Margarita & Golfo de Cariaco, Venezuela:  July 7-13, 2008

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

Whence the winch?

Barb brought back bunches of supplies and equipment when she returned from the USA.  But it turns out that during certain "busy" times of the year, the airline will not permit the checking of more than two bags.  Oh oh.  The bearings are going out on the motor or winch (or both) of our power davit -- used to lift the dinghy up and down to/from the upper deck -- and our third package was a new electric motor and winch that, when packaged, weighs 42 pounds.  So she had to leave that package with our daughter Danielle in Savannah.  But we have found a solution to getting the package down to the Caribbean.  There is a company called Tropical Shipping that ships all over the Caribbean from the States.  We had Danielle send the box to Tropical Shipping in Florida who in turn has put it on one of their freighters for a week-long voyage to Grenada.  Since we are now in Venezuela (where Tropical Shipping freighters do not go), friends of ours -- who are still in Grenada -- are picking it up for us and will bring it to Venezuela in mid August.  In the meantime the bearings on our davit motor are protesting mightily each time we use it.  We have begun lifting the dinghy manually via block and tackle with the boom, but that setup is less than ideal since it takes us 15 to 20 minutes instead of the usual three.  The problem is not so much that there is a lot of cranking, but rather that we only installed one hand winch and must use it to wind two different sets of lines -- one to lift the end of the boom, and one to lift the object dangling from the end of the boom.  Each line has its own lock/clutch, and lifting the dinghy is a complicated task involving lifting one line for a while, locking that line, switching over to the other line, lifting that a while, locking that line, switching back to the other line, etc., back and forth.   Also, since we have to lift the dinghy every night to ensure that it is not stolen, we have taken to lifting it out of the water with the boom and hanging it against the rub rail each night.  That process involves only one line and is very simple and takes only about two minutes.  We only put it all the way up on deck when we are traveling or are in Margarita -- see following section for the reason why. 

Porlamar, Margarita

It continues to be fascinating to see the big changes that can occur after moving just a few miles.   Margarita is our first contact with Venezuelan culture.   The clothes are different, of course.  Many men wear tight-fitting western-style shirts -- the kind you see on ranches in Montana or the western Dakotas.   Many woman wear tops with plunging necklines.  There are few blacks.   Most people have Amerindian features, and straight black hair and clear rich brown eyes.   The language can be a problem.  So far we haven't learned enough Spanish to help much. 

John and Ann, on Livin the Dream, were in the city and decided to eat at a small cafe/stand on the street.   There was a large menu/poster that featured pictures and the Spanish names of the items, and so they felt comfortable about ordering.   John ordered an "hamberquesa" and Ann ordered whatever the Spanish word was for a chicken barbeque skewer that was supposed to come with a salad.   Soon, the lady was rattling off much Spanish.   Neither John nor Ann could understand anything, and indicated as much.   The lady called over to the next stand and apparently asked that person to come translate.   That person apparently indicated that they didn't know enough English to effect the translation.   A customer was called into service.   Another failure.   Another customer, and another failure.  But then, one of the customers got an idea, and pulled out her cell phone.   Made a call, spoke for some minutes in Spanish on the phone, and then handed the phone to John.  John listened to a man speaking  excellent English say "The lady says that they do not have cassava bread today because it was not delivered.   Would it be ok to substitute a different bread with the salad?"   John said "yes", handed the phone back to the lady, who got the message from the man and repeated it to the proprietor, and they all lived happily ever after.  

So language can be a problem, but the people are friendly and cooperative.

I took our copy of "Spanish for Cruisers" along to a large Home-Depot-type store, and slowly and laboriously found the page that indicated something somewhat like what I wanted.   I thought the clerk was getting impatient and irritated, but I was wrong.   He told me which aisle, and then asked about the book.  All in Spanish, of course.  I could just barely understand him enough to realize that he wanted to buy a copy and have it on hand for dealing with gringos such as us.   He was very glad to copy down the publishers information, and kept shaking my hand and using the word "amigo".

So language can be a problem, but the people are friendly and cooperative.

The currency here is Bolivars.  The official exchange rate is 2.15 Bolivars to 1 dollar, and that is what ATMs and credit card transactions will provide.   But historically there has been a tremendous demand for American dollars, and so there is thriving black market in Venezuela.   Until recently, the black market rate has been almost 5 Bolivars to the dollar.   But now, in part due to the world-wide fall of the American dollar, and allegedly in part due to some kind of monetary manipulation -- which I do not even pretend to understand -- on the part of Chavez, the rate is now only 3 Bolivars to the dollar.  Porlamar is a duty-free town, and has some very ritzy malls filled with very ritzy stores.   But with the fall of the dollar, the goods contained therein are no longer bargains for Americans.   On the contrary, they are expensive.

We shopped in several very upscale and very large and at-first-glance-well-stocked grocery stores.  But then you notice that there are no eggs to be found.   No orange juice.  No peanut butter.  And that the relative paucity of goods has been disguised by stretching out the displays.  Instead of 9 containers of bleach arranged in a 3 x 3 pattern on the shelf, they are arranged in a 9 x 1 pattern.  Multiple shelves.   And so forth.   Red peppers kept appearing in profuse batches every 15 yards or so along the immensely-long fruit and vegetable display.   The toilet paper (all the same brand) appeared to stretch for miles.

While we were in the Porlamar anchorage along with 90 other boats -- the count is announced on the morning VHF net -- there was a robbery aboard Andromeda, which was just two boats to our left towards shore and immediately behind Livin the Dream. Some folks think that it was not random, but that they were especially targeted -- maybe they had just changed a lot of money.  Or it could be the robber thought the boat was left unmanned and unlocked when the wife took off in the dinghy.  A teenage girl was down below using the computer and was attacked when she came out of the head. The robber wrapped a towel around her head, tied her up with duct tape and put her in the bathtub.  She told him where most of the money was stashed, and he also ransacked most of the rooms, leaving undisturbed only the room with a sleeping baby.   Took only money.

On a different note.  Livin the Dream went in early Monday morning after we got to Porlamar to check-in and went directly to the building housing the Port Authority, the Immigration, and the Customs offices.  They had to return a couple of times since the printer was broken one time and one of the officers was out another time, but over all it was not a bad experience and was done before noon.  It cost them $210 Bolivars (i.e. about $70 US).  We went to Marina Juan and got sweet-talked by Juan into using his services for $280 Bs. We left our papers with him and were to come back at 3:30 pm to finish checking in. When we came back Juan said that there was a problem since we had put Trinidad down as our next port when we cleared out of Grenada.  (We were having an electrical problem while in St. David's about the time the custom's office was to close. Since we were thinking we would have to go to Trinidad to get a part before heading on to Venezuela, Barb signed us out to Trinidad.)  Juan made a big deal about it and said we had to write a letter explaining the problem, so we should come back the next morning with it so he could translate it.  The next morning we brought the letter, Juan read a translation to his courier/customs/immigration/port authority guy Julio, and were told to come back at 4:00 pm.  When we returned Juan said that the officials didn't like the letter but we should go with Julio to the offices.  There we were told to write another letter (but that it had to be handwritten) explaining that while we were underway to Trinidad the conditions had gotten rough, and for our safety, we had changed course to Venezuela.  Apparently the authorities didn't want the truth -- they wanted the "defensible" reason on record.  Since rewriting it took a while, we pretty much closed down the office with everyone scowling at us.  Overall, we don't think Juan did much for us and the process took us two full days.  Of course a tropical wave was supposed to come through on Thursday, so our gang wanted to head to Coche or Cubagua on Wednesday morning.  Livin the Dream checked out late Tuesday through Customs for $70 Bs, but by the time we got checked in it was too late to check out.  Juan said he would take care of it early the next morning but it was past well past noon. This time Juan hit us up for $170 Bs.  We asked how he could charge $100 Bs more than it cost, and he said he had palms to grease, to ensure that we got out early, as we had requested.   That otherwise it would have been 5 pm.   One whole day to check out!  I think the palms most greased were his own.   In any case, we are not a fan of Juan's.  We will certainly check ourselves in next time. The others in our group - Zenitude and Drum, did not check in at all since they were going to PLC. The pleasure of check-in for one night and out the next morning was $450 Bs.  ($150 US!)  We felt like idiots for having done it.  So why did we?  We checked in because we had heard that Venezuela has reformed their procedures, and that it is now possible to check in once when entering the country, and then go anywhere in the country, and check out only once when leaving the country.   As opposed to the old system of checking in and out of each destination.   We checked in thinking that would be it.  Juan convinced some of our companions that Margarita is special, and that it is still necessary to check out.  That happened after we had already checked in.   Basically, we chickened out and decided we better check out too.   So we did.   Mama mia.

Livin the Dream w/ Porlamar buildings in background

Two boats immediately adjacent to us; the right one was robbed while we were there


We arrived at Cubagua fairly late in the day.  A Coast Guard vessel soon came and visited each of the boats in the anchorage, and we learned -- thanks to Oscar (Zenitude), who jumped aboard the Coast Guard boat and served as translator on each of the vessels -- that the area was a national park, and that one could anchor there for only one night.  Drat!  We had passed right by a perfectly good anchorage at Isla Coche, where there were no such restrictions, because we had wanted to go see the ruins on Cubagua of the first European settlement in the Americas.  Now, there would not be enough time.  A tropical wave was due the next day, and if we could not hunker down in the Cubagua anchorage then we needed to get going early the next morning and find some alternative shelter.   (But we were glad that the Coast Guard was there.  They were a new outpost only recently formed as a consequence of burglaries/robberies in the anchorage.  No more incidents.)

Some of our party were headed to Puerto La Cruz, and we, along with Livin the Dream, were headed to Laguna Grande, a large and scenic bay along the northern shore of the Golfo de Cariaco.   Not sure if the PLC folks got tucked in before the storm hit or not.   We sure didn't.   Suddenly, a squall hit and we were in winds up to 45 knots.   Lasted for at least an hour, and really kicked up the waves.   By that time we were in the process of swinging east into the Golfo, so we were headed pretty much right into the steep and close waves.   Waves "only" 5 or 6 feet high, but very steep and close together.   So we did some pounding.   Tusen Takk II took it like a champ.

Ferry wreck at Cubagua

Anchorage at Cubagua -- desolute landscape

Laguna Grande

By the time we approached the mouth of the bay, the squall had passed and the waves had subsided.   By that time Livin the Dream was about an hour behind us.  As we passed the last small fishing settlement before the opening, a pirogue came speeding towards us.   Oh oh.   Get the flare gun.   Check with the binoculars.   Do they look armed?   Do they look ferocious?   Nope.  They look young, and they look curious.   Yup, that's it.   Their curiosity satisfied, they swung off and headed up the Golfo.   Whew, being in Venezuela is going to take some getting used to. 

Shortly after Livin the Dream arrived, another boat -- Darramy -- that had been at Cubagua also appeared.  They heard us talking on the VHF with Livin the Dream and decided to join us.   Not wise to anchor off away from other vessels. 

Laguna Grande is an incredible place.   Very quiet.   Very protected from the elements.   Very scenic.   On the second day the crew of the three vessels decided to try to hike up to the top of the ridge to the north.  The terrain is rocky and rough.  Much of it is crumbling shale, which renders the steep slopes a bit slippery.   Lots of prickly bushes and cacti. The girls soon decided to return to the dinghy, but the guys pressed on.  Two and a half hours later, we had made it to the top.   Meanwhile, the gals did some exploring by dinghy, and then retired to the boats.   We found a better route to come back down.   That, and aided by gravity, got us back down in about an hour.

There were a few locals about, doing some fishing.   One pirogue with three youths approached us selling clams, mangrove oysters, or fish, and then asked if we had a diving mask.   (All in Spanish, of course.)   We gave the oldest an old mask of ours -- along with an old snorkel -- and were surprised at the subdued nature of the appreciation shown.   The next day he asked our companion vessels for a mask.   Selling them, maybe?   Or just trying to outfit his siblings?

We did buy dozen oysters.  Not even enough for an appetizer.  Muy pequeño.

Livin the Dream arriving -- note ridge in background

Early in an assult on the ridge, Barb enhances a kairn

Panarama from the kairn site

Soil isn't very hospitable to plants -- but there are exceptions

John and Brian at the top of the ridge ...

... and Chuck was there too

Huge grasshopper (bigger than Clinton's cigar) that landed on the ridge top

Panarama from top of ridge

Mangrove skirt and cactus hat: island adjacent to our anchorage spot

Pelicans have learned that nets mean fish!

"Quick, before the pelicans get them all!"

Rookery ...

...with immature (white head) and mature frigates

Black-crowned Night-heron

Lotsa birds at the rookery

Mature frigate

Lotsa pelicans too

Early morning ...

... in bright sunlight ...

... really brings out ...

... the colors

Tusen Takk II at sundown


Trip to Medregal Village

On the way down from Laguna Grande to Medregal Village, we passed through flat waters that were teaming with thousands of dolphins.   We've seen large pods before, but this time there were pod after pod of dolphins, and each pod was huge.   Many of the pods dashed over to our boat in order to play in our pressure waves.

We'll describe our stay in the vicinity of Medregal Village, and our side trips to the extreme east end of the Golfo (in order to bird-watch), in the next exciting edition of "Chuck and Barb Go Cruising".

Along the way from Laguna Grande to Medregal Village we saw thousands of dolphins -- the sardines are running in the Golfo de Cariaco ...

... but we didn't catch anything -- note the peaceful waters