Before I start I want to share with you this drawing made by my friend and creator of the page “I fucking love Norway” https://www.facebook.com/LoveNorge
This page describes the Norwegian culture by comparing it to the rest of the world. This time he specifically made a drawing comparing the Venezuelan and Norwegian dancing culture. I love these simple, but very funny drawings explaining (from a foreigner’s point of view) the Norwegian behavior, which is kind of the same as I am doing here.
I have visited many places in Venezuela, but as I just got back from a trip to Caracas I realized all the different means of transportation I have experienced in this country. I find the differences between Norwegian and Venezuelan transportation systems very interesting. I am therefor writing about how to travel before I share with you all the beautiful places I have visited here in Venezuela (and hopefully more to come).
It was the total shock I got when I went to Caracas this weekend that made me want to write about traveling. We bought the tickets at the private bus terminal instead of going to the public terminal because these busses are supposed to be more comfortable. Nevertheless my expectations were not too high based on my previous traveling experiences. But wow, this bus was the nicest bus I have ever seen in my life. Who would have thought that would happen in Venezuela? It was a double decker, air condition, a lot of space and the seats…oh my goodness the seats! They could be leaned back so much it almost became a bed and there was even a thing to make your feet lie comfortable. I could not believe it, was I really in Venezuela? It felt like business class on a plane. My friend was amused when I jumped around with joy and surprise.
In that moment I started to wonder why I was reacting with such enthusiasm. I easily found the answer: the transportation at all my other trips had been nothing like this.
The preferred way to travel here in Venezuela is either by plane or with a private car. The reason is because other forms of traveling are slightly chaotic, a tiny bit uncomfortable and mostly (in my case) because there is no information how to get from A to B. Knowing locals is absolutely necessary if you want to travel by bus. I am very lucky to have good friends who have safely guided me around the country, without having a car. Venezuelans might not understand why I find traveling so difficult, but let me explain how things work in my country. No matter if you go by bus, train, boat or plane there is always easy accessible information where to go, what time, the prices and you can book things in advance. In other words; it is organized. Through the following stories I think you might understand why traveling in Venezuela is something very different then traveling in Norway.
My first trip outside of Barquisimeto was to Chivacoa, a small town about one hour away. We got there by taking a bus outside “Sambil” (the biggest mall here). Apparently taking a bus to other places works the same way as the “Rutas” in the city; you can take them from wherever you want along the road. Do not think this is a simple matter because on a Friday afternoon there are many people standing on the sidewalk outside of Sambil waiting for their bus. In order to catch the right bus you have to be very fast when boarding because the bus doesn’t really stop at a bus stop. It just drives by with a man hanging out of the door screaming the destination of the bus. If I were alone in that moment I think I would still be standing on the sidewalk waiting. In addition there are so many busses and destinations. This means you have to be awake and alert. When you hear your destination you run to the bus that almost stops for you to get on it (watch out for the traffic). We got on the bus and there were no seats available and no air condition. It was a hot and uncomfortable hour with very limited personal space, but with good friends and some local music on the radio I cannot say I fount the experience too traumatic.
The following day we were going from Urachiche (another small town) to San Felipe (capital of Yaracuy). I did not expect there to be a bus terminal in such a small place so I was not really sure what kind of transportation to expect. In small towns there are no obvious places for busses: you just have to know. Luckily for me my friend is from Urachiche so we knew where to go, but in other cases the only way is to ask… or else you will get nowhere. Getting to the… uhm “bus stop” I realized we were not going to take a bus. On a random street there were some old cars lined up with some signs in the window and I realized this was the place. These old cars are called “Rancheras”, which are old long cars where you can sit in front with the driver, in the back or in the trunk (yes, in the trunk). You pay for your seat and it departs whenever all the seats are full. The great thing about this transportation is that it is very flexible. The car has no specific ending point so you can ask the driver to drive you exactly where you want to go. I find this pretty cool and convenient (despite the lack of seat-belts and that you might have to sit in the trunk).
To go back from San Felipe back to Barquisimeto we went to an actual bus terminal. How nice, I thought, because then we can probably sit down in peace and quiet while waiting for the bus… (funny huh?). Again the reality was somewhat different than my expectations. When we got to the terminal, I mean the minute we stepped out of the taxi, there were several men attacking us by screaming different destinations very close to our faces. They talked so fast I could not understand anything they were saying, but somehow we found our guy (the LaraLaraLaraLaraLara guy) and he showed us where to take the bus to Barquisimeto. The bus was so full so we decided to wait for the next one, but the bus driver refused to take no for an answer and got really mad when we did not enter the bus. The day a Norwegian bus driver yells at me for not taking his bus I will probably call all my friends and tell them what a strange thing just happened… In Venezuela, on the other hand, this is just one of many unusual situations. Anyway, the next bus arrived and we got seated in the old small bus. This time the ride was not hot, bur rather a wet experience as it was raining and the windows were not concealed at all. We got back to Barquisimeto in one piece and that was my first travel experience in Venezuela. After this there have been many more, and let me tell you… they have all been different.
Some weeks later we were going to Mérida, a smaller city by the Andes Mountains. Going there there is a “mountain way” and the “other a bit longer way”. This time we did not have to go anywhere to take the bus because we used a private rented bus. The bus picked us up at a friends house at midnight and then drove the 8 hour “mountain way” to Mérida. I guess since we traveled at night the purpose was to sleep… well in a bus with tiny seats, a crazy driver, blasting electronic party-music and roads going up and down mountains; sleeping was impossible. In addition they kept the windows open and the bus was freezing with the cold mountain air. From that moment on I promised myself I would not go anywhere without a warm blanket and a pillow…
Going back from Mérida we went to the bus terminal and this time I was prepared for the “destination yelling men”, but to my surprise this terminal was very quiet and almost organized. How will I ever understand this country? We got our tickets and went to the bus, but of course there was something we had forgot… to buy the “tasa”. This is a terminal tax that may… or may not be included in your ticket. The only way to know… is to just know. In Barquisimeto it is included while in Mérida it was not, makes sense yes? Anyway, we paid the tax and got seated happily under my newly purchased blanket. It is a mystery to me how you can never know if you will be extremely hot or extremely cold while traveling. Therefore always bring: shorts, long pants, sandals, socks, scarf, bikini and a blanket when traveling! The bus back was more comfortable as it chose the “a bit longer way” rather than the “mountain way”. Nothing crazy happened before we got to the Barquisimeto terminal where the “destination yelling men” attacked us the moment the doors opened. Of course they are working for commission getting passengers, but I find it is hilarious when they start convincing you to go another place than you intentionally had in mind. Does it ever work?
The next trip was to the beach in a rented van and this was by far the most comfortable transportation I had experienced, but this is not a cheap way to travel and you need a lot of people to fill up the car. Nobody seems to be renting cars here, but rather rent a car with a driver. I wonder why…
The following trip was to Maracaibo, the incredible hot city around four-five hours from Barquisimeto (depending on the transportation and driver). I had no idea how we were going there because I had given up trying to plan these things. Instead I found it less stressful to just flow and trust my friends even though I find this very hard because I am always the one organizing everything! My friend picked me up (only 5 hours later than planned) and we went to the terminal. The public terminal in Barquisimeto is not a pleasant place, to be honest… It is dirty, there are stray dogs everywhere, various kinds of people and the smell is hard to describe, but sometimes this is the place you have to go if you want to travel somewhere. By now I was used to the “destination yelling men” and managed to ignore the other destinations and follow the man saying “Maracaibo” extremely fast. This time there was no bus available so we had to take a car… a very old car. This way of travelling is called “Por Puesto”, which means that you pay for your seat. This is more expensive than the bus, but also a lot faster… a little too fast if you ask me. I don’t think there are any drivers in Venezuela driving at “normal” speed. Anyway, he got us fast and “safely” to Maracaibo and we had a blast dancing reggeton in the backseat all the way.
Going back from Maracaibo we took a normal bus from that used three hours longer than the car because it included three checkpoints by the police where we had to take out our entire luggage and show our ID… It turned out that bringing just a copy of my passport was not the best idea, but after some negotiation they allowed us back on the bus and we returned happily to Barquisimeto 7 hours later.
Before I went home for Christmas vacation in Norway we went to Island Margarita. This was the first time using plane for travelling in Venezuela. For once something I was used to… but as always things are organized a little bit different here than at home. Both my German friend and me agree that Venezuelans have a somewhat different way of running an airport. First of all you have to be at the airport extremely early, even for domestic flights, or else they will sell your ticket to someone else. When you have finally checked in the luggage and gotten through security it is a mystery where the gate is. Sometimes the flight is not on the screen at all while other times it is there, but most likely the gate will be changed minutes before boarding. When we went back from Margarita there was too few people in the first flight, so they just cancelled it and put the people on the following flight instead. As always in Venezuela… you never know what will happen, but as long as you keep calm and ask your way around it will work out one way or the other.
Second week back in Venezuela we went to Cubiro, a mountain town an hour or two away from Barquisimeto. Early morning we went to the terminal and for once there were no men yelling “CubiroCubiroCubiro” and we actually had to look for the bus. After some walking around we found the right bus and got seated. I don’t really know how to describe this bus… my friends here call it a “Sarcofago”, which basically means a coffin because if this bus crashes, your chances of surviving are not too good. This was by far the most uncomfortable bus ride I have had in Venezuela. The seats that were meant for three people could fit two people, the speakers stopped every time the bus drove over a bump and the breaks made funky sounds. I thought if I survive this I can survive anything, and amazingly we arrived without a scratch, just a little back pain.
The thought of taking that bus back to Barquisimeto was not very tempting, so you can imagine how happy we were when our friend’s cousin offered to drive us back. This way of travelling can be called a “friend rented car” and is very common. You have a friend with a car and you ask how much he will charge for driving you somewhere. Again the ride was a little unorthodox as one person had to sit in the trunk together with the luggage, but it was a million times more comfortable than the bus we drove to Cubiro.
The following weekend we went to the beach. This time in a “friend rented car”, but we were one person too much. In Norway you might squeeze four people in the back for a very short ride, but not for a two-hour ride including several police check points. Anyway, it was fast and expensive, but took us to the beach (my favorite place in this country). Going back we decided to take a bus, but we did not know when it was leaving so we decided to flow. We brought our luggage, went out on the street, found a taxi to the terminal, got out of the taxi, the “destination yelling man” yelled Barquisimeto and we got in the bus and 5 minutes later it drove us back home, easy huh? 😉
After all this, no wonder the fancy “bed bus” to Caracas was a surprise. It definitely did not fit into my perception of ways to travel here in Venezuela. There are probably more options to explore when it comes to traveling and I hope to experience them all. People keep telling me I have to try a motor taxi, but I don’t think that will happen. If I don’t die trying I am sure my mom will come here and kill me herself if I get on a motorbike. I have to say that even though things are not as organized as I am used to I think traveling in Venezuela is very flexible and various, you just have to know some locals. And I have to admit; I am really enjoying all these different experiences. For me it is such an adventure every time I go somewhere and no matter what there is always a way getting from A to B. Nevertheless, the wonderful bed bus is by far the most comfortable way to travel, but then again… also the most boring way 😉