A Nightmare at Xmas in the Gran Sabana, Venezuela


Route Santa Elena de Uairen, Venezuela – Kavanayen, Gran Sabana, Venezuela (10)
Distance 230Km (Direct)
Travel Time 3 hours
Road Conditions Good tarmac, dirt road 60Km to Kavanayen
Weather Warm, overcast at times
Terrain Flat savannah, some hils and large tepuis
Food and Petrol St Elena, Rapidos, Luepa El Fuerte
Accommodation First Pousada in Kavanayen

It’s annoying, but we have to return from Kavanayen via Santa Elena to Boa Vista in Brazil to get a spare part from a Honda dealer – Honda dealers not being in existence in Venezuela. I knew something was going wrong as we were about to cross the border*L but I couldn’t put my finger on it – now we know.

Even the bodega near Rapidos is all festive…

It’s a total return distance of about 850 kilometres. I guess that should teach me to journey on a NX4 Falcon without a spare Cam chain tensioner in my kit bag. Oh well, at least the petrol will hardly cost us anything*L. (Not funny as it is, it’s a great relief).

Max and Erica rock up in the afternoon, having made the journey to Paratepui themselves and now hoping to catch us here. We gather supplies for an awesome chicken BBQ and knock up a feast for kings. (Ok, nothing new there I guess…)

Ebru and I say goodbye to the recently-arrived Max and Erica and head off South. Before checking into our hostel we visit the border to check it will be open over the coming days, Xmas and all. The border folks assure us that all will be business as usual over the Xmas period and the Venezuelan guard – on hearing my intentions – even tells me that I won’t need to get any exit stamp from here, just sort the paperwork on the Brazil end and return on the same visa. Cool!

Back at Pousada Monica in Santa Elena de Uairen, we pack our necessary stuff. We’re planning to ride light to Brazil as light as possible so we arrange to leave most of our stuff in their luggage storage.


Early morning on the 24th we are up and ready to go. Before getting on the long road we stop for a powe breakfast of excellent coffee, cheese, salami and bread at the delicatessen in Santa Elena. Powered up, we get on the bike, go through our checking routine to make sure we haven’t lost or left anything behind, and as we pull off Ebru asks, “You’ve got the banking cards right?”

What?? Me? Why? … Mental chaos – alarm – panic…

Back at the hostel we remove all our gear from storage and check through all of our bags. Not there.

“You [Ken] removed them from the money belt in the room when we stayed at the first hostel, where did you put them?” – shit I don’t know… I wouldn’t have put them anywhere stupid. Did we, leave them behind? We always do a final room check. Of course we find that the reception is not attending there today so we cannot ask them.


Hostal Monika say they didn’t find anything. Where could they be? … Kavanayen!

Ebru has it in her mind that I had them in a little plastic pouch I kept in the inside pocket of my biker jacket. I am sure I only kept some business cards in there but can I rule it out right now? I had it out on the bike saddle in Kavanayen before leaving as I noted the mileage. I’m pretty sure I had it in Rapidos when filling up on the way back here. Two options… off we go, back to Kavanayen!


A couple of hours later, back at Rapios de Kamoiran petrol station I ask the soldier-attendants. Nothing. Not that they look even remotely interested in what I asked. Nothing lying around on the floor… on we go!

Big surprise when the Argentinians see us rock up again at Kavanayen in under 48 hours. But it’s not good news. Nothing on the floor there. Nobody knows or has found anything. The kommandant of the village happens to be there having a drink at the pousada and he tries to assure me that people here are honest and nothing untorward wouls have taken place here. I hopefully manage to assure him that I’m not trying to accuse anyone.

So it looks like we’ll need to cancel some bank cards. SHIT! We checked our accounts online before leaving Sta. Elena and there’d been no funny business. If someone had taken the cards from the time we left Santa Elena the first time they’d not hurried to do anything with them – reassuring fact. If we’d only lost them yesterday – which especially I doubt – then we’d need to act.


There’s no public phone accessible at this time but the lady from the Pousada has a satellite phone which she lets me use to try and call the bank. Erica, once again, is helping with translation between me and pousada lady – thanks again Erica! 🙂 We stand in the pitch black night, behind the pousada building, watching the one or two bars appear and re-appear on the LCD screen and attempt to call my magic one-number-serves-all lost & stolen service. I get through once or twice but the line drops. It’s useless.

There’s no room free at the Pousada. Max and Erica are camping in the garden but we have no tent. I manage to find a nice room in a kind of bungalow (Hotel Kavanaruden, 125VEF/dbl) down the sand road at the edge of the village. Running water but no electricity. Candle light. – But Ebru’s in no mood for romance. A sizeable bunch from the 4×4 club has recently arrived and are also staying there.

Being in this pickle there’s only one thing to do – something I’m glad our Argentinian friends are ready to remind us of: celebrate Christmas Eve in style.


We manage to gather up a dead chicken and enough potatoes and other vegetables to create marinade, salad and what-not. The bodega at the town entrance sells us more fire wood and a lush braai (BBQ) ensues.



Dinner is excellent and the evening is interesting. There is a buzz in the air. At some time in the evening christmas jingles dance their way across the air, apparently from the tree-tops. Then, later, everyone in town is moving around. They’re all walking to church, for mass. However they’re going in shifts – every hour or so a new lot going in, previous lot coming out. The vibe is good. We have a couple of beers with a guy the Argentinians met yesterday – he is a cook in the nearby army outpost.

I wake up early In the morning to take care of business. It’s 25th of December, Christmas day. I’m greeted by a can of beer on my motorbike saddle and a yellow sticky-note saying, in Spanish, “Merry Xmas ADV. [Adventure Rider] – You can change it for a cold one if it’s warm” – awesome!! I find out later the present came from a chap called Nelson, a 4×4 enthusiast from Caracas out here with his family on holiday. He’s a motorbiker too. He gives us his number and tells us to call in case we need any help in Venezuela. Thanks Nelson, merry Christmas!


(PS: I end up keeping that can of beer in my luggage for the next 50-odd days, hoping to meet up with Nelson in Caracas some day to exchange it for a cold one…. but sadly that doesn’t work out.)

I head to the only public phone in town – it’s at the church. I have a prepaid phone card I bought in the bodega earlier. It’s not working out well. I’m not getting through. Our final point of call is the military post. They have microwave communications tower there and Max knows they have a phone there as they were there yesterday. The place is almost deserted but the guy lets us in to use the phone.


Due to cloud cover, getting a stable signal is difficult. However after an entire morning – about four hours or so – our job is done. The initial attempts to sort this out through the CPP card protection policy are fruitless. I actually pay my bank a lot of money each year for this service which supposedly will let me block all the cards I and my household own in one go and offers superior insurance against fraud. However the reality is this:


Call1: 10 minutes on hold; Wendy from Chesterfield promises to call me right back at this number (confirmed to her) so that I don’t have to run out of card credit in the middle of the call; wait 20 minutes – no call back!
Call2: 10 minutes on hold; connection lost.
Call3: 10 minutes on hold; connection lost.
Call4: 14 minutes on hold; connection lost.
… still no call from Wendy…
A fucking joke! You get no more of my money! TIP: Don’t ever pay for a policy with CPP!


Calling our banks directly is a lot more reassuring. A short hold, then within 10 minutes of speaking to Joe, the friendly representative, my respective cards are blocked and all necessary procedures explained. Within another 10 minutes of talking to Ebru’s bank hers are done too. About midday and we’re sorted. Now for the bike.

Friendly Venezuelan 4×4-ers wave us aside for some Xmas petrol…

We shoot the shit for a little while with our Argentinian friends and the folks from the outpost. We thank them profusely for their help and then set off on our way back to Santa Elena, reaching there before sun-down. Let’s hope the border is really open tomorrow!