The bus trip from Sopo, a small town to the north east of Bogota to Cucuta, by the Venezuelan border was not one of my more enjoyable journeys, however it did give me an alternative experience, a chance to update my travel notes and save a bit of money.
I had enjoyed 5 amazing days in and around Bogota, also visiting Guatavita, Guasca, Sopo and Chia and staying in Julio’s Zoroastro Farm at Santa Ana Alta. Colombia, and particularly Julio’s family had been kind to me. I loved every minute of it.
But I still had 2 more out of the final 4 South American countries to see on this trip (Suriname and Venezuela). Due to finances and time constraints, I would be neglecting French Guyana and British Guyana (as many other travellers also do). So for that reason I made a beeline for Venezuela. I did a lot of flying around in South America too, but decided to cross from Colombia to Venezuela by bus instead. Also because I was aware of the dangers and real travel experience I could get from it, thought it might make for a better story. This turned out to be true, which I will cover later on…
So I said my emotional goodbyes to Julio, his Mum Claudia and Sister Paula at the bus depot in Sopo.
It wasn’t really a bus ‘depot’ or ‘station’ though – buses just pulled over on the side of the road. It wasn’t a main station and it certainly wasn’t a known travellers route. Indeed I was the only foreigner in sight and definitely the only one I saw for the next 2 days!
Opposite the bus depot, there was also a storage area for old and used buses in need of renovation.
Another bizarre thing was there was a Russian Circus right opposite the bus depot. Very odd! Completely out of place!
The bus depot where I got my ticket.
I was joining the bus at Sopo, as this was on the route from Bogota to Cucuta. Which saved a little bit of time and meant I didn’t have to go back into Bogota to catch the bus back out. Thanks to Julio, the bus was easy to organise and although it would probably be full, I got a ticket for a seat on the 2.30 pm Sopo to Cucuta service for 70,000 Pesos. The bus was scheduled to arrive in Cucuta around 5am the following day.
The company I used had a green logo and were called Concorde.
The guy serving me was very funny and we called him “mas loco” as he asked for my passport for the booking, since he knew I was heading for the border and was foreign and he read my name wrongly. He thought that BRITISH was my surname and then he asked me what was my first name. He must have thought Jonny, Scott and Blair were something else! I told him Jonny but he wrote it down on the ticket as CHANNER instead of JONNY. Leaving Julio and I in absolute fits of laughter as my name for leaving Sopo was now Channer British. I liked it!
After seeing some of the town of Sopo itself (pictured above) and getting some sandwiches made for me by Claudia for the journey (very kind of her), we sat and waited by the bus stop before my bus turned up and I was Cucuta bound!!
That lunchtime I had enjoyed my final Aguila (Colombian Beer) with Julio and his brother David in Rio Grande Bar, Chia. It was a nice farewell. Looking forward, Cucuta would be handy for the border but is also renowned for being a drab, dodgy and boring city. Having now seen it and been there, yes, all three words are correct.
So my bus pulled up and laden with two bags I boarded (one a large black backpack with merely clothes in it, one my smaller backpack with my laptop, memory hard drive, travel notes and travel books in it (plus a few snacks and drinks). My big bag went into the hold until Cucuta and I got a label to collect it on arrival. My other bag came on board with me so I could listen to my iPod, eat, read, write and enjoy the journey (for safety I also wanted all my valuables on me).
Without further ado I was off. I looked back and waved as I left Sopo behind for dreary Colombian countryside on a cloudy day. Leaving Sopo, I realised I was travelling alone once again and I had a few worries. One major concern was that I had NO Venezuelan money on me at all, as it had been difficult to source. I also didn’t have many Colombian Pesos left (but assumed I’d have enough for a border bus/share taxi). Also Venezuela is a dangerous place. Often associated with the highest murder rate on the planet, as well as a dodgy black market, guns, a corrupt police force and muggings. As I read my book on the bus, I was intrigued by what lay ahead. I had no idea what to expect and that is the marvel of travel.
The bus had left from Bogota and I joined at Sopo, yet it still wasn’t full. The TV on board was never on (not even sure if it worked) and this was my view for the next 18 hours, though mostly in darkness.
There were a few of these checkpoints on route. I never found out if there were any toll charges or not, but the road quality in Colombia isn’t great so I assumed they were merely police checks for drugs and guns.
There was nobody on the seat next to me or in front of me until we arrived in Tunja. I ate my sandwiches from Claudia around 4.30 pm before we rocked up in Tunja.
I love the fact that ALL the photos I have of this journey are crap and boring, as that’s actually the gist of it. I seem to have captured it just the way it was. Tunja was almost like a shanty town sprawled into a city on uncomfortable hills. Not many foreigners would come here. It was drab, dull and wet. The green-ness of the walls on the entrance to the bus depot at Tunja were as scenic as it got. The city has around 160,000 in population and the bus became full here – an older guy sits beside me and I remain the only foreigner – a few of the other passengers are typically loud and they probably notice I’m foreign, though my unshaven face and worn clothes made me fit in a bit better than had I been wearing my usual Northern Ireland football shirt.
And there it is – our space at Tunja Bus Depot where we pulled in for about 10 minutes and the bus got full…
There was traffic on the edge of Tunja on leaving, and this picture was the only one I took before leaving Tunja behind. You can see the sort of shanty towns built deep into the hills, though my memory of it is rather different and certainly more steep than this photo depicts.
We were still at a high altitude for most of the trip and indeed Tunja is siruated at 2,820 metres above sea level. Next stop, around 6.15 pm we stopped at Duitama, pictured above and below. Oddly I only photographed the bus station there. We arrived in brightness.
The bus became over full at Duitama, which I found out is a big city. The oddest thing of all is we were only there for around 40 minutes or so, yet when we left it had suddenly become SO SO dark. I took the below photo on leaving, I was astounded at the light difference.
Duitama like Tunja was drab, wet, drizzly and dreary. Nothing special and glad I wasn’t spending a night in any of these cities. I could have got off the bus in Duitama as it happens. I could have walked around the city. BUT for a few obvious reasons I didn’t. One was that the bus was becoming over full with passengers even standing in the aisles. Getting off the bus would mean losing my seat. And with 12 hours or so still left, I didn’t fancy that one bit! There was also the risk that if I got off, I couldn’t get back on. That idea worried me as even though I had my ticket, I could have got another bus,BUT my bag was on this bus. The third reason I didn’t get off was for safety. The idea of walking round an unknown city for no reason with a bag full of goodies was hardly ideal! I had drank a bit of water and had some biscuits but resigned myself to fall asleep and not drink too much as I didn’t fancy getting off for a toilet stop anywhere. I just wanted to sit there for hours, reading and making notes, before arriving in Cucuta. We left Duitama around 7pm in darkness.
You can see the rough route from my bus in that map, except I got on just past Chia, at a small town called Sopo. Now at Duitama there were loads of kids and youths got on and it got horribly squashed. They always try to steal stuff on buses in places like Colombia, not just from foreigners! So I have my bag wrapped round my legs and all my valuables deep in my pockets, yet I must’ve drifted to sleep at one point during the night time bus journey. I felt someone tugging on my leg at one point so naturally out stared every wanker in existence around me and would gladly have hit anyone had I seen them trying to steal. Though I also realised it was dark and the kids of Colombia would probably all have knives in their pockets! That made me want to just stay awake and read my book. The journey was bumpy and hilly and slow and lamposts every now and then allowed me to read a bit on Venezuela and indeed Cucuta. The journey was unmemorable and indeed this bus was forced to take a diversion due to maintenance works on one of the roads, meaning I would arrive much later than expected. My original plan once in Venezuela would be to go straight to Caracas by bus, preferably from San Cristobal and I thought how the delay would affect that and make it easier to get a second night bus the following night.
Just before sunrise, we ventured down hills and arrived in the city of Pamplona. The less than inspiring sign, above that reads “Bienvenidos A Pamplona” (Welcome to Pamplona) being my lasting memory of this stop. I have never seen a worse entrance to a city in my life! We dropped a few people off here around 4.30 am. It was all very bizarre. The city was drab and lifeless. Almost to the point where you felt a mass murderer could come out brandishing a gun at any point. I didn’t get off the bus at Pamplona…
I didn’t see the beautiful hills and valleys on my journey as it was at night. It would have looked something like that photo above. Between Tunja, Duitama and Pamplona.
If I had thought Pamplona had a dreary, uninspiring vibe at 4.30 am, then get the wet arrival in the city of Cucuta about 2 hours later. This place just gave out an impression of a city that didn’t even care about itself. Littered, dirty streets and shops that hadn’t changed in years. On arrival all that was left to do was get off the bus, get my bag and find out the best way to get across the border into Venezuela!
Streets of Cucuta. Not entirely inspiring or welcoming I might add. Drab, lifeless, brown, grey, boring, worn, old, poor. But this is their city and their lives. I still had to respect and understand that as I fidgeted around in the sketchy, edgy, dodgy bus station for a border bus.
A restaurant in Cucuta. Probably as good as it gets. I wasn’t wanting to linger.
And so I was reunited with my large back pack, my small back pack had been cut with a knife at some point (I presumed on the bus, but could also have been in Sopo or Cucuta). But I had everything intact. A few people approached me in the bus station but I ignored them, preferring to take the advice of Gabriel, the Venezuelan guy who sat beside me towards the end of the bus journey. He advised me to get a shared taxi across the border, that way I would save the hassle of a bus, get guaranteed safety and passport checks and also be able to meet 3 or 4 other passengers who may be able to help me cross the border and get to San Cristobal. The Cucuta to Venezuela adventure will followed. For now, I had arrived safe and well in Cucuta after a pretty crap 18 hour bus journey!
From – Sopo
To – Cucuta
Via – Tunja, Duitama, Pamplona
Other Nationalities I Met – Colombian, Venezuelan
Transport Used – Concorde Bus
Food – Biscuits and sandwiches
Drink – Water
Strange Currencies – Colombian Pesos (still)
Next Destination – San Antonio Del Tachira
Key Song –
RADIO ACTIVE MAN – NIGHT BUS TO NOWHERE:
My Videos –
DRIVING THROUGH SOPO:
DAY TIME ON MY SOPO TO CUCUTA BUS:
NIGHT TIME ON MY SOPO TO CUCUTA BUS:
(you can’t see anything, hence why I didn’t take any more videos on this trip)
LEAVING CUCUTA IN COLOMBIA: