Stranded at a dusty roadside bus station somewhere between the tropical grassland plains of Los Llanos and the mayhem & danger of Caracas. We were 3 gringas trying to find our way back to Venezuela’s Capital following a week on remote safari sleeping in hammocks under the stars and mango trees. This was starting to feel scary.
The four hour drive back to relative civilisation should have left us at the tiny Airporto De Barinas to fly directly back to Caracas within the hour. But this was the day president Chavez decided to visit the area & shut down the airport, cancelling all domestic flights in & out of the airport. As you do. Erm… so what the heck are we supposed to do now? We had no extra cash between us, only our return plane tickets. That was the beginning of the fear. Luckily for us, our home stay guide and driver, Deo recognised the vulnerability of 3 women stranded here & insisted on driving us to the nearest bus station in the hope we might be able to find one to take us the 7 hour drive back to Caracas. The possibility of which being zero to none we were told.
We’d been warned of the exceptionally high risk of kidnapping, homicide and rape in and around Caracas at the time, female travellers making for prime targets. Before arriving even, I read that Venezuela was experiencing the highest rate of crime in the world. Of course, that wouldn’t stop me going, but there was a moment when the local men at this bus station began to circle us, creeping slowly closer as if ready to pounce on their prey. The look of being fearful strangers in a strange land impossible to wipe from our eyes by this point.
We looked to Deo for some form of reassurance whose face by this point started to reflect our own fear. Panic had well and truly set in. And having done what we assumed was all he could to get us part of the way home he suddenly turned into Pappa bear protecting his new baby bears – our very own hero…the extent to which we wouldn’t realise until the end of this epic journey.
Locking us & our backpacks back up in his jeep…he jumped onto the bus in front of us (not destined for Caracas.) After some visible hand thrashing and ‘lively’ Spanish negotiation…he frees us and ushers us hurriedly onto the bus shouting ‘just get on’…in a blur of panic & confusion we do as he says and before we know it, we begin to move. No available seats, a tiny shell of a bus with fresh vomit in the aisle and locals with sacks of potatoes & goats we remain panicked…should we have just trusted Deo?? We hadn’t paid for a ticket, we had no idea where the bus was taking us. And this feeling remained for the next 5 hours as we sat crammed on our back packs in the narrow aisle with the stench of now old vomit being blown to the back of the bus by the warm night wind that was hitting us from all the open windows. Amidst the not knowing where we were even headed, a much-needed touch of light relief came from the constant & blaring sound of traditional south American Reggaeton beats the entire journey. We couldn’t talk to each other because we couldn’t hear each other. We just had to sit amidst the music, musty air and mayhem of it all until we arrived wherever we arrived.
Thankfully we end up at what appeared to be another rusty old road-side bus station (and not the complete dead-end of nowhere.) Utilising our joint broken Spanish we manage to eventually work out what our dear Dao had done. He’d paid for our tickets & paid the bus driver extra to ensure we got on a connecting bus to Caracas on arrival here…which is exactly what the driver did. He ushered us almost under his wing until he found where the correct bus stop was to take us as close to Caracas as possible, which turned out in the end to be only a short taxi ride outside of the city centre, where we would finally be able to access a cash point to pay for a taxi, the final leg home.
It was another 2 hours before we made it to the taxi rank on the outskirts of Caracas and even then we were still 3 gringas very much the target of all the local men eyeing up our luggage & making lewd gestures towards us, sensing our exhaustion and relief all at once. But knowing nothing of our 11 hour panic-stricken journey, this new stranger led us carefully and guarded to his car, sensing the unwanted attention we were still receiving and clearly keen to keep us safe. A pattern by this point we were becoming accustomed to; being looked after, protected and as hidden from view as possible to ensure our vulnerability in this place was never given a chance to be taken advantage of.
Finally walking through the door of our friends gloriously air-conditioned apartment, pouring ourselves what felt like a much deserved spiced rum & coke – we almost immediately began to look back on the journey as an epic adventure. There were ups (mainly the Reggaeton), there were downs, there was fear and there were very nearly tears, but above all there was kindness. Kindness by the bucket load. That is what got us home. Our dear Dao organising our safe passage, the word and trust of the first bus driver who we so appreciated despite refusing to clean the vomit from his vehicle and the swift actions of our taxi driver.
It may have taken us 11 unexpected and long hours but we felt an overwhelming sense of triumph…in one of the most reportedly dangerous countries at the world at the time, we 3 managed with no money, broken spanish & no other tourists to join forces with to get from the depths of the Venezuelan south-west plains to the north-east coast Capital! And boy, were we grateful.
A day that started out drenched in fear ended in an almighty trio of cheers. If you want to see the true colours of a nation, or more specifically its people – go get yourself lost.