December 17, 2007
I got so San Fernando de Apure from my overnight bus at dawn and immediately went in search of a hotel. I found about five of them, but they were all full. It turned out that there was some sort of soccer tournament in town, so all of the hotel rooms were booked for the next week.
I figured since I couldn't drop my backpack off in a hotel room, at least I could leave it in a storage room at the bus station and go in search of the black market. There was nobody at the storage place's desk, and in the adjoining room, a lady told me that there was a party last night, so the lady that ran the storage place wasn't there yet. When I asked when she might show up, the only answer I got was "later."
The inability to leave my backpack anywhere didn't affect me too much because I could walk around the whole city in half an hour. It looked like a major urban center on my rudimentary photocopied map of the country, but it was actually even smaller than San Cristobal. And you guessed it, there was no black market to be found.
There were two main reasons for me to map my route through San Fernando de Apure: To avoid having to pass through the hell-on-earth of a capital known as Caracas, and to try to take a boat down the Apure River, which eventually connects to the Orinoco. Nobody would give me any info on the boats, if there even were any, but that didn't matter because I had no money, no way of getting money other than at the official exchange rate, and nowhere available to stay for the night.
The people of San Fernando de Apure were once again completely unresponsive to my attempts to strike up a conversation. If you want to go to a cheap, safe country where the people will welcome you with open arms and there are few tourists (because of an outdated bad reputation), go to Colombia. If you want to go a country where the people won't even say "hello" to you, where you have to worry about the military robbing you as much as the everyday thieves, where everything is expensive because the economy is collapsing before your eyes, and where there are few tourists (with good reason), head to Venezuela.
I decided that my only option would be to take enough money out of an ATM to last me the rest of the day, and skip the river segment of my plans by busing it to Ciudad Bolivar. I withdrew 100,000 bolivares, and sure enough, when I checked my bank statement online, I got charged $46, whereas I could've gotten the same amount for only $20 on the black market, if I could only find it. Man, Venezuela sucks.
There were no direct buses to Ciudad Bolivar, so I first had to take a bus north to Dos Caminos. I thought it would be a town, but it was just a place where two major highways crossed. I waited under a makeshift shelter with a bunch of hobos (don't get worried; they were the most jovial people I met in the country so far) for any bus heading eastbound, and eventually got one that took me to El Sombrero, a town consisting of a tiny park, a few houses, and a truck stop thirty minutes up the road. Tonight I got my first stroke of good luck in Venezuela. I got to El Sombrero at 5:30 and was told I'd have to wait until 10:00 at the truck stop for the next bus to Ciudad Bolivar, but I only had to wait until 8:00. Lucky me.