This is a #TravelWithMeaning tale from our friend Tiny Warrior Travels.
As an 18 year old girl I decided on a whim to go explore Venezuela for a summer. Why Venezuela out of all places? Well in my adventurous 18 year old brain it made total sense; I knew nothing about the country, no one that was from there or who had even been there for that matter and my spanish vocabulary was limited to a grand total of 3 words (gracias, por favor, cerveza). Within two weeks my bag was packed and I was off on my big adventure, which in hindsight, I didn’t really prepare for. My preparation consisted of purchasing a plane ticket, arranging a host family stay, signing up for 3 weeks of spanish lessons and picking up a lonely planet guide book.
I took off from Montreal at around 6pm with the first layover being 6 hours in Toronto. It was then that I decided it was a good time to start doing some research on the mysterious land of jaguars, boa constrictors, Hugo Chavez and arepas. As I began reading my previously virgin lonely planet I quickly realized that Puerto La Cruz, the town in which I had arranged for my host family stay was quite a ways away from Caracas, the capital and where my plane was dropping me off. Although slightly alarmed I remained calm. I figured I would just take a taxi from the aiport to the bus stop where I could hop on a 5 hour bus to get there. I was getting into Caracas early the next morning and would have plenty of time to figure it out. Simple enough right?! WRONG!
As I continued with my reading I learned that Caracas was one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America and I was naively surprised to learn that the taxi drivers could pose some of the greatest threats to a foreigner (especially for those who had limited knowledge of the Espanol). This is when thoughts like “what the fuck were you thinking Ammy”, “you should have listened to your mom”, “I’m sure I’m going to get robbed, stabbed/shot, and tossed in ditch” and “My poor parents will be devastated when they find out what happened to me” started going through my head. I headed for the payphones to call my best friend and told her everything I had just discovered. I ended the conversation with DO NOT TELL MY MOTHER as she aggressively tried to dissuade me from going on the trip.
Anyway as I hung up the phone, I noticed a man struggling to make a call. Naturally I offered him my phone card and a helping hand. As luck would have it, the man was Venezuelan and on my flight. Despite his very limited English and my extremely poor Spanish we somehow made arrangements to meet once we had collected our bags in Caracas. I was 75% sure he promised to help me find a safe cab that would take me to the correct bus stop 30 kilometers into town. I spent the rest of the layover, the next flight to trinidad, the layover in there and the following flight to caracas familiarizing myself as much as possible with the country in which I was sure to meet a certain death!
As promised my new friend, lets call him “Jesus” as his name escapes me now and he was really my savior, was waiting for me with his wife at the airport exit. I asked them to hold on a moment so I can exchange some dollars for Bolivares because naturally I did not think to do so before leaving Canada. Upon my return “Jesus” informed me that he and his wife would gladly drive me to the bus stop! HOLY SHIT universe! Thank you!
The ride into the chaos that is Caracas was surreal. It was unlike anywhere I had ever seen before. Don’t get me wrong I was already a seasoned traveller at this point but my travels were limited to more “developed” parts of the world. During the drive what struck me the most where the hundreds of slums or barrios that speckled the cities surrounding mountains. I mean sure I knew that I was in a developing nation but people actually live in those dingy, tiny, flimsy structures and call it home. HOW!? Where am I?!
After about a 45 minutes we reached the bus stop. I was reluctant to get out if the safety of Jesus’s car. I hugged both of them so hard and thanked them for being so kind. Once inside the bus stop my lack of Spanish proved to be a real obstacle. Doing something as simple as buying a bus ticket was a huge challenge. Finally after some back and forth I had a ticket in hand. It read Puerto La Cruz 2:45pm. It was 11am and I had some time to kill. Although I was famished,I did not dare leave the “safety” of the bus stop for fear of getting lost, robbed and killed...ok I’m exaggerating a little maybe!
I sat directly in front of the supposed departure point and waited patiently as I people watched. 2 O’clock rolled around not much was happening. 2:15 nothing. 2:30 still no sign of movement. I started to panic. Maybe I’m not in the right place? They are going to leave with out me? I’m going to be stuck at the bus stop overnight! FUCK! I went up to the ticket counter and pointed to the time on my ticket. They said something to me in Spanish or gibbersish I’m not sure. So there we were going back and forth for a good 5 minutes. I could feel myself get increasingly frustrated/mad/defeated. I felt the moisture start to build up around my eyes. Suddenly, just as I was about to give up all hope a man, a doctor I soon found out, showed up in perfect English said: “It looks like you need some help”. Praise the lord Jesus Christ! After a moment of explaining my situation and him speaking with the gibberish speakers he explained to me that due to a heavy rainfall the previous day, the route my bus was suppose to take was shut down. He then explained that the new route will take 10 hours instead of 5 and that the bus only leaves at 5:45pm. I was to tired to fight anything and quickly surrender to the reality of the situation.
He then asked me if I needed anything else. As if I had instantly reverted back to being a chils I simply responded “I’M HUNGRY”. He assured me that Venezuela did indeed have food and good food for that matter. He proceeded to get my bag checked so I didn’t have to drag it around and off we were in search of a decent meal. At the restaurant the doctor translated the menu and placed my order. He then informed me that he had to run and catch his bus. I gave him a big squeeze and thanked him for saving my life.
With a full belly and little buzz on, see my limited vocabulary did come in handy, I returned to the bus stop feeling ready for anything. Upon my return I caught glimpse of someone that was just as out of place as I was with his blond hair, freckles and backpack. James informed me he was headed to and he said Puerto La Cruz as well to meet up with his lady friend who had just finished up a spanish course. I was so happy to have found a travel buddy. I mentioned that we should split a cab when we arrived to town. He agreed and he opened up his passport to get the address of where his girlfriend was staying. This was when things got weird! As he opened his passport I noticed we had the same birthday and the address he was headed to was MY host family’s house! I was going to take his girlfriend’s spot at the house.
The next few hours were spent doing what most do when they encounter one another on the road and which is heart to heart conversation minus the bullshit!
Finally it was time to board the bus. It is worth mentioning here that it was hot and humid in Caracas and I was dress accordingly. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that the buses in Venezuela are literally just as cold as a sunny Canadian winter day. The next 10 hours consisted of me drifting into sleep only to be woken up from the subarctic conditions onboard. I may or may not have cried...Finally At 3:30 am we reached our destination and were only a cab ride away from a warm bed and sweet sweet sleep. YES! NO! There were no taxi’s at the bus stop at that hour. We watched as everyone else who arrived with us got scooped up by loved ones. We were left on the sidelines like children that no one wanted. Once everyone was gone there was a single man remaining in front of a beat-up car and a deep abyss in place of a back left taillight. This senor claimed to be a taxi driver. James quickly informed me that there was no way he was getting in his car and just as quickly I shot back that he had no choice and we were going. At this point the only thing I was concerned about was SLEEP. After a momentary disagreement we were on our way. Senor pulled out a floodlight from his car and shone them on the street signs as we navigated the dark and deserted streets. After what seemed like an eternity we pulled up to a little green house.
Theresa and her husband came outside to greet us. I am positive that the hug I gave them conveyed all the ups and downs I had experienced over the previous 30+ hours
I was in dreamland within minutes. Upon awaking the reality of where I was and the obstacles that I had overcome and those that are yet to come set in. A sense of fear, excitement and empowerment took over and I felt ready to take on the day and make the unknown know!