Eyes follow us. Two gold-chained teenagers smirk. A black-maned woman beckons to us, her son screams over and over, “Here come the Britanicos”. We wince under his megaphone words and hide in a shred of dark shade under a sign, hanging, just, by one rusted nail. What have we done?
Welcome to KM 88, the town that everyone warned us would be the start of the “fire-pit” of Venezuela. I never thought it could be this grim. It’s like walking into the set of “Dusk-’till Dawn”, with every character spotting the glaringly obvious and wet-behind-the-ears gringoes who are about to stumble into their man-traps.
I look down, determined not to catch anyone’s eye. The words of a German guy, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years, keep ringing in my ears, “This is the most dangerous area in Venezuela. They are going to violate you”, in a matter-of-fact tone.
Venezuela has a certain international reputation with Caracas, its capital said to be the most dangereous city in the world and yet here we are standing under the scrutiny of every outlaw in town.
First reaction? Get out. Run through, find somewhere else to sleep. The prospect of staying here is quite frankly chilling.
And we nearly didn’t come. Everyone says these mining areas are very dangerous, that we must be careful. Even in Brazil, a country with its own security issues, people told us that Venezuela was bad; buses were being stopped at gun-point and robbed. But how could we be careful? We are on foot; sitting ducks. We even started to consider bussing through, running the miles later… the aim of the run was to pit ourselves against a huge physical challenge to highlight the natural world, not become needless victims of crime.
But now we’re here, we have very few options; we have already run a marthon, it’s stinking hot, the sun is literally frying our skin and we’re exhausted. The next safe bolt-hole is a marathon away, with a family of indians whom we hope will have us.
Clapped out chevrolets pass, guys slump over bottles of beers, we need to make decision. Dave runs across the road and checks out a hotel. He’s soon back, “Let’s go, quickly”. So we march across the road and get us and the trailer out of sight.
We eat chicken stew at the “Three Sisters”. They’re black, huge, Columbian. They chortle to one another. One laughs nervously as she plays with her little grandson. A silver 4×4 screaches to a halt and a stocky, heavily tatooed, hispanic woman jumps out. She asks for a parcel, the nervous sister shuffles away, soon to return with a A4 black leather purse. The hispanic woman comes over to us, “May the Gods bless you”, we hope they do and bolt our stew.
That night we hear two gun shots. The Guyanan Indian family, whom we will later stay with, tells us the town is run by “The Syndicate”, shootings are a regular feature. You have to play by the rules and pay to stay safe.
It’s 4.30am, under the shroud of a foggy black sky, blurred by occasional flickering neon signs we make our escape. Dave wants to film, a guy’s watching us, dogs are barking, a group of men see us pass. I can’t cope, we hide the camera and run.
Ahead lies El Dorado at KM O. The centre of the gold mines that fuel these murderous towns. Three more marathons and we will be out of this hideous place. I have never been so scared.