Following on from my camera problems, I was frustrated to find my iPod (which I had got replaced under warranty in Nicaragua) had failed again. I think it was caused during the heavy rain on the way from Valencia to Maracay, as that’s when the battery issues seemed to start, and that seemed to develop into it not playing anything. The warranty had expired, and there was no way I was buying a new one for $200 considering their history of failing under my ownership. In the Chinese owned shops in Venezuela you can often find cheap mp3 players for $3-4, but I don’t trust them to last. Instead, I found a Sandisk Sansa Clip+ for $35 on MercadoLibre, the Latin American version of the Amazon Marketplace.
As well as trying to sort out my mp3, Gabriel, a member of Warmshowers, was busy showing us round the city and getting us in the news. Puerto Ordaz is a new city, but was planned without any kind of thought to cycling. Gabriel, and other cyclists, are trying their best to improve the situation and so he loves to get articles in the newspaper as well as get cyclists on the radio, so we were taken to both a newspaper and a radio station to be interviewed. We had arrived on the Sunday morning, and by Wednesday morning Oto and Pablo were ready to head out. I wasn’t. I was still waiting for my mp3 player. The 3 of us left, and met Gabriel and William, a photographer, so the newspaper could get their pictures for the article. It took more than 3 hours as not only did we ride slowly to pose, but also went to a park to see waterfalls and modelled in front of them.
I finally collected my mp3 player on the Friday morning, with lots of help from Andrea, and was going to leave after lunch, as William and his family had invited me over having spent most of the previous afternoon and evening together. People always talk about the danger of Venezuela and how you can get kidnapped. It’s true. I had planned to leave by 2:30 to get to Upata, but William and his family kidnapped me to show me around the city and so I stayed Friday night too.
The next day I left early, after delicious arepas, figuring that Pablo and Oto should get to Guasipati (165km from Puerto Odraz) that evening and hoping I’d catch up with them. After riding 15km it was time for another adventure. Pedro, the owner of a pick-up truck, was standing around waiting for me. I told him that I was going to Upata, and he offered to take me in his truck because he was sure it was too far. I thanked him, but turned him down, only for him to offer again. After rejecting him 5 times, I decided it was easier to just say yes. I didn’t mention anything of what I’d ridden so far, and during neither the 45km ride to Upata, breakfast nor beers at a friend’s house did the topic actually come up. He did give me his phone number so when I arrived in Tumeremo he could find me a place to stay.
In a way, Pedro reminded me of many people I’ve heard who have made some money. He spoke about how he worked hard, earnt money (enough to buy his car that cost 1,200,000 Bolívares or more than 400 times the minimum monthly wage) and so why didn’t others who were clearly lazy. I also got the typical warnings about the danger in the towns coming up and how they are filled with terrible people and I should definitely not stop there. It still hurts my head when someone who helps strangers, such as Pedro was doing at the time, seems to think that they’re somehow very different than all those other people – who in my experience are also very willing to help.
I got on my bike with about 100km left and, after some light rain, had a pleasant ride through terrain that had lost any of the flatness that it had north of the Orinoco. I rolled up and down small hills all day long along a road with two narrow lanes and the odd vehicle that believed in driving far too close. I found a good rhythm, meaning that the rolling hills are a delight to ride. I stopped a few times to ask if anyone had seen two cyclists, and got replies suggesting they’d passed sometime between 30 minutes and five hours earlier.
5km short of Guasipati, at around 4pm, I was waved down and saw Oto’s bag cover where he has Homeless World Traveller written in Japanese. It turned out they’d arrived around 10:30am and had stayed there since. Pablo looked very much under the weather, and he seemed to have a light fever, so they’d been waiting there nearly all day. I got cleaned up and we chatted about what had happened since we’d parted, but by 6pm both Pablo and Oto were in their tents ready to sleep.
Pablo sweated heavily all night long and woke up feeling much better. Sometimes, I ride several long days in a row, this wasn’t to be one of those times. I followed up my 165km (with 45km in a car) with a 25km day. Before, I would have felt the need to explain why it was so short, but with Pablo and Oto that’s just how things are. We got to El Callao, The Silence, named that way because someone, who found gold there, tried to keep it’s existence quiet. It’s famous for carnival. We were in the main square, and Oto was about to beginning cooking, when Pablo said to pack things up. He’d been invited in to set things up behind the church where they had a palapa, bathrooms and even a room with AC.
The afternoon was spent organising things on my laptop, watching videos, studying Portuguese and generally relaxing. If we keep travelling together, I’m soon going to be at the point where I’ll have that all organised, and then I can get back to reading my books!
I’d not put my tent up and instead slept in spare bed. I figure that all tents have a certain number of uses, so when I don’t have to put it up, I save it. The room had had an industrial refrigeration unit in it, which had been blasting away all day long. It’s pretty common to see that electricity being used more wastefully here. An artist, who lived in the church, also called Pablo, helped me by sticking my shoes back together as they’d started to come apart.
We had a headwind, but there’s a huge difference between riding into one for 2-3 hours and doing so for 8-10 hours. The first one, is quite manageable as you slowly make your way along knowing the end is in sight. The other is much more about being in the moment and trying to ignore the fact that it’s not ending any time soon. There was only one small little shop that we went past, at the entrance to a gold mine, but it was run by a rather moody lady who seemed to have no desire to help us out.
The narrow road, with no shoulder, meant that traffic often felt very close. There were barely even any driveways or other places to stop off the road, so we stopped to make tea and eat some food on a small bridge. Pablo had the good idea of putting a couple of leafy branches in the road about 10-15m before us meaning that traffic had to slow down and pull around to avoid them. It was impressively effective and made for a much nicer break time.
The hills were short and sharp, meaning that Oto probably had to walk up a couple of them. On the flats I tried to sit in front of him to provide some windblock, but he didn’t seem to want it, and kept dropping off, so I just rode at my own rhythm and got into town about 15-20 minutes before Oto and Pablo. We went to a licoreria, as they both like to drink beers, no matter what the time. I’ll drink a beer at any time if it’s given to me, but I only rarely feel the need to buy one.
Oto asked me if I wanted a beer, I said that I was OK with my water, and then he dropped a bombshell. His English is generally OK to communicate his point, and he’s used it for a long time to get the travel necessities organised, but it’s often very to the point. He told me that he thought we should ride separately, I asked why and he told me he likes to drink beer and to ride slowly. I tried to explain that I had no problem with either of those, and was happy to go at his speed, but he’d made up his mind. It seemed a pretty terrible reason to me, and I wonder if there’s something deeper that he’s not told me, but I wasn’t going to argue with it or ride with someone who didn’t want to ride with me for whatever reason. I figured he had told Pablo on the way, so sat down on one of the chairs while Pablo chatted away to a local about alternate ways to Guyana. About 20 minutes later, they had finished their beers and stood up ready to go. Oto got on his bike, said goodbye and rode off. Pablo seemed confused and asked me if I was going to stay. I told him what Oto had said and he just seemed confused and thought I should follow along to try to sort it out. I think he’s a lovely guy, and a pleasure to ride with, but I was annoyed and Oto had clearly decided his will so I shook his hand and he rode off, confused.
I sat round for a while longer, thinking of what I should do. Part of me was tempted to jump on my bike, and ride for the next 6 hours until sunset, because riding often does a great job of getting things sorted out, but I was feeling hungry so decided I’d get lunch and think it over. I’d been riding by myself for large chunks of this trip, so it’s not like I didn’t know what to do. I got out some paper, and a map, and came up with an approximate route. I remembered I had Pedro’s number, and so a probable place to stay in town. I figured that it was the smart idea, as it would let me tie up any loose ends, get the blog up to date, and start the ball rolling by sending out a couple of CS requests for Guyana now that I had a clearer idea of a schedule.
I also decided I should get my sandals taken care of properly. Venezuela has cheap prices, and so getting a repair job would be cheaper here than anywhere else. During lunch, there was a heavy downpour, vindicating my idea not to hit the road. I found a cobbler and he set to work with a needle and thread to repair, and reinforce my footwear. While there, I got to talking to a guy called Cesar who not only let me borrow his phone to call Pedro, but also offered me a place to stay the next day. It’s probably only about 25-30km from here in Tumeremo, but he said he has a pretty river nearby and so it might be a good relaxing ride before the harder days to come, which will include climbing to the Gran Sabana and then the joys of the Lethem-Linden road – “The current 265-mile Linden/Lethem trail has been known to become impassable in rainy times, halting activities of miners, forestry operators and residents who would use it. It is filled with river crossings and ruts and there have been calls to pave it.”
I met up with Isabelle, a friend of Pedro’s girlfriend, and her boyfriend whose named I didn’t catch. I figured I’d be staying at their place, and was surprised when they mentioned a hotel. Apparently Pedro had offered to pay for it, and I assume they didn’t have space. I wasn’t going to turn it down, so I followed along and was checked into the Hotel Gioinesa, where I spent the evening getting this and other things organised so I’d be ready in the morning to hit the road again.