We had come to the end of our time in Colombia, and we had a great time there. We did spend quite a bit of time pondering what country we would go to after Colombia. We had 3 options facing us.
3. Drive south through Ecuador and Peru (backtracking) to get to the very south of Peru where we could enter Brazil, and then to Uruguay and ship home.
Fuel stations are usually pretty formal affairs. Not this one!
We had met up with Jurgen and Ruth for the Venezuela trip (which was always plan A), but while we were in Colombia we started hearing reports of demonstrations, road blockages and violent clashes between the demonstrators and police. There were also stories of violent gangs making things worse as the police were so tied up in the the protests. This was a tough decision to make as some countries had declared that the first 50km of land along the border between Colombia and Venezuela was a no-travel zone, and the Venezuelian government had placed the province around San Christobal under martial law, and guess where the border crossing we had planned to use was? Right in the middle of it.
We contacted quite a few experienced travelers to see if they had any contacts for first hand information, and got in touch with a few folks that were “in-country”. Based on information we picked up from all sorts of places, we decided to cross Venezuela, and to follow a few simple rules to make it as safe as we could. More on all of that in the Venezuela post in a few weeks! 🙂
Hub troubles and the man who fixed it
The first step was to get from Villa de Leyva in the south part of Colombia,back to the only remaining safe border crossing at Maicao (pronounced My Cow) in the North part of Colombia. Nothing quite like a thousand kilometre backtrack to cheer everyone up! We got as far as San Gil and as we parked up by a supermarket we noticed a burning smell, oil decorating the inside of the rear passenger tyre. Brilliant. We limped to a camping site about 3km outside of San Gil, and took the hub apart and discovered the same problem that we had with the other rear hub over a year ago in Argentina. Needless to say we were a bit ticked off as we had really been watching the oil levels and renewing the oils diligently after the first problem. The fun was going to be, where in Colombia would we find the parts? Well, as it turns out, it was easy. We contacted Huan Pablo back at Hacienda Venecia who was a major Unimog fan, and asked if he knew of any mechanics in San Gil. He gave us a few names, most did not work out, but one of his contacts turned out to be a Unimog specialist in Bogota! We got in touch with him, and he turned up the next day in San Gil to help get us sorted.
Similarly to the problem we had before, the drive gear was damaged, and it’s really the only part that is expensive and hard to find. However, he was used to this problem, and his solution was to machine down the bearing surface on the gear, and to make a ring to press into place to recondition the gear. This took a few days to do as he had to bring the gear back to Bogota, but once it was ready, he called back up and reinstalled the gear and off we went again. Top marks to Colombia’s Unimog hero – Luis Felipe. 40 years working on Unimogs!
St. Patricks day dinner
We continued to the border, and decided to cross in the morning, so we spent the night in a wild camp in the desert about 10k from the border. It was St Patricks day, so a nice dinner was called for and bbq’d Salmon was the dish of the day. Smashing!
The next day as we got close to the border we could see hundreds of small stalls selling black market fuel from Venezuela. They were selling it in containers great and small, the smaller motorbikes were buying just a litre at a time. We decided to enter Venezuela with enough fuel to do 400km at least as we had heard it’s difficult or even impossible to buy fuel as a foreigner in Venezuela close to the borders – and that turned out to be true. Still, it hurt to be buying diesel at Colombian prices when a day later we could buy it cheaper than we could buy coke (at least that was what we had heard).
Fuel drums everywhere
The guy with the fuel can hid his face from the camera, the other guy gave a grin
Very simple houses next to the Venezuela border
By the border, we saw people building houses of of clay and wattle, it brought back memories of a poem we had to learn in school.
“I will arise and go now, and go to Inishfree,
and a small cabin build there, of Clay and wattle made”… Props to Mr. Yeats.
timber and stone walls, ready for a mud layer.
Exiting Colombia was easy, just like all the others. Then we drove to the Venezuela entry point, and the waiting started. Possibly the slowest border crossing to date, but we got in, and the Venezuelan adventure began.