Two days on the road now. I haven’t gone as far as I would’ve liked, but that is also to be expectted. Inés very kindly put me up in Caracas, looked after me for a couple of days when I arrived, and provided invaluable help and advice.

Getting out of Caracas was hard work- the route I’d planned took me past a national monument – the road was closed to vehicular traffic (and folk pushing bicycles, as it turned out) for what I assume was the presidential inauguration, or a related event. I had to go the long way round- the policemen recommended the nearby autopista as the best way. ‘Es muy peligrosa?’ I suggested. Nods all round (there were about five military police by this point) ‘es el autopista…’ However, I did find another road that passed under the Carretera Panamericana, so after searching unsuccessfully for a connecting road, I carried my bike and gear up some 35 narrow concrete steps. (This is not a trivial task; perhaps I shouldn’t have carried everything at once ).
At this point, the road is two narrow lanes in each direction, an unforgiving reinforced concrete barrier in the middle, and a fairly deep concrete ditch at both sides. Built for cycling this was not. You do eventually get used to getting buzzed by rusty american muscle cars with tyres 6 inches wider than the body on both sides- everyone beeps their horn before overtaking which helps a lot. Also the two lanes are really 3; motorcycles move faster than most things most of the time, so just hare up the middle, leaning on their horns. A few times the traffic came to a complete standstill, just the motorcycles and me threading through the spaces – the former a bit more quickly. Traffic lights also do not necessarily apply to two wheeled vehicles.
As initially stressful as this was, it got less so rapidly- the traffic is chaotic, but not unfriendly. Once I’d become brave enough to push my way into traffic, everthing was easier. There was a dicey moment when I had to retrieve my fallen-off tail light just at the exit of a blind bend on quite a steep (down) hill, while trying to prevent my heavily laden bike slipping into the concrete drainage ditch .. followed shortly afterwards by me trying to lift my bike back up the 8 inch concrete precipice, back on to the road.. it’s better if essential bits of kit don’t fall off.

The road improved after a while- I’ve broadly followed the route of an autopista without being on it, which I imagine thins the traffic a lot. I’ve even seen some other cyclists- a few even in lycra skinsuits, but no one yet doing what I am. (By which I mean carrying insane watertight luggage in a place where the rain dries off you before it has even soaked through your t-shirt)

Most of the people I’ve met have been very kind- I was flagged down by a bloke today, outside his house, who was curious and just wanted to chat. (This wasn’t hard, as I wasn’t moving very quickly) He told me how far ’til I could expect to find a hotel, and agreed that there was nowhere to camp. Maybe in the mountains i said- he didn’t look convinced. (Though whether that was about camping, or his estimation of whether I could get there, I’ll never know) I said I was from Scotland, so found it very warm- ‘ah!’ he said – ‘escocia!’ as if that explained everything. It probably did.

Later on, as I sat under a tree, an elderly man came down from his porch to see me. After asking how i was, he went away again, and brought me a neatly sliced orange. He was genuinely caring of a stranger sheltering under his tree.

Later again I stopped at a bar/hotel to get out of the sun for a moment – in truest wild west style, they had no soft drinks. At all. ‘Only Beer or whisky..’ (without a hint of irony) said the only other customer – ‘have a beer!’ ..the barmaid (being about 15) had no particular thoughts, though I must have looked sad, as she rummaged in the kitchen and found me a small bottle of water which I didn’t have to pay for. All the while, the original version of ‘the day the earth stood still’ blared out in spanish, which was less interesting to any of us than the security monitor showing the empty carpark – noone interfered with the gringo’s bike though. Every few minutes, the wind would blow the outer steel door shut with a noise like the end of the world, and the barmaid would have to go and unlock it.

Both this and the last motel room contain stern warnings indeed to not steal the fixtures and linen. In this one, the aircon is bolted in such that it would be much easier to steal from outside (3 storeys up), and the name of the hotel covers almost all of both sides of the pillowcases; I guess they only had one stamp made though, as it’s the same size on the sheets and curtains. The small and unlovely tv cowers in a steel box actually built into the wall. Downstairs there is a sign explaining that the air in this hotel is 100% free of the smoke of tobacco (it is not) and a similarly sized one explaining that guns are not permitted here (I haven’t heard any gunfire). Joking apart, i haven’t seen any guns anywhere other than in the always-unclipped holsters of the police. In spite of there being police landcruisers everywhere, they are apparently in short supply- whenever one passes, it’s usually so full that there is someone in the boot.

Cycling with a load is hard in this climate- I’ll get stronger in time, I’m sure, and better acclimatised – but it was oddly disappointing to descend so much today, as I know it’ll be a long climb indeed back into the mountains. It’s pretty hot here (lots of sugar cane growing) and I’ll have a long stretch south of the mountains before I get to climb back up that’s lower than here; I may yet thumb a lift for some of that, depending on what progress I make- tomorrow is another day. There are many, many miles to do- and almost all of them are kilometres.

[I can’t upload photos from my camera until I get to a computer, so just odd ones from my phone for now]

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