Having got into my shared taxi at Cucuta Bus Station, it was time to head to Venezuela. I had no idea which Venezuelan city we would be heading to in fact, nor did I bother asking. Quite simply because my aim was to be in Caracas the day after, and knowing it was the capital, I gathered I could get there on a direct bus from wherever I ended up.
So we left behind the city of Cucuta amid exhaust fumes, drizzle and dirty air. We arrived at the border. The Colombian exit was fine. I took most of these photos from inside the taxi, adding to the experience looking back you can see it from my view, in the middle seat at the back of the taxi.
The other people in the taxi didn’t need to get their passports stamped or anything as they were all Venezuelan and they wouldn’t even be checked. I had hoped that this would hide me in amongst them and that I would also be safe from being checked. This proved to be wrong, and I was later singled out a lot.
But first things first, we stopped off at the Colombian border point. It read D.A.S above the border place. I got out of the taxi alone, assumed he would wait for me and I joined the queue. A very friendly Colombian worker stamped my exit, wished me luck and I was saying Cheerio to Colombia!
Just before the border itself, these Colombian flags serve as my departure point.
My departure stamp from Colombia at Cucuta. I was wearing a cheap watch. It was now time to fast forward it by thirty minutes. Yes, Venezuela is now 30 minutes ahead of Colombia thanks to a recent decision by the government. Another of the odd and authoritive tactics of the Venezuelan government.
Ahead of us is a sign for Venezuela, and there’s a bridge there. It’s obvious at this point that the bridge acts as the border, this photo I found on line clearly shows the border mayhem and the river and greenery that separates the two countries. You’d probably guess this, but the city at the top of the photo is Cucuta – it’s much much bigger than the Venezuelan border town of San Antonio del Tachira.
The border from above.
Gushing waters come down to meet at this bridge and there seems to be a slight queue to get across the border. By the way, it’s perfectly normal and not dodgy at all or expensive to get a taxi across the border, despite what you might think. This was indeed the first time I would get a taxi across any kind of border, but lots of people do it.
Once on the other side of the bridge, I quickly snapped the Venezuela flag with my camera from the car. Everything happened very fast though and we were suddenly at the Venezuela border control point.
I kind of work out where I am at this point just before we pull over. We are on the edge of the city known as San Antonio del Tachira. We are in Venezuela.
Just before we left Cucuta the taxi driver had asked us to pay in advance for the taxi. I didn’t have any Venezuelan Bolivares at all! I also didn’t have enough money in Colombian Pesos for his demands and assumed he might give me a raw deal and dump me off here. Which would have meant I’d paid about 27,000 Pesos for a 40 minute taxi ride simply to cross the border. But he let me off with that amount and Angel (the guy beside me) had informed me that like it or not, this taxi was heading all the way to San Cristobal and to be ready for being searched and police with guns. He explained it all to me in Spanish but I understood. I was aged 30, and this to date had been the dodgiest border crossing I had done! The good news was I had paid for the taxi all the way to San Cristobal, which was a further 2 hours down the line.
Here at the frontera de San Antonio del Tachira, I got out of the car,walked up to the booth as the only foreigner in sight. I filled in all the forms, lying about the name of a hotel I would stay in in San Cristobal and under job profession I put “trabajo en el granja” which means working on a farm. I looked scruffy and this would also alert the locals that I didn’t exactly have a lot of money on me! The locals didn’t need to get border stamps or fill in forms and I could honestly see them getting a bit agitated with me – I had already got out of the taxi twice, for periods of between 5 – 10 minutes (one to get my Colombian exit stamp, and again to get my Venezuelan arrival stamp). I wanted a photo of my arrival in Venezuela and the taxi driver (whose name I never got) gladly took it.
Now I was “safely” in Venezuela and official. It was the 4th January 2011 and I’d been stamped for a 90 day visit at San Antonio Del Tachira. However I didn’t have my departure card, which I had read was something you need, in order to avoid getting a fine when leaving Venezuela. It was a slight worry.
The border as viewed above on Google Earth. After getting back in the taxi, I had hoped the 2 hour journey coming up would be scenic and I had wanted to take some photos, make some videos and relax, even maybe drift to sleep.
BUT THEN 6 metres after leaving the place I got my entry stamp, the taxi was stopped. It became obvious that this was no ordinary country. I was ushered out with guns, the passport people had obviously alerted the army that someone in the taxi was British. So I had to get out and searched.
Now came a slightly clever bit on my behalf. I had TWO bags in the boot, and I was aware that the police and army in Venezuela can just take things off you and keep them, whether justified or not and you’re not going to argue with a guy holding a gun in his own country. So I told the taxi driver to pretend that only one of the bags was mine – the big one with the clothes in it. This made perfect sense to us all. I had realised that they would ONLY check my bags, so we blagged that I had only one bag. In it only clothes, and notes. All my valuables were in the smaller bag, hidden in behind and non descript so they wouldn’t notice it or want to check it – they would assume it belonged to one of the locals. I also decided to lie my ass off to all the authorities on the way in as they began to annoy me. This was the start of a horrendous few days in Venezuela.
So time became lost on me. It didn’t matter anymore. As a rough estimate these were the times of what had happened so far:
Arrival in Pamplona – 4.30 am
Arrival in Cucuta – 5.30 am
Cucuta to San Antonio del Tachira border crossing – 8 am
(which included putting my watch ahead by thirty minutes)
Leaving San Antonio del Tachira – 9 am
So the first police check happened at the border inside the customs office at San Antonio del Tachira. I was ushered into a private room with my rucksack and passport. Everything was emptied out and questioned. Even a lighter and a torch were almost taken off me. The torch I used for camping and in hostels at night. A lighter is quite an essential travel item, can come in handy to burn frayed rope, light something or help the locals light their cigarette. I told them I smoked. They then wondered why I had no cigarettes.
They lifted out 2 Northern Ireland football shirts. I love football was my response. Everything was examined and the taxi driver stayed with me, which was nice of him. This first search lasted about half an hour, and I was let out, bag complete and off we went. Now, I could relax I thought that was the hard bit over.
But no it wasn’t, winding roads through gorgeous hills and valleys went un-noticed and un-appreciated as we ended up at two more police check points. The photo above is of a different part of Venezuela, about 7 months before I was there and thanks to Panny for this photo, I can relive some of her memories of Venezuela too. I was a little upset that I couldn’t use my camera during this part of the journey, all these photos I’ve taken from online sources to try and match with the rough series of dramas and events. It would have been taken off me for sure – there were police everywhere. We got stopped every 20 minutes or so. Sometimes the taxi driver just lied his way through. There was also crazy traffic problems, car crashes and people at the side of the road up to no good.
I hadn’t really travelled at all had I? This was a different world. As thunder, fog, lightning, rain and patches of occassional sun hit our taxi, the views were lost on me anyway. The above photo was the only one I took during the time they were searching me – it’s the rain on the taxi window and another check point. Summed up my venture into Venezuela perfectly so far.
Angel to his credit continued to talk and give me advice through each police check. At the second police check, one of the guys holding a gun gave me an orange juice!! It was completely surreal. Gun in one hand, orange juice in the other! The lies got more ridiculous and I made up various stories to confuse and annoy the armed police. This worked well as they didn’t know what to think of me and had to let me out early. The others in my taxi still got angry though, and none of them were even checked at all. I could understand why they were angry as they were in a hurry and I was holding them back, through NO fault of my own, but rather through the fault of their very own corrupt policing system and government. Some welcome this wasn’t.
It was never ending and at times very frustrating. Not quite a riot scene, as Venezuela is used to, but I could understand the culture a bit better. The Venezuelan police were very rude and unwelcoming to me. The country is corrupt and it was only by luck that they didn’t steal anything from me, or make me wait longer. It was hot and I was so tired. It had been two full days since I’d slept a wink as well, so all that added to the frustration of it all. I cursed a fair few times at the police that morning, and after the third thorough police check (there were about 2 smaller checks including passport) I finally saw below us in the distance the lowly city of San Cristobal. I felt like I was travelling again, the previous 4 hours getting from Cucuta to here had been a total stressful nightmare.
Our journey was almost complete and some sighs of relief were being breathed. But I knew there was still a lot of drama to come. I had asked Angel and the driver to drop me off EXACTLY at the main bus station in San Cristobal. My plan then was simply to get the hell out of San Cristobal and get a bus direct to Caracas. This meant missing seeing San Cristobal, and missing out on visiting Merida – which I had wanted to see due to it having the biggest ice cream shop in the world.
The ice cream shop in Merida. Courtesy of my girlfriend Panny Yu,who went!
With unpredictable clouds rearing their grey heads above, we veered downwards into a massive city. It looked quite nice in honesty. I just found it hard to enjoy it with all the commotion. But we were almost there now. San Cristobal awaited me and now I was excited again.
The splendid view on the way in of San Cristobal. The joys of travelling were equalled by the bad moments that morning. The couple in the front got let out first, in an estate, probably it was their own house. It was kind of dodgy and scattered in that area. I have no idea what part of the city it was. But it was somewhere in San Cristobal. I was then let out with Angel who had agreed to help me. We got out by a bus station, got our bags and the time was just shy of 11 am. I think. I had been a bit scared at times, yes, but I just got on with it, none of the guns were used, and the police didn’t take anything from me. So I was safe and well with all my stuff. Let the travels commence in San Cristobal…
From – Cucuta, COLOMBIA
To – San Cristobal, VENEZUELA
Via – San Antonio Del Tachira and immense countryside
Border Stamps – 2 (1 in Colombia, 1 in Venezuela)
Border Checks – 6 (1 in Colombia, 5 in Venezuela. The one in Colombia they just looked at my bag)
Nationalities Met – Colombian, Venezuelan
Currency Used – Colombian Pesos (I STILL hadn’t managed to get any Venezuelan Bolivares)
Transport Used – Share taxi
Drink – Orange Juice
Food – Didn’t eat at all
Key Song –
Anything By DODGY!:
(IN A ROOM fits since I spent most of the journey in rooms opening my bag)
My Videos –
LAST VIDEO I MADE IN COLOMBIA:
SADLY I HAVE NO VIDEOS OF THE JOURNEY FROM CUCUTA TO SAN CRISTOBAL (over a 4 hour period) but took this one in SAN CRISTOBAL on arrival at the bus station there:
PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO to understand how dodgy and dangerous the actual border can be (unable to embed it here):
SOMEONE ELSE’S VIDEOS OF THE VENEZUELA – COLOMBIA BORDER:
AN EYE OPENER, INDEED!! Safe travels my friends!!