Part 27.  Venezuela


Thursday, 23 April, 2009

The customs guy at the Brazil office had warned me that the entry process for Venezuela was much more difficult than for Brazil.  He was mostly wrong.

I rode up to the Venezuela office building and walked into the lobby.  To the right were the offices for the federal police and where I was directed to get my passport stamped.  There was no one at the counter, but someone pointed me down the hallway where I wandered aimlessly.

Hey, I'm the Errant Ronin...  I'm supposed to wander aimlessly, right?

Eventually, someone whistled at me and I went into his office.  He took my passport and stamped it, telling me that the entry permit was good for ninety days.  It was a bit refreshing to hear Spanish again.  I don't speak it all that well, but better than Portuguese, that's for sure.

Back to the entry foyer, and to the left this time.  That led to another lobby where there was no one at the service windows again.  I was the only person in sight.

Eventually, a woman showed up and I gave her all my usual documents for importing the motorcycle.  She took them all and started filling out some forms.  When she told me that I needed some copies of the documents, I told her that I had them and I went out to the bike.


My entire portfolio full of documents--including the copies I went looking for--was not in the tailbox.  I immediately knew that I had left it in Joelmir's house.  Crap.

The cleaning woman he had hired the previous day had moved things around all over the house.  When I had packed up before leaving, I had to hunt many things down.  I had not realized that the portfolio was missing until I needed it.  No sense in worrying about it now.  It'll get the attention it needs when I can afford to chew rocks and kick small dogs in anger.  (Not really.)

I went back inside and told the woman that I didn't have the copies.  I expected her to send me off someplace to get copies made, but she made the necessary copies herself.  That was easy.

I waited in the lobby while she disappeared for a while.  Hugo Chavez's image was in every room, here in the lobby with a painting of Simon Bolivar, whom Chavez admires greatly.  And for good reason, since it was Bolivar who had won freedom for Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and (I think) Ecuador from Spain.

I noticed that the official time clocks were about 35 minutes earlier than the clock for Boa Vista. which was right next to the clock for Santa Elena.  Thirty-five minutes?  Not thirty minutes or an hour.  What the heck was up with that?  I asked an employee the time, and sure enough, he had the official time on his watch as well.  Okay, I reset my watch.

The woman returned and had me fill out one information form, then told me that I needed to show proof of insurance before the bike could be imported.  That was news to me.

I had read other riders' reports, and some had bought insurance after entering the country, while others had not bothered at all.  I was directed to the next city of Santa Elena de Uairen, and the woman found a man to translate the directions to one of the insurance companies for me.  He told me the names of two companies and wrote them down for me.  Seguro Caracas and Seguro Mamfre.  He said that anyone in town could direct me if I asked.

With no documents in hand, I rode away from the border and into the city, which was a free trade zone.  Most vehicles crossing the border here were simply waved through, and I didn't see any personal vehicles get stopped by the police.  The commercial trucks stopped at the customs office, but that was all.  People from Brazil came here regularly to buy things cheaply.

It was a few miles into Santa Elena, and I rode around the city a while to get a sense of it.  Lots of retail outlets, small and large stores.  Street vendors. 

I also needed to exchange my Brazilian money for Venezuelan Bolivars, so when I saw men with fat pouches over their shoulders waving at passing traffic, I knew I was in the right place.  As soon as I started to pull the bike to the curb, one of the money changers came to me.  The information I had been given and had read on the Internet was that the official exchange rate (banks, etc.) was terrible compared to what any money changer would give you.  There were some storefront business that also exchanged money at good rates, but the street guys were supposed to be reasonably dependable.

I had enough cash to exchange that I didn't expect to need to use an ATM at all in Venezuela.  The ATMs have been reported by some travelers to be undependable or incompatible.  The money changer offered me 2.5 new Bolivars for each Real, but I wasn't sure if that was a good exchange rate or not.  I hadn't done any recent research.  It came out to be about 18 U.S. cents per Bolivar.  I sure hope that was a good exchange rate.

With a fat wad of spendable money now, I asked around for the insurance companies.  None of the directions I was given worked, so I headed back toward the border.  I was planning on turning toward the airport, where the money changer thought there might be an insurance company, but when I saw a tourist information office, I pulled over there.

As I got off the bike, the smell of gasoline was very strong.  I knew that the gas leaking from my fuel valve (petcock) was going to be a problem, but it was getting worse now.  It was a steady drip with the bike running.  I resorted to manually turning the valve off when I stopped the bike.  This was a habit with many riders, but with a vacuum-operated valve (which the KLR has), it's not necessary.

In the tourist office, I asked where the insurance companies were and the guy there gave me a map of the city and marked where I needed to go.  That was easy.  Back into Santa Elena, then.

The map was good, and I found myself at Seguro Caracas, where I bought a year-long insurance policy for BsF/244 (about US$44).  With the papers in hand, I headed back to the border.

As I rode back, I happened to look down at my GPS at the exact moment that the control knob fell off my Chatterbox X1 radio.  It bounced off the handlebars, then off the gas tank, then off my leg and out of sight.  By the time I had stopped the bike, I wasn't sure where it might have ended up, so I wandered up and down the road for half an hour looking for it.  A small, black plastic knob is hard to find on an asphalt road, where there are lots of small black rocks and lots of trash.


I could still turn the Chatterbox on and off with pliers, or with a strong pinch of my fingertips, but that wasn't very good.  That was the third time one of those knobs had fallen off.  They should be made to stay attached better.  Mere vibrations shouldn't cause the knob to fall off, dammit!

I needed another Zen moment...  grrrrr...

I knew that the offices at the border were closed until 13:00, so there was no hurry.  When I got back to the customs building, I still had time to kill.  When they were working again, I gave the woman my insurance papers and she made copies.  When she gave me all the necessary import forms, she also explained how I needed to get stamped out of Venezuela when I left the country and that I needed to hand in the import form.  Yeah, that much I already knew.

All in all, not counting the ride into the city and back, the process of importing the bike took less than an hour.  Better than I expected or had been led to believe.  No charge for anything at the border.

Back into the city, this time ready to stay in Venezuela a while.

Joelmir had told me that there was a tire store between the border and the city, and I had already seen the Goodyear building.  They didn't have motorcycle tires, though.  They directed me to another place, who directed me to another place, who directed me back to the place I had just been...  I finally gave up.  No motorcycle tires for me today.

Tires in Venezuela are called cauchos, and I kept thinking people were saying gauchos, so it was confusing at first.

I landed at a hotel that had a large parking lot.  I opted for a room with an air-conditioner, and the price was BsF/70, so that was about US$12 or so by my calculated guess.

I unloaded the bike and started taking it apart right away.  I wanted to get some work done before it rained or I ran out of daylight.  I drained off some gas into a bottle, just in case I had to dump the rest from the tank.  I had deliberately let the gas level get low, so I wouldn't have to waste much if it came to that.  As it turned out, I didn't have to remove the petcock, and I just stood the tank on its nose to work on the problem.

Laurie called my cell phone at this moment, and I asked her to get in touch with Joelmir to have the portfolio sent to my home.  There were many important documents in there along with many copies, so I didn't want to abandon it.  Also, I had put many souvenirs and gifts in it for protection.  I could manage without it, though.  At least I thought I could... I guess I'd find out.

That was also when it started raining.  I covered the bike and worked on the fuel valve under the patio.

Having had the foresight to carry a petcock repair kit, I knew that I could fix the gas leak as long as the problem wasn't a cracked aluminum part.  I wasn't sure what the actual problem was, but fuel was dripping--and sometimes spraying with some force--from one side of the fuel valve.  In the next photo, you can see a molded indentation in the plastic piece between the two aluminum parts.  The gas might have been coming from there, but I couldn't be sure.  I replaced the whole part, which was the vacuum-operated diaphragm unit.  It had two delicate gaskets attached, so maybe the problem was there.

While the bike was in this dismantled state, I did a few other things when the rain stopped.  Baia had not attached the airbox vent line very well, and it had fallen free from where it should have been connected.  I had to remove the rear wheel to reach up and reattach it.  I tried again to get the scored rear brake disk off, but no luck.  Those bolts were on too tight.

I adjusted my chain a little, added a bit more oil to the motor (it wasn't leaking as far as I could tell--I just hadn't topped it off completely last time), and tried to figure out how to re-do my T-mod.

Baia hadn't been familiar with this modification to the carb vent line, so he had put the original vent tube back in place and left the other tube tucked away and unattached to anything.  It would be a lot of work to get to it and fix it, and one short section of the tube was missing.  I didn't feel like tackling it.  I would just be aware of the issue if I were to be in heavy rain or deep water.  Heavy rain was more likely.

The motor seemed to be running well, so I give Baia my thanks for that.  It had a slightly different sound to it, but everything appeared to be working fine.  It still had frequent shifting problems, but that wasn't Baia's fault.

The bike was back together (and the gas leak appeared to be fixed) by 17:00.  I took a very cold shower, did some laundry, and went out to find an Internet cafe.  I found one right away, a block from the hotel.  They had a Wi-Fi connection, but needed to find my computer's IP settings first.  The gal knew what she was doing and got a DOS command prompt open, ran the ipconfig -all command, and copied down the information that she needed to get their network to recognize my computer.  Usually, these places just have a secure signal that needs a password, but I wasn't complaining.  I was set up quickly and their connection was very fast.

I got the report updates uploaded, got photos uploaded, handled the forums and emails that needed my attention, sent a couple more thank-you emails to a two people who had sent me some much-appreciated donations (paid for my hotel and dinner that day!), and was done by 20:00.

Across the street was a bar/restaurant, so I had a couple beers and a nice steak dinner.  Nine bucks.

I called Laurie again, and found that she had taken one of her motorcycles for a ride, and was with friends in Canon City.  Duke and Tami are simply great folks.  (That's Hayduke and Bonnie Abzug, for you ADV FF's.)

I wrote in the hotel room until I finished this sentence, then I was done.



Friday, 24 April, 2009

I didn't get up until 08:00, so I wasn't on the road until 09:00.  I should get in the habit of leaving earlier, while it's still cooler.

There was a PDV gas station nearby, so I got in line there.  Police or military men were guarding the gas pumps, and this was something that I saw all through Venezuela.  The gas was so cheap, I'm not sure what they were guarding.  A full tank of gas cost me BsF/3, which was about 55 cents.  The gasoline had an oily, sweet smell to it, so I'm not sure about its quality.  I had no idea what the octane was at this pump.

I dawdled a bit before riding off and the pump attendant screamed and waved his arms at me to get the hell out of the way.  I moved the bike to some shade for the next photo.  Another car had already backed up to where my bike had been.

As I left the city, I passed a hundred cars lined up on the side of the road.  I don't know if they were there for gas or something else, but I'm sure it had something to do with the free trade zone.  Maybe they were for sale.

The road was excellent, the scenery was nice, the weather was dry and sunny.  It was a slight ascent all morning, moving toward some distant mountains.  Traffic was very light once I was away from the border region and crossing the Gran Sabana.

I saw lots of gatherings of these thatched huts.  Most looked like actual villages, but some looked like tourist stops.  I saw no signs for restaurants at any of them, but some had well-worn tracks from many vehicles.

Wherever the ground was cut, the red soil was very bright.

At the first police checkpoint, they just eyeballed me as I motored past them.  At the second, I got a reminder of something that a motoring tourist needs to know.  When you enter Venezuela, you are given a tourist entry form--as is usually done in each country.  You must present this form at some of the police checkpoints and they put a stamp on it.  If you miss one, the next checkpoint might be a problem for you.  If you are lucky, maybe you can go back and get the stamp.  The police who stopped me made a stamping gesture at me, so I was reminded of this process.

I waited while my paper was stamped.  Another police officer (or soldier, I can't tell the difference) was searching a car going the other way.  His machine gun was hanging around his neck and the car's driver stood over him.  Not a very safe way to go about it.

I got my passport and my entry paper back, and I was waved on.  I checked my fuel petcock, and was happy to see no gas leak.  Yay!

In the distance, I could see some of the high plateaus that are a major feature of southern Venezuela.  Some of these highlands are so large that they have their own weather systems.  Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall, is near here, dropping off the edge of one of these giant mesas.

The next police stop was quick; they only looked at my papers and let me proceed.

There were lots of small rivers in this region and I saw several camp sites where people were playing in the water.  The ground was rocky in places and had eroded in layers that caused many small waterfalls.  These were popular recreational areas.

Mostly, though, the road looked like this:

Near one river, I stopped at a hut that looked like it might be a store where I could get something to eat.  Again, there were no signs, but I was right; it was a small snack shop.  They didn't have much, so I settled for a large piece of sweet cornbread that was very good, if a little dry.

Several miles down the road, I saw another gas station and restaurant (which was just a three-sided shack).  I decided to get something more to eat, but when I ordered the fried chicken I didn't know that I was in for a long wait.  I heard the woman in the kitchen chopping something, so I sneaked a peek.  She was chopping up a chicken.  Later, I heard her cutting up potatoes.  This was going to take a while.

It was impossible not to stare and watch a horribly scarred dog fight off a cloud of flies that was eating it alive.  The dog moved around the parking lot, but there was nowhere for it to go that was any better than any other place, so it kept returning to the same spot and laying down again.  It shook its head and pawed at its ears constantly.  The dog' face was patched with open sores, most of its hair was gone, it had large areas of scar tissue that suggested some serious trauma, and its ears were about half gone.  The fleas and flies that swarmed this animal were merciless.  The dog was tormented and could find no relief.  After a while, it came into the restaurant and crawled into the grill, laying down in the ashes and dirt.  The grill didn't look like it had been used in a long time.  I suspect that it was the ashes that maybe kept some of the flies away.

What a pitiful creature.

It took about 45 minutes for my chicken to be ready, and although it was pretty good, it wasn't worth the wait in the heat.

I topped off my gas tank even though I had only gone about 100 miles.  I didn't know what to expect for fuel availability.  Less than half a tank of gas cost me less than one Bolivar.  Less than eighteen cents.  Too bad it's not better gasoline.  When I continued riding, I noticed that my bike was running poorly on the uphill sections.  I decided it must be the gas.  The exhaust fumes had an odd odor as well.

The next police stop required me to dismount and go into a small office to have my passport logged into their Big Book.  I got another stamp on my form.  One of the policemen stayed in the office, the other went out into the street whenever a vehicle approached.  Once, he left his machine gun on a table near me when he went out to the street.  Not very safe.

The mountains were wonderful to ride in, once I was in them.  Much like Colombia had been, but much hotter and drier.  I crested somewhere over 1400 meters, so that would be about 2250 feet altitude.  The road was nice, and it got a little cooler, which I really liked.

For several miles, the road seemed to be right on the border with Guyana, so the mountain ridge must be the division between the two countries.

In the cities, I saw lots of old American cars that were rusted out.  Bazillions of old clunkers that were guzzling gallons of cheap gas every hour.  Often, whole sides of these cars were rusted away.  Tires were cheap in Venezuela and so was gasoline, so these were popular.

The road got flat again and the riding was faster.  It stayed hot and dry.  Rain would have been welcome.

At another police checkpoint, they just stood in the road as I stopped next to them.  They didn't make any motion that I should do anything, but there was a small shack on the side of the road with a table in it.  I made a stamping gesture and they nodded and waved me to the shack.  This was a perfect example of how a tourist might pass by one of these control-stamp locations and get into trouble later.

In the shack, two very young policemen (or soldiers) studied my passport and finally stamped my paper.  I gave them some mints while we chatted about my bike.  When I left, I gave them the box of mints and they gave me a cold bottle of malt soda in return.  I should have drank the soda then, but I stashed it for later.  When it would be hot.  Stupid me.  (When I eventually drank it, I found it to have a very strong malt flavor that would certainly have been better when cold.)

At the next gas station (below), cars were lined up into the street.  I got in line when I had a chance not to be behind one of the ones that were smoking so terribly.  I saw the attendant fill the gas tank of one scooter and wave the rider away without taking any payment.  Too little to bother with, I suppose.  My gas cost me BsF/1.25 for three-quarters of a tankfull.  About 23 cents.

Progress through the towns and small cities was very slow.  The speed bumps were very bad, and trucks had to stop and crawl over every one.  With this happening in both directions, it was difficult to pass them.  Also, street vendors took advantage of the slow traffic to sell their wares in the roadway.  That, too, made it hard to get between the slow traffic.  Cars and trucks rarely made room for me as they had done in other countries, and I had to fight for position several times.

My motor was not sounding so good.  Not smooth, and still weak.  Again, I suspected the gasoline.

Another police stamp.  I had to ask for the stamp, since they didn't offer it to me.

The heat did not relent as the afternoon wore down.  In fact, the cloudless sky allowed the sun to heat the roadway up until it was hard to stand on without your feet getting hot.  Then the road straightened out and went directly into the setting sun for over an hour, so that made my eyes hurt and my whole face hurt from all the squinting. 

I got into the city of Upata just after sundown.  I rode around for half an hour looking for a hotel, finally seeing a sign for a hotel's parking lot.  The hotel was on the opposite side of the block, so I circled around to it.  The Hotel Yocoima was pretty good, had a restaurant with it, but breakfast wasn't included in the room.  The room (air-conditioner but no hot water) cost only BsF/80.  About US$14.

I walked to the Centro area and saw that a lot of people were out on a Friday night, although it doesn't look like it in this grainy photo of the plaza:

This is when I noticed something else.  There were almost no motorcycles of scooters at all.  Thinking back, I realized that I had seen very few at all the last two days.  Maybe a dozen total.  I suppose that when gas is this cheap, there is little need for a fuel-efficient vehicle.  Now I also realized why so many people had reacted strangely to me when I rolled in on my bike.  They just weren't that common here.  Drivers, then, weren't as used to having the bikes around them on the road.  Something to keep in mind.

I bought a few more cheap pirated DVDs from a small shop, then went back to the hotel.  Dinner there was fried shrimp, but they were overcooked.  They were okay for about nine bucks, which included a couple small cans of beer.  On the television was a baseball game.  Yup, American baseball.  NY Mets and Washington.  My waiter paid much more attention to the TV than he did to me.

I took a shower, watched one of the DVDs (which worked, surprisingly), then did some photo management.



Saturday, 25 April, 2009

This is the only photo I took of the hotel, and I thought to take it as I checked out in the morning.  My room was down that hallway.

The parking lot was large, with an electric gate that actually worked.

I noticed that the people here speak Spanish with a much sharper pronunciation.  A big contrast to Portuguese, where many consonants are softened.

Before riding away, I noticed that my oil was a little low, so I added some.  Later in the day, I saw that it was a little low again, and looked for a leak.  I didn't see anything obvious, so I assumed that I was burning some oil.  I had about a half liter of oil with me, and would look for more as I went on.  The problem was that with so few motorcycles on the road here, I hadn't seen a single moto shop anywhere.

The road signs in Venezuela were pretty good, which was nice in the cities.  In one city, the main road diverted onto lesser roads that were congested with pickup trucks that had passenger seats in the bed.  Hundreds of these trucks carried people all over the city.  I didn't see many buses, so that explained that.

I rode straight through Ciudad Bolivar without stopping.  The only thing in the large metro area that caught my eye was this rusty dock area.  Looks like they load barges with rocks or ore.

I passed many toll stations in Venezuela, but none of them were staffed with toll collectors.  Some of them, like the one below, had been partially dismantled and the booths were gone.  Street vendors were the occupants now.

One more big bridge, and I was away from the metro area.  It was country riding for the rest of the day, with small towns along the way.  The towns all looked well-maintained, and I saw nothing that looked like poverty.

The ride got hotter and stayed dry.  At one gas station, my gas cost BsF/1.25, but I didn't get change back from my BsF/2 bill.  I got ripped for thirteen cents.  Well, that's not so bad.  Plus, I suspect the attendant had no coins to make change.

Between two towns, there was a long section of terrible grooved pavement.  My bike was squirming all over the lane.  Going faster helped.

When I got to El Sombrero, I was tempted to divert north to Caracas.  I had no particular interest in Caracas, but it was the capital city and wasn't far.  I decided against it, since I had nothing that I needed to do there.

I could have continued west on Troncal 13, but that looked like more cities.  I decided to take a southern route to San Cristobal where I would cross back into Colombia.  The southern route looked more like country riding and I was hoping for less traffic.  I was right.

The road was decent in places, but rough in others.  A few sections had recently been repaired.  For about an hour, I saw no other vehicle.  Eventually I caught up to some trucks.  This truck (below) was all over the road and I feared to pass him.  He was either drunk or sleepy, or maybe he was just used to having the whole road to himself.  Just before I took this photo, the driver went slightly off the right shoulder and tore down a road sign.  That was a cloud or dust and gravel in my face.

Like many other places, Venezuela seems to do most of its vegetation control by burning it.  Miles and miles of smoky, ashy, hot riding was not fun.

Definitely not in the Amazon anymore.  Most of Venezuela (that I saw) was flat, dry, and scattered with farms and cattle ranches.

I stopped in a small town for gas and water.  I bought a bag of gingerbread rolls as well.  They were a bit tough to chew, but were tasty.  I ate one each morning for the next few days.

After having gotten used to the humidity of Brazil, I noticed that riding in Venezuela made my skin very dry.  My eyes, too.  I had to put sunblock lotion on my face and forearms to keep from burning.  Even with the lotion, my forearms got hot in the overhead sun.

As the day wore on, small things added up to really tire me out.

My throttle lock started slipping and wouldn't hold its setting anymore.  That was an annoyance only, but I liked being able to rest my right hand now and then.  When I started this ride, I had a small tool attached to my dashboard that I used to adjust the throttle lock.  That tool had been attached to a retractable keyring cord, and somewhere along the way it disappeared.  Might have fallen off.  Maybe someone wanted it.  Don't know.

The missing knob from the Chatterbox X1 unit was continuing to be another annoyance.

My left mirror wouldn't stay positioned where I wanted it if I was going fast.  I would have to grab it and move it to see behind me.  The ball-and-socket joint had been popped out of place months ago in one of my many tip-overs, and it wasn't very stable anymore.

Finally, for the last few months, it had been harder and harder to listen to music in my headset.  There had been a whining noise coming from the Zumo unit, which I was using to play MP3 music into the Chatterbox headset.  The whine was probably a ground loop problem, since it changed with the motor's RPMs, and even changed when I turned my headlight on or off.  Sometimes, I could wiggle the audio cord coming from the Zumo's cradle and the whine would go away for a while.  Changing the audio cord didn't help.  Fudge.

I needed a rest in the afternoon, since my eyes were sore from all the smoke.  I couldn't find any shade for a long while.  Riding into the afternoon sun again didn't help.

Every now and then, a fence had been pushed down by the cattle, so it didn't look like they were being tended to very often.  I didn't meet any cattle actually on the roadway, but they were still a threat.

I stopped in Calabozo at 16:30, and saw only two hotels on the main road.  The small one was not appealing, and the larger one looked expensive.  There were no cars parked in front of it, and I couldn't find the entrance.  All the doors led into bank offices that were closed.

I finally saw that there was a small gate that led to an inner courtyard where the hotel lobby was.  Not very obvious.  The hotel was semi-classy, but the room was only about US$37, so that was okay.  Parking was in a secure lot in the back.

After a shower and getting some writing done, I went down to check out their restaurant.  It was small and not fancy, but for nine bucks I got a bowl of pasta with a few shrimp in it, and three small beers.

The last task for the evening was sewing up one of my riding gloves that had come apart on one seam.  I had started with three different sets of gloves, but was down to this one set that I wanted to last until I was home.  I intended to nail them to a wall in my garage.  I might nail one of my broken cameras to the wall, too.



Sunday, 26 April, 2009

I had wanted to get an earlier start to avoid the afternoon heat, but I slept past my watch's 06:00 alarm.  I awoke at my normal 08:00 and got moving.

I rode until I was ready for something to eat and drink and stopped in a small town that had a gas station.  It was already hot.

Both tires were low on air, but I knew that my Slime pump hadn't worked since northern Chile.  I had a cheap pump that I got in Argentina as a replacement, so I got it out and hooked it up.  Nothing.  Dead.  Didn't work at all.

An old man watched me fiddle around with both pumps in the gas station parking lot and he eventually wandered over.  He spoke some English and greeted me affectionately and welcomed me to his country.  Then he asked me for some money.  Ugh, I thought, so much for the friendly greeting.

But, as it turned out, he remained friendly when I told him that I needed to save my money to get home.  He told me his name was Jose, and he asked if there was anything he could do for me.  I told him that I needed some motorcycle oil, but the gas station had only car and truck oil.  Jose went inside to see what he could find and came out with an apology that there was no oil for me.

Jose introduced me to some of the employees of the gas station, but it seemed that he hadn't known them before that moment.  He had to ask their names before introducing us.  None of the station employees could help me with my air pump, though, so Jose was disappointed again.

Jose stood and watched as I took the Slime pump apart to see what was wrong with it.  The motor worked, but it didn't move any air.  I found that a small, thin metal flap that covers the air intake hole was clogged with sand.  This would be sand from the Atacama desert.  There was no way to clear the sand under the delicate flap without destroying it, so I mashed it down and tried to wiggle it around enough to grind out the sand.  After putting the pump back together, it seemed to be moving air, but when I hooked it up to a tire, it couldn't generate enough pressure to inflate the tire.  Fark.

Jose shook his head in sympathy with me and told me that there was a tire shop across the street that had an air pump.  Yes, I told him that I had seen the shop and I would go there next.  I expected him to ask me again for money, but he didn't.  It seemed that he was just lonely and wanted to talk to me, so I got to hear all about Jose.  He was obviously in very poor health, and one side of his face was badly swollen and puffy.  His eye on that side was blood-red and probably blind.  I felt too sorry for him to take a photo.  Jose had lived in the States for a while--I think he said he had been in Florida.  He told me that he had a Puerto Rican wife somewhere in the States, but he hadn't seen her in a long time.  He had another wife here in Venezuela as well, but he again didn't know where she was.  He said that he lived in a small apartment nearby, and I though he was going to invite me over to visit.  I got packed up and made to ride on, and I think he got the hint.  He was a nice guy, but I didn't want to stay and visit.  Sorry, Jose.

A kid on a bicycle had also watched me take the Slime pump apart and try it again.  When I showed him that the cheap pump also didn't work, the kid shrugged.  When I gave the pump to him, he grinned and latched onto it with both hands.  It worked off a car's cigarette lighter plug, and it had a light that worked, so it wasn't totally useless.  He rode off on his bike with the pump under one arm.

I rode across the street and waited until the tire repair guy was finished with a truck tire.  Several men stood around looking at my bike, and I talked to them while I waited.  None spoke English, but that didn't really matter.  The usual questions...  What kind of bike was it?  How big was the motor?  How fast would it go?  How far had I gone on it?  How much did it cost?  How much did it weigh?


650cc (I didn't bother telling many people about the 680 upgrade).

I cruised at 75 MPH when the road allowed it.  120 KPH.

About 25,000 miles on this trip so far.  40,000 kilometers.

New, it would be a bit more than US$5,000.  BsF/27,500.

A shitload... and a half.  One and half shitloads.  Tantas cosas.

When the cauchero (tire guy) was ready for me, he quickly inflated the tires and waited for me to check the pressure.  For this, he tried to charge me BsF/5, but some of the men standing around complained on my behalf, and the cauchero laughed and went to work on another tire.

One of the men who had hooted in my defense told me that there was a big motorcycle event in San Cristobal starting in a few days.  I told him that I was going through San Cristobal tomorrow and he got all excited.  He told me to wait for him there, and he would meet me for the rider gathering.  Sorry, I told him, I would stay only one day and then go into Colombia.

When I mentioned going into Colombia, all the men crowded around to take turns telling me how dangerous Colombia was.  Yeah, yeah, I assured them that I would be careful.  I'm sure than not a single of those men had ever been in Colombia.

I asked the men where I could but new tires, but they told me that there was nothing possible that day because it was Sunday.  Tomorrow, in a larger city, maybe.  In San Cristobal certainly.

I gave all my coins to the cauchero (less than one Bolivar) and he smiled and pocketed them as if he had pulled a fast one on me.

The road from there was okay, but had some more bad sections, including more grooved pavement.

While the attendant pumped my gas in another small city, about a dozen men gathered around to look at the bike.  I took out my camera to take their photo and some of the men started to move away.  No, no, I assured them that I wanted them in the photo.  Most of them gathered back for the photo.  I couldn't get any of them to sit on it.

In a small city like this, they probably hadn't ever seen a bike like mine.  I think that most riders going west to San Cristobal took the northern road.

Just as I started to ride out of town, I saw a street vendor on the shoulder of the road with a rack of motor oil.  With no actual hope, I stopped and asked him if he had oil for a motorcycle.  Good grief!  He did!  Two types!  Gadzooks!

I chose a liter of synthetic blend that cost me BsF/15.  A commuter bus pulled up and parked right next to me.  As in, literally RIGHT next to me.  I was standing on the left side of the bike, and the bus brushed me as it came to a stop.  It could have stopped sooner, or after passing me, but no--he had to stop right up against me.  Idiot.  I paid for the oil and stashed it away.

Just then, the bus pulled away and turned left as it went back onto the road.  That caused the back end of the bus to swing to the right.. right into me.  I was shoved against the bike and that shove stood the bike up from the sidestand.  When the bus cleared past me I was positioned badly, so when the bike came back my way it kept coming right over the sidestand and crashed into me.  I went backwards and the bike fell over the sidestand and almost landed on my feet.

I wanted to pull my machete and chase the slow-moving bus down, I was so pissed.  There was no reason at all for it to have pulled up so close to me in the first place, and the driver was an oblivious idiot.

The oil salesman and another passer-by helped me get the bike up (always harder when you have to raise the bike over the extended sidestand).  There was no damage, so I mounted up after thanking the men, and I just wanted to get moving.  I did look for that bus, by the way.  I didn't see it again, which was a good thing.

Back in the country, then.

More fires in the distance.  Most of the day smelled like smoke.  Yuk.

Sometimes, it was wonderful when the road was good, there was shade from the harsh sun, and maybe a cross breeze that swept the hot air from over the road's surface.  This was one of those moments:

There were more police checkpoints, but apparently there is no longer a need to get my paper stamped.  Maybe that was only for the Gran Sabana region.

The traffic in San Fernando de Apure was horrible.  I was stopped in traffic when a police officer standing on the side of the road blew his whistle at me and waved for me to pull over.  It was hard to do so in the congestion, but that turned out to be a good thing.  By the time I got to the curb, I was well past him and he had waved over another motorcycle.  I sat on my bike and watched to see what he wanted with me, but he was busy screaming at the other rider.  I have no idea what that was about, but when he finally noticed me again, he waved me away.  Cool.

The afternoon ride was hot, dry, lonely.  The lonely was something I kind of liked, but I kept wishing for rain.

I wasn't going to get to San Cristobal that day, and when I got to Guasdualito, I decided to stop.  Also, the gas station there was closed, and I wasn't sure how far the next station might be.  I rode back and forth through the small town without seeing a hotel.  When I stopped to turn around again, a white pickup stopped on the road and the driver bailed out of the car and ran over to me with his cell phone camera in his hand and a big grin on his face.

He was a fan of adventure riders, and he really wanted a photo of my bike.  His sons were also interested, but they were more cool about it than their dad was.  A couple other cars stopped and more people stood around the bike with interest.

After a marathon session of photos and questions, I asked if they knew where I could find a hotel.  The dad did the "follow me" gesture and I waited for him to turn his truck around.  I though we would ride for some distance, but we only went about two hundred yards.  How the heck had I missed this?  It was a motel, but it looked pretty run-down and cheap.  I got a room for about twelve bucks and parked in my assigned garage.

The air-conditioner worked.  The room was sparse, but it was clean.  No shower head, but there was hot water.

I ripped off all the ragged duct tape from my broken windshield and did a new job of taping it back together.  It would hold until I got home.

After a shower, I walked out to find something cold to drink.  As I walked down the street toward the center of the town, I saw across the street where there was a gap in the fence and some taxis parked next to the buildings.  This was one of those spontaneous moments that just become wonderful.

On the property behind the buildings was a sort of party area.  I hadn't heard the music from the street, but it was Venezuelan rock-and-roll (I think).  There were tables and chairs scattered around and some people drinking beer.  Oooh, that beer looked cold and golden and good.

In the center of the property was a bocce ball field.  It was the also the center of attraction, and most of the people there were watching the men play the game.  Sitting alone on a bench next to the game was an old man with a wide-brimmed hat.  He smiled at me when I very deliberately sat near him and held my cold beer to my forehead for a short while.  My clean shirt was already soaked with sweat.  We exchanged nods and he asked me where I was from.  When I told him I was from the United States, he was actually shocked.  He asked me again, and when I repeated that I was from the U.S., he came closer and shook my hand in welcome.

When I was ready for another beer, I asked him if he wanted one.  He went with me to the bar hut and asked for the type of beer that he wanted (Polar Ice) while I had another Polar Light.  When we returned to the bench, he sat next to me and we tried talking for a while.  I told him about my travels and he whistled in surprise.  He asked me how old I was and I told him.  Then he asked me to guess how old he was.  Uh-oh.  I suck at this game.

I told him that he looked to be about sixty-five, but he saw that as flattery and he made a rapid upward gesture.  I told him that I didn't know, and he told me that he was eighty years old.  Honestly, I would never have guessed that.  He took me by the arm and led me over to where some men and boys were gathered in chairs.

That's how I got to meet Valeriano's family.  Four generations of them.

The man who took to showing me tricks with his pet parrot was Gregory.  Next in the photo is Valeriano, then his son Juliano, then Juliano's son Ysmael.  Ysmael's son was there, too, but I couldn't remember his name when I wrote this.  Sorry.

The family basically adopted me for the rest of the afternoon and the whole evening.  I bought beer for everyone, but in the end they bought me more beer than I bought them.  Everyone was shocked to hear that I was from the United States and they just stared at me for a while.  They called other men and women over to meet me.  After many handshakes, we sat and talked for a while.  My camera's batteries went dead, so I told them that I would go back to the hotel (they moaned!) to get new batteries and I would bring my bike over for them to see (they cheered!).

When I rode the bike into the party area, more people crowded around to see the red monster.  All the boys took turns sitting on the bike, but I'll only post one photo with them.  Gosh, those kids move fast.  Too fast for my camera, sometimes.

Gregory wanted a photo with his wife (and I think the boy on the bike is his son).

Valeriano used a stool to get up on the bike when I wasn't looking, and he waited until I saw him there and he laughed.  I moved the stool aside before taking his photo.  He did need the stool before getting back down.  The boys loved seeing him on the bike.

Some of the boys had toy tops that they would wind with string and spin in the dirt.  They would throw the tops down with great force, trying to get the top to land and spin on a blue bottle cap that they had stomped into the dirt.  The pink blur below is the top, bouncing up from the hard dirt.

I asked the bocce ball players if they minded my taking a photo of them.  They didn't understand what I said, but they smiled for the camera.

I couldn't understand the name they had for the game.  It was probably not actually bocce ball, since they were aiming for a small steel ball at the far end of the field.  I don't know enough about the game to write about it.

Ysmael did most of the talking with me all evening, even though he had very little English.  He would hold his hands up to his mouth and shout at me, even though I was sitting right next to him.  Louder didn't help, but he was trying so hard to be understood that I just endured it.

We had been sitting for a couple hours, and when Ysmeal asked me what my profession was, I felt comfortable telling him that I had been a police officer in the U.S., but was now retired.  I don't think he believed me, and he laughed.  When I tool out my retired police I.D., he was flabbergasted.  He ran off with it, showing it to other people.  I didn't actually fear for the return of my I.D. card, but I didn't like having it disappear for half an hour as it got passed around the whole place.  It eventually ended up with Valeriano, who looked at it for a long time.  He returned it to me and asked to have his photo taken with me.  A couple of the boys started to join us, but Valeriano waved them away.

I was still sweating, so my shirt was wet.  That's about the tenth beer that had been thrust into my hand.

The sun went down and the mosquitoes came out just for me.  Really, no one else was getting bitten.  Just me.  I'm that tasty, I guess.

I was getting hungry, but hadn't seen food being sold here anywhere.  When I asked Ysmael where I could go to eat, he yelled at a older teen-ager to lead me somewhere.  That teen (constantly staring at me, as seen in the next photos) led me to the back of the grounds.  There was Valeriano, having the meat vendor cut up some beef and pork.

There were several hunks of meat (some lamb, too, I think) on spits in a large fire pit.  They were fully cooked by then, so there were just being kept hot, no longer over the fire.

Valeriano chopped up some yucca roots while the monger sliced up the meats that Valeriano had selected.  (That teen almost gave me the creeps after a while.  He just didn't know what to think about me.  I probably creeped him out, too.)

Valeriano put a large serving of meet and yucca into a bowl just for me, and the rest went onto a platter that everyone else in his family shared.  I had a larger portion than anyone else, I noticed.  It was very good.

Ysmael asked me if President Obama was a good man, but then told me that their President Chavez was a crazy man.  Other men sitting around nodded their heads in agreement.  This was the first time I had heard anyone speak about Chavez in such a way.  I told them that I didn't know anything about Hugo Chavez, so I got to avoid that whole conversation.

After about the twentieth beer, I started getting sleepy.  I took a couple photos with the camera's low-light setting, but they were always disappointing with this camera.

This is Domino.  He is Ysmael's son's dog.  Domino guarded my bike, only peed on it once, and I scratched his ears a lot.

Above, you can see where many men scrubbed my tire with their shoes and pointed out that my tire was bad.  Yup, I would need new tires.  There was an actual spot where the cord had started to show through.  The grooves that had been cut into my tire had gotten me this far, and there had been no rain to test them, but I didn't want to enter Colombia's mountains on these.  That would be a mission in San Cristobal the next day.

When I faded, my new friends gave me their email addresses and asked me to send them some of the photos I had taken.  I gave them a business card with my web site, and they looked at me strangely again--as if they had just met me.  They just weren't used to people like me, that's all.

I got on the bike and waved good-bye.  And promptly rode into some low-hanging branches of a tree.  With twigs in my helmet and caught on my mirrors, I just kept going.  Partly from embarrassment, trust me.

Back at the motel, I was pretty fuzzy, but I managed to sew up a bad zipper on my fanny pack before passing out... er, I mean before falling gently into blissful sleep.



Monday, 27 April, 2009

Once again, my watch alarm didn't wake me.  That is unusual, so I suppose the long, hot days of riding are wearing me out more than I had suspected.  The beer last night might have contributed.

So it was again after 08:00 when I got on the road.  The gas station that had been closed yesterday was open and had scores of cars and trucks lined up.  Crap.

I rode to the back of the line, which was out in the street, and as soon as I shut the bike off, the drivers of the next two cars in front of me got out and walked back to look at my bike.  They asked a few questions before chasing me away.

I didn't understand what I had done wrong, and they weren't being hostile.  Eventually, my stupidity wore off and I realized they were telling me to go to the front, not to wait in line.  I thanked them and rode right up to the pump, where a scooter was being gassed up.  The attendant did the next car, then filled my tank.  That was another twenty-five cents or so.

Back on the country road, I saw more cattle and horses.  Some of the cattle were basking in lakes like hippos.  Only their eyes and noses were about the water sometimes.  I hadn't seen cattle do that before.  I was usually hot, so I could understand.

This day was actually overcast and almost cool.  When I stopped for breakfast and more liquids, I didn't like the looks of the empanadas, so I settled for some juice and a small bottle of cold yoghurt.

Back on the road.

I saw the mountains coming, and now I hoped it would not rain.  I didn't trust my tires on wet twisty roads.

The city of San Cristobal was not far, now.



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