The South American adventures begin.
Caracas, a city as likely to give you a slap in the face rather than a warm embrace.This is how Venezuela´`s capital city is described by the Lonely Planet and it proved to be quite accurate, as i was to find out.
A number of people had asked me before departure, why I had chosen to begin my travels in Caracas. It is afterall known to be a very dangerous city, with high levels of pollution and traffic crammed streets.
My reson for flying into the city were quite simple. I was to be traveling on a shoestring and Caracas was about the cheapest city i could fly to in Latin America. In addition to this, I had already visited South America, have a good knowledge of Spanish and enjoy a good challenge, so thought why not?
So after nearly 20 hours of travel from my home in leafy Hertfordshire, together with a few bad airline melas, a bit of turbulence and a brief look around Lisbon Airport, I touched down in Caracas at just after 2:30pm.
After initially being hit by the oppressive heat as I left the aircraft, I was soon hit by a wall of taxi drivers and other opportunists, wanting to take advantage of jet-lagged and unprepared tourists.
Knowing safety could probably be sought in numbers, I joined forces with two John´s from England and after saying no gracias to a number of touts and using our packs as battering rams, left the relative safety of the terminal and found an official looking chap who took us into the centre of the city.
At first it appeared that our driver Jesus was taking us in the wrong direction, possibly preparing for another Sermonon the Mount, as we climbed high above the Carribean Sea and soon became surrounded by lush hills. I was encouraged though as we passed under a sign welcoming us to the capital. Three signs later, the cityscape came into view and we hit the traffic. I chatted a bit to Jesus and discovered that this was the norm and that we were blessed with a good day. it must have been the name!
Like every traveller will tell you, your first day in a new country is always exciting and the process of adapting to your new environment can often be both frightening and humerous. As we crawled along the highway, it became eveident that just like any other developing nation, there was little sign of a highway code, as we weaved and wrestled for space with often much larger vehicles. We witnessed street venders wandering into the centre of the road to sell sweets and other obscure items and saw cars stripped of their paintwork and clearly looked like they should have been consigned to the scrap heap a long time ago, a lot like the car driven by John Candy and Steve Martin in Trains, Planes and Automobiles.
The highlight of the journey was when Jesus swerved and drove on the hard shoulder, sounding his horn if anybody should dare block his path.
After dropping the tow Johns at a hotel, i asked Jesus to take me to the main bus terminal, where i hoped tro escape the capital and head to a smaller city named Maracay about 120km to the west.
After being warned about thieves, i paid Jesus his money, shook his hand and made for the terminal.Inside and outside was a scary affair, as I stood out with my blue eyes, height advantage and monsterous pack. Everybody appeared to be staring at me and a number of young men were sizing me up, deciding how much of a fight I would put up if they tried to mug me. At one point I stopped and realised that somebody had tried to slash my smaller bag, but thankfully my St Christopher necklace had spared me again and after a bit of a haggle with a teenage boy, boarded a bus bound for Maracay.
I took a seat right at the back of the bus and soon got chatting to my neighbours, two British guys and an Aussie girl. It was a strange journey, as every curtain on the bus was pulled ab¡nd a wall seperating us from the driver, meant that the two hourjourney passed in near darknes. What made things worse was that we were swerving all over the place and knew that our driver was probably overtaking lorries on blind corners, yet we could see nothing. We were all very relieved when the bus finally limped into Maracay about half an hour late.