The road to Maracaibo

Leaving Cabo de la Vela after an early breakfast. Well it should have been 6am, but the staff found difficulty in getting in, so we were a bit delayed but did leave before 7.

There was a stop at Manaure where we had an explanation of tribal life from lady of the Wayuu tribe, then went on to look at the salt pans

We then went to a salt extraction operation which was supposedly set up for the indigenous indians, but was not actually working when we were there, and looked very low key, seemingly operating at about only 10% of its capacity. Industrial exploitation and processing of salt in Manaure began in the 1920s when the government gave concessions to individual investors for the exploitation of the salt mine and until the 1940s the mode of collection went from artisan to industrial, when the Bank of the Republic took over the Manaure salt mines. By 1948 salt production in Manaure was between 20,000 and 30,000 tons a year. In 1970 the concession of Manaure salt mines was transferred to the IFI-ConcesiĆ³n Salinas which intensified the production to one million tons a year

The Wayuu began to claim the area as their ancestral land and historical owners of Manaure. In 1991 the government recognized the claim by the Wayuu and agreed to reorganize production and work conditions under a mixed economy, in which the indigenous would have 25% of the stocks in the company. The accords were not met and the Wayuus sued the government in 1994. The court ordered the creation of Sociedad Salinas de Manaure, SAMA based on the original agreement and linked to the then Ministry of Development. The Wayuu would have 25%, but once again the agreements were not met due to legal problems. In 2002 Law 773 of the same year reestablished the creation of the SAMA, distributing earnings among the Ministry of Development (51%) the indigenous Association "Sumain Ichi" (25%) and the municipality of Manaure (25%).

I suspect that the impasse continues as there was no sign of anything like that production being reached today. Most of the salt pans were empty, and little salt was left to dry

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One of the long coal trains, with its cargo of coal destined for China, passed on the railway line that runs down the centre of the peninsula.. We had a brief toilet stop at a hammock shop where they sold woven hammocks - I would have bought one, but for the fact that we do not need one, and further getting it home would have been difficult

Lunch at Maicao at Restaurant El Oriental, a Lebanese Restaurant. Due to the dangers of this border town, we were not allowed to wander outside of the restaurant. The restaurant itself was very pleasant, and very cheap with plentiful, good food

The border crossing itself was remarkably straightforward. We queued up to get our passports stamped out of Colombia, and again to get stamped into Venezuela. Whole thing took less than half an hour, and much to my surprise our luggage was not searched by either side. We had been warned not to take photos at the border, so I got a photo off the web. I did not really fancy a spell in a Venezuelan jail. I should add that 10 days later this crossing was closed after Venezuelan National Guards shot some Colombians. I was never able to find out how long it was closed for, but it does give an idea of the frictions that exist in the area. Venezuelans are disparate to get their hands on any currency other than their own, and they get very cheap petrol in Venezuela, so you can see why they cross the border with a full tank, and sell it in Colombia. I suspect that drugs are going the other way, plus the various household essentials like toilet paper, flour or sugar that are difficult to get in Venezuela. A return trip back home for the Venezuelan who has sold petrol, returning with a load of groceries, makes for a profitable trip.

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Once clear of the border we were warned that we could get 3 or 4 passport inspections and/or luggage searches before getting to Maracaibo - such military road blocks are common in Venezuela. But happily we were just waved through each checkpoint

We stayed here after a week in the wilder parts of Colombia, staying in accommodation without electricity, water or any services. So the Kristoff was a breath of fresh air for us. We were a group of 6 Europeans, and were advised not to walk outside the hotel, advice which we followed. I have no idea how dangerous the surrounding streets are!

The hotel is fairly standard 4 star facilities, but has adapted itself to Venezuela. Only one door into the hotel is used because of security. The swimming pool was closed, and looked as if had been and would be, closed for many weeks. Chris was not a happy bunny with this

A very nice and cheap (given the black market rate for changing dollars) restaurant. The staff were quite pleasant, but a number of items on the menu were not available - we later found this par for the course in Venezuela - hotels have no idea what they can source tomorrow - and the prices were on one page at the back of the menu, so that the whole thing did not need to be reprinted when a price adjustment was made. As I understand inflation is around 70% at the moment, price increases are frequent, but a rising black market rate will offset that for tourists

Breakfast was "odd", we had to prove who we were, then sign for it. The breakfast buffet itself was "normal" for this sort of hotel. Similarly checking in and out appeared to be more for at the convenience of the reception staff than for the convenience of guests. I have no idea whether other hotels in Maracaibo are better than this, but I was happy with my stay here.

We were already to leave punctually at 7, but Bill & Ben, our gourmand drivers, only condescended to make an appearance 15 minutes later!

On to El Jaguey

Colombia - Venezuela Holiday