I had grabbed a loaf of bread, some ham and a bit of cheese just before going to the bomberos, and with everything being closed that was to be my breakfast. Even being early, the wind was still blowing, and it combined with the potholes to make for a quite slow ride to the next town of Aragua de Barcelona. It involved a few stops, thankfully I passed through a couple of small communities and so was able to get water each time – an important thing in a place like this where tap water usually isn’t potable and the towns are spread out to the extent that during a 110km day I went through a grand total of two towns, and used them to rest and eat my breakfast.
In Aragua I got to the leafy Plaza Bolivar and found a wall to lie down on. While there, a few people around me were asking me questions, but I stayed laid down and replied like that. Apparently one of the people was a guy called Marco, who decided that I needed to be in the news. I read the blog of one rider who on his world trip would make it a priority to get himself in the newspaper when he arrived in a new country. He used the article to show to people to explain his trip, and also it got him a certain level of fame and opened doors – probably a smart idea. I digress. Marco called his friend, but she was very busy, and so he said that he’d be back in 30 minutes. He returned with a bottle of water, a piece of A4 paper and a pen ready to interview me himself. One of the ladies sat nearby told me that I should request a free lunch as the price for the interview, but I was happy with the water. I explained the trip to him, and then he turned away to make a phone call. He passed it to me and told me that I was on the radio. I’d told him that I stay with firemen, police and national guard and so he had called the radio so I could make a plea to them and let them know that I’d be turning up in their towns soon. I felt a bit strange making a plea like that so just gave a 20 second ramble about my trip in Venezuela before passing the phone back to him. He then made the plea for me.
Before Marco left, he took plenty of photos of me. I gave him my contact details and hopefully, if it ended up making the newspaper, he can send me a scan. I returned to taking a nap to avoid the afternoon heat. It will be no surprise to hear that the wind and potholes continued as I left towards Anaco. The disconcerting thing was that it was starting to come more from the south east, instead of straight from the east. A problem as the next day I’d be starting to head south and had been hoping the wind would become a sidewind.
I was on the autopista, 15 minutes north of Anaco, when a car pulled up next to me. It happens fairly often and I get a few quick-fire questions. This time it was a lady, called Celeste. She was driving at 15km/h down a major highway so I suggested she pull over if she wanted to continue the conversation. She took me up on the offer and pulled into the shoulder. I told her my plan of getting to Anaco, and she invited me to stay with her in her humble home. I of course accepted. She was going to crawl down the road at bicycle pace, but I persuaded her to wait for me further down the road to not annoy all the cars. She set off ahead, but obviously got impatient as a couple of minutes before I arrived she had done a u-turn and was sat behind me in the shoulder. She showed me to her house where I was directed to the hammock.
I spent the next few hours in the hammock. At first it was chatting with her, and then her evangelical friends that came over. Then it was because I passed out. I stirred a couple of times, and heard what sounded like Celeste leading a very animated service which involved much shouting of praise and glory to God. I woke up around 11pm, with a blanket that Celsete had placed on me while I was sleep, and everyone had gone to bed. I set up my tent because although the hammock was comfortable, there was no mosquito protection and I’m no fan of being woken up to lots of bites.
In the morning, I was getting everything packed up and Celeste, who had greeted me with lots of praises to God for all the wonderful things he had created, seemed surprised. She seemed to think I’d stay a couple of days at least. Although she was a lovely lady, I was already late getting on the road, as it was 7:30, but also wanted to get to Guyana before the dirt road that leads into the country turns into a mudbath. We said our goodbyes, and she taught me the mantra of “diablo, fuerte soy” (devil, I am strong) that I’m supposed to chant repeatedly as I climb hills.
There was only about 70km to El Tigre, but it was even windier than the previous days, to such an extent that a lot of the vegetation in the area was bent over. I struggled along at a slower speed, following a pipeline covered in graffiti about how wonderful Chavez was, than I average in hilly areas, taking a variety of nap breaks and hoping that the wind wouldn’t continue all the way to the border. In El Tigre (no idea why it was called The Tiger) I was waved over by an Ecuadorian family who wanted to chat for a while, but I could only chat briefly as I wanted eat, and my normal idea of “ride today so I don’t have to ride it tomorrow” made it that I didn’t want to stop in El Tigre. The wind had dropped a little and if I stopped in El Tigre it would be 130km through nothingness against the wind the next day to Ciudad Bolivar. Thanks to my GPS I knew that there was a toll booth, and so the national guard and restaurants, about 35km outside of town where I’d be able to stay overnight. I got there just after the sun had gone down, set my tent up, and then went to a restaurant to eat and do some computer work.
Having arrived at the toll booth, I only had 95km to go to Ciudad Bolivar, a city on the Orinoco, the second largest river in South America. It’s an area that I had been warned is incredibly dangerous at night with stories of people being robbed, even those in cars, so I was obviously doing it during the day. I had a little bit to eat, but was hoping that the few petrol stations along the road would have something. My breakfast turned up about 15km along when I saw only my 3rd cycle-tourist since arriving in South America, Jose a Brazilian, and received a loaf of bread. He was from the coast near Recife and was on his way to Mexico, travelling without a passport. He reminded me of the Colombian I met in terms of how simple everything was on his bike. The simple Portuguese I’d studied proved enough for the basic questions, but unfortunately I couldn’t ask everything I wanted to. He did however let me know something else, the night before he had camped with a couple of other cycle tourists, an Asian and a German, at a petrol station only 5km down the road. My ears lit up at the thought of having someone to ride with for a while and after saying our goodbyes set off to chase them down.
Assuming they had started at the same time as Jose, I figured they had about a 15km head start. In other roads, I might have been unlikely to catch them, but I had about 55km to the next turn off and so figured I might be able to do it assuming they weren’t too fast. I put my music on and pedaled on and on.
It took almost two hours until I saw two bikes underneath a covering and that’s where I met Pablo, from Germany, and Oto, from Japan. They were sat down cooking away and were as surprised to see me as I was relieved to see them. The owners of the building they were cooking outside had said that cyclists generally pass once every few months, and now there had been 4 in a 24 hour period. We sat around chatting while Oto, apparently the chef, cooked. They had been travelling together on and off since Veracruz, Mexico and were also on their way to the Guyanas and Brazil. One small difference being that they average closer to 50km a day as they start around 6-7am, ride a bit, take plenty of rests and generally arrive somewhere around noonish. Pablo then spends that time to relax, while Oto uses it to write about the day and organise the 10 photos he takes every day.
They weren’t really sure where they’d be staying that night, and the 15km to the next town of Soledad was a bit further than they’d normally go, but were willing to ride. It was enjoyable riding along and chatting as we made our way to town. I had a Warmshowers host organised in Ciudad Bolívar and so when we got to Soledad we decided to call to see if they could possibly host us all. It would be even further, another 10-15km, but the chance of a fun host, a shower and a day off sounded too appealing. Pablo and Oto don’t really use either Couchsurfing or Warmshowers, mainly because of the time needed to get in touch with hosts and make plans. They are very much wake up and ride and see what happens people.
Pablo pretended to be me and called Nelly, the aunt of a person on Warmshowers who was now working in Australia, and explained the situation. Pablo speaks Spanish, as well as German and English, perfectly as his mother is from Puerto Rico. I’m fine speaking face-to-face, but not owning a phone I rarely call anyone so I’m not that used to it. Nelly said that of course the three of us could all stay and that she’d meet us on the other side of the bridge over the Orinoco to show us to her place.
We climbed the Puente de Antogustra which crosses the Orinoco, one of the longest rivers in South America. I had a small accident as even though I have quite fat tyre, my front one fell through the grate which joins two parts of the bridge. Thankfully I was going slowly so nothing got damaged, but it still hurt when I landed on my top tube. The wheel had got wedged in and took a good yank to pull it out. I finished on the way to the top, and was happy to rest for a while there chatting to those working on the bridge with Pablo, as Oto pushed his bike up.
While we were chatting, a green Corolla went past and I heard a shout from inside, it was Nelly. We said our goodbyes to the workers and went down the other side of the bridge, being very careful not to fall into the grate on the other side, and introduced ourselves to Nelly who was waiting for us. She explained where she lived and gave us a key as she had things to do. We were told there was a chihuahua in the house, so you can imagine our surprise when we opened the door to see a German Shepherd. Thankfully she’s the most relaxed dog I’ve ever met and I haven’t heard her bark once. We got organised and had a lovely evening talking to Nelly, before we agreed to have a rest day. We leave in the morning, and even though I’m about to sleep I’m still trying to decide if I’ll drop my daily distance significantly and ride with them or not. If I do, I’ll have to change some dollars as the money I changed for an approximate 30 day stay here didn’t budget for me spending half of it on a camera.
Jose from Brazil
Driving round Ciudad Bolívar