Tuesday 25th to Wednesday 26th November – Barinas to Los Llanos

I woke up in the morning surprisingly refreshed given the disturbed night´s sleep I had had.  I found an internet cafe and, having discovered that the Paypal transaction had not worked, I had to go and organise more cash.  Actually it was pending but, somewhat annoyingly, I didn´t have any of the information with me in order to ´validate´the account.  One thing that has been annoying in Venezuela is the whole money situation.  For some reason my bank turned into idiots and decided to restrict my accounts.  Added to this is the complicated situation with the money here.  They have changed currency and are still operating both in parallel currently.  There is also a wealth (excuse the pun) of difference between the so-called "official exchange rate" given by banks and the like and the black market exchange rate for US dollars.  Anyway, I wandered around trying to find a bank to sort it out and ended up on a mammoth trek in the heat.  I was slightly concerned that I was due to be being picked up at eleven o´clock and also that I had no watch.  Eventually when I got back to the hotel I was hot, tired but basically on time.  I sat outside the hotel for some time, had a drink and a cigarette and got approached by numerous men.  The first was from some bus company, I think and, having got the wrong end of the stick, tried to check me back into the hotel I had checked out of.  At least I think that´s what he was doing before I took my bag off of him and walked away.  Then one of the many Army guys walking about took a shine to me and asked a number of lewd questions which I pretended not to understand.  In the end he wrote it down for me and, albeit in Spanish, the word "sex" was quite clear in the middle of the sentence.  I told him "no" thinking that would be the end of it and was then in the difficult situation of not being able to explain why not when he asked.  To be fair that´s a relativley tough one even in English.  If I was at home and someone randomly came up to me in the street, asked if I wanted to have sex with them and then asked why not when I said No I think I would be slightly thrown.  Now add to that trying to explain why not in Spanish with my lack of language skills!  It was all relatively harmless though and I figured that I might at least get some protection if there was a street riot!  See, positive thinking, glass half full etc!

In Venezuela there are kind of impromptu phone places on the streets where vendors set up tables with mobiles on, often attached to chains, and charge you to use them.  They also, rather helpfully, sell single cigarettes which you can presumably smoke whilst you make a call.  I used one of these to call the tour company to see when I was being collected.  By this point I had been waiting for about two hours I think and they told me that the guys due to collect me were just around the corner.  To their credit they were and they arrived with Rainer, a lovely German guy and Ian a quirky English guy who were also on the Los Llanos trip.  After getting lunch we headed to the rafting camp where I had been previously.  I thought this was meant to be the last night of the trip but apparently they had switched it around!

Back at the camp the French owner recognised me and found it quite amusing that I had returned.  I spoke to him in French and wished that my Spanish was even remotely as good.  Ian was evidently not particularly keen on rafting so went for a walk whilst Rainer and I went rafting, him for the first time and me for the third time in three days, with a recent jab to the arm!  There had been a lot of rain and the river was considerably higher than it had been which led to Junior deciding we should not take the small boat, much to my rather vocal disappointment.  The rafting was fun again and the river was very fast.  The final section was really good and then we got to the bridge.  Once at the bridge we walked back where we body rafted (i.e. floated  in the rapids in our life jackets) down river.  That sounds a little more tranquil than it was actually, but it was great fun.

Back at camp we changed and headed out for dinner in town prior to getting a few beers to take back to camp.  We sat round and chatted and were amazed at the extent of Junior´s knowledge about the wildlife in the region.  He took us on an impromptu night safari where we saw Caimans´ (as in crocodiles) eyes glowing in the reflection of the torch.

The following day we had a huge breakfast.  Meals in Venezuela are generally large, often heavy and often involve most ingredients being fried or deep fried and this breakfast was no exception.  Arepas are a staple here which are a kind of doughy, eliptical lump which you cut open and stuff things like cheese or eggs into.  A lot of people make jokes about being able to knock people out with them which isn´t all that far from the mark!  We dropped Ian off at Barinas airport then went to the bus station car park where we waited for the other jeeps in the group.  We waited for some time and Junior decided we should go and get supplies for the trip from the supermarket.  Having done so we went back and waited some more until eventually the other groups arrived.  One group was a German couple, Ute and Olaf, who were both lovely with Olaf being a real character.  The other group was a large group of people from Slovakia of all places.  I´m only saying it like that as, not only have I not met anyone traveling from Slovakia, I don´t think I´ve -ever- met anyone from Slovakia.

The drive to the camp in Los Llanos was meant to take four hours but took slightly longer.  This -may- have had something to do with the fact that, after the alcohol stop, we had to stop about every five minutes for various Slovakians to get out of their van and relieve themselves.  We were getting slightly peeved by this after a while and talked about the reinforcement of the Easter European stereotype.

Eventually, several Slovakian stops later, the road became bumpier and we arrived at the camp in the dark.  The camp itself was cool and Rainer, Olaf, Ute and I shared a round hut with hammocks all attached to the centre pole.  We sat and chatted at the table outside and drank with the Slovaks, albeit at a much slower rate.  At one point one of them told me there was no point in drinking my beer as it was, "very weak like water".  It was fun and the three Germans, locals and guides were lovely.  Some of the Slovakian group seemed amiable, others less so.  I decided it was time to call it a night when one of them told us that his friend was going to kill two people that night.  The following morning I was told that, after I had retired, he tried to pick fights with everyone.

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