe. Indeed, crossing a dodgy border between two countries with high murder rates, I could always say I was in the UVF (taxi). It was a taxi company from Pamplona, the previous city we had stopped up on our night bus.
The 20 – 30 minute period of waiting for the taxi to fill up had me absolutely pondering everything in life. I mean, where the fuck was I? I was alone and preparing for a horrible next 3 days. It made me wary and suspicious of everything. I trusted nobody but myself. Sat in the muddy murky Cucuta rain I felt slightly sad and lost.
Then a couple got in to occupy the two front seats (they were heading for San Cristobal). There were 3 seats in the front and 3 seats in the back. This was an old, worn taxi, but it was spacious and it was an automatic. It’s hot, rainy and stuffy inside, soon I’m joined on either side by two more Venezuelan guys heading home. It was probably better I was surrounded by Venezuelans rather than Colombians at this point, as they could give me proper advice on what to do on arrival in their country.
So the car was now full with fellow border crossers, the driver gets in and without further ado we drove off leaving behind an air of smoggy exhaust fumes, further polluting the dirty city of Cucuta. It couldn’t have been any less glamorous…
I glanced back at the city of Cucuta as we got to a main road by the Colombian border checkpoint. I was excited about entering yet another new country. And I just couldn’t get sad about leaving Cucuta. If my bag had been CUT, the city had been CuCUTa and now I had CUT the cord on the city, it was time for Venezuela, mes amigos…
City – Cucuta
Population – 586,000
Transport Used – Concorde Bus, Border Taxi
Nationalities Met – Colombian, Venezuelan
Drinks – Water
Food – Biscuits, crisps and fruit (whatever was in my backpack)
Next Destination – San Antonio Del Tachira
Key Song –
THE KILLERS – HUMAN (“cut the cord”):
LAST VIDEO I MADE IN COLOMBIA HAVING JUST GOT MY PASSPORT STAMPED AND HEADING TO VENEZUELA:
IF YOU WANT AN IDEA ABOUT THE ATMOSPHERE AND FEEL OF THAT SHARED BORDER TAXI, THIS VIDEO IS PERFECT: