With my camera not being repairable outside of the US, I needed a new one. I was in the difficult situation of wanting to get a decent temporary replacement, but not pay a huge amount for it. That kind of thing is possible in the US with the joy of sales on Amazon, but not quite so doable in Venezuela. I was also slightly hamstrung by the currency situation, which meant that I was limited by the cash I was already carrying, unless I wanted to use the official exchange rate. That would push a camera that costs $100 in the US or $150 at the black-market rate to costing closer to $1000 here. I wasn’t that desperate for a camera.
I spent 4 hours looking around 3 of the local shopping centres and finding cameras in my price range. That mainly involved cameras that when I looked at reviews on-line seemed to mention things such as “It comes in a wide number of colours” and “The shade of pink is darker than it appears on the Amazon website” – a little different than talking about the manual controls, RAW photos and great sensor that I read buying the s100. I ended up getting a Casio EX-H30, mainly based on it having a battery life of 1000 pictures as opposed to the normal 200, and apparently non-terrible pictures.
By the time I got back to the house it was 4:30, and with the sun setting just before 6 it was a little late to leave. By just after 5pm, I was packed up and hitting the road, forsaking a night in a comfortable bed and hanging out with David for knocking off part of the ride the next day. I made it 30km to Villa de Cura, with a few stops to try out the camera – initial verdict being it’s very slow and not great when it’s dark, – where I stopped by the police station and was met by a single officer, Eduardo. The others were out patrolling the city, and he would stay there alone for the night. I’d arrived at just before 8pm, due to hanging out in the park for a while, but didn’t end up sleeping until around 11pm as Eduardo wanted to chat about everything under the sun including how he won a very expensive SUV in those raffles you often see in front of a shopping centre. I was amazed to hear that someone actually wins those things.
I was up early to enjoy the early morning relative cool. I made it 25km before stopping for breakfast – bread as I’m trying to minimise my spending – and to refill my water bottles. Then it was back to pedalling along a narrow straight road with ridiculously fast traffic and the highest density of road-kill I’ve seen yet. In a 5km stretch I got to double figures in the dead dog count as well as the rare sight of a squashed turtle. I spent the whole morning riding into a headwind until the town of El Sombrero. I’m not sure why it was called The Hat, but it was filled with very friendly people.
I went to the bakery and, while standing under the AC unit in the door, ordered some bread. When I tried to pay for it, I was told to put my wallet away. We chatted for a while, and when I mentioned I was planning on making some sandwiches they gave me some ham too. I went out to sit in the park, and was waved over by a couple of old men. I sat with them and we chatted away before they bought me a couple of beers. They were farmers and selling ground up corn to be used to make cachapas (giant corn pancakes usually covered in cheese), but apparently during this rainy season there was barely any rain, so the harvest was minimal.
After a couple of hours off the bike, I figured it would have cooled down enough, but only made it 10k – to the toll booth – before having to stop. I took a nap in the shade, and was woken up by the national guard wondering what I was up to. I explained that I was avoiding the heat – apparently at 39c – and that it was probably a good idea to wait a while longer. They had no water, but I filled my bottle with ice and was happy to see an air-force base just down the road where I got some.
There was no way I was making it to the next town, it was 80km away, but I’d heard of a couple of small settlements on the way. It had gone dark by the time I made it half way, to Memo, and riding without my headlight – which fell into the huge stream of water the other day in the epic downpour outside Maracay and now won’t turn on – had meant a good amount of bouncing into the frankly obscene number of potholes that cover the roads here. I asked a coffee seller standing in the road about food options. There weren’t any. A lorry pulled up and asked for a coffee and Frank, the driver, started asking me about where I was heading to. I said I’d head to the next town, if it weren’t so dark, and he told me he’d take me. I thought he was joking, until he got down to help me put it between the cab and the container. I don’t ignore good chances, even though it was my first hitch since entering South America, so went along for the ride. We chatted the whole way into town and he told me about his family, which he said totals about 800 people including around 500 cousins. Ridiculous. He dropped me off at Valle de la Pascua where I got a hamburger and then went to speak to the National Guard who said I could stay in their kitchen. I thankfully didn’t need to cook. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that many insects in an area.
I was woken up at 5am by a person saying “gringo, extranjero”. I don’t remember mentioning my wakeup time, but as I’d stayed up till midnight watching Breaking Bad I was pretty tired. He didn’t move from the doorway of the kitchen, so I couldn’t really roll over and to back to sleep. I packed up and noticed two more rips in my rear panniers. The previous dusk, a group of 8 dogs had chased me for a while and a pair of them had grabbed onto my panniers, further cementing dogs as my mortal enemy. I use a puncture repair patch to fix the panniers, but I’m not convinced they retains the waterproofness they’re renowned for.
Being a Sunday morning, there were other cyclists out riding. An older guy tried to talk to me at first, but I was half asleep and so my curtness made him head off. A while later, a more patient cyclist called Manuel caught up with me. We spoke for a while, before he asked me how much my bike weighed. I said he was free to swap bikes if he wanted, so for the next 15km I rode his mountain bike. It was too small, the gears confused me and I nearly came flying off it when I used the disk brakes, but overall it was a good time. Manuel was really fun to ride with, and told me a bit more about Venezuelan life, until we got to his turnaround point, where we shared a 1.5L bottle soft drink. That was great, because as well as being refreshing, I’d lost the coke bottle I’d been carrying since the Caribbean coat of Colombia while in Caracas.
In the town of Tucupido, I stopped for some empanadas at the only place that was open. In Venezuela it’s normal to see a good number of businesses closed, apparently lots of them are only open a few days a week, and that’s amplified on Sunday. I’ve seen plenty of signs saying that trucks weighing more than 3,500kg are banned on Sundays, but the night before Frank had told me that that has been lifted this year to help the economy. The way everything is closed on a Sunday might be one reason why I’ve met a good number of Venezuelans who tell me they think that their fellow countrymen are not hard workers. Anyway, I ate my empanadas and was exhausted so took a brief nap at the table. My lack of cleanliness was also starting to get to me as I’d not seen running water since leaving David’s place. Not being able to even wash your hands and face gets disheartening.
I had a relatively short 85km day with constant rolling hills, although it didn’t seem to do much to reduce the wind. By the time I made it the other 55km to Zaraza, the next town, it was 12:30 and I was delighted to find a bakery in town with AC. I left my bike outside and hung out there for a good 20 minutes slowly eating the bread and gulping down 3L of water. I left to go to the main plaza, hoping to find something to eat, and was waved down by 3 guys selling mobile phone covers on the side of the road. They offered me their icy beer filled thermos flask and we sat on the pavement chatting away for about an hour before my hunger got the better of me and I went off to find food.
In the 1km stretch to the main plaza, not a single shop was open, and it looked like everything was closed at the Plaza Bolivar too, until I noticed a family knocking on a locked door and being let in. It was a pizza place, and I spent the next 3-4 hours in there enjoying the wi-fi and AC. I ordered a spaghetti carbonara, and was given a US-sized plate of deliciously creamy food, which I ate while watching the final episode of Breaking Bad and enjoying that my new laptop battery lasts more than an hour. The night was spent camped with the chickens, which provide 5 eggs a day, at the bomberos. There was a light breeze and I had a shower there before falling asleep by 9pm, very happy to be finally slightly less sweaty and catching up on some of the sleep I’d missed out on during the previous two nights.