So glad was I to get out of Merida. The town is really traveler-friendly making it a tough place to leave. One last saucy burger and I was set to go. The burgers (and hot dogs) here are heaven to me. You buy them on the street, cheap, and then stand there eating while all the different sauces they've already put on for you drip off. In between each bite you have to choose one or more bottles of sauce (garlic is my fav) and squeeze it on. Extra saucy! It was raining which made getting a cab to the bus station a near impossibility. It took almost 20 minutes and when one finally pulled over he then immediately pulled away when he saw that my wet bag would have to go on his nice upholstered seat. Luckily a less discriminating cab stopped not to long after and I was off. I just missed my 1pm bus and had to wait an hour and half which blew my schedule to smithereens but what can you do? Six hours by minibus San Cristobal and then another two hours to the border town of San Antonio de Tachira.
It was late and I needed to walk through town to find the hostel I'd picked out but as I walked down the main road and looked down the side streets I needed to turn onto I just thought, nope. Too scary. Found a decent enough hotel a block away just off the main road and crashed. Up early to do all my immigration stuff. I had to walk about eight blocks to the Venezuelan office to get my exit stamp and then walk over the bridge with my big pack to the Colombian side. Easy as pie and I didn't have to wait too long for a bus to take me in to Cucuta, Columbia, 12 km away. At the bus station I had to change $20 USD at a crappy rate but it meant getting on a bus to Bucaramanga leaving in 10 minutes. What a ride! I was in yet another small van for the six hour trip through the mountains and was so happy that the bus only broke down once. The driver was going way too fast on the narrow winding roads and blindly passing any truck within reach for fun. There were two young kids on the bus. One started puking halfway up the mountain. The other decided to wait until he had had a full meal at our quick lunch stop and then when he was comfortably seated behind me decided to let 'er rip. My whole left side, including hair was covered in barf. The rest of the passengers were lucky that I was wearing a tank top under my shirt cause the shirt was coming off no matter what. My chair was covered as well and the bus was full so I had to sit on the very edge of my seat for the last two hours. Who said traveling isn't glamourous?
Well I couldn't get off that bus fast enough. I jumped in a cab and made my way to a super crappy hotel in downtown Bucaramanga. Even though I smelled like puke, the taxi driver was hitting on me like crazy. Go figure. I took a quick shower and headed out for a quick meal which was great. Set lunch for just over a dollar with soup, meat, yams and lentils. It was still early but I was beat so I smuggled two beers into my hotel room and settled in to watch a few hours of TV. Talk about bliss. In the morning I headed out to the beautiful small white washed town of Giron. Life here moves at a very slow pace. I checked out a few serene shaded areas where locals were lolling about and the main square grounded by its blindingly white church but there wasn't much else to do there so I headed back after about an hour. I wasn't sure where to catch the bus but amazingly the same bus driver that had dropped me off passed me and stopped to let me on. Back at the hotel I grabbed my stuff and headed to the bus station.
Yet another minivan awaited me for my quick two and half hour trip to San Gil. At the station I was the belle of the ball. All the bus companies were trying to get me to get on their minivan leaving to San Gil in ten minutes. I told the girl at one company that I just waited to check the price at the stall next door and she lowered the price even further. Great. This trip while mountainous was quite uneventful thank heavens. The best thing about these small minivans are that they drop you in town instead of at the bus station which saves so much hassle. I arrived in San Gil a little before 4pm and got one of the last available rooms. There's a big festival here this weekend but for what purpose I haven't yet figured out. Walked down to the nearby riverside park where all the trees have floaty gray beards. Quite pretty in a strange way. I walked a bit more but I was pretty done. I stopped for a quick dinner and then a quick beer at a small bar but I was garnering a little too much attention. Home again.
I headed down to the river at 9:45am to try and get on a group rafting trip. Even though they open at 8am, the girl at the counter had told me the day before to get there by 10am if I wanted to go in a group. Didn't make any sense to me but of course she was right. There were a few dozen people all around getting ready to go. They hurried me off to a van and we zoomed off up river to the starting point about 15 minutes away. About 5 minutes in we hear the guy sitting in the back yell 'Suave, mas suave'. I figured his girlfriend was getting sick because we were going so fast but as we all turned around simultaneously we looked on as the four stacked rafts on the back trailer toppled off to the right and started scraping on the ground as we dragged them along. The guys got out and stacked them back up and luckily when we arrived we found that we didn't have to use them anyway as there were two rafts already set up for us. I was in a group with two other couples and even though we got all of our instructions in Spanish I was shocked that I actually understood most everything. We headed off down the class 3 rapids. A pretty easy ride for the most part so the guides like to make it a bit more fun by (a.) making everyone stand up on the edge of the raft while holding hands just before pushing everyone in and (b.) tipping the boat over purposefully every chance they get. It was an excellent way to spend the morning.
At the end of the trip I walked to the hotel dripping wet and quickly changed into some dry clothes. I had wanted to quickly catch a bus to another small town called Barichara but I'd just missed one and had to wait 45 minutes. No problem, I was starving and I'd seen a woman doling out some sort of meat and rice concoction from the head of a pig and decide to go back and investigate. She made me a plate to go which I ate in the park before strolling through the local covered market on my way to the local bus station. We made it to Barichara in under 45 minutes and the first thing I noticed was that all the houses were painted bright white with dark green doors. The second thing I noticed was that all the doors were closed. After wandering the streets for a few minutes I figured it out. The Mexico and Argentina game had just started. I found myself a seat in a store/bar and tuned in. When in Rome and all that. I'm back in San Gil now and am heading out to Villa de Leyva in the morning after I check out the festival party scene. Ciao!