Lake Maracaibo to the mountains of Venezuela


After a couple of nights in the hotel compound in Maracaibo, it’s time to move on. Zulia, the state we entered when we crossed the border, and are riding in again today, is reportedly pretty dangerous. I’m filled with a lot of paranoia, I’m not gonna lie, so I didn’t venture out to see the city. But we had ridden through nearly ten miles of this sprawling city the night we rode in from the border. It just looked like any other city, no offense intended. So a day in the pool and catching up on laundry and internet sounded more appealing to me.
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I take a quick pic on the way out of town, albeit from a good distance. As we leave the city we cross over the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge, and over the lake itself. The bridge is nearly 5.5 miles long and is named for a hero from the Venezuelan War of Independence who later became the countries 3rd President.
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The lake itself is more of a bay since it open directly into the Caribbean Sea and isn’t fully contained. The lake and its surrounding basin is a huge source of oil for the country. At the far southern end the Catatumbo River empties into the lake in a large bog/wetland. This area is known for the world’s longest running lightning storms. Supposedly you can see lightning here on roughly 1/2 to 2/3 of the days of the year for hours and hours during the night. I’d love to be able to watch some of Mother Nature’s fireworks, mind you only from a safe place, if we get the chance. But first off to the mountains.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catatumbo_lightning

The roads are good here, and better than much of Central America.
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We pass the turn to Cabimas and head on toward Valera. It’s a busy city and the highway morphs into the main drag through town with bumper to bumper traffic for a couple of miles.
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And somewhere up the road we run into traffic again. The normal incessant honking we usually here is gone, replaced with somber and respectful silence for the funeral procession which is the cause of the delay. I wish I knew how to pay my respects as we pass, like shutting off my lights or stopping or something, but I follow everyone elses lead and move on around them.
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We leave Valera and climb up and through the village of La Puerta, staying to the right side of the city as we climb above it and at the far end the road doubles back and transitions to the next ridge and continues to climb. We pass homes, some are small shanties really, built on both sides of this single lane of road.
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The view of the valley below is incredible. But it’s almost impossible to photograph as the walls of the mountains are so vertical and you can barely make out the towns below. And the clouds are closing in above so I can’t make out the ridgeline or peaks.
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Hard for me to imagine living life on the edge of this mountain road. Puppies and children are playing outside their small homes and laundry is hung out to dry. Chickens and horses graze along the road edges.
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As we round the saddle in this second ridge and come over the top I am shown a spectacular view of the next valley.
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This is the way it continues to look for the next 30 or 40 miles, and all the rest of today, as we work our way up from sea level at Lake Maracaibo to over 9000 feet by the end of the day. It starts to rain and I’m chilled for the first time in ages. This is what we have come for, not the hectic cities with its sterile and depressing block housing, not the lines for black market gasolina, and not the typical gringo experience. This is the beautiful side of Venezuela.
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We ride on along Troncal 7 and through Timotes and stop for fuel in Chachopo. We pay the equivalent of 3.26 CENTS for more than 23 liters of gas for the two bikes.
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Then we settle into the Finca Santa Barbara for the night and get in out of the cold.
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