We left our bikes with our friend Marcel in Colombia. As a student in Bogota, Marcel had a moment of clarity and realised the city was stifling him. The next day, he took a bus to the suburbs and walked / hitched the nearly thousand miles to Ecuador. There, he picked up a second-hand bike at a market, returning four years later to start his own farming community. Marcel impressed us with his hand-built octagonal adobe house and a Chilean-style wood oven, which we used to make pizza and bread on our last night together.
The hitch to Venezuela was seven hours. We are relatively experienced hitchhikers now, and this was the worst ride we have ever taken. The severely potholed road followed switchback curves up, over and down a mountain range. We travelled standing up, in the open trailer of an articulated lorry which had last transported palm oil. It was greasy, filthy and alternately nauseatingly hot and ferociously windy.
Saving from not taking the bus: $35.
Video of a pale Sol hanging over the side trying not to be sick: priceless.
Return to Venezuela: Chavez Vive, La Lucha Sigue (Chavez Lives On, the Struggle Continues)
For most people, being six feet under precludes serious political involvement. Not for Simon Bolivar’s modern-day embodiment, revolutionary Commander-in-Chief and leader of the (anti-US portion of the) free world, Hugo Chavez. Despite his death, his presence is stronger than ever. The walls of Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, are festooned with pro-Chavez slogans, the state-built housing blocks have dedicated their entire top stories to paintings of Chavez’s eyes which overlook the city – an image eagerly taken up by graffiti artists on walls, t-shirts and stickers. Paint peeling from drab dilapidated buildings, litter strewn streets, iron-barred windows and a reputation for violent crime. Positively Orwellian. Venezuela’s socialism has an ambivalent, often depressing, face, but there are real social achievements among the shades of grey.
Caracas has another, more brightly-coloured side. It has its own, gigantic mountain range of a national park within the city, a favourite Sunday outing for Caraqueños keen to show off abs, boobs and bums, scantily clad in dayglo Lycra and, more often than not, surgically ‘enhanced’. We were also surprised by posh coffee shops, a well-preserved colonial centre, art and sculpture in the streets and an exemplary transport system (from our experience on the continent, a rare feat. They even have queuing guidelines on the floor of the tube platform that people follow…a Brits dream!).
St Lucia: the Wyatts Get Competitive
Ping pong champagne, egg toss, water-skiing, beer downing, paddle boarding, horse shoe throwing, water aerobics, tennis, kayaking, cocktail mixology, sailing, water balloon throwing, ‘Big Bubba’ inflatable sofa rides, table tennis, pedalo-ing, walk the plank…after a lifetime mocking the notion of organised fun, it turns out to be the best of both worlds. Fun, thought through and provided by other people, with prizes. We won most competitions, whether through superior skill, superior numbers, or the fact that our competition had an average age of eight, we wouldn’t presume to guess.
Our average day started with breakfast on the villa balcony overlooking the bay, then competitions, reading in hammocks on the beach, relaxing in the sea during the day, then beers and cocktails made by Rebs’ mum while we watched the sunset from the balcony pool and played cards in the evenings.
One morning, we swapped salty sea-water for salty tears-water. We’ve spent the last year planning a life farming in a small community in Venezuela, which we have been cycling back towards. Time with our families brought a persistent doubt to the forefront: do we want to live so far from friends and family? Abstractedly considering the question while enjoying the life we were planning to lead is a different process from really confronting what we’d be missing out on. And so, on November 10th, we’re flying to Southern Spain, the arid land of dusty agriculture, annoying European regulations and prices, and 56% youth unemployment. Thank god we’re nearly out of the 18-26 age bracket.
Back to Venezuela: the Goodbye
After St Lucia, we touched down to reality in Caracas with a big, metaphorical bump. Well…almost. First, we exchanged one Caribbean coastline for another, taking up more or less where we left off with Rebs’ family, just with fewer competitions. We spent a week on the beaches around Caracas with Yolangi and her boyfriend Gilberto, drinking coconut rum on an array of aquamarine lagoons and beaches with crystal clear water.
We spent our last week in Venezuela back with the farming community we had been planning on moving to, catching up and saying goodbye. It was a rollercoaster week. The progress the community have made since we left is exciting: the bi-weekly market they set up in town is thriving, and bees have inhabited the handmade hives and the community are harvesting honey. The changes made it all the more difficult to know we were moving on, and it was a sad goodbye from friends we had thought we would spend a lot more time with.
The Re-Hitch: Better Luck This Time
Not only were we riding on a big, springy sofa-seat in an air-conditioned cab, we were kept entertained by our driver, Hector. Hector is an orthodontist who owns a three-lorry long distance haulage company, and takes to the road himself fairly often, to unwind and escape his office and the city. He wouldn’t allow us to contribute anything, as he provided us with fish lunch and regular fresh fruit smoothies along the way. Hector also supplied us with a classic quotation: describing the coast, he turned to us and said: “my brother always tells me: being hot is for poor people.” To this day, we are bemused by what point he was trying to make.