I was hung up in Cucuta, Colombia (border town) waiting to cross into Venezuela. It was a typical border town with littered streets and lots of people nagging to change your money, or offering taxi’s. One thing that caught me off guard was the amount of 1970’s-1980’s American cars being used by everyday folks. Everywhere else in Colombia had tiny little Renaults, Kias, or Hyundai’s. I had seen a story on the news in Colombia a few weeks back about people smuggling gas from Venezuela into Colombia. Venezuelans pay .15 cents per gallon, so naturally people cross the river, push a wagon through the woods, whatever it takes to smuggle a few gallons into Colombia for profit. I asked a cab driver if this was true, he laughed and said look over there. I looked down into an alley where he pointed, there was a man with a donkey with four (5) gallon tanks draped over the saddle. A tube was syphoning the gas into a late 1980’s Monte Carlo. That’s when the light bulb lit up in my head, duh!! They have these old cars because the gas prices are not an issue with Venezuela being so close.
I crossed the border and into Venezuela at about 2:30 in the afternoon. I noticed the same thing in San Antonio de Tachira, big old American cars all over the place. Even though this is an interior village, the town had more of a coastal feel. Salsa music blared from all angles, palm trees planted in the squares, and people wore flip-flips (with pants of course). On my back I had a small backpack with my laptop and other essentials, and in hand I was dragging a big suitcase with wheels. It was probably 90F, and humid, there were about 4 or 5 people following me, even after I told them I didn’t need their help. It was a bit frustrating with the heat and all. Eventually I found the street with the Posada I had booked for the night. I dropped my bags, took a quick shower, and went back out in the streets. Every now and then I would make eye contact with somebody, instead of turning away they would cross the street and ask where I was from, what I was doing there, some would even ask me for money. A couple of them followed me until I made a few strategic turns in order to shake them. That’s a stark contrast to Colombia, I think after years of war and suppression the Colombians fear what they do not know. The Venezuelans are in your face demanding answers.
Another thing I quickly noticed were the amount of Chinese, Jews, and Arabs. Just about every block has an Arab restaurant, or Chinese five and dime. Even though there is somewhat of an international community here, most were able to pick me out as a foreigner. I took off my necklace and watch, and simply wore a white t-shirt with a pair of slacks, and continued to be picked out of a crowd easily.
Tomorrow I will be headed to Caracas on another 15 hour bus ride. Carpe Diem.