The one thing that becomes clearer and clearer to me every day in Venezuela, is that most people don’t own a car. Most people, in fact, don’t even know people that own cars. However, there are many ways to get around that don’t involve having your own vehicle! I’m going to tell you all about how my friends, my Venezuelan family, and I get around our city and about unique ways people get around in other parts of Venezuela!
There are five very common ways to get around in my city. The first is by bus. Our city isn’t very big, but it is very long. Also, because it is in the mountains, half of the journey is always uphill. There are buses that go everywhere, or that can get you close enough to walk. The second common way, for people in a certain part of the city, is the trolley. The trolley is free and connects a smaller town with our city, it is also free. The problem with the trolley is that it only works at certain times during the day. The third way is by taxi. People use taxis when they are running short on time or don’t want to have to deal with public transportation and the crowd. Taxis cost at least 10 times as much as the bus, but they are usually very safe. I have to use a taxi at night, because it is too dangerous to walk places and the buses aren’t running either. The fourth way to get around, which I think belongs to the craziest people, is by motorcycle. There are also people that offer taxi services on their motorcycles! They weave in and out of traffic like there is no problem at all! The fifth way to get around, which I use most often, is on foot. I walk almost everywhere that is within a forty-five minute reach. It is good exercise and it is free! A lot of Venezuelans walk too!
To get to other cities, we use buses. There is a bus terminal where you can go and buy your ticket, but you can only buy your ticket the day you want to use that bus, so you have to get there early enough to ensure that it didn’t sell out.
When we went to the beach, people had to get from island to island to buy things and go places. They used boats to get everywhere they had to go! It was different, especially because I am only used to lakes, and I thought we would die when we took our small boats out into the ocean.
When we went to the countryside, people get around by using their own vehicles. Usually when people have their own vehicles they are old and used because it is cheaper to repair them then it is to buy a nicer vehicle. However, if they don’t have a vehicle, they usually ride their horses. There are few buses in the country and although walking is also a popular way of transportation, the nearest city could be five miles away! If someone owns a horse, they ride it into town and go about their business.
The first time I tried riding the bus, I was terrified. I still get a little nervous when I ride them alone. City buses are packed and I had heard bad stories about people getting robbed by sweet old ladies and armed adults. It was weird because we paid when we got off, not when we got on. I still don’t know what happens if you don’t have the money. There also aren’t buttons to press, that work, to tell the driver you need to stop. Instead, to get off you yell “La parada por favor” which means “The stop please!”. They are small and only fit about 25 people, comfortably, although I’ve been in some with about 50 people.
The trolley is a really neat way to get around and it is very modern. It reminds me a lot of the Minnesota light rail system. It is so modern that the other day while I was waiting at the trolley stop to get on, I got in trouble for drinking water! I was kind of nervous of it the first time, but I trusted it. I just can’t use it very often because it is out of my way, unless I am going to visit some of my friends.
I had to use the taxis here right away. They make me nervous because if you don’t call them and you just stop them on the street, sometimes they are “gypsy taxis” and their drivers aren’t safe. I don’t feel too nervous about them any more, although I stopped trying to befriend trustworthy drivers because sometimes they wouldn’t stop sending me messages and talking to me.
I have yet to get on a motorcycle here, but I don’t think I will. It is very dangerous because they zip in and out of traffic as if it were a game. I saw a motorcyclist get hit by a car the other day! Right in front of me! Thank goodness they were at a stoplight and the traffic wasn’t moving that fast!
The first time I walked anywhere, I was very nervous. The whole first week I had sore legs from such an intense uphill workout everyday aka walking to school. I had heard tons of horror stories about how I was going to get robbed. However, very few people in our group have had any problem. The worst thing about being a blonde girl though is the catcalls from the Venezuelan men. They like to call out to us in English “Hey baby! I love you! Hello! Where you from? How are you?” My friends and I do our best to ignore them and keep walking, but it does get frustrating.
Traveling outside of the city is terrifying. The roads in the plains have a bunch of potholes everywhere so there is a lot of swerving. The roads in the mountains cause you to drive so close to the edge it is terrifying! I had a few videos to show of this, but my camera disappeared before I could upload them. Sometimes there is nothing except a small shoulder separating the bus from the steep roll down the mountain.
As for trying out the boats and the horses, I was thrilled. The boats scared me in the end though and I spent most of my time praying and hoping we didn’t capsize. I kept looking at the shoreline and deciding how I was going to make sure I survived if we went under. The boats were small in comparison with the waves, but our trained drivers got us from island to island with no problems. As for the horses, I was thrilled. We didn’t ride them into town, but we did get to go on a ride through the country. I got my horse to gallop a little bit and I instantly fell in love. If I had to chose one way to travel for the rest of my stay, it would be in the country by horse.
The trolley is our only method of transportation that was created for the public with the environment in mind. The rest of the methods result from the lack of money to have their own car and the need to get places. Most people here would like to buy their own car and gas is cheap so they don’t think too much about carpooling or getting good gas mileage.
The boats and the horses have a lot to do with the cultures where they are used. On the coast, they need boats to get to and from places, it has been a part of their life for a very long time, especially because there are so many little islands right off the coast. The horses are also a huge part of the plains culture since the Spanish introduced them to the Indigenous people. It is a simple way to get around and to take care of their large herds.