The border town of Santa Elena de Uairen is set up for tourists seeking 4×4 trips to La Gran Sabana.
We had a long list of things to take care of, but as usual, that turned into spending a day trying to just get 1 thing accomplished. And, we had to try to remember how to speak Spanish.
We needed a pre-paid phone chip for our unlocked USB modem. In the U.S., this is something you can pick up at Walgreen’s. In Venezuela, you can only buy these at the MovieStar office (I asked at 3 other stores that sold nothing but phones). Actually, there were 2 different providers in this town. The first had no chips. The second had one, but I needed my passport to buy it. I went back to get it and returned, but then they actually wanted a copy of the passport to buy it. I went to the photocopy place and returned again. Then, it turned out, I had to pay for it and then come back in an hour. When I returned, the place was packed. Finally, in order to actually own it, I had to give them a thumb print and index finger print. Then, it took another half hour and two popsicles to entertain Bode while loading a website to ensure it worked. Nothing is easy.
We didn’t quite get all we wanted to accomplished, but it was Saturday and we were itching to take off. But first, we needed to change our Brazilian reais to Venezuelan bolivares. The official exchange rate (and rate you’d get by using the ATM or credit card) is 6.3 Bs per $1 USD. The black market rate is about 25 Bs per dollar. The black market exchange rate is equally good for reies.
The black market exchange is actually really easy, as most of the changers are easy to spot and have a big fanny pack filled with money. The only problem is that the largest bill I’ve seen is $100 Bs. That’s about $4USD, so we have to carry around a huge pimp roll even if we don’t have much money on us. Once we found our man and changed our money, he asked if we needed gasoline. Actually, he was the third person who asked us that, and since we were about to hit the road, we asked him why we would need to buy gas from him. The simple answer is that the gas is more expensive in this border town than in the rest of the country. But the longer answer was a lengthy diatribe we couldn’t completely follow but included the words police, payout and dangerous. We let the guy into the bus and drove a few blocks to his house and filled up the tank. Even at the markup we got 70 liters for a fraction of what we’d be spending in Brazil. We called that a win.
Still, we were busted by the police. Our guy went out and said a few words and shook some hands and that was that. He says the dealing on the black market is dangerous in the rest of the country, but here they have an ‘agreement’ with the police. Good enough for us.
Another bonus was that after only 1 night in Venezuela, we got to see a beauty pageant.
Not far outside of the ugly border town city limits, things started looking awesome. La Gran Sabana is known for the lush greenery, table-top mountains and waterfalls. Check, check and check. Happy day.
-Coincidentally, Bode’s lesson that day was on using an index–
The water and sand in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park are tinted red by minerals in the soil.
-National Geographic Kid’s Almanac 2013