Day 8 of the #Indie30 challenge asks us to write about our worst travel experience. So I am elaborating on a story that has been alluded to, but never told: Traveling Venezuela By Bus. And this is just a section of the story of the worst travel I’ve ever experienced. get ready for a long read with no photos – because I couldn’t take any photos during this trip, for fear of being robbed or worse. So what is the worst travel experience ever?
Welcome to a 50 hour bus ride from hell.
After a horribly exploitative tour in the Orinoco Delta, lies about the ease and price of same-day plane tickets to the Colombian border, and a Nascar drive from the airport to the bus station to catch the last bus leaving for western Venezuela that day, I get in to the bus station just in time to grab a ticket, buy a liter of water and a couple of snacks, and load my bag. I slam down in the seat, winded, but relieved I made it and, from what I’m told, it’s only 20 hours to Bogotá. I relax a little, take my giant piece of thin fabric I use as a sheet and semi-blanket, stretch out on the two seats in my row, and settle off to sleep for the night.
About an hour or so later I wake up to wetness.
I start feeling around in the darkened bus to figure out why, in my sleepy stupor, I am freezing cold and damp. During the time I dozed off, the AC kicked in, in full gear, and the bus air is now about two degrees above freezing. Confused, I sit up, still trying to figure out if I am really wet, or just that cold. Then I feel a gigantic wet area on my little blanket. I grab for my water, thinking it leaked. No, it’s fine and full. Then a single, solitary drip lands square on my forehead, and realization and understanding dawn on me.
The bus is so cold, the water in the air, is condensing, and dripping from the AC vent that is in the ceiling above the window seat. Awesome!
I sit up and move into the aisle seat, which is relatively safe from the water (except during turns). I am not the only one getting ‘rained’ on. “You dumbass! You read that these buses are cold and you didn’t even think to grab your FrogTog rain gear, that has waterproof pants and jacket, out of your backpack!?!”. A backpack which I might add is now buried in the far bottom of the bus’s storage, and also holds my toothbrush, soap, and deodorant.
The lady behind me complains to the bus driver about the water and cold. His solution? Cover the seats with garbage bags and swear up and down the bus’s AC isn’t on. “Why did I leave my jean’s on Andrea’s guest room floor in Las Vegas?” “Why didn’t I pack a warm shirt?” “Why didn’t I….Ooooo….leg warmers! I put my legwarmers in my carry-on!” Well, they are better than nothing!
It is so cold I can’t feel my feet inside my thin socks and shoes, and my hands refuse to write in my journal. And I refuse to pull out my Kindle or laptop (I have heard enough stories of bus robberies), so I am destined to sit and freeze for the next 18 hours. or sleep. Sleep will work. Except I’m shivering too much to sleep. So instead I sit and stare and pretend I am anywhere else but this bus.
Every time we stop I jump off the bus to feel the tropical air on my skin (because outside the bus its a balmy 90F and humid) and to grab coffee, hot cocoa, or anything hot I can get my hands on. But I am well aware of how little Venezuelan money I have left. I finally drift off into a trembling, restless sleep, often awaking to rest stops, violent lunging around hairpin mountain turns (bus drivers drive like maniacs), and awakening to Chinese water torture on my face (from the AC which is still dripping despite my best attempts to stuff it with paper from my notebook).
Early the next morning, after restless, freezing attempts at sleep, I’m getting excited because we are halfway to Bogotá. By mid-morning, I’m wondering why we haven’t crossed any border yet. Early afternoon, I am totally confused and wondering where the hell I am. The boy next to me keeps nodding his head yes every time I ask, “Colombia, si?” because at this point I am sure I am on the wrong bus.
Around noon, we stop at a bus stop and I find someone who speaks enough English to tell me, “10 more hours to the border.” WHAT?
“But I thought it was 20 hours to Bogotá?!?”
“It’s 20 hours to San Cristobal” (the border town) this stranger laughs, “Then it’s another hour to San Antonio to get the exit stamp” (from what I read online , San Antonio was a 5 minute ride down the street), “and another hour to cross into Cucuta, Colombia. From Cucuta it is about 20 more hours from there to Bogotá.”
My eyes fill up with tears, from exhaustion, from lack of food, from the cold, from the stress of dealing with all of this. “I just want to go home!” my head is screaming, but I’m stuck and there is no escape from this bus. I’m in the middle of nowhere, my Spanish sucks, I’m out of money, my bank cards don’t work, I’m freezing, I’m hungry, I’m tired, and I really need to brush my teeth!
I still have only the clothes I am wearing. Everything else I own, even if I could procure it from storage under the bus, is filthy from the Orinoco Delta tour I just came from. The rest stop escapes from this icicle-coffin I’m riding in, are filled with unwanted sexual advances from the assistant bus driver who looks like he glues a toupee over his eyebrows. I can’t get away for even a moment from the cold, or from the people, or from all of this. I just want out!
And now I still have at least 10 more hours, after almost a full day of traveling already, just to get to the border of Venezuela?
I get back on the bus, totally defeated. I have no spirit left and am seriously considering just getting off the next stop and waiting there for my inevitable doom. But something in the back of my mind keeps telling me to hold on, just a little longer. “You will make it” i keep thinking, “I’ve been through worse. I can get through this”. have I been through worse? I’m not sure, but telling myself this over and over somehow helps. I climb back on the bus, disheartened and attempt to fall back asleep.
28 hours after I bordered the bus in Maturín, I finally arrive in what I can only describe as the living embodiment of the Mos Eisley Space Port in Star Wars where “you’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” – San Cristobal bus station.
Fine dust poufs in the air with every step, and within minutes of stepping off the ice-chamber and into the sweltering Venezuelan evening, I am covered in a fine filth, which is surprisingly noticeable considering how filthy I am from 28 hours with no shower, soap, clean clothes, or toothbrush. All sorts of shady looking characters surround me. Guys with sallow faces, and deep eyes, whip their grimy faces around as I walk by them. Old women see me and walk away. Children stop and point. Groups of thread-bare skinny men dressed in dirt-covered clothes, alikened to photos of 1970 Appalachia tin town coal miners, whisper in huddles while staring right at me. I feel eyes all over my white face and lost, young female body everywhere I turn. Darkness is quickly creeping in, and I have just enough money left for the transfer to the actual border town, San Antonio, and no more food.
It is also 8 pm at night, my bank card doesn’t work in this country, and there is nowhere to exchange even a few Venezuelan bolívares for Colombian pesos so I can buy food on my, from what I am told, 20 more F*%^ARGHHHING hour trip to Bogotá. So without US Dollars, only about $50 or so worth of Venezuelan bolívares, and nowhere to exchange money, I board what is hopefully the ‘quick’ bus to San Antonio, the actual border town with Colombia. San Antonio is where I have to buy my exit stamp (Cause I have to pay to leave this freaking country) and, FINALLY escape from this wretchedly-time-expensive-and-dangerous-and-I-used-to-love-but-now-I-want-to-go-full-on-mass-murdering-spree-on country. I am convinced this country is trying to hold me hostage.
On the ‘quick’ bus to San Antonio, which the guidebooks say is five minutes away from this wretched hell-hole bus station, I learn from the locals, that it is one hour away, and which, with traffic, mountain passes, and multiple nighttime accidents, turns into an almost 2-hour bus ride.
Around 10 pm, this bus driver, who hasn’t said a word the whole ride, turns and kicks me out onto a dark street corner, saying “Your stop”, and pointing in the direction of a row house-like buildings. “But which one is it?”, I say to my bag as it gets unceremoniously thrown on the sidewalk, and the bus speeds off. Another departing passenger is able to tell me to walk up the block and I will see the sign. I sling my backpack on my sweaty, smelly back, and head to a nondescript building in the middle of the block that has a sign which I can decipher has something to do with the exit stamp office.
Oh my god. this is it! I am almost out of this god-forsaken-hell-hole-of-a-country!! I can almost smell my savior…Colombia.
I want to say that I loved Venezuela. It is a gorgeous country, that yes, is dangerous in some places, but the people and the sights are spectacular. But after 28 hours of freezing cold and almost no food or drink, I wanted to kill everything (anyone would). So don’t take this post as “Venezuela is horrible” or as I hate Venezuela. Because I don’t. It was awesome.
About Dani Blanchette
I am a freelance travel and music photographer and creator of GoingNomadic.com.
I love music, food, and exploring cities without guidebooks. I’ve flown a helicopter, hitchhiked down the east coast USA, and once snuck into the back of a zoo (in Serbia) and pet a lion.
I am always up for an adventure, and sometimes I videotape them.