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Old 09-05-2009, 07:37 AM   #1
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Venezuela = "Free" Gasoline

People asked me why I was going riding in Venezuela, of all places. The answer is really pretty simple. A friend there offered to loan me a bike and show me around. Plus, I had enough air mileage points to get a free ticket to Caracas. Venezuela is not a very expensive country for lodging and food prices there are fairly reasonable. But the price of gasoline in Venezuela right now is the lowest anywhere in the world.

Leaving the social and political ramifications of artificially low gas prices for another time and place, suffice to say that gasoline in Venezuela is, essentially, free.

Here is a photo of the front of the gas pump from when we were filling up the bikes one time...


Realizing that for most folks, Venzuelan Bolivares for liters of gasoline does not easily convert to US$/gallon, here is some assistance. 28 liters is roughly 7.4 US gallons, enough to fill two motorcycle gas tanks (KTM 950 and F650 Funduro) that had not run onto reserve, yet.

Converting the BsF to dollars is a bit trickier. Bs means Bolivares. Actually, the pump reads in Bolivares Fuerte (BsF). They revalued the currency by lopping off three zeros to get rid of (the appearance) of inflation. When changing dollars, you can get the official rate of 2.15 BsF/US$ from a bank or on your credit card, or you can change money pretty much anywhere with anyone for the "real" exhange rate listed here: http://venezuelafx.blogspot.com/. I got 6.4 BsF per US$ when I exchanged money on August 19th.

This means that at the OFFICIAL rate, the 7.4 gallons of gas purchased in the photo cost US$ 1.26. That price is NOT per-gallon. That price is for the entire seven and a half gallon purchase. However, I didn't pay the official rate, I paid, hold onto your helmet, forty-two and a half cents for those seven point four gallons. That, dear friends, works out to less than six cents per gallon. Bottled water cost about US$0.50 for a 1.5 liter bottle, roughly the same price as seven and a half gallons of fuel. Suffice to say that we spent a LOT more for water on the trip that we did for fuel. (http://money.cnn.com/pf/features/lis...bal_gasprices/).

Toward the end of our first day of riding, we stopped in a town for a break and to fill up. But the only gas station was closed. As you might imagine, they have not built many gas stations lately because, frankly, even at 100% profit margin, there isn't much profit to be had. The station was closed for some sort of fiesta. The issue was that the town where we planned to spend the night was 50 km away and had NO gas station. The next town with fuel was another 50 km past there. We probably did not have enough to make it that far. Figuring that we would likely find SOME solution, we went for it.

When we checked into the posada (sort of like a bed and breakfast, only with dinner instead, usually), we asked about finding some gasoline. The gal that handled our check-in told us to speak to the owner later. We unloaded and cooled down and obtained a few beers. We shot the shit with the owner for a while and mentioned our need for fuel. He told us to ask "the boys" in the morning, for the ten liter can of gas, and be sure to tip them. When we were settling the bill, we asked about the cost of the fuel. The owner said, "Sure, like I would CHARGE you for GASOLINE. You bought beer, the gasoline is free."

Our ride took us along the coast, across the plains, over twisty roads through some gorgeous national parks and high up into the Andes.















I walked behind this waterfall...


Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world, over 1km (> 0.625 miles) vertical drop.


Fresh conch. You could throw a rock into the sea from this woman's stall. Yummy!


BACON!






More photos and write-up will follow as I get closer to digging out from under the pile of stuff-to-do that stacks up from being gone.
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Old 09-05-2009, 09:05 AM   #2
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David, the pictures are not showing up???
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Old 09-05-2009, 10:11 AM   #3
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Aw crap. Kodakgallery sucks.

Better now?
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Old 09-05-2009, 11:23 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Flash412
Aw crap. Kodakgallery sucks.

Better now?
Yep.
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Old 09-05-2009, 01:36 PM   #5
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Very nice.
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Old 09-05-2009, 04:55 PM   #6
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In addition to seeing what Venezuela has to offer, you certainly can't help but smile every time you fill up at 6 cents a gallon!
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Old 09-05-2009, 06:10 PM   #7
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great pics,nice to see what the countryside looks like there.
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Old 09-06-2009, 09:38 AM   #8
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Even with aaaaaaaall that free oil and gas we have, it's a shame we aren't still a developed country, thanks chavez! thank you very much!

BTW nice ride! I hope you enjoyed our landscapes!
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Old 09-06-2009, 09:48 AM   #9
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A Few (Choice) Words on Caracas

Don't get me wrong here. My host and his friends and family were all VERY friendly and welcoming. I had a GREAT time in Caracas. But no matter what your definition, unless you have contacts there, Caracas is not a friendly place.

First, it is not a planned city. The roads are laid out with all the order of the Ebola virus. Second, Caracas is a three-dimensional city with so much Z-dimension that in comparison, it makes San Francisco appear like Kansas City. Not only do the roads wind around left and right like a drunken walk, but they also climb up and down at a similarly dizzying rate.

Most of the intersections are at odd angles. Many do now allow you to turn left, which means lots of U-turns and lots of traffic circles. Unlike most of the world, traffic coming INTO the traffic circle has the right of way rather than traffic already on the circle. This makes the circles even more challenging to navigate and they tend to pack up. Many intersections are a junction of three or more roads. Watch carefully for traffic coming from up, down, left, right, up-up-left and down-down-right before traversing the intersection. As in most Latin countries, lane markers and traffic signals and signs are more of a suggestion than a law. Be on high-alert while riding a bike in Caracas, or die.

Like a lot of third world countries (which Venezuela is NOT) there are NO STREET SIGNS. Nor are there house numbers. If you don't know where you are going, then you probably have no business going there. More importantly, if you don't know how to get there, then you risk your property and possibly your life by going there. Because if you stray into the wrong neighborhood, you will likely be robbed and quite possibly ass-raped and murdered just for good measure.

A friend of my host was kidnapped while I was in Venezuela. It was just a "pot of gold" kidnapping in that he was grabbed as he was getting into his car. They stole his car and took him around to ATMs to make withdrawals. Venezuela has so much of this sort of crime that they have limited the amount of ATM withdrawals to 200 BsF, about US$30 at the "real" exchange rate. Of course they used the guy's credit cards a couple of times before he had been reported missing. Then they tried to ransom him, to get some more cash from his family. This sort of crime is so common that it has now become a felony to PAY ransom to kidnappers to recover a loved one. Like I said, not a friendly place. At all.

I commented that I only saw two Mercedes Benz in Venezuela the whole time I was there (and the two I saw were beaters). My host indicated that driving such a car outside of certain neighborhoods had become an invitation to trouble. He won't ride his KTM to his office downtown, only his Funduro.

Chavez' policies are not designed to bring up the down-trodden in Venezuela, but rather to drag down anybody who has made something of themselves, back down into the sewer. He is trying to pass a law that if you send your kid to private school, you will have to pay to send another kid to that school, too. On the face of it, it would appear that the well-off are being taxed to raise somebody up. However, the law includes provisions to get rid of the headmaster of every private school and install a government-appointed headmasters. Why would anyone want to pay double the tuition of a private school to send their kid to what would then become a public school?

A friend of my host's daughter came home from high school spouting off about the wonders of socialism (an indoctrination curriculum forced by the state). Her father asked what she got on her last math test. A perfect 20 (out of 20) was her answer. He asked her what her best friend got. She got 14. The father asked his daughter how she would feel if it were possible to give her friend three of her own points so that they would both have 17. "No! While I was studying hard for the test, she was out partying with her friends."

"NOW you understand how socialism actually works.
"

But the countryside in Venezuela is different (for the most part). About 20% of the population of the country resides in Caracas. Thankfully, this leaves a lot of space for the rest. And they do not behave nearly so much like rats over-crowded into a cage.
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Old 09-06-2009, 10:27 AM   #10
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ZOOOOOM. Ba-dup ba-dup ba-dup ba-dup. ZOOOOOOM!

The title of this post pretty much describes riding in the country-side in Venezuela. While the autopiste is posted 80 kph, there is actually no speed limit. And other roads generally have no posted limits. So you can pretty much ZOOOOM at will, or at least as fast as you dare. But then you come to the speed bumps. If the state tree of Texas is the orange construction barrel, then then the state tree of Venezuela is the speed bump.

First there are the legitimate ones, for the police checks. Under the "everyone has a job" (but nobody works) policy, you have to slow down for the speed bumps and maybe be looked at and possibly even questioned periodically by the National Guard, the State Police, the County Commandos and anyone else with a uniform and a sidearm. When crossing from one state into another, there can be three or four of these stops within three or four kilometers. They even have SPEED BUMPS ON THE INTERSTATE HIGHWAY.

But wait, there's more! Venezuela used to have lots of toll roads. But now, Venezuela is "Libre para todos!" (free for everyone). So there are no longer any tolls (or fees to enter parks, other than Canaima). However, there are still toll BOOTHS. And toll booths have, speed bumps. Sometimes these toll booths even have a gate-arm and operators. When you stop at the toll booth, the operator pushes a button and the arm goes up. No payment is involved, only inconvenience. Although most of the toll booth gate-arms are missing, providing unemployment for someone, I guess.

Since gas is so cheap, anyone who can put together the purchase of a hooptie is driving it. Many rolling rust-bucket, piece of shit American cars from the 70s and 80s are flailing their way down the highways and byways in Venezuela. These items will fall apart like a wet taco if they hit a speed bump at anything over a crawl. And so traffic STOPS at the speed bumps.

Enterprising people have noticed that traffic stops. Enterprising people have noticed that to effect a financial transaction such as the sale of a (cough syrup dispensing-size) cup of coffee poured from a Thermos bottle takes only a moment. So there are people standing on the speed bumps in the middle of the roadway selling things. As one might imagine, this does not speed up traffic flow at all.

Since traffic is flowing so slowly, this would be a good place for anyone with so much as a card table or paint bucket to put up a stall on the shoulder of the road and sell... fresh fruit or vegetables, meals to go, sunglasses and CDs, you name it.

It has not gone unnoticed by folks in the hinterlands that an official state-constructed speed bump is a money-making opportunity. Why not construct a speed bump of our own? And they DO! And nobody seems to be bothered by it. So EVERY town you enter has speed bumps, some no more than a stout length of rope laid across the road.

Why anyone would want to traverse Venezuela on any vehicle other than a dual sport motorcycle is something of a puzzlement to me. On a bike with sufficient suspension travel, you can pull into the oncoming lane, or even ride up the middle (assuming no vendor is standing there) and hit the speed bumps at 60 or 80 kph rather than a crawl, barely slowing at all. But of course this speed is NOT a good idea at the checkpoint speed bumps.

I would estimate that in more than 3000 km of riding, we crossed at least 500 speed bumps maybe a thousand, most of them at high speed.

The autopiste is also something of a free-for-all when it comes to merchandising. People with a bag of corn to sell sit under a shade tree on the shoulder of the interstate highway and sell it. Or food items. Or other goods. There are even ad hoc billboards advertising ad hoc restaurants located on properties adjacent to the divided highway. Out in the countryside, the medians have breaks in them for pedestrians. I even saw impromptu step-ladders arranged over the concrete median barrier to aid folks crossing the road.

Unlike in the USA, traveling down the autopiste REQUIRES your attention. When you pass, you best do it with some measure of authority because the car or truck you are passing might suddenly swerve into your lane in order to avoid the upcoming series of potholes.

Actually, riding a motorcycle pretty much anywhere in Venezuela requires you to PAY ATTENTION. You just never know when there may be a pothole, water crossing or rock in the road.



The odds of there being a negative outcome as a result of riding inattentively in Venezuela are similar to the odds of purchasing a losing lottery ticket.
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Old 09-08-2009, 12:12 PM   #11
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Splitting Lanes Through Oncoming Traffic

No shit, there I was, in Caracas, Venezuela, splitting lanes on the wrong side of the freeway (autopiste). It was during the last eight kilometers of a long nearly-600 km day, the last day of a >3300 km ride. "Great, I survived until now, and this close to the end..." I thought to myself.

We had gotten up early in Acequia and ridden the autopiste all day long. Where we started was more of a two-lane "country road" than an interstate highway. But then it turned into divided highway without the divider. Then dividers were added. The posted speed limit was something around 80 or 90 km/hr (50-55 mph) but we were zooming along generally around 140 kph or so (85 mph) and making good time, except for the speed bumps and associated traffic stops of course. The road dropped back down into two-lane for a while and then around Valencia, became autopiste in earnest, with traffic moving at a similar pace and density to the 101 in the San Francisco Bay area.

Traffic started seriously slowing when we were about 15 or 20 km from our exit. We started splitting lanes on our fully-laden dual sport bikes. Even though there are a large percentage of hoopties on the road in Venezuela, drivers there actually tend to look in their mirrors once in a while. I would estimate that more people pulled aside to give us more room to get by than folks who, in their own little world, blocked the lane and had to be reminded of our presence.

After about ten km or so of this, traffic came to a grinding crawl and then finally a full stop. We continued to split lanes. The ambient outdoor temperature was above 120F, probably close to 125. But riding through this parking lot with all these motors running made it a heck of a lot hotter. We kept moving, toward the front. Once, just after changing from the "motorcycle" lane between car lanes number one and two to the bike lane between car lanes three and four, my bike suddenly died.

The carbureted 1997 BMW F650 Funduro had performed excellently all the way from sea level to over 14,000 feet. Sure, it lost some of its get up and go up there. But it never failed to start and run without missing a beat. Well, except for that one time when we came out of the mountains and were on the flattest stretch of road we had seen in days and the battery died. But it had "tow-started" right up and I rode it to a shop that happened to have a maintenance-free battery in stock for a Chinese bike that could be shoe-horned into the battery box. And you can't really blame the bike for the fact that the battery finally gave up after three years in this heat.

Anyway, the bike quit. No lights, no electricity of any sort. My immediate thought was that the battery we had stuffed into the battery box and held in place with a bungee cord had come loose or had a terminal break off or something. Pulling onto the shoulder, my host asked me what had happened as I removed the seat. He pointed to the yellow 20A fuse and said, "It did this once before and THAT is the fuse that blew." Sure enough, the fuse was blown. The bike has a spare right next to the original and that fixed the problem. When he asked me why I thought the fuse might have blown, I said, "Fuses MELT. In this heat... who knows why it went." The temperature gage was the highest I have ever seen one on an F650 without actually being in the red. He said his KTM 950 Adventure was close to over-heating, too.

The five minute break had allowed the bikes to cool down a bit. We started them up and made our way to the front of the traffic jam. And there it was, the source of the blockage was impassible even on a motorcycle. Maybe impassible PARTICULARLY on a motorcycle, especially ones shod in TKC80s worn down so far that the wear bars were no longer visible.

All three lanes of the highway, from the divider to the meter-deep, meter-wide ditch past the shoulder were covered, for a distance of 100 meters or more with BROKEN GLASS.

Past the drainage ditch was some land that had a footpath on it. Maybe if we went back to where we could get onto that footpath, we could ride AROUND the glass and find a spot to re-enter the highway. As we had this thought, a motorcycle went by on the footpath.

So we turned around and made our way BACK though all the traffic we had passed going forwards, now going backwards. We made our way back to where the drainage ditch was only about a foot deep and a yard wide. Together we could get our bikes across that. As we were planning our move, the bike that had gone forward returned. The ride said that there was no way. It was simply too wide and too deep at the other end and there was no way back onto the highway.

Luckily, there were some large trees providing tremendously appreciated shade from the equatorial noonday sun. We decided to stop and cool down, and let the bikes cool down, and consider our options. Normally, this would be a very unsafe place to be, on the side of the highway next to a not-nice neighborhood. But there is safety in numbers. Prudence indicated that we needed to keep a watchful eye on both our riding gear and our bikes and not let our guard down.

My host suggested that we ride the bikes through one of the cuts in the concrete divider median and then ride up the shoulder on the opposite side of the autopiste. I told him, "No. There is NO way I am riding YOUR bike the wrong way on the freeway in Caracas Venezuela." He laughed and said, "I see your point. So, what do you suggest?" I felt that it could not be that much longer before a cleanup crew arrived with some brooms. I told him that I thought we should cool down for a while longer and then go back up to the front so that when the road DID open, we would be at the head of the traffic. As we considered this option and wondered how long that might be, we suddenly noticed that traffic was moving again, only BACKWARDS. Then we saw a police car with lights flashing, leading a tractor trailer truck the wrong way on the other side of the divider. It seems that my host was not the only one with that idea.

As we suited back up, I said, "Damn! I WISH I had taken a photo when we were up at the broken glass." He said, "Let's see if we can get one when we go by now."

So we split lanes bassakwards to where folks were moving through the divider. A cop was directing traffic, allowing some folks from past the cut and some folks from before the cut to get through. Just as it was our turn, my fuse blew again. This time, after digging around in various stash spots, it was determined that there was no spare 20A fuse. "What will happen if we use the 30A fuse," my host asked. I answered, "The bike will start and run and hopefully NOT catch fire."

Done and done and we were through the cut and moving... on the wrong side of the road, passing traffic moving in our direction with the traffic coming the other way dangerously close to our left side panniers. Just at the end of the glass spill, all traffic stopped, right were we were cutting back onto the right side of the road again. Stopped, I could see the labels and smell the odor... BEEER. My host whipped out his pocket camera and framed the shot. A national guardsman started giving him crap. "You can't stop there!"

"But traffic is stopped in front of me and I can't go!"

"You can't take a photo here!"

"Why not?"

"You have already passed the accident. There is nothing to see!"


CLICK.

Three kilometers later we exited the autopiste and wound our way up and around and back to my host's, home arriving only about an hour and a half later than we thought we'd be.

It has been said that "Adventure is discomfort recounted at leisure." With a cold beer in hand, this day truly became an adventure.

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Old 09-08-2009, 12:33 PM   #12
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Nice! I would love to go exploring Venezuela someday. I actually lived there when I was a little kid and it's where my wife and her family are from. It's sad to hear about the condition of the country now, I know I wouldn't feel safe traveling through on my own. Nice report.
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Old 09-09-2009, 12:28 AM   #13
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Weren't you supposed to be healing up from a deer strike?


Good to see you're up and at 'em again.
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Old 09-09-2009, 07:40 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by See-Double-You
Weren't you supposed to be healing up from a deer strike? Good to see you're up and at 'em again.
Close; elk biff, not deer strike. Riding wasn't hard. The hard part was actually before the ride, the "Stairmaster From Hell(tm)" that was the hike up to the viewing point at Angel Falls. I considered it "physical therapy." Here is a photo of the "trail." What is not apparent from the picture is the fact that it goes up at about a forty-five degree incline. I used a borrowed broomstick to help my balance. The soil is worn away from the many hiking boots that have traversed the path, leaving only roots, rocks, roots and rocks, and rocks and roots, except where there is mud.



We left the boat and headed up the trail at about 3:00 PM. While hiking up, I was looking at my wristwatch and considering that the sun would set at about 5:30. I knew that being on that trail after dark (without a flashlight) would be a Bad Thing. I knew that at 4:30, viewing point or not, I HAD to turn around and start heading down. At 4:20 I came around a bend in the trail and into the clearing atop some boulders. The view, accompanied by the ROAR, was absolutely stunning.





I drank a bit of water, shot some photos and after all of about five minutes, headed back down the trail, arriving down at the river after sunset but before dark.

Angel Falls alone was absolutely worth the trip. This photo was taken from our camp across the river, in the rain, the morning after we visited the falls. Like most natural wonders, photos never do them justice. That vertical drop is over half a mile.

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Old 09-09-2009, 08:00 AM   #15
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Thumb Love the information

I love all the Venezuela information. I plan to get back there to ride some day, but for now we are planning a trip to the Yucatan for next summer. I lived in Venezuela for two years from 87 to 89. I lived in Maracaibo, Valera, San Cristobal, Barinas, Barinitas, Cabimas and Tovar. It looks like you guys did lots of riding on the other side of Venezuela. I’m looking forward to the actual ride report, but I wanted to know if you had done any riding over towards the West side of the country?
I don’t know if I will EVER go back to Caracas. I think between Caracas and Ciudad Juarez in México there is a tie for world’s most dangerous city each year. It was a scary place in 87, I can’t even imagine what it would be like now.
I was interested in what you said about the real “socialism” in Venezuela. Last weekend I stayed up late and watched a PBS special called “The Hugo Chavez show” where they detailed his rise to power and his dreams to change the country. It seems that he had great ideas for change, but they are all gone now. He lines up all of his ministers each Sunday morning for a “show” that they have to attend and then he grills them for 4 to 6 hours on what is not going right and blames them for all of it. He has had 9 cabinet changes during his “reign”. When people ask him questions he ridicules them. He can’t deal with anyone telling him that he is not right.
I traveled around the West side of Venezuela (Lado occidental) a great deal. I think that there would be some amazing riding around Tovar, San Cristobal, Mérida, Valera etc…Have you heard of anyone riding in this area? Are there any great ride reports from there.
I loved your information about the checkpoints. Once we transferred from San Cristobal (close to Colombia) to Carora. (by Barquisimeto). We got stopped at 10 checkpoints. In the middle of the night the get you off the bus and you have to get your stuff. You wait in line and then the check through all your personal things. The guardia saw that I had some Peanut butter and Root beer extract and a police cassette. He said about them:”¡préstame estas cosas! Lend me these things. It wasn’t a question, it was more of a nice command. So I said… no problem. We got back on the bus and were not asked any more questions.
Those are amazing memories you made...
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