Saturday, December 3, 2011

Who turned out the lights?

We left Maracaibo after 2 days to head for our next couchsurfing adventure in Maracay. Both google maps and our GPS said it would take about 7 hours to get there, which is a pretty long day for us, but we wanted to get there because we knew we had an inviting, and free, bed waiting.

So, we headed out early and after driving around Maracaibo for about an hour trying to find the right way out of town, we were finally making progress.  One of our stops was to fill up with gas.  We had heard gas was cheap, and it sure was!  At the black market rate of 8.5:1, it works out to be about US$0.01 per liter, or 4 cents per gallon.  (No wonder those porpuesto drivers don't worry about fuel economy)

We hit a lot of consistent traffic almost immediately. After sitting or slowly moving for a few hours, we finally found the holdup - a bicycle race. And not only did we find the hold up, we ended up riding through the middle of it. (Hey, there were other motorcycles doing it! So what if they looked a little more official than us...)

Once we were finally able to pass all the bikes we were able to move for a couple of hours until we hit another traffic jam for no apparent reason. Eventually we were able to see that a truck had lost a full load of beer on the highway, blocking two full lanes of traffic.

("Homer no function beer well without")
Which had created this mess:

(thankfully lane splitting is the norm, so we were able to work through this much faster than most)
Once past the beer spill, we were moving again for several hours. One thing we had discovered early in the day was that our headlight was not working, likely due to a defective cheap relay we purchased in Panama. So, we had really, really hoped to not be on the road at night. Unfortunately, by the time we had passed both of the road obstacles that day, it was already getting towards late afternoon and we were still a couple of hours from Maracay. Then it started raining. It rained hard, so hard that we were driving through puddles to our boots and it looked like geysers had sprung in some parts of the road. And again traffic was slowed to a crawl.  This time we were alright with the slow pace though, as our visibility was near zero.

(notice the flowing water at right)
The rain never really stopped, but did eventually let up, which was nice because now we still had to drive over an hour without a headlight in the dark on a very busy and dangerous highway. We were both scared for our lives as the highway had lots of potholes and other obstacles that we could no longer see well at all, except for the subtle reflections of brake lights off of the wet tarmac. If we would have seen a hotel or anywhere to stop along the way, we would have, but there was nothing.  And moving slowly along the shoulder of the road with other slow moving (and generally poorly lit) mopeds seemed a bit safer than stopping on the shoulder.  Finally, within the city limits of Maracay, we found a gas station and McDonald's. We had our couchsurfing host Filipo's number, but there was no pay phone in sight. Luckily, the gas station attendent let us make a call with his phone and we begged Filipo to come meet us so we could follow him to his house. Filipo agreed and it was a much safer drive following closely and still very slowly in his taillights to his house, about 20 more minutes away.

In all we drove for well over 12 stressful and dark hours and were very, very glad to have made it safely.  Very glad.  That evening's drive was by far the stupidest thing that Mike has ever chosen to do, but it still somehow seems like it was the best option at the time, given the lack of places to stop safely.  If it's any consolation, we now carry a spare relay.  And hope to never repeat anything like that again.

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