Venezuela, First Impressions: Los Llanos

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Okay, so let’s give a bit of an impression of our stay in Venezuela. As you may or may not know, the country is in trouble. A google search will tell you all about it, but let me focus on the two issues that directly influenced our journey here: money and safety.

Inflation is going through the roof. This, for us, is good news as we get more for our dollar every day. Note that it’s illegal to carry US dollars in this country. To avoid trouble, best swap your money at the border. During our six-week stay this spring we had a hard time spending the equivalent of 300 US dollars. While there is still a price for fuel it is so low that in reality you get it for free. Crazy, huh?

The second issue is more troublesome for us: safety. The economic troubles such as inflation and unemployment cause people to steal and officials to corrupt. The stories of robberies are manifold.

This means we’ve taken much more care about where we spent the night than usual. We have not felt safe rough camping other than in the Gran Sabana, the southeast.

We ended up staying at police stations, fire stations and even took a couple of hotels (also because it was bloody hot and humid, and it doesn’t cost a dime). Thus far we’ve not had problems with corrupt officials, even though we’ve had dozens of checkpoints.

On the positive side: We knew about these two issues before coming to Venezuela. What we didn’t realize was the extent of hospitality and friendliness the Venezuelan people. It that respect we felt as if we were in Brazil.

Let’s give you an idea of our first couple of weeks that we spent in Los Llanos (south).

Arrival & Staying with Indigenous People

The arrival on Venezuelan side of the Meta River was not a matter of course (the red-tape took 12 days). We wrote about it extensively in this blog post.

From the border we drove 100 kms south to Puerto Ayachucho where we had to get our passports stamped. We changed money and drove farther south where indigenous people let us camp in their village and pointed us out to the Piedra Pintada – a rock wall filled with incredible, huge, rock paintings.

Truth be said, being welcomed in staying in indigenous villages hasn’t been a matter of course during our South America journey so this was a pleasant surprise to start our exploration of Venezuela, to say the least.

Toyokelly in San Fernando de Apure

Feeling welcome at Toyokelly.
Carlos, family and friends during the Sunday afternoon visit.

Coen had been in contact with Ramon for a while. The Venezuelan lives in Miami but his father in law runs a Toyota workshop in San Fernando de Apure and he insisted we’d stop by for a check-up of the Land Cruiser.

And so we did. We were welcomed with open arms. Our friend in Miami paid for all the oil changes. The sales manager, Carlos, found a fantastic place for us to camp, at a friend’s place at a farm just outside town. Since it was Friday and we wanted to return to the workshop on Monday we stayed the weekend.

Carlos, his family, friends of friends – somewhere we lost the connection – visited us on Saturday and Sunday, bringing big bags with groceries for us – all vegetables after they learned we were plant-based eaters.

On Sunday they put in a huge effort to cook a meal for all of us and there was a lot of debate among them what to serve non-meat eaters. The love and care they emanated in finding something we’d eat and enjoy was beautiful to see and heart-warming.

Hatos & Wildlife

Conservation project of caymans in the reserve of Hato Marisela.
Turtles, bathing in the sun.

Our new friends suggested us to drive west straight through Los Llanos – the plains (of which we had seen quite a bit in Colombia, read about it here) and to try visit a hato, as an estancia is called here.

We did and ended up at the Hato Marisela, which I wrote about on Notes on Slow Travel (read it here).

The next morning the hato’s guard asked for a ride to the adjacent Hato El Cedral. We gave him a lift. In return we got an otherwise impossible entry to this hato that only accepts visitors on reservations. It was another stunning drive through a reserve abound with capybaras and waterfowl.

Elorza – Venezuela’s Big Cultural Festival

Lots of happy people.
Lots of meat.

At the hatos we learned that in Elorza – Chavez’ town of birth – there would be a multiple-day festival. It would mean a short detour but we were in no rush and so we checked it out. It was absolutely crazy. All these cars driving around with text written on the windows that they were going to this festival (and especially noted if they were single), many dressed up cowboy style, all happy and celebrating, lots of beer and roasts.

“No problem parking here. Elorza is safe.”
“Here, have a beer!”
“Where you’re from. Can I take a photo of your car?”

We felt welcome. Truth be said, the quantities of beer and spirits were a bit too much to our liking so we didn’t go out that night to check out the concerts (too many drunk drivers). We camped outside the city, where a famous singer owns a farm and invites all campers to stay at his premises during this weekend.

So, after a day, we left the partying crowd for what they were and set out for our next destination: the Andes.

For more on Wildlife & Nature, check out these articles:

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10 thoughts on “Venezuela, First Impressions: Los Llanos

  1. Just making an amendment: Elorza festival is not Chavez town of birth, he was born in Sabaneta de Barinas in Barinas State.

      • Hey Karin, I’m venezuelan, from Barinas (living in Brazil). Chavez was born in Sabaneta de Barinas, Although, being from “Los llanos” make of you a “Llanero”. Both Barinas and Apure are really close on culture and identity. Chavez liked the festival very much, so, probably people who told you that he was born there, actually feel inside he is from there, but that doesn’t mean he actually is. Here is Wikipedia, for a quick check https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Ch%C3%A1vez

        I know that you can go crazy over how many “propaganda” is placed at the roads about Chavez and at some point you just get sick of it and stop paying attention, but, the one that you took and is in this post at the begining is actually from his town of birth Sabaneta. Elorza and Sabaneta de Barinas (because there’s another Sabaneta in Zulia) are far from each other in around 250 km and you probably pass by going to Merida.

        Cheers and be Safe up there!

  2. Hey! nice tale, to me is really a proud which you have been passed good times here in my country, respect to the famous singer owner of a farm, was Jorge Guerrero, take care! God bless you!

    • Hey Raul, thanks for mentioning the name of that singer, Jorge Guerrero, that was him indeed. Loved camping there but didn’t get to meet him or see him perform.

  3. If you cannot bring cash into the country, what do you use for money?
    What do you do with the cash you have? hide it in a money belt?

  4. First, congratulations on your journey, thank you for providing such an objective view of my beatiful but run-down country.

    I just wanted to make the update, that now Gas, although absurdly cheap, has increased enough to be paid some hundred bolivars a tank. While that is not much when to converted to international prices, it should be taken into consideration now when you travel inland through the country.

    If you ever make a third trip to Venezuela, I encourage you to visit the Costa de Oro beaches in Aragua State. A rare, very scarce crop of cocoa was preserved there from a world plague, fact that left Venezuela with “pearl cocoa” beans that were unspoiled until the time you visited. And after digging in all of your posts, I did not see any mentions to venezuelan chocolate! Your gastronomical views would have been VERY DIFFERENT after you tried hand made, D.O.C chocolates from Venezuela.

    Cheers! I have grown fond of that Landcruiser…

    Emanuel

    • Hi Emanual, thanks for your feedback. While not everything we do and see is on this website, it’s true that we didn’t visit Costa de Oro and – unfortunately – didn’t know that incredible story about cocoa! That would have been interesting to learn more about. And no – arguably even more a shame – we don’t even know about Venezuelan chocolate. Didn’t come across it or heard anybody saying anything about it. But you know we always have a solution for these kind of ‘regrets’: we simply have to come back one day, which we will look forward to!
      Meanwhile, all the best with everything that’s happening in Venezuela. We think of you often.

  5. Hi all. I was wondering what foods are popular in Apure? Also, What does one eat while there if on a plant based diet?

    • Heya Monique, popular foods in Apure, arepa’s I guess. Very popular throughout Venezuela. And for your plantbased question: black beans and veggies and lots of fruits with oats.

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