As I hinted at the end of my last post, getting out of Mérida wasn’t quite as easy as I had hoped.
I’d booked the (fairly secure) night bus heading north-east to Maracay after a pretty hectic local bus ride earlier that day and traipsed back to the girls’ apartment, ticket in hand. After one last stroll around the city and a quick dinner, I went through the all too familiar routine of packing my things and saying goodbyes and hailed the next taxi to pass the apartment front door.
Amazingly, everything seemed to be running like clockwork. The bus was already at the terminal, patiently waiting as people tagged and loaded their luggage underneath, being sure to collect the identical rubber tag which would ensure they received their own bag at the end of the 11 hour journey.
I barely had time to put my headphones in before we ground to a halt and awkwardly mounted the kerb on the side of a busy highway.
… Or rather, 20 minute journey. After the bus grumbled its way out of the station and the lights dimmed for the night, I barely had time to put my headphones in before we ground to a halt and awkwardly mounted the kerb on the side of a busy highway. In rapid Spanish, the driver said something like: “The bus is broken, we can not fix it. You can get a refund tomorrow. We do not know when the next bus will be but it will not be tonight. We will be dropping you off here. Good luck getting a taxi! Goodnight.”
A confused Austrian man named Fritz asked me if I spoke English, which I confirmed, before translating the conductor’s unwelcome news for him. Fritz hurriedly clambered off the bus with the other 42 occupants and stuffed his pipe with a stash of Austrian cherry tobacco while he assessed the situation. I would later share a taxi back into Mérida with him and direct him using my guidebook to one of the few posadas that accommodated backpackers. Thankfully, a local woman loaned me her mobile phone and I got in contact with my Couchsurfing host, Mary, who was happy to have me for another night.
I caught up with Fritz the next morning, collecting him from his Posada as I headed out in search of breakfast. He was an interesting guy, mid-fifties, smoker of a seriously cool old-school pipe, travelling solo and carrying over 50 kilos of equipment including climbing gear. He told me that he had arranged his entire trip across Venezuela over the phone with a local travel agent who had organised his dates, transfers and accommodation. Fritz spoke zero Spanish, instead he used a mobile phone to call his travel agent whenever he needed a translator. He relayed a few hilarious stories including one where he had ordered breakfast via his travel agent, passing the phone to the waitress so she could take his order in Spanish. Unfortunately, Fritz hadn’t had so much luck with this system the night before.
We wandered around the city at a loose end, not having planned to stay the extra day. A great way to pass time when you’re travelling is to take long naps underneath trees in local parks, which I managed to spend about three hours doing. After a long, uneventful day, it was time to head back to the bus station. We grabbed our bags from Fritz’s Posada where we had stashed them earlier and hailed a cab from the roadside.
This time, the bus grumbled out of the station and kept on grumbling. From the northern tip of the mighty Andes and the llanos plains, we climbed over the last few mountains separating us from the warm northern coast of Venezuela and descended towards the ocean, and Maracay.