Merida to Ciudad Bolivar
21. May: We are to take one hell of a trip today. In order to visit Angel Falls, we need to be at Ciudad Bolivar tonight. The journey from Merida to Ciudad Bolivar involves a bus ride from Merida to El Vigia, a plane trip from El Vigia to Caracas, trying to fetch my spare video film from our hotel in Caracas, taking a flight from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz and taking a bus from Puerto Ordaz to Ciudad Bolivar. There are also a number of taxi rides involved to get from bus station to airport and vice-versa. Phew, so let's begin!
We need to be in 'El Vigia' at 8:00, so we get up at 5:00, get ready, don our backpacks and set out to find a bus which will take us to the Merida bus Terminal. The place where I had expected the buses was empty and we were already wondering whether it was too early to catch a bus. Luckily we asked someone and he pointed us to the next street and we indeed did get a bus there. At 6:00 the bus leaves Merida to El Vigia. It is a one-hour trip costing 1380 Bs. From El Vigia bus station we take a taxi to the airport for 1500 Bs.
Luis had given us vouchers for the flight and we have a shock when the lady at the Aeropostal counter says that we need to pay 74'000 Bs instead of 71'000 Bs as agreed. We are adamant but it doesn't help. She says we must talk to the manager and we wait for her. She doesn't appear and we're told to go up the stairs and talk the office to the right. There is a lady in there on the phone and we wait till she's finished. I ask her if she speaks English and she says no. I ignore her reply and explain her the problem in English. She's attentive and makes some calls to the central booking person of Aeropostal, who eventually tells us that the price of 71'000 is indeed correct! We're glad about this and get our tickets in the end, even with apologies of the adamant ticketing lady who'd insisted that we needed to pay the higher price!
The flight is half an hour late and I'm surprised to see that we're going to fly in a large DC-9 jet since I was expecting a small propeller aircraft. They serve a sandwich on the flight. In Caracas, we head straight to the airport shops to find a blank DV video tape, but not a single shop has any. Since our connecting flight will leave after several hours, I decide to take the risky chance to head back to the city to Hotel Cristal to get my last blank video tape from my backpack stored there. Annewien stays at the airport. I would take the airport bus back to the city and if time were running out, would opt for a taxi. It was going to be a nail-biting ordeal!
The bus to the city was already waiting and I ask the driver when he would leave. He said as soon as I had bought a ticket and I assumed that he would start driving right away. I get onto the bus after buying a ticket at the booth outside but there are no signs that the bus is going to depart anytime soon. Time is running out and the bus just stays there while more and more passengers board the bus. When it is almost full, we start our journey.
I believe that I have hardly ever had such a slow bus ride in my life. The airport lies at nearly sea-level and Caracas is at about 1000m above sea level, so the ride is uphill all the time. I guess the bus had an extremely weak engine and there were just too many people on board so it had a hell of a time to move forward. Being so slow, it was hardly able to overtake any even-slower moving vehicles, so we just crept along the road and I was watching the minutes tick by. I was planning to be on the bus till Parque Central and then take the Metro to Plaza Venezuela. I doubted that I would ever make it at this tempo!
I had read in the LP guide that the bus would stop on the way to Parque Central at some Metro Station, and I remembered this when the bus suddenly halted, the driver said something and some people starting getting out. I peered out of the window and was overjoyed to see the sign of a Metro station there! I jumped up from my seat and got out of the bus. The bus ride itself had taken all of 40 minutes! The station is called 'Gato Negro' and I walked down the stairs to the Metro, not knowing yet which line this was and how I would get to Plaza Venezuela. But anything would be faster than staying on that snail of an airport bus! I whooped with joy when I saw that this was the Metro which would take me directly to Plaza Venezuela! What amazing luck!! I still had the multi-ride Metro ticket and in no time I was aboard the right train.
There are 8 stations to Plaza Venezuela, so it is quite a large distance. Reaching there, I jump out and jog to the hotel. There is a receptionist there am I am relieved to see our bags safe in the store room next to the reception and get my blank tape out without problems. I tell him that we'll be back in a couple of days. I take the Metro back to Gato Negro and there I do find a bus waiting to drive to the airport. I am still more or less in time and I'm relieved when the bus starts off pretty soon (it is 13:00 now, the flight is scheduled to leave at 13:50) and drives quite speedily, since it's all downhill now and there are hardly any passengers. I run into the airport and find Annewien immediately. I'm so relieved that it worked out well! You indeed can get it if you want!
We have a coke since the flight is delayed by a bout 20 minutes. It is another DC-9 aircraft and we get a warm meal on board of chicken and rice (what else?). Puerto Ordaz is hot as expected, and we take a taxi to the bus terminal. We haggled the price down from 300 to 2000Bs. From there we get the bus to Ciudad Bolivar, which is air conditioned and nice and comfortable for all of 1500 Bs each.
Once there, it's a short walk to the hotel reserved by Luis (Laja City). The room is not expensive, but extremely used. The carpet is downtrodden and worn through completely at some places and the cover of the a/c is missing as well (but it works!). The room is otherwise clean enough and the advantage is that is within walking distance to the airport where we must be the next morning for our flight to Canaima. Wow, I'm so relieved that we made this rather complicated trip successfully!
We're a bit outside Ciudad Bolivar and we take a bus into the city for 150 Bs. They have music blaring at full power (even 'Modern Talking' get played..) and it is quite an interesting ride. Ciudad Bolivar is a very nice town, it is on the banks of the Orinoco River and has a nice road running along the river. The sun is setting and it lights up the sky and the river in beautiful colours. There is a riverside large restaurant and plenty of Venezuelan lovers holding themselves on the veranda outside it. In the town we see a number of wonderfully colourful colonial houses. Annewien buys a small, cheap Rucksack for the Angel Falls trip. We would like to buy a beer to drink on one of the airy squares but have no luck finding some. We go back to the Mirador restaurant at the banks of the river for dinner.
I notice that there are more people here asking us for money or trying to see us stuff compared to the rest of Venezuela. I assume the people here must be poorer than elsewhere. I construct a 'dog well-being index', which states that you can measure the well-being of the people if you look at the well-being of their dogs. If the dogs are thin and scruffy, the people are in a bad state. If the dogs look well-fed and groomed, the people are well-off. Cuba was bad, Costa Rica good. In the end it was dark and we took a taxi back to the hotel for 1500 Bs. We had a coffee in the hotel bar and then retired to our room. The night was restless, with a really loud a/c which needed to be turned on and off manually depending on the ambient temperature.