Saturday, December 3, 2011

Entering Venezuela

Paraguachón was only an hour away from Riohacha, so we started the border crossing process early in the morning. We really didn't know what to expect for getting into Venezuela, so were glad to have time to deal with whatever. It turned out to be one of the quickest and easiest crossings yet. When approaching the Colombian gate, the DIAN customs office is on the left. A copy of the temporary import document was needed so that we could have a stamped record, but the copy was easy to procure (out the door to the left and into the building across the small street). Across the street is the DAS immigration office. Within about 10 minutes, we had cleared out of Colombia and even changed US$20 into Venezuelan Bolívares at 7:1 to have some seed money, although this exchange rate isn't great, we needed it to get us to Maracaibo.

Drive on through the gate until you arrive at the Venezuelan gate, which looks like this:

Go up to the lady at the table (they make her sit outside, but at least she had a fan running on an extension cord) who will fill out your tourist card for you (free of charge). Present that and passport to guy behind the counter and you're past immigration. Easy!

7km down the road, the SENIAT customs building is noticeably on the left hand side.

(it's fun to look for your favorite shot of Chavez in here. They have lots to choose from)

The employees were super friendly, and got our paperwork moving right away. They filled out all of the forms themselves, sent an inspector out to check the VIN and we were on our way. First border crossing completed within an hour!

As of now (Nov 2011), the SENIAT office is only open during the week, not weekends, 8am-12pm and 1pm-4:30 Monday to Friday. We think it may be the same on the Colombia side, but either way, avoid the weekends.

One of the first things we noticed was the road conditions. Much more pot-holed and unpaved than Colombia. Also, the cars on the road were noticeable - more than half of them were old American sedans. It felt like we had just entered a demolition derby ring (but thankfully none of the other drivers felt that way). These old sedans are called porpuestos (translates to "per seat") and are the bus/taxi system used in the region.  They also reminded Jill of her first car, a 1986 blue Caprice Classic.  It is quite possible that she saw the very car that she used to own in the street.

(porpuestos on right, traffic in Guarero)

The road across to Maracaibo was an easy, somewhat uninteresting stretch, similar to what we had seen across northern Colombia. And again, broken up by small, poor settlements.

As we got closer to the big city, we stopped in a small town for some authentic Venezuelan food. The food we had was great, but most memorable was the cute young waitress who served us. She was so extremely curious about what we were doing in her little town, just stared at us with wide eyes and a mysterious smile, absorbing any answers to her questions with a longer than normal, thoughtful, staring silence. So far, everyone we had met in Venezuela was warm and friendly, and that trend continued all the way across the country.

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