Venezuela travel blog by Mark Berman -
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Border Crossing from Cucuta & Journey
My first time in Venezuela! I crossed at Cucuta
in Colombia to the border town of San Antonio in Venezuela on my way to San Cristobal
about an hour and a half away. I hired a taxi in Cucuta to take me across the border, to stop at both passport offices and wait while I
changed my USD for Bolivares and then to take me to a bus. It was all reasonably straight forward as far as border crossings go.
Bus from San Antonio
bus stop we waited until all seats were full before we could go. I managed to get the front seat beside the driver and a window. Beside
me was a young woman I could practice my Spanish with by means of asking questions about her country. The 90 minute bus ride takes you
up into the hills and through small communities and a couple of towns before coming to San Cristobal. I enjoyed the scenery and kept my
eyes open for things to see and photograph. I told the girl next to me that I am photo mad, she soon got the idea.
Along the Way
We set off into the
green hills, soon I could see San Antonio and Colombia down in the far distance. The views of the valleys are on the right, there are
one or two security checks during this first part of the journey. We passed through a little place called Apartaderos, then La Mulera,
the views now are on the left, the road is in pretty good shape. I see several places at the road side selling ceramics as well as shops
selling fresh meat with pieces of animals hanging there. Shortly we descend into the valley of a colorful town where all the houses are
painted in bright colors, this is a place called Independencia. As you come down the hill there is a colorful shop on the right called
Arte Sano and more red ceramics. Going from one side of the town to the other took a little time but there are some nice things to see
including a pink church on the right, parks, streets and houses of color and statues and monuments. On the left there is an amazing
monument of gold, blue and red set in a little plaza. On top of white pillars stand 9 important figures of bronze, it is called Plaza
Los Fundadores, there was an earthquake around this area in 1875. 20 minutes later we began to descend into the valley of San Cristobal.
Around Town in San Cristobal
From the bus terminal I took a taxi into the city center to find a place to stay, the taxi fare should cost $20 Bolivares. I found an
economical hotel not far from the church, park and markets. The first night in San Cristobal I took it easy, went to a nice restaurant
and went through my photos of the day.
Next morning I ventured out. It's not the most attractive of cities I have been in but it does
have one of the most amazing churches I have seen called Iglesia San Jose in Carrera 10 and there are more than half a dozen more around
Down the hill a bit is Plaza Simon Bolivar where people sit down and play chess and drink coffee. The streets all around this
area have shops and markets.
Changing Some $USD
I wanted to change $100USD cash for Bolivares but there was no money changer that anyone knew of so I asked
a shop if they could change it. The lady rang a friend who came in and exchanged it for me at a rate of 7.2, not a bad rate and very helpful to me.
Before I came to Venezuela people had said to me that I should bring in lots of $USD in cash because
of something to do with the bad exchange rate you get here at ATM machines of 4.3. For $USD cash you usually get a rate of about 7.5 and for a bank transfer
to someone you trust with an offshore account you will get a rate of about 7. I was soon to realise that I should have taken this advice
a little more seriously when I saw my $700USD in cash dwindling faster than I had expected a week later.
Bus to Merida
After another night here, in the
morning I taxied to the bus terminal beside where the fruit and vegetable markets reside and bought a bus ticket to Merida for $45 Bolivares
($6USD at an exchange rate of 7.5 or over $10USD if you exchange your money at the official bank rate of
4.3 = ouch!). Merida
would be my first real destination in
Venezuela, a place where there are plenty of things to do and see. The bus from San Cristobal to Merida takes 5-6hrs including a meal stop.