Puerto la Cruz & Mochima Park, Venezuela:  August 1-13, 2008

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period

Puerto la Cruz

After we returned from Angel Falls (cf. previous posting) we spent a fairly leisurely week back at Bahía Redonda Marina.  Barb joined Devi for yoga early every morning, and I ran sprints in the limited space available on the "safe" side of the guards and walls.  And of course I spent hours (nei, days) preparing the blog write-up on Angel Falls.  On August 6 we paid our bill, and being extra careful to assure that the clerk, who doesn't speak any English, understood that we were not cancelling our reservation for September and October, we joined Devi and Hunter (Arctic Tern) and headed out to do some anchoring in Mochima Park.

We were on our way back to our boat when we ran into another cruiser and chatted a bit.  When he learned  we were planning on temporarily leaving the marina and doing some anchoring-off, he admonished us to be careful.  Said he had been out several months before and had been burgeled of over a thousand dollars worth of stuff, taken off his deck at night.  Seemed to want to keep things kinda vague, and as we continued to ask questions and pull answers out of him, his motives became more clear.  He had awakened to noise on his front deck, and had quietly opened up his hatch to peek out.  Saw two banditos attempting to cut loose his dinghy which was on the front deck, using long knives.  Pausing in his story to explain that he is from Texas, he then recounted how he popped out of the hatch with his guns (plural!) and his million-watt light.  Turned on the light and opened fire, with shells containing buckshot.  The two banditos jumped immediately into the water, and attempted to swim to their vessel, which was floating some distance away.  He attempted to prevent that by firing at them, and by firing between them and their vessel.  He only stopped firing after about twenty shots, when his wife reminded him that he had limited ammunition.  The men succeeded in getting to their vessel and fled.  Only about 30 minutes later did he realize that there were many items missing from his rear deck.  Presumably, they had stripped what they could, had loaded the loot into their vessel, had pushed their vessel off, and had then gone to work on stealing the dinghy.  By the time he realized that he was missing items, they were long gone.

We asked again where he had been, and he again got vague.  One of the small islands between Puerto la Cruz and Mochima, was all he would say.

Mochima National Park

About 12 miles west of Cumaná there is an extensive park that runs all the way down to Puerto la Cruz.  Named after the village of Mochima, or perhaps after the peninsula Mochima, or perhaps after the Bay of Mochima, the park features dozens of anchorages in secluded bays, by beaches and among tiny islands.  Development is restricted, and wildlife is protected.  There is a fee for yachts wishing to visit and anchor within the park.  Fishermen are allowed to use existing camps, but cannot build new ones.  There are a number of resorts on some of the larger beaches, especially within the Bay of Mochima itself, access to which is provided by a huge fleet of long open boats that ferry back and forth from the village of Mochima to the resorts.

Tour boat ferrying customers out to a resort in the Park

One of the many resorts in the Park

On the recommendation of a friend back at Bahía Redonda, we spent the first night anchored at the extreme eastern end of Golfo de Santa Fé, which is about five miles long and from one to two miles wide.  Much better than being in the marina, but still not perfect, and so we moved on the next morning.  Poked into El Oculto (Hiden Bay) and found it to be well-protected and delightful.  Clear water, and healthy reefs fringing along almost all of the shoreline.  Spent three nights there, and three lovely days snorkeling and hiking and, on one special day, diving.  The hard coral were absolutely covered with christmas tree worms.  Dark blues and pale blues and rusty tans and whites, all crowded in shoulder to shoulder.  We saw a number of new fish species, and several octopi.  And the bay was peaceful.  One morning we got the kayaks down and paddled along the long shoreline.  The water was so still and clear and undisturbed -- with not even a ripple -- that we could see down onto the coral just as if we were snorkeling.  It was like floating along on magic carpets.  Later in the day there would be a few ripples on the water, but it was always peaceful in the bay.  Just the occasional small local fishing boat passing by, or visible off in the distance on the other side of the bay.

Arctic Tern en route to Golfo de Sante Fé -- note Devi working on the deck

Note the dolphins playing w/ Arctic Tern

Small shrine on a water-surrounded boulder in Mochima National Park

On one of our first days at El Oculto, Hunter, Devi and I went on a bushwhacking expedition up the ridge.  Hunter and I each had our machetes, and I quickly realized that mine was very dull.  We were not on an established trail, so the going was slow as we attempted to pick our way through the cacti and prickly bushes.  Devi and Hunter were wearing Keene shoes with very hard soles, but I was wearing my running shoes.  Several times I had to stop and pull cactus thorns out of the bottoms of my shoes -- you can perhaps guess how I knew they were there.   By the time we got back down to the shore, I was limping badly from thorns in my left foot.  Hunter and Devi brought their extensive first-aid kit over to our boat and Devi attempted to extract a thorn from a particularly tender site, but had no success.  By this time my foot was swollen, and the joints protested when my toes were bent up.  It took several days for the swelling and soreness to recede. 

Hunter told me about the small cactus fruits that grow out of the top of what I think are called Turk's Head Cactus.  When the fruit is ready, it is bright red, and while still in the head, appears to be perfectly spherical.  It  has a little dried-up remnant of the flower on top.  This has been designed by Mother Nature to serve as the perfect "handle" for a bird to pluck the fruit out of the cactus.  This function is further facilitated by the shape of the fruit, which like an inverted tear drop.  The fruit is tiny, and contains a number of soft seeds, but tastes good.  The cacti begin producing the fruit as soon as the rainy season arrives.  

Cactus fruit with Turk's Head in background. Note hole from which fruit came.

Tusen Takk II and Arctic Tern in El Oculto Bay

Fish camp just north of El Oculto Bay

Devi and Hunter are accomplished white-water kayakers.  We let them use our kayaks for a cruise around the bay, and when they returned they gave us a quick demonstration of their Eskimo rolling abilities.  Impressive! 

Devi relaxing

Devi and Hunter paddle off to infinity

Hunter demonstrating proper paddling technique

Devi is still relaxing

Hunter coming out of a successful roll ...

... and Devi doing the same

Then we decided to move on over to the huge, fjord-like Mochima Bay.  Near the bottom of the four-mile-long narrow bay is the village of Mochima.  We anchored there briefly, and took a dinghy into town, where we walked the little fishing-and-tourism village and had a delicious lunch at the restaurant Puerto Viejo.  As we were finishing our meal, a couple of burly park rangers docked in front of the restaurant and came in and sat at a table.  They were immediately joined by two lovely señoras (or señoritas?).  Devi, who is fairly good at Spanish, decided to walk over and ask them a question.  After standing patiently beside them for some moments, and being ignored, she apologized for interrupting and asked which anchorages were safe.  Ignoring her question, they told her that she must go across the street and purchase anchoring permits if we intended on anchoring.  She explained that we had already purchased our 12-month permits in Puerto la Cruz, and asked again about safe anchorages, only to be told brusquely that all anchorages were safe.  (Yah, right.)  We had heard about incidents right off the village, and decided to move down a little further in the bay to the very end, which would put us mostly out of sight and out of the busy ferry traffic pattern.  Just before dark we were approached by a small sailboat with a Dutch flag.  Sylvia and Jeroen aboard Netjer (an Inuit word, pronounced "net-chur", at least by the Dutch).  We urged them to join our little self-protection cluster, and explained which VHF channel we were leaving on all night.  Since the site was at the far end of the bay, the water was not nearly so clear and nice, and so we decided the next morning to return to El Oculto.

Mochima Village

Staging area in the village for rides to the day resorts

Village also hosts boat builders ...

... and serves as a graveyard to boot

Puerto Viejo -- one of the better restaurants

Joined by our new young Dutch friends, we four old-timers again dinghied across the bay to Turtle Beach, where we had another delightful snorkel, made even more fun by the enthusiasm of Sylvia and Jeroen when we showed them things they would not have otherwise noticed.  What kinds of things?  Bearded fireworms and tiger-tail  and donkey-dung sea cucumbers and upsidedown jelly fish and octopi and giant anemone and jaw fish (with just their heads peeking out of their shell-rimmed burrows in the sand).

On our second afternoon we were suddenly joined by four other vessels.  They all anchored in our immediate vicinity, presumably because it was the most attractive and protected location, but also because we were there already, and there is safety in numbers.  Two of the vessels (including old friends Roger and Andie on Oma & Opa) left at three in the morning, bound for El Coche, and trying to time their voyage so as to minimize headwinds.  The other two were still there when Netjer set out for Los Roqeus, Arctic Tern set out for Puerto la Cruz, and we set out for Medregal Village.

When Devi and Hunter (Arctic Tern) got back to the marina, they ran into our Texas gunslinger.  Told him all about our great time  in the peaceful anchorage with the fantastic snorkeling.  Only then did the Texas polecat reveal that El Oculto was where he had had his incident!

Medregal Village

The Golfo de Cariaco was still teeming with dolphins as we retraced our path to Medregal Village;  we were joined by huge pods of the playful creatures a number of times.  The village is still its same sleepy enclave of cruisers.  The lift has been in ill repair for the entire time we have been gone, and so there are anxious cruisers waiting at anchor to be hauled, and even more anxious would-be cruisers who have finished their repairs and are eager to get back into the water.  The swimming pool was an absolute pit when we got here, but they are cleaning it as we speak.  The showers are still free, and the beer is still cold.  They turn on the grill for a pot luck on Wednesday nights, and most of the anchorage turned out for conversation and good food.  A quarter of a mile to the east a Swedish couple has purchased land along the bay.  They are fixing the place up, and have just commenced serving pizza on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.  Pizza made in their home-made outdoor oven that is a replica of a commercial wood-fired oven in Margarita.  Yummy.

Mustang Sally is here, and Wendy has been joining us for early morning exercise.  I run, Wendy power-walks, and Barb walk-walks.  We all meet back at the self-serve bar after an hour where we consume vast quantities of ice water.  It gets hot on land here in Venezuela and it gets hot early!