Wednesday, 8 August 2007

 

Today we need to go to the consulate. Venezuela is the only country in South America that requires a so-called tourist card and this form must be obtained before crossing the border.  

As we arrive at the embassy all the doors are closed and nobody seems to be there. Suddenly a little boy appears in the garden and obviously takes over the diplomatic affairs. So I find myself standing in front of a closed gate negotiating my Venezuelan visa with a little boy. These things make travelling the adventure it is!

 

In the end we get our visa and are free to drive to the border.

As we arrive there in the late afternoon the formalties are straight forward. Minutes later we find ourselves in Venezuela and spend the night in the small but pleasant bordertown on Santa Elena.

Me gusta Venezuela, and from here it stands only 900 kilometers to the Caribbean coast!††††

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 9 August 2007

 

After having done nearly 6000 kilometers in South America my motorcycle needs an oil change, which we simply accomplish in the drive way of a friendly local manís home.

 

 

As we then drive to the petrol sation to fill up, we donít trust our eyes! For 70 litres of premium fuel the bill says 4000 Bolivares!! At an exchange rate of 3600 Bolivares for one Dollar the fuel price is down at an unbelievable 0,016 US Dollars per litre!

Naturally, Venezuelas president Hugo Chavez owes a lot of of his popularity to these price dumping policies!

As an oil producing country, Venezuelaís economy was strongly booming in the late seventies and eighties. When the world wide oil crisis hit in 1988, things started to change. With their national economy being totally dependent on the extraction of raw materials, since then, the inflation has been on its way up and the GDP on its way down.

At the moment I carry over a million Bolivares in my pocket which is worth about 200 Euros.

 

 

 

 

Friday, 10 August 2007

 

Chris and Lori are staying in Santa Elena a little longer while Iíll continue my journey up north. The landscape is absolutely breathtaking and the road leads over an altiplano sprinkled with green hills.

 

 

 

Beside its biker friendly fuel prices, Venezuela also boasts with immaculate roads.. 

 

 

Taking a picture is always worth to remember. When ever I stop friendly locals surround me and want to be on the picture as well!

 

Saturday, 11 August 2007

 

Today I arrive at the city of Guyana. Here one has to take the car ferry across the Rio Orinoco to get on the motorway to the coast.

The passage takes about half an hour. Naturally, my bike is the main attraction on board and people surround me with interest.

 

 

Sunday, 12 August 2007

 

 

Today, Iím heading towards Guiria. The small port of Guiria is located on a peninsula and represents the most northwestern point of Venezuela that can be reached by road. From there, I will catch the ferry to Trinidad and Tobago to visit my next UNICEF project.

The peninsula of Paria belongs to one of the heaviest rainfall areas on earth.

The mountain range in the background is constantly hidden in fog and its vegetation is also called Cloud Forest. Due to its constant humidity the Ącloud forest ď represents a unique ecological system.

 

 

In Guiria I find a nice camp site where I place my tent under a solid roof. The rainfallscan be so violent that they would easily wash me away.

 

 

Monday, 13 August 2007

 

In the morning Iím heading downtown to buy a ticket to Trinidad and Tobago.

Iím told that Windward Lines are no longer operating their car ferry and that there is only a passenger boat now.

This ferry doesnít transport any vehicles and for my motorcycle I would have to find a cargo ship with a captain prepared to take the bike.

As another inconvenience, Trinidad and Tobago donít accept the Carnet de Passage.††

Altough the state did sign the international treaty regulating temporary imports of vehicles in 1954, they do insists on a cash deposit of the vehicleís value and besides that, the motorbike must get registered in Trinidad and fitted with a national numberplate.

For one week of stay in Trinidad that is simply unacceptable and timingwise impossible.

I will go to Trinidad to visit a UNICEF project, but the motorcycle will remain in Venezuela.

Which of course is going to be anything else than simple.

The Venezuelan customs stamped the details of the motorbike into my passport andIím not allowed to leave the country without it. Neither by land nor by sea.

The only chance I see is to contact the Venezuelan AA, the TACV (Venezuelani automobile club) in Caracas and ask for advice. I get an immediate response and am told that I will have to inform the Venezuelan customs in order to get a special permission to leave the country without the bike.

Usually the permission should be granted, considering my case.

At the customs office Iím told, that I must officially park the motorbike in Guiria and produce a confimation that says so.

However, finding someone in Venezuela who is ready to write a confirmation for parking a motorbike seems to be close to impossible.

Especially when I come around with a letter showing the seal of the customs and tax office.

At first Iím welcomed with Hola Amigo but as soon as they see the threatening stamp, it is over with friendship and nice words. Nobody wants to have anything to do with it.

It feels like Iím out to do shopping at the blackmarket and asking for a receit showing the VAT.

 

After a while I find a hotel with an owner ready to write me the desired paper and confirm that I park the bike within his premisis. With that confirmation I get my permit from the customs and am allowed to leave Venezuela for one week.

If I decided not to come back, the motorbike would belong to the customs Iím told.

   

After having travelled through the Congo and Angola such official routines I am familiar to such routines.However, when going from Venezuela to friendly Trinidad they sort of come somewhat unexpectedly.

I am only happy that I can help myself with the language. Without Spanish one would be completely lost.

 

 

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

 

Today I spend making last preparations for my motorcycle-free stay in Trinidad. I park the bike in the hotelís restaurant and the owner triple checks that I have locked my panniers and taken off all removeable parts.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

 

Today I take the ferry to Trinidad. The vesselís departure is scheduled for 4 o'clock pm but it only leaves at 6. Briefly after we have left Guiria, the sun goes down behind the mountains of the Peninsula of Paria.

According to the legend, it was here where Columbus first set his foot on American mainland and kicked off ĄThe Conquest of Paradise ď.

 

The threatening clouds in the background represent the predecessors of hurricane Dean. The storm is still moving with approximately 160 km/h over the cold Atlantic ocean and as soon as it hits the warm waters of the Caribbean, it is expected to build up such an enormous pressure system that it could reach speeds of up to 240 kilometers per hour.  

During the rainy season the coasts and islands of the Caribbean are frequently hit by such heavy storms and I hope that this one does not stay around Trinidad and Tobago for too long.

 

 

Thursday, 16 August 2007

 

Port of Spain receives me with storm and heavy rainfalls. Hurricane Dean has already developed into a category 3 storm and will fortunately touch the islands of Trinidad and Tobago only slightly. Some roads of the capital city turn into little rivers and although we are still hundreds of kilometers away from the center of the storm, the sudden pressure drop comes along with violent wind speeds.

 

 

Fortunately the sunshine comes back in the afternoon and the planned HIV Awareness walk can be done as expected.

 

The national Kricket and Soccer teams come together with hundreds of children and we all walk around the around the city park to point out the dangers of HIV and AIDS.  

 

 

The event is brodcasted by the media and in an interview I speak about my journey around the world and the importance of the work of UNICEF world wide.  

 

 

The atmosphere is great and the sportsmen untiringly write autographs on the childrenís T-shirts.

 

 

Particularly in the english speaking Caribbean, Reggae and Hip Hop are the main instruments of communication for the youths and together with artists from the scene numerous events are beeing organizedto create awareness of HIV and its prevention.

Next to where the participants walk, a truck carries some of the best known Djs from the West Indies and an enormous sound system provides the beat. The lyrics of the cool Rap and Ragga Songs contain important messages that promote the use of condoms and inform about the danger of drugs. Soon the whole park is in motion and dances to the hot rhythms.

One doesnít have to obsere the children and young people for long to realize that they find the serious messages absolutely cool, as they enthusiastically sing along and repeat the lines.

Events like this are the best way to deliver messages and reach young people in such an extroverted and party-oriented culture as in Trinidad and Tobago.

UNICEF constantly strives to organize similar events with local partner organizations involving as many youths as possible.

 

 

 

Friday, 17 August 2007

 

Today I will participate in a training for information and prevention of HIV.

One of the topics shows the proper use of a condom and I have the pleasure to demonstrate the application procedure myself.

Of course, not without causing a certain amusement within the audience, but therein does exactly lie the point!

By removing the taboo off the topic, talking about sexuality will become more accepted within society and dangerous practices can effectively be avoided

 

In the afternoon I visit Childline. Childline is a telefonhotline for children thatcan bereached in any kind of emergencies.

When talking to the operators, Iím told about a shocking and current case. A 17 year old girl has been abused by her father and the new boyfriend of her mother since her 12th birthday and doesnít want to talk to the police.††

Which is a big problem, because without her pointing out the rapists, the police canít arrest the criminals. Now psychological advisors from Childline are bussy to convince her about the importance of such a step.

Like many other victims of domestic violence, she believes it has all been her fault and as a matter of fact, she feels ashamed and remains quiet.

 

Childline represents an inestimably important mechanism providing free psychological consultation and the guaranty of absolute anonymity. For many children, Childline is often the only possible way to find councelling and assistance.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 18 August 2007

 

Today I have a look around beautiful Port of Spain and go for a run. The city is built up the flanks of a small mountain range and from the contour road one has got a wonderful view.

 

 

In the center of Port of spain there are only a few intact colonial buildings left. Among them, the cathedral and some of the splendourful manors around the city park.

 

 

 

Tonight a loud bang wakes me up. It must have been around 4 oíclock and as I get up to see what is going on, I see that a car has just crashed into the neighbours wall. Obviously the driver went to fast and came off the road!

In the next morning, when the car is getting towed, the unfortunate driver shows up again. Slightly sobered up by now, he is heavily complaining that some gangsters stole his car radio. Yep, thatís what counts. The car is totally messed up, he is alive but the radio is the thing.

 

Sunday, 19 August 2007

 

Today a Duathlon is held in Port of Spain and I come around to have a look.

 

 

The ambitious athletes are using top material and I admire their heat resistance. The course leads through the superhot downtown streets, there is hardly any wind and the race is started at 2 o'clock!

In the cooler evening I go running as well and enjoy the fresh air in the city park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, 20 August 2007

 

Today I fly to Tobago to visit a special UNICEF project.

Compared to modern and buzzing Trinidad, the island of Tobago is a place of silence and solitude where nature is still unaffected to a large extent.

A small mountain road leads around the island and winds over green hills past narrow bays and fantastic beaches.

 

 

After only 20 minutes of flying time the plane lands in Crown Point and I catch the bus to the small village of Speyside.

In former times Speyside was a fishing village that today naturally lives from tourism.

Here I meet a man called Cesar Vilar.

Cesar is a charismatic man and inspires the young people. The spanish lawyer with the special field of childrenís rights has already been working for UNICEF for 9 years and is now setting up a pilot project for children and young people in small municipalities.

By organising sport and culture events as well as implementing educational programs he is creating new possibilites for young people so they can see themselves as an important part of their community.

As Cesar introduces me to the youths, they are sceptical at first and donít know what the strange white man is doing in their village.

I must earn my respect first and participate in a shoot out with the sling shot.

 

 

Due to the fact that I spent half of my childhood with such a thing in my pocket I still can do it and hit the small bottle at the 3rdattempt. All congratulate me and Iímaccepted into their community.

The children take me to their favourite hill and show me the beautiful view over the island and the sea.

 

 

Afterwards we all sit together and I show them pictures of my journey.

 

 

In the evening I watch a Capoeira demonstration. This martial arts style incorporates strong elements of dance and was originally created by the african slaves of Brazil andthe Caribbean. Because the slaves were not allowed to train any kind of combat art, they simply camouflaged their system in a dance. Out of this, the today's Capoeira developed. 

The young people enthusiastically join the classes and the show is most impressive.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

 

Today, I will participate in a joint trainingexercise of the Red Cross of Trinidad and Tobago and UNICEF.

To be able to organize help and emergency assistance in a case of desaster, the participants are instructed in the correct use of handheld radios. In the remote villages of the Caribbean islands this is extremely important. During the hurricane season the GSM net often doesnít work and the roads get blocked by landslides. 

Together with the children, we form small groups and learn how to operate the radio. Soon everyone can do it.

 

 

Later the learned skills are tested in the field. We split up into small groups and walk over the entire village going from house to house.

 

Naturally, instead of having to judge the extent of a natural catastrophe we ask the people where in their opinion improvements in the village community seem to be necessary and where in particular they would like to help.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† This great combination of a disaster relief exercise and a need analysis succeeds toinvolve the entire village community and everyone takes over an important task!

 

In the evening I have to leave my new friends again and drive back to the airport.

Unfortunately, tomorrow I must take the ferry back to Venezuela and continue my journey towards Colombia.

 

 

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

 

The ferry to Venezuela takes off in time and we are expecting a pleasant cruise. The weather is great and on-board beverages are free of charge.

As we go past a small island, we even happen to see a genuine smuggler boat. The vessel is overloaded hopelessly and the crew, consisting of Chinese sailors, swims around the boat hastily scraping off the shipís name replacing it by a new one.

 

 

Apparently they did not expect the weekly ferry. In any case, our captain radios the coast guard to take care of them.

As we reach Guiria, my friends from the Venezuelan customs already welcome me. As they inquire whether I plan to continue my journey on the motorbike, I jokefully answer that I will sell it illegaly. Whereupon we all laugh together.

 

 

Thursday, 23 August 2007

 

I leave the Peninsula of Paria and steer along the Caribbean coast

.

 

The coastal road leads past fantastic bays and strongly reminds me of my childhood.

As a small boy, I was intrigued by the legends of pirates and hidden treasures of the Caribbean. At that time, I could name all the islands and ports and was convinced that one day I would sail here myself.

Well, today I am here on the motorcycle. Instead of a sextant I have a GPS unit and instead of canon rounds viciously fired from pirates sloops, the only thing I have to dodge is the overland bus to Caracas that overhauls me dangerously close. Quite different though, but nevertheless I still feel this spirit of adventure from bygone childhood dreams. A great feeling!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 24 August 2007

 

Today I leave the coastal road and cross the Guatopo national park.

The road over the mountains is very interesting and less strongly travelled than the main highway to Caracas.

 

 

The daily rainfalls are strong and automatically bring up the fog. Within the remote mountain ranges of Venezuela this has some kind of supernatural aura.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 25 August 2007

 

Today, I will ride one of the most spectacular roads of the country. From the small city of Maracay, there leads a50km long mountain route to Port Columbia.

 

 

The road starts nice and as it leads through the Henry Pitter national park, it deteriorates into a slippery single-lane concrete path, leading into the Cordillera.

When it rains, extreme caution is required on the roads of Venezuela.

As fuel and engine oil are cheap and most people drive old cars with broken seals, the roads are covered with a thin layer of oil and grease.

Several times I just manage to prevent the bike from slipping away in the corners.

 

 

 

Down by the coast I reach the small town of Porto Columbia. The well preserved colonial city is a national and international tourist destination and famous for its pastel coloured houses.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 26 August 2007

 

 

As I ride along the coastal road, I discover some beautiful beaches and stop for a short break.

 

 

It is just terrible to see that people chuck their waste everywhere. The beaches of Venezuela belong to the most beautiful in the world but nevertheless, there are loads of garbage under the coconut trees!

 

 

 

 

Monday, 27 August 2007

 

Today I visit Coro. Coro was founded as the first capital of Venezuela in 1527 and the construction of the cathedral began in 1580. The historical center was declared World Cultural Heritage by Unesco in 1993and today it represents the best preserved city centre of whole Latin America.

 

 

 

I find a pleasant lodge and decide to stay for a couple of days.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

 

Today I visit the sand dunes of Coro. At the beginning of the small land bridge, thatconnects the mainland with the Peninsula of Paraguana, are some impressive dunes that are very similar to those of the Sahara or Namibia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

 

 

 

Today I do some regular maintenance at the bike. In the evening I go for a run in the dunes, enjoying a spectacular sunset.

 

 

 

Thursday, 30 August 2007

 

The vegetation of the Peninsula of Paraguana is not typical for the Caribbean at all and its landscape, by its semi arid character, somewhatreminds me of the island of Corsica.

 

 

The church of Santa Anna, originally delighted in Roman style, also strongly reminds of the architecture around the mediteranean sea.

 

 

 

Fiday, 31. August 2007

 

Today we will hike across the Sierra San Luis via the "Camino de los Espanoles", an old colonial trail. The path leads through dense jungle and past some long caves.

Compared to the tropical heat of the rainforest, they are a welcome place to rest.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 1. September und Sunday, 2. September 2007

 

The following two days I spend in the lodge resting and getting ready to continue my trip.

 

 

 

Monday, 3. September 2007

 

Today I leave the tropical coastal areas and ride along Lago Maracaibo. In the afternoon I approach the mountains and the heat becomes bearable.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 4. September 2007

 

Today I will drive over the Pico de Aquila. This mountain pass is at 4000 meters of elevation and represents the highest roadpass in Venezuela.

 

 

The road is excellent and the bike works well, even above 3500 meters!

 

 

At 4021m the temperature is down at 7 degrees. I take out my winter stuff and enjoy the quality of decent clothes. Unfortunately the view is obscured by a lot of fog, and Pico Bolivar, at 5007 meters Venezuelaís highest mountain, remains invisible.

 

In the afternoon I reach Merida and meet up with my friends from Canada. What a great reunion! From here we will continue our trip together, all of us heading to Colombia.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 6. September 2007

 

Today is my 30th birthday and we celebrate that day on the bike. The weather is great and the temperatures above 3000 meters are nice and cool.

As we make good progress, we reach the Colombian border and will cross it tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Friday, 7 September 2007

 

Today we will cross the border to Colombia. Colombia is one of the most diverse and interesting countries of South America. Having all climate and vegetation zones of the continent, the country is seperated by three cordilleras into two major valleys. Our journey will take us across thousands of meters high mountain passes down to steaming rainforests and sizzling metropolises.††

However, Colombia is also the country of the drug barons and Guerillas. Approximately 40 per cent of the country are still controlled by insurgents andparamilitary forces like the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional).As the global political situation changed and the rebels lost their support by Russia and Cuba, they now specialize in drug trade and kidnappings in order to fund their armed conflict. 

Those occupations are certainly most lucrative. As the production of Colombian cocaine solely provides approximately 80% of the world market the annual incomes of this illegal business are etimated to be around 4 billion Euros!

The people of Colombia belong to the most cordial and friendly of the world, nevertheless we will keep our eyes open and avoid nocturnal overland travel in any case.

Crossing the border runs fast and smoothly.The soldiers are so amazed by us and our motorbikes that they donít let us pass without a picture of all being taken.

Colombia here we come!