At 8am, Gwyn managed to get the permit for Dougal. It looked like we were on our way, until I couldn't find my passport. A guard finally came over after 2 HOURS and gave it me. It must have fell out of my pocket last night. Idiot. Can’t tell you how much panic I went through, checking the same bags a million times over.
We managed to get some dollars changed up at the border. Venezuela is known for it unusual currency figures. There's a fixed rate with banks and bureau de changes at 2 (ish), then there's the black market rate, which fluctuates between 3 - 7 bolivars for every $1usd. We just changed up $100usd and managed to get a 3.5 rate. Rates are always lower at the borders, so we just change up what we need, then get more the further we get into the country.
Venezuela is also known for having the cheapest fuel prices in the world. Presumably to control potential smuggling of fuel across the borders for resale in countries like Columbia, the closest fuel station was 100 miles away. We were low on fuel, but a few of the locals sell bottles along the highway. We paid 400 bolivars for 20 litres. At $10usd (£6) it's really cheap, but they are still making a massive mark-up on that price, as you'll see below. Despite the fact we clarified a billion times we required diesel (aka gasoil, as it's referred to in Venezuela), dumb and dumber sold us unleaded fuel. Minutes down the road, Dougal comes to a halt.
Parked up along the road, known for its nightly murders, Gwyn spent 3 hours sucking and inevitably drinking diesel to get the line unleaded free. In the meantime, I attempted to flag down a lorry that uses diesel to try and buy some of them. Eventually, a man came to our rescue and gave us 20 litres for free. However, coming back with my gift for Dougal/Gwyn, I accidentally dropped the maize spray (ie bear spay we purchased from the states, that is illegal in most countries). I carry it around for protection/prevention, when I'm on my own day or night. When I dropped it, a small bit sprayed out. I was 1 metre away and immediately felt the effects - my chest tightened, my eyes were streaming with tears, I could barely speak, my head felt dizzy and I was spitting up phlegm. Gwyn, who wasn't standing as close, also felt the effects, now mixed with the taste of diesel. After a few minutes and drinking water, the effects started to wear off. It was awful. So glad we were both wearing sunglasses and there was no direct contact with our eyes, as this spray can cause blindness. Think it's impossible to be anymore stupid today. Never thought I’d actually get maced in my life…by myself as well!
Leaving bottles of unleaded fuel at the side if road, that the locals quickly removed (of course), we were on our way to Merida. From the advice of the tour guide and the guards in the border, we decided to not go direct into murder central Maracaibo and went around the city. We were still low on fuel, but after 6 stations we couldn't fill up. They would only fill up police cars. No idea what that was all about. Just as we felt we had no option but to go into Maracaibo, we find a fuel station that accepted normal folk and also had diesel. Winner. What we failed to do, was fill up the other spare containers for the long drive ahead. Another schoolboy error of the day, which would lead to more issues later on…
We managed to fill up Dougal from empty for 2 bolivars. That's an insane price of 8 cents (5p), even with our poor rate on the border of 3.5. When we get the rate of 7 bolivars to the $1usd, to fill our van up it'll be roughly 4 cents (3p). Unbelievable.
After all the mess and delays, we make it onto highway 6 before nightfall. Relief. It takes another 7 hours to get near Merida. The roads are relatively alright (except those famous Mexican speed bumps are back), but we get pulled over by the national guard/police officers nearly 30 times. They ask the usual questions, check passports and for the first time since this trip, actually go inside the van and check it out. We even get quizzed on smuggling marijuana on the last inspection, as we must have looked so tired from the drive.
Fearing we were going to not make it to Merida as we were unable to fill up with diesel driving down (there's none open at night on this stretch), we stayed the night in a fuel station (just 15km from Merida), waiting for it to open in the morning, so we could be on our way