Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.
Narrated Audio Blog
After a productive visit in Bogota sorting our shipping quotes and getting Weeti's paperwork in order for flying to the US, we decided to take a 3 week trip back into Venezuela to visit some friends and attend a Moto Event in the state of Falcon. This would be our last chance before leaving South America and who knows when our path would bring us back here.
There is always plenty of excitement and drama when visiting Venezuela and this occasion didn't disappoint. We entered near San Cristobal and as is usually the case the border was busy. When we first entered Colombia we had conducted a temporary import of both our bikes which was valid for 3 months, it was now less then a month later and so we pleaded with the Aduana officials to allow us to keep the paperwork and skip the import when we returned. Initially this request fell on deaf ears, but after struggling to transfer our VIN to their form with carbon paper, they reconsidered thinking it was a great idea and that it would be silly any other way. Thanks guys. As far as Venezuela goes, we still had insurance left over from the 12 months we'd bought for $3, 8 months earlier but as for a formal bike import, this wasn't really happening anymore or at least no one could point us in the right direction and from previous experience it wasn't needed, or would it be.
Our first stop was to fuel up, we had been looking forward to cheap petrol and had a little money still left over which we expected to get us as far as we needed to go (last time we had been here it cost less then 1 cent to fill both bikes including their extended range tanks). The fuel station we stopped at was now over 1,000 times more than we had paid before, had it all changed? Admittedly this was still very good; it would now be $10 to fill 80 litres of fuel. However, we had not expected this and did not have enough money to now continue without finding a Cambio (money changer). Janell ran up to a couple of guys and asked if they would change Colombian Pesos, they were more then happy and after going for a drive to get enough local currency, we made a fair change albeit more in their favour.
We hit the road quickly as it was starting to get late and we wanted to make some ground and get into a hotel before dark. Venezuela isn't the safest place in the world and the border with Colombia is considered the most dangerous part. We found a few hotels with our GPS and set them as our destination, the first was a bit run down but certainly very cheap at less than a dollar a night. Stuart was sure we could do better and went for a quick ride to another hotel in the GPS, this hotel had underground parking, bar and restaurant and a pool for a fraction more, it really was a no brainer.
After heading out for some dinner we came back to relax by the pool, some young kids went and got us cocktails as we took a swim but before long we retired for the night.
Our first stop was to be Barinas, a small city in southwestern Venezuela, it had plenty to offer, nice shopping malls, good services, all the big fast food chains, specialty shops and plenty of nice hotels. We met up with our good friend Carlos of Barinas (as opposed to Caarlos of El Calleo). Carlos took us to a centrally located hotel walking distance to two big shopping malls with plenty of grass for Weeti to sniff around on and a large swimming pool (which we never got around to using, socialising can be a real pain some times). Our other friend Caarlos and his girlfriend Belkis were also in town and met up with us. They had travelled from the other side of the country to visit Belkis' family and were also attending the Moto Event which was now about a week away. While in Barinas we had our bikes serviced, this for us was pretty uneventful but not so for Carlos who had a service at the same time. The day for us to ride to Falcon state had arrived. Our bikes were in the shop all day, Janell had her brake pads replaced and for some reason the mechanic decided he needed to take the pannier off to see it properly (umm, no you don't). But instead of calling us and asking for the key, he took the frame apart!!! Anyway, it was still a very cheap service at under $10 including oil so we couldn't really complain. Carlos on the other hand would have plenty to complain about.
By the time all the bikes were together it was late, still light but not for long. We'd decided to ride through the night, a 10 hour journey on dual carriage way roads, we knew that if necessary we'd fall back and find accommodation for the night catching them all up in the morning but it was good to get a head start. Once we hit the motorway and got up in speed with Carlos leading. He had misinterpreted Janell saying she didn't want to go any faster then 70. She had meant miles per hour but Carlos though it was km per hour so to start with we pottered along very slowly. Before long Stuart asked Janell what was going on and she admitted she may have made a mistake. With a bit of prompting she pulled up next to Carlos and we all pulled over. It was decided that Stuart would lead for some reason, but he was happy with that and took off. Quickly after that we lost Carlos and slowed down. He still didn't catchup so we pulled over and waited. Eventually we saw him riding extremely slowly on the shoulder with his hazards on. When he reached us he told us that his engine kept cutting out. He had it in idle and it seemed fine but once he got up in speed it would cut out. Stuart looked under the bike and noticed straight away that the sump plug was missing and quickly told Carlos to shut it off. The mechanic had let us down in a big way. Carlos made a call and had another mechanic friend drive out with a spare sump plug and oil. On inspection the mechanic said the bike wasn't going anywhere and the engine would need to be rebuilt.
It was now 11pm and Carlos had no choice but to return the bike to Barinas. The group had a quick discussion and decided that Carlos would sit on his bike, the mechanic would ride Janell's bike with one foot on Carlos to push the bike back to Barinas. We'd seen plenty of this in South America and so we weren't alarmed. Everyone in the convoy stuck together, we were able to get up to a decent speed up but it took 2 hours to arrive back in Barinas. There was no other safe option but to get some sleep now. We would happily have slept until 8 then hit the rode but everyone in the convoy wanted to be up at 4:30am to give it another go so we followed.
The next day went much smoother but still some problems. A car in our convoy was pulled over by the Police and the driver was fined for not wearing a seat belt. Later, that same car needed to stop to have some issues with the brakes fixed. But otherwise we got into Coro in Falcon with enough time to sort out a hotel and see some of the festivities. During one of the stops to check the brakes, we stopped near some local children admiring all the flash bikes passing by. As we stopped they all ran over and swarmed us, Janell got off her bike to let them have a sit and Stuart followed suit. They all wanted their go and had to get photo evidence. Maybe we inspired a couple of kids to grow up and take off on their own motorcycle adventure one day.
The Moto Event was loud. There was music, fast bikes, half naked pillions in bikinis, plenty of drinking and the odd fatality. As well as checking out all the events and stalls, we made time to tour the nearby peninsular and get to the beach to cool off with friends.
We had invited our friend Alicia from El Calleo, Weeti's previous mum, to meet up and spend the weekend with us at the Moto Event. This had been a good opportunity for Alicia to get her son out of El Calleo for the weekend as she told us horror stories about how much it had changed in the past 8 months and how dangerous it had become. Weeti was happy to see Alicia again although not keen to return after having experienced a life on the road. Alicia and her son Alex stayed in a family room with us for the 3 days of the event, which we mixed up with trips to the beach, a local pool, a play centre, shops and of course the motorbike festivities.
At night when the festivities really got going, the arena was full of bikes and people, leaving was an experience in itself since the exit route had you go past the front of the stage and with bands playing and masses of people gravitating in that direction it was literally like riding through a mosh pit. This was fine for most sports bikes or even adventure bikes that weren't geared up as ours were, but add 45 litre panniers into the equations and you have an almost impossible task. With bikes on our tails there was no going back, so we just had to proceed as cautiously as possible and apologise in our still poor Spanish every time we bumped someone. Admittedly we only had this issue the first time, after that we decided to wait until the crowd died down and then we were able to exit in the opposite direction.
After leaving Coro, we rode to Barquisimeto were we stayed with friends we'd met in Brazil, Everth and Marbella. They had been at the Moto Event but we hadn't time to catch up so they had offered for us to stay with them on our way back to Colombia. We stayed one night but accidentally left our laptop at their house. Of course we didn't realise until we arrived back in Barinas. Poor Stu did a 5 hour round trip back to Evereth and Marbella to collect the missing laptop. These things happen.
The scenery on our ride to Merida didn't disappoint; beautiful farming country with sharp mountains towering above on all sides. Although we'd set our sights on reaching Merida by nightfall, it was obvious early on that that goal was too ambitious, so we settled for the quaint town of Santo Domingo about 2 hours ride from Merida. Pet friendly hotels were not easy to find in this region with all the accommodation quite expensive by Venezuelan standards ($7-$8 a night). We eventually found somewhere in the low end of town, the owner had a dog of his own who became best buddies with Weeti and they played while we unpacked the bikes and moved into our huge family sized room.
Still plagued with bike problems, we rode on to Merida but decided it best to split up. Stu would stay until his motorbike was fixed while Janell carried on to Bogota to sort out flights. So thats exactly what we did but Janell accidentally took off with all Stu's credit cards and all the cash. Oops.
Just after Janell left, Stuart got directions to a mechanic nearby. The mechanic was still on his extended siesta when Stu first arrived and speaking to the shop owner across the road was told to expect him back within the hour. Rather than sitting around waiting, he went looking for accommodation. Lucky hotel number 10 accepted him with Weeti. The owner initially said no to dogs, but when her son saw the dog and was amazed at what he was seeing, convinced her it was okay.
Stuart unpacked quickly and made his way back to the mechanic. Troubleshooting the problem proved difficult. The throttle body was thoroughly cleaned and new spark plugs installed. The bike was certainly running better but the problem continued until the ABS ring was replaced in Canada. It was damaged after hitting a rock and gave incorrect speed readouts which obviously linked to the computer which must have cut the engine for safety reasons.
Having thought the problem fixed and not quite time for bed, Stuart and Weeti made their way to the local bar. Before long Stuart was drinking beers with the town's police chief. The police are highly corrupt in Venezuela and quite frankly dangerous so Stu had a couple of polite beers then retired to bed.
Stu's lack of money access became a problem when he returned to Colombia. He had no choice but to ride from the border to Bogota in a day. He filled his tanks in Venezuela at the border and got a good feed with the couple of dollars he had left and sadly said farewell to Venezuela for this adventure.
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