Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Brief Visit to San Antonio del Táchira, a border town in Venezuela (2014)

The church in San Antonio del Táchira, Venezuela
I traveled to the border town of Cúcuta in July of 2014 and saw how available a side trip to Venezuela would be, especially to the border town of San Antonio del Táchira, in the state of Táchira in the western part of the country. Venezuela has received a lot of attention lately because of its turbulent political and economic situation. (Note: Shortly after I made this trip, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro closed the border crossing, and the situation fluctuates frequently, so check your country's travel advisories before making any attempts to cross.) If it hadn't been for the fact that my sister-in-law and her family were traveling with me, I may not have attempted it.

As with many border crossings, there is a lot of activity between both countries. The Simón Bolívar Bridge crosses the narrow Táchira River between Cúcuta and San Antonio. The two sides are very similar culturally, and both countries legitimately claim Bolívar as their hero. Bolívar was born in Caracas, but also liberated Colombia and was the first President of the liberated nation "La Gran Colombia" which included Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador. Venezuela and Ecuador separated from Colombia in 1830, and Panama declared its independence from Colombia in 1903.

I was aware that a brief half-day stop in a border town did not constitute a proper introduction to Venezuela, but we were told that San Cristóbal, a nearby city that used to be a favorite destination of Colombians before visas to go beyond San Antonio became a problem, was also rife with demonstrations and not safe to visit. Still, I was determined to make the most of my brief visit and learn as much about Venezuela as I could while I was there.

Once you pass the border crossing, the town resembles a typical Colombian town with its plaza and buildings. The difference lies in the multitude of monuments to late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. I also perceived a certain tension that didn't exist in Colombia, and had the feeling that I was being watched, which may or may not have been my imagination, as my sister-in-law prepared me for the trip with a series of do's and don'ts and I was a little more vigilant that I would have been normally. Fortunately, we spent our morning there without incident, and even made some friends at the local library. My primary takeaway was that the culture of the state of Táchira was very similar to that of the Colombian Andes, but certainly not identical and worth studying further. Also, I found the border town to be a gold mine of information on Venezuela, mostly geared toward primary and secondary school students, but still satisfying my curiosity.

In part because of my strong interest in returning to Venezuela when conditions permit, I watch the situation closely and am saddened by the plight of Venezuelans trying to survive in that turbulent political climate. Hopefully the country will straighten out its affairs in the very near future for the benefit of all Venezuelans.
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