Por las Trochas

My children’s nanny, a Colombian peasant from that country’s Caribbean coast region near Cartagena, returned last night from her Christmas and New Year’s holiday visit with her mother and brothers.
After a year in Caracas sending her salary to her mother in Colombia, Rosa also wanted to inspect her assets – a dozen beef cattle she purchased over the past 12 months with the $300 a month we pay her (at the revolution’s official exchange rate, but much less at the black market rate).
Rosa purchased a plot of land during her Christmas vacation, where she plans to build her house. She plans to buy at least another dozen cows in 2009, and a bull to breed the cows. She can barely read and write, but Rosa is ambitious, and has a plan to get ahead in life.
“Someday I’ll be the biggest cattle rancher in my village,” says Rosa, “if my stupid, useless brothers don’t eat my cows.”
Rosa’s return trip to Caracas took four days. First she traveled by bus from her village to Cartagena, where she took a chartered bus, actually a heap of scrap metal on bald wheels, to Colombia’s border with Venezuela near the Colombian city of Maicao, where mainly Lebanese, Iranian and Syrian merchants control a robust cross border trade in legal and smuggled goods. Practically anything can be bought in Maicao, from a 160GB IPod or 3G Iphone in original factory-sealed packaging, to an AK-103 assault rifle or a brand new Hummer.
Near Maicao, Rosa and the other 49 undocumented Colombian adults, mostly women returning to their jobs in Caracas, climbed aboard a small cattle truck (also rusted junk on wheels) and used the trochas, rutted dirt paths which meander through the dense forested mountains on the Colombia-Venezuela border. One woman was five months’ pregnant and several were traveling with small children.

The trip organizer (in Mexico they’re called ‘coyoteros’) had promised they would re-enter Venezuela through Maicao, but the Venezuelan National Guard closed the border crossings over a week ago. These border closings happen in that region every year right immediately after 1 January because the Venezuela’s government wants to halt illegal immigration from Colombia.
It’s also a convenient means for Venezuelan National Guard officials on the border to replenish their finances by raising the cash fee for allowing undocumented Colombians return to their jobs in Venezuela. When the border is closed officially, the “fees” undocumented immigrants must pay to corrupt National Guard officials double or triple.
The trip back to Caracas cost each undocumented Colombian BsF 1,200, twice what they paid to travel from Caracas to Colombia at the beginning of last December.
The trip organizer collected 100% of the fee up front. Rosa was told half of the fee was already guaranteed to Venezuelan officials.
The first payoff was made soon after the truck entered Venezuelan territory – to a trio of armed civilians manning a “toll booth” on the unpaved dirt trocha – BsF 20 per passenger, and BsF 5 for each of the small children.
After arriving at a small Venezuelan village in Zulia state near the border, the undocumented Colombians transferred to another bus (more rolling junk) which transported them to Maracaibo, where they spent the second night of the trip packed into a “rancho” in which a cloud of mosquitos feasted on the travelers.
“I didn’t sleep all night. Some of the men were drinking ‘aguardiente’ and looking bad at the women. There was nothing to eat, no toilet or drinking water. It smelled like shit,” says Rosa.
The following morning the group was packed into a fleet of pirate taxis – mostly old Ford Galaxy’s and Chevrolets (circa late 1970s, early 1980s) – five adults per vehicle, which drove them across the Lake Maracaibo bridge.

The taxi drivers paid more cash to a National Guard official at an “alcabala” (checkpoint) about two km after the bridge, and soon after that they transferred to another “bus” at a Pdvsa service station, which then drove the group to Barquisimeto. During that leg of the trip the bus passed through six more “alcabalas,” and more cash was paid at each checkpoint.
“Ya coronamos,” (“We have crowned”) the bus driver announced after leaving the seventh National Guard checkpoint since crossing the bridge on the lake.
The group spent the third night of their trip at another “rancho” just outside Barquisimeto on the highway to San Felipe. Nowhere to sleep, no food.
The following morning – day 4 – they were picked up by a mini-bus which transported them to Caracas with people standing packed in the bus aisle all the way. The last leg of the trip took almost 14 hours, although passenger vehicles and newer buses normally take about six hours to travel from Barquisimeto to Caracas.
Rosa buzzed the doorbell to our apartment just before midnight last night. She ate two arepas during the four-day trip, and one liter of bottled water, she said. And stank like she’d been riding sweaty cows or hogs in a damp smoke-filled windowless shack.

“No more, never again, I suffered hunger and thirst, I had to hide in ranchos all the way, I felt like I was kidnapped, the National Guard opened all our luggage at every “alcabala” and treated us badly,” she said. “I’m getting my Venezuelan citizen papers. The woman who organized the trip told us she can get our Venezuelan documents if we vote for Chavez in the referendum. Chavez is a pig (un cerdo), but I’ll vote for him if that’s what I must do to get my legal documents.”


About Caracas Gringo

Representing less than 0.00000000001515152% of the world population as of 31 December 2011.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s