Sunday, December 4, 2011

la Gran Sabana

Our big goal after Lechería was to make the Brazil border, but that was over 12 hours away, so a couple nights along the road broke it up, as well as a couple of good meals. 

(the best filled arepa yet - filled with pabellón, the semi-offical national dish of Venezuela with rice, beans, and shredded beef or pork - on our way out of Lechería)

We spent one night in Puerto Ordaz, a very modern city, with very few hotels that met our criteria (cheap with good parking).  Asking at a corner store we were directed to a small guesthouse with 2 rooms for rent.  Casa de los Lobos was a fine place to crash, but left us feeling slimy after seeing the older German man who owned the place, along with his 2 young daughters and his too young Venezuelan wife.  While there, though, we did have the chance to try hallaca, a traditional Venezuelan dish usually eaten around Christmas time that contains meat and veggies surrounded by cornmeal then wrapped in plaintain leaves and cooked to deliciousness.

(Chavez loves creepy looking babies)

The next day we were shooting for at least Km 88, perhaps Sta Elena, both places where we knew we'd be able to find lodging. The ride was gorgeous and desolate.

The front end of the bike was still feeling strange, beyond that of just having a slight twist in the assembly. Checking the front wheel for play, it was clear that one or both bearings were shot, in the middle of nowhere, south of Puerto Ordaz. We limped to the next little town, Guasapati, where we filled up on gas and asked about motorcycle shops. Turns out there was a guy on an ATV at an unmarked blue door just 2 buildings away and that's who we should talk to. He was the right guy. We followed him 2 more blocks to his shop and had new front bearings installed within the half hour.

Back on the open road in much better shape than before.

(shadows got longer as the day went on)

Down the road in El Dorado we went to fill up some more cheap gas. Cars were parked for 3 blocks waiting to get gas (common at gas stations out of the big coastal cities). Motorcycles were lined up on the exit side, waiting their turn to get filled between car fillings. The armed guards (common at gas stations) waved us to the moto side, and even waved us in front of the waiting crowd of 15-20 bikes. We filled up for a few cents and hit the road. Most motos don't pay for their gas, only filling up a few liters into their small tanks. We ended up giving 2 Bolívares (US$0.24) to cover gas and a tip on most fillings in Venezuela.

When we arrived at Km 88 (that's how the town is even labeled on Venezuelan road maps), we decided to call it a day and find a place to crash. We ended up asking in all the hotels in town, finding each of them to be overpriced for what they offered. Most were 250-300 Bolívares (US$30-35). Even the places labeled as campamentos. There was one campamento that had an airconditioned room for 200 Bs, and secure parking. The town was a bit rough around the edges, we received some tougher stares than other places in Venezuela, but still everyone we talked to was friendly and warm.

Leaving Km 88 was a tight, winding, mountanious road up into Canaima National Park and to the Gran Sabana. The road takes you up 1500 meters to a gorgeous open expanse that would be a blast to return to and explore. There are some great dual sport options to check out lots of waterfalls (a few 4x4 tours run in the area) and a number of places to camp along the road.  Santa Elena would be another good option for a place to stay and take day trips.

There was one police checkpoint, where the cop was on a power trip, but was still easy enough to get through.  There was one military checkpoint when we were getting closer to Sta Elena.  The military guys there were fantastic, asking us a few questions, letting us know a bit of what's ahead, and then sending us on our way.  Best of all is that one of them came running out of his office, shouting and waving at us as we had just begun to roll slowly to remind us that we had to turn in our temporary import permit for the bike.  Not that we'd forget by now, but still nice of him to think of it and catch us.

Santa Elena de Uairen was a very inviting town, not having the usual border town grit.  We just traveled on through, but would have easily found food and lodging there, as well as hardware and moto shops.  Out of town about 15 km, we made it to the border.

(leaving Venezuela. Office at left is both migration (in main doors to right) and SENIAT/customs (in main doors to left))

The bike was checked out within minutes, after lunch break was over at 1pm.  Migration, however, required us to wait for over 2 hours just for the officer to show up to work.  There were around 4 groups of people in line ahead of us, and by the time we got stamped out, there were 50 people waiting for one officer.  Impressively, a line was actually formed and maintained (with some vocal reminders directed at a few wanderers).  We were happy to get out of there when we did, and hoped that the Brasil side would still be open.

At the Brasilian gate, migration is handled by the federal police office in the first building you will come to on the left (follow the signs).  They were friendly and fast, refreshing after our Venezuelan departure.  Up ahead about 3 or 4 speed bumps is the customs window.  The lady that helped us didn't speak any English or Spanish, and my Portugues includes all of "bom gia" and "obrigado", so the process was slowed some by communication.  But worse than that, the officer had seemingly never been through the temporary import process before.  There were long stretches of her staring blankly at the computer screen and forms, hoping issues would resolve themselves. 

(dealing with customs entering Brasil)

After I got the appropriate copies made (about 2 or 3 blocks down, on the main street to the left, there is a copy shop on the right, directly across from a tourism office and small mall), and a few Bs exchanged, the process still took about 40 minutes.  But finally it was done and we were happy to be in Pacaraima, Brasil!

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