December 15, 2007
I rode for seven hours in a taxi to Cucuta on the Venezuelan border this morning rather than take the bus for the same price. Maybe the only reason buses aren't more popular in Colombia is because they should be way cheaper than smaller vehicles but aren't. At any rate, the ride to Cucuta first went way uphill to a very "cold" mountainous zone (about 45 F) where everyone was wearing jackets and still shivering, then back down to the hot climate. It was an amazingly quick change in temperature.
The bus station in Cucuta was crazy. Scam artists were working the scene everywhere, offering rides on buses and taxis that didn't exist. There were no ticket windows, so I had to ask about five different bus drivers before I found one that was heading toward the border. Maybe I was cuckoo for going to Cucuta too.
The border was marked by a long bridge, and on the Colombian side, I had to wait in line for over an hour in the stifling heat just to get my passport stamped. I thought the same thing would happen on the Venezuelan side, but strangely, nobody was in line. The friendly blond girl stamped me in and even gave me detailed instructions on how to get a bus out of town. Both times I have entered Venezuela have now been very pleasant experiences, but the niceness ended at the border.
I got on the bus to San Cristobal late in the day, and right away, the military stopped us. Everyone else on the bus just had to show their national ID cards (they were all Venezuelans), but a woman in uniform X-rayed my backpack, zoomed in and out on different parts, and stared at the images for several minutes. Then a huge dude took my passport and tried to make me confess to a crime I didn't commit. He made me show him my tongue, which was coated from the candies some kid had just sold to the whole bus (and incidentally, just about all I'd managed to eat in my rushed day), then he started poking me in the stomach and asking, "Do you have anything illegal? Are you sure? Really nothing?" Finally the prick let me go without searching anything of mine other than my abs of steel. The rest of the bus was waiting impatiently for me to return so we could get on our way.
San Cristobal looked close on the map but it took hours to get there because of massive traffic jams. I had forgotten that everyone in Venezuela drove a big old SUV, pickup truck, or a boat from the 1970's. We were at a standstill for hours that would've had me thinking about walking had it not been for the pouring rain. So for all of my effort today, I only managed to go about 200 KM in thirteen hours of travel. I changed some of my pesos at the border for an equivalent rate of about 4600/dollar (the official rate is 2150), but I didn't want to change too much right away in case I got scammed. My big goal for tomorrow is to change a large amount of Venezuelan money so I can get out of town on a night bus.