I bought a bus ticket to Caracas, Venezuela from the bus terminal in San Antonio de Táchira. It was supposed to be a 15-hour bus ride. I was not too worried about it, because two days prior I did an 18-hour bus ride from Bogotá, Colombia into Venezuela. It sounds tiring, but tolerance comes with experience. What I didn’t know was that this trip would be a test of my patience more than any other in recent memory.
At about 5:30 pm there was a crowd of people waiting to board the bus for Caracas. As always, it was hot and muggy. When the bus arrived, it was large and luxurious, better than any greyhound I had ever ridden. A boy began taking our bags and putting them in the cabin below. A nicely dressed guy in a wheel chair rolled up to me, he was in his mid thirties. He was paralyzed from the waist down, so his arms and abdomen still had some girth to them. He asked how I was doing, and then asked if I could carry him up onto the bus. He said I looked like the only person capable of lifting him. I told him I would do my best. I grabbed him from behind around his chest and climbed backwards up the steps. His feet dragged on the ground as I pulled him. The steps were high and I could feel my legs about to buckle, but I pressed on and was able to get him up the steps without harming either of us. He smiled and shook my hand, then asked if I could make sure the wheel chair was stowed below. I once again agreed, upon checking, the chair was already folded and in the storage cabin.
I took my seat. It was large, comfortable, and nearly reclined all the way back like a lazy boy. The air conditioning was blowing on me, and Yogi Bear the movie was playing in Spanish on the televisions throughout the bus. I thought to myself, this is going to be the easiest bus trip I’ve ever taken.
About an hour into the trip the bus came to a stop. I pulled the window curtain to see we were at a police/national guard checkpoint in San Cristobal. A police officer boarded the bus and said, “everybody off the bus, have your identification ready to hand to me when you get off the bus.” As I got off the bus I handed the officer my passport, he looked at me for a moment and then looked back down. We all stood around outside of the bus for about twenty minutes. They had drug dogs sniffing the bus and the luggage compartments. Next they called each person by name and handed him or her back their identification, after each passenger received their I.D they would get back on the bus. My passport was last; I approached the officer and said that the passport was mine. He said, “I know, get your luggage from below the bus and come with me.” I took my suitcase and followed him into the police station. He led me into a small dimly lit room where two other officers were waiting. They closed the door and told me to put my suitcase on the table. Next the officer asked, “what is a gringo doing coming from Colombia into Venezuela by land?” He said that he knew I had drugs, so I should take them out now. I looked him in the eyes to show him I wasn’t nervous or scared. I opened my suitcase and told him “I have nothing to hide, go ahead and have a look.” The two other officers ransacked the suitcase for about 10 minutes. “There’s nothing here”, one of the officers said to the commanding officer. Next they told me to empty my pockets. They looked through my wallet. I had about the equivalent of 250 US dollars in Bolivar’s in my wallet. He took about the equivalent of $100.00 from me, and told me to pack my stuff and get back on the bus. I was really pissed off because I had done nothing wrong, and I couldn’t argue, they were the law. They had guns, and had me in the little room. So I bit my tongue and repacked my stuff and quickly got back to the bus. When I boarded the bus everybody looked at me as though I was holding up the bus and they were upset with me. I went back to my seat and covered my face with a t-shirt I was using earlier to soak up the sweat. I was trying to breathe deeply and steadily to stop the anger and anxiety. Maybe it was just my pride eating at me.
I was sitting next to a little chubby girl about 12 or 13 years old. She asked me if I was okay. It felt really nice to hear her innocent voice being concerned and all. Sometimes when you’re all alone something so small like that can mean the world. I looked at her and smiled and said yes I am okay, and thanked her for asking. Then I talked to her for a little while, about the typical things you talk to a child about. What’s your favorite subject in school, how old are you, etc. I fell asleep after an hour or so.
Hours later the bus came to another abrupt stop. I woke up and saw we were at another police checkpoint. I looked at my watch to see it was about midnight. I quickly pulled out my wallet and took out the rest of the cash, I couldn’t think of anywhere to put it, I was going to ask the little girl to hold it, but instead I took my shoe off and quickly slid the money inside, then put my shoe back on. There was about 750 bolivar’s, which is a big lump to step on. An officer boarded the bus and said to stay seated and have your ID’s out. He started at the front and reviewed each person’s I.D. When he got to me he looked at my passport, “get off the bus and get your luggage from below, were going to search you.” My blood pressure shot up, but I didn’t say anything, I stood up and did as he said. As I got off the bus another officer escorted me behind the police station. There was some tile flooring, but no tables or chairs. He told me to open my suitcase. I opened it, and he began searching through it. Do you have any weapons or drugs? I told him that I didn’t have anything illegal. After searching my suitcase he searched my pockets. He took my wallet out. Where is all of your money? He asked. I told him that the police took it at the last checkpoint. He started laughing, I could see he had a gold tooth in the front, “They took all of it?” He asked. “Yes” I answered, and then he told me to take off my shoes. My heart started racing. I took my shoes off and he saw the money wadded up, it nearly popped up out of the shoe. “You shouldn’t have lied. This is going to cost you for lying.” “It would have cost me anyway,” I said looking down at the short little corrupt bastard. He took 650 Bolivars from me and left me with 100, which is like 25 dollars. “Pack your stuff and get back on the bus Gringo,” he said.
Again I stepped back onto the bus and everybody looked at me as if I were a burden. At this point I didn’t care, I was too mad to care about them and their wasted time. Venezuela is the richest country in Latin America because of the oil, yet the police are the worst. I’ve been to very poor countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua, the only time a police officer would take your money is if you were doing something wrong, you could pay to have them turn their heads. But this? I could not believe what I was experiencing. The wheel chair guy I helped onto the bus called to me, “hey Gringo!” I really wasn’t in the mood, but out of respect I went to his seat to see what he wanted. “What did they want with you?” he asked. “That’s the second time they pulled me off, they searched me, and then they took money from me both times.” I responded. “What did they say you did wrong?” “They searched my bags and pockets, then just took my money with no reason.“ He looked upset; he said he was sorry for what had happened. Just then the bus began to take off, I nearly lost my footing but grabbed the seat back of the seat in front of him. “Im going back to my seat, talk to you later,” I said.
The little girl was sleeping; I had to step over her to get to my window seat. I sat down and started biting my nails. I felt so hopeless, almost as if I were in prison or a bitch or a slave or something. I couldn’t think of another time when I felt like I was done so wrong, but could not do anything. What could I do, call the police? Tell my Mom? I had some dollars and my bankcard stashed in a money belt below my underwear. I was starting to worry that if there is another checkpoint that they may find it because there is no other money to be found, naturally they will dig deeper. I didn’t expect them to check my shoes the last time. There was no way I could go back to sleep; I just stayed awake thinking about what I should do at the next stop. I started looking at my watch to see the altitude changes. We would go down as low as 580ft above see level to as high as 4500ft. Each time my ears would pop I knew the bus was climbing another mountain, so I would check my watch again.
Sure enough, at about 430am the bus stopped at another checkpoint. An officer boarded the bus and told us all to take out our I.D’s. I pulled my passport out and was ready to go to jail this time. I was thinking that if they tried taking another cent from me I would refuse, even if it meant going to jail. I couldn’t take the humiliation, it just wasn’t right. When the officer got back to me, I handed him my passport. He looked at it and told me to get off the bus. I was not surprised, in fact, I expected it. I stood up and stepped over the little girl. Just at that moment the wheelchair guy started screaming and cussing at the top of his lungs. The officer ran over to him, I too stood behind the officer to see what was going on. He was cussing at the officer, he explained how I had been thoroughly searched twice and robbed twice by the police, how much more blood could they possibly take. He told him that all police are an embarrassment to his country. He then pulled out a badge and some paperwork and held it up to the officer’s face and told the officer to get the hell off the bus. The officer looked at the badge and paperwork and apologized to him. The officer then got off the bus, a few of the passengers on the bus started clapping and cheering. I still didn’t understand what had just happened. Later he explained it all to me, it turned out that he was an assistant prosecuting attorney for some district of Venezuela. Apparently he also was a former Military officer until he sustained some type of paralysis.
That ended up being the last checkpoint of the trip to Caracas. I didn’t go out of my way to help that guy in the wheelchair; he asked me to help him onto the bus. Of course I had no problem helping him, my mother taught me better than that. My point is that I didn’t go out of my way. What was so strange is that the help that I gave him came full circle, at a time when I was feeling nutty and ready to crack. I was about to let my stubbornness get the best of me, when this guy that I inadvertently helped stepped in, right at the moment when I was about to do something stupid, I seriously saw myself going to jail. God works in mysterious ways.
Whats the most corrupt country? Venezuela has the most corrupt police. Which country has the most corrupt police. Corruption under Hugo Chavez. Are the police in venezuela corrupt? Is Venezuela safe? Venezuela is dangerous for gringos, danger for tourists in venezuela, robbed by the police in venezuela. Robbed at police checkpoint in venezuela.