After Angel Falls it was time to pick up the pace a little, but first a detour along the Caribbean coastline. We are hanging out for some beaches.
We leave Cuidad Bolivar after a short stop to explore the old city, and then head across the flat countryside. There is a lot of logging & cattle farms. We head to Venezuela’s famous caves – Cueva del Guacharo. Catch a tour, all in Spanish, and wade through mud & bird poop, with lots of little rats running around. Glad to wash the mud off my feet when we get out 2 hrs later.
Now for the beach! Our first glimpse is not very impressive. Long stretches of slurpy water & rubbish. Eventually we reach Playa Medina. Wow – it exceeds expectations! It is seriously gorgeous. There is no camping allowed, so we ask at the Posada. Yes we can stay but just outside his gate for free. Then we head on to the even more (if possible) Playa Pui Pui. We have it nearly to ourselves if you ignore the village down the other end. It was worth the windy narrow road through lush jungle & villages. The locals are drying cacao seeds on the road, so there is more to dodge than potholes. When we leave we stop in at an old Cacao Hacienda to get a tour (in English) of the whole process from tree to yummy chocolate – samples included in the price. Then on to our next destination –Peninsula de Araya.
It is getting late and we see some lovely spots on the beach we would normally have no hesitation to camp at, but here in Venezuela we have been extra cautious because of the bad reputation of the country and the locals constantly warning us. We finally find a spot hidden off the road beside a substation. The road has been pretty disgusting, so when we reach the end of the peninsula we are relieved to see that there is definitely is a ferry across to the mainland. Enough time to explore the enormous Spanish fort & have a quick swim in the aqua waters before we see the ferry heading into port. We race to join the queue, but departure is delayed by 4 hours. They won’t leave until it is totally full. In the meantime we chat to a lovely young Venezuelan couple and find out many interesting facts about life in Venezuela.
We had planned to stop in the city of Camana for internet, but with the ferry delays we decide we should get along the coast to our campspot at Playa Colorado as suggested in Nessies Travel Blog (Thank you Nessie). We pass through the lovely Parque Nacional Mochima, with its lush foliage, coconut fringed beaches & many islands. We are too tall for the suggested posada, but find Sonia’s Posada just down the road. A lovely grassy spot to camp behind a secure fence for a few dollars.
We want to bypass the huge city of Caracas. Everyone (even the locals) have warned us about Caracas, but there is no ring road. The motorway goes right through the middle. The GPS map we have is pretty useless so we are following signs. I see what I think is our turn off & we end up in the centre of the city in rush hour. Not the best scenario. Police directions prove useless & we retrace our steps a few times – not so easy in this crazy traffic. Finally, when we are sitting in yet another queue of traffic, John winds down his window & asks the guy in the next car “Where is the Autopista to Maracay?” Amazingly he says “Follow me”, which we do for the next 40 minutes. He leads us on a windy hilly drive through lots of side streets, ducking & diving through traffic (not so easy in GR2). Eventually he pulls over and points ahead. “Go down there. It enters the Autopista. DONOT turn off” Phew! Thank you Gabriel.
Now all we have to do is look for a spot to stop. We finally find a secure spot beside a restaurant/petrol station with a guard. In the morning we wake surrounded by security guards with massive guns. It looks as if we are in the middle of a heist. One of the money trucks has a flat tyre and all the guards are paranoid.
Our next detour is to one of the Lonely Planet’s must do’s. A visit to the Henry Pittier Nacional Parque. It is a 55km drive – but takes over 2 hours on a narrow (single lane in lots of places), windy track. The traffic we meet is amazing. Not just cars, but buses & trucks. It is a very stressful drive, with lots of watching the road for oncoming vehicles & potholes. We wind our way up through rain forest, & then down through thatched villages. Finally we pop out into the narrow streets of colonial Choroni, & then onto the rather grotty port of Puerto Colombia. It has a rocky beach, & lots of boats. We walk to the lovely Playa, but there are heaps of people, & worse still heaps of rubbish. There is nowhere exciting to camp so we decide to bite the bullet and drive back out. Surely there will be less traffic now! But no. If anything there is more, so it is another tense, edge of the seat 2 hours. Was the Parque worth it. Not for us!!
Again back in town at dusk. Another Nessie suggestion is Hotel Militar (an army base area) We ask if we can stay, and yes we can. Full guard tonight & as a bonus a full tour of the premises & dinner in the mess thrown in.
Our next city is Valencia. The Autopista heads right through it. No way do we detour it. Oh my goodness you should see all the shopping centres – all packed of course. Christmas shopping I do not miss at all!) On to our last seaside destination – Peninsula de Paraguana. There are some gorgeous sanddunes & then flat barren land. We head to Punta Fijo to see the duty free zone. Actually not very exciting, but the bonus is that we find a shop selling Garmin GPS & we get maps for Venezuela, Colombia & Ecuador loaded onto our GPS. We overnight at Bambuda Posada & get Wifi. Again the beaches were not worth the detour – flat, straight & strewn with rubbish.
Our last stop is the lovely colonial city of Coro, with it’s gorgeous old centre, practically deserted, making it an easy visit. It is time to head to the border. As we get nearer there are even more military checkpoints. Very rarely do we get stopped. There are lots of toll booths, but these are all free. Most are unmanned, but some trucks have to pay at. We fill up with fuel as we probably won’t be able to any nearer the border. We decide to get through the last city of Maracaibo to be nearer the border. It takes ages. There are queues of traffic everywhere. Some caused by the military shrinking us from 4 lanes to 1, & some by cars queuing to get into shopping centres. It is dark by the time we find a spot behind a military checkpoint. We are up & away by 6.30am – only 80km left to the border. This takes all of 3 hours. Why? Crazy, crazy traffic! It is only a 2 lane road & when all the traffic comes to a stop the cars/trucks/buses/whatever behind us decide to overtake on the oncoming side. Guess what happens when they meet oncoming traffic. They push into our lane, move onto the grass or there is complete gridlock. This happens both ways over & over & over again. Absolute chaos!
I am starting to wonder exactly what the border will be like. John is convinced it will be OK, but I am right. Chaos reigns. No carpark areas, crazy streams of traffic & people everywhere. Three hours later we emerge with all the stamps in our passports & a Temp Vehicle Import License for Colombia. ) but no insurance – our policy doesn’t cover Colombia & the lady in the insurance office has run out of paper) The very helpful guy who showed us what to do said maybe they won’t notice, and sure enough they didn’t. But guess what. The police at our first checkpoint did. So in the next town we stop to get it, but we don’t have enough money. John heads off on a mototaxi to get some. Finally we are free in Colombia.
We head to another of Nessies GPS points to a gorgeous campground “Casa Grande” near Nat Pk Natural Tayrona. What a lovely spot right on a gorgeous sandy beach. A bit of R&R is needed after that border.
Coming next: Feliz Navidad