Crossing The Venezuela-Colombia Border
I left Merida, Venezuela at 8am on a bus destined for San Cristobal, Venezuela. Though the journey is only 180km/112mi, it took 6 hours. There was the 30 minute stop for lunch, lots of slow uphill climbs, winding through the mountains, and speed bumps in the small towns we passed through.
Once I got to San Cristobal I found a chicken bus that would take me all the way to Cucuta in Colombia. Once I sat down on the bus, I asked the guy next to me if the bus goes directly to Cucuta. He seemed disturbed or angered by my question and/or my accent, so he wasn’t much help. But the guy behind me was awesome.
He lived in Florida for two years and we talked quite a bit after the guy next to me got off the bus. He helped a lot and told me that the bus won’t stop to go through Venezuelan immigration on the way out. I wouldn’t have known that otherwise. I just would have had to walk back across the bridge separating Venezuela and Colombia and do it manually, but he saved me time and effort.
I got off the bus at the border and ate something. I passed through Venezuelan immigration and paid the unexpected 76 Bolivars to leave. Once again the State Department failed to mention such a requirement on their site. They only talk about departing by plane..
In the bit of land separating Colombia and Venezuela there is a nice park. Lots of palm trees, statues, and monuments. There’s also a mural dedicated to their shared liberator – Simon Bolivar.
I easily went through Colombian immigration and didn’t suffer a six-hour line like I did when I left Colombia a few weeks earlier. The immigration agent and I talked a bit and I explained what I was doing in Colombia. He asked if a 30-day visa would be enough, but I said I didn’t have firm plans and I preferred a longer one. He gave me a 60-day visa and I was on my way.
I exchanged my remaining Venezuelan Bolivars for Colombian Pesos, drank two cups of sugar cane juice with lemon since I was sweating like crazy and thirsty, and then caught a local bus to the center of Cucuta.
In reality, I didn’t spend much time in Cucuta. Just a weekend. I stayed with the father and brother of a friend of mine from business school. What a great experience!
I really enjoyed spending time with them.
Juan, my friend’s brother, took me to the nearby town of Villa del Rosario. We visited the House of Santander, where General Francisco de Paula Santander was born and grew up. He was instrumental in the war of independence and was the acting president of Gran Colombia (incorporating modern-day Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Northern Peru, and Northwest Brazil) from 1819-1826.
This house is set within a larger park called “Park Of Gran Colombia.” It’s beautiful and full of historical importance as the first constitution of Gran Colombia was drafted here. Juan described the monument below as Colombia’s Liberty Bell.
The border had several people selling contraband Venezuelan gasoline. Since gasoline is basically free in Venezuela, people fill up tanks there and then sell it at a premium (though still below market value) across the border. It’s convenient for the Colombians in Cucuta, but a loss for the Venezuelan people. They offset the cheap gasoline at home via exports, but in the end that is a loss for the government. Subsidizing cheap gasoline in the Colombian border cities is just salt on that wound.
Below is a video of us driving down a street in Cucuta and the road-side gasoline “shops.”
My friend’s dad is a strict vegetarian and it was great to be able to eat wonderful vegetarian food all weekend! As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be a vegetarian once this trip is finished. In Central America it was nearly impossible to be a vegetarian. The only option most restaurants would have would be rice and beans. Or their vegetarian options included cheese, which I can’t have since I’m lactose intolerant. This place was a sight for sore eyes!
My friend’s dad also undertook a similar journey as me when he was younger. It was really nice, inspirational even, to listen to his stories and thoughts on life. He is a self-confessed happy man. Everything happens for a reason, and I am sure I ended up in Cucuta so I could cross paths with him.
Thanks to Justo for setting this up for me and I’m looking forward to seeing him in Bogotá!