July 6-17, 2010 -- Islas de Aves, Venezuela

Aves de Barlavento    Aves de Sotavento

Click on a thumbnail for a map during this time period

Aves de Barlavento

Ave is a Spanish word for "bird", so Islas de Aves translates to "Islands of Birds."  No location was ever better named.  Click here to see Chuck's photos of the birds of Aves.  We settled in to Isla Sur of the Barlavento archipelago, after a 46-mile transit to the west from Dos Moquises in Los Roques.  As we approached the island we heard from Hunter (Arctic Tern), ahead of us a bit, who advised that we should not wait too long to take in our trolling lines; they had just hooked a Booby (bird) and had had trouble setting the poor thing free.  We thanked him, but thinking to ourselves that we were still in very deep water and, mindful that fish are often caught in the 100'-300' range, decided to wait just a bit.  Oops.  Soon we had also caught a Booby.  Our Booby was more fortunate than the Tern's Booby, however.  The hook was just entangled in the tail feathers, and had not pierced any flesh.  Our Booby was remarkably calm as I reeled him in (backwards, of course), and remained passive and submissive as I held him by his legs, head down, and worked on removing the hook from his tail.  When that had been accomplished, I threw him up in the air and he flew gratefully away, even if too embarrassed to give a proper thanks.

We mostly snorkeled during the six days we were in the anchorage.  Hunter and Chuck became mighty hunters, each carrying a pole spear and attempting to shoot fish suitable for dinner.  "Attempting" would be the operative word, here.  They saw lots of fish that were big enough, they got close enough to some of them, but the only reef fish that were consumed in the Aves were those obtained by trading cigarettes (purchased by Devi for just such use) and/or water and/or Bolivars.  On one snorkel expedition we were shocked to discover a pair of Lion Fish.  They are not native to the Atlantic, but have appeared recently and are multiplying rapidly.  They sport toxic tentacles and are fierce predators, and the fear is that they will soon alter forever the composition of the fish population.  Both Hunter and Chuck attempted to eliminate the pair, but had no better luck at pest removal than dinner collection.

We also went ashore once to explore Isla Sur.  (And of course Chuck also took the dinghy on several solo photo missions.)  On the island we found interesting cairns and rock sculptures, and irrefutable evidence that friends Roger and Andy (Oma and Opa) had also spent time in the Aves.  (See photo, below.)

Way back on Union Island, Chuck had been commissioned to purchase a small pumpkin while ashore to revise our check-out papers.  (Click here to recall the issue involving customs clearances.)  When "small" wasn't available, he brought back "medium", because the "pumpkin" of the Caribbean is a squash-like vegetable that is versatile and delicious.  "Too much" was greatly to be preferred over "none", and besides, Devi had indicated that she wanted half of whatever Chuck brought back.  But the ladies had stocked up on more-perishable veggies in Bequia, and wanted to delay cutting open the pumpkin, since it would last indefinitely so long as it was whole.  Time moved on.  Someone began to dream of pumpkin soup, and drew a face on the pumpkin, complete with a "balloon" that said:  "Eat me".  Then someone (with a Tern-like script) changed the words to read:  "Don't eat me till all else is gone."  About a week later, all else was.  Someone thought the soup was to die for.

And speaking of food:  Devi gave some of the local fishermen a pack of cigarettes, and they promised to bring back fish and/or lobster.   Several days later they returned with FOUR lobster.   Chuck volunteered to do the cooking -- he had experience from our time in Saba and St. Martin with our Norwegian friends Lars Helge and Tove.  (Click here to refresh your memory of that visit.)  He split them in half and laid them shell-side down on the grill, slathered olive oil and chopped garlic and salt and pepper, and grilled until the the meat was just done.  Big hit.

We saw very few vessels during our stay at Isla Sur.  One night a sailboat came inching into the anchorage well after dark.  The Terns were over on Tusen Takk II to play some bridge, and we all watched in amazement.  We knew from our own approaches during good light conditions that there were many treacherous reefs that would need to be dodged, and could not understand how the new arrival dared to proceed.  They finally made it to our spot, and pulled right in front of Tusen Takk II and dropped anchor.  Far too close.  Hunter and I jumped into his dinghy and approached them, and found an adult male and two teenage boys aboard.  The adult seemed out of his element and inexperienced.  We explained that he was too close, and assured him that the anchorage was large and that there was plenty of space behind Arctic Tern and well off to the starboard of Tusen Takk II.  We offered to go over to a suitable spot and shine our lights so they would know where to go.  We waited at the spot.  And waited.  Went back to the vessel and found that the boy at the bow had tangled the anchor line and fouled the winch.  Hunter asked if he could come aboard and help, and was given permission.  When the anchor was pulled, the captain paid no attention to the conditions, and it looked for several very scary moments like they would be pushed onto the bow of Tusen Takk II only to be T-boned.  The captain finally was able to process the shouted "suggestions" and "warnings", and was able to narrowly avoid hitting the bow of TTII as he pulled past to approach the position I was marking.  When they dropped the anchor, I took the dinghy back to pick up Hunter, and we returned to our bridge game.  A few bridge hands later we looked up and groaned:  "Oh no -- they are dragging!"  Hunter hurriedly jumped back in his dinghy and raced over.  Coached the captain into how to pilot while Hunter raised the anchor.  Dropped it again.  Drug again.  Pulled it up, dropped it again.  Then moved laterally and dropped a second.  They stuck.  Had a nice conversation.  Venezuelans that spoke passable English.  They had left Margarita much earlier.  Arrived late at Los Roques.   Got a late start the next day, and so arrived at Las Aves well after dark.  But had a set of coordinates in the GPS that were alleged to be the safe path into our anchorage -- which is how they managed to get in to us.  Their destination was Aruba, and they intended on leaving early the next morning.  Which they did.  Which made the crew of at least one of the other vessels in the anchorage very glad.

Booby for lunch?

Panorama from the boat at the Isla Sur anchorage

Enhancing a cairn ...

... required multiple attempts

"Sculptures" of coral stone

Not much of a right hook but watch out for his left jab

Oma and Opa wuz here!

It is sad to be ignored for so long

The only vessels in the anchorage

View from the mangroves

Lion Fish (picture provided by Becky Bauer)

Aves de Sotavento

On July 12 we moved to the west 20 miles to the other Aves:  Aves de Sotavento.  This time, instead of catching a Booby, we caught a small-but-worth-keeping blackfin tuna.  We initially squeezed between Isla Palmeras and Isla Ramon.  Had trouble getting our anchor to hold, and a couple of young fishermen based on Isla Ramon came out in their pirogue and offered to dive (snorkel) on the anchor and help set it.  After several attempts they/we succeeded, and we rewarded them with cokes and an offer to contribute some water to their settlement if they would come back later with a container.  Our effort to get the anchor to stick had moved us out far enough out from between the two islands that we spent a rolly night, so the next day we (and the Terns) pulled anchor and wended our way through the clearly-visible coral shoals over to a spot just behind the thin continuous line of coral reef that marks the northeast border of Sotavento.  We stayed there 3 days, taking the dinghy to nearby and not-so-nearby coral shoals, where we snorkeled the edges that fell off to deep water.  Hunter and Chuck again hunted, and again the only effect was to improve their manly image while submerged.

Other than the few Venezuelan fishermen moving about in pirogues, and a solitary Venezuelan trawler that apparently hangs about and collects the catches of the pirogues (for transport to Venezuela and Aruba and who-knows-where), there were few vessels to be seen during our stay in the Aves.  This is truly a wild and distant destination.  We saw a few sailboats way off in the distance, anchored briefly at one or another of the other small low islands of the Aves, and an occasional sportfish.  One such that was just a white speck, way to the south, also up against the eastern reef, we examined curiously by binoculars a number of times.  Then, on July 15, as Barb was showering (naked, of course) on the swim platform after a snorkel, a dinghy approached  from the speck.  Barb ducked inside, and I waited to greet the arrival.  Holy mackerel, it was Stan (Inner Wisdom)!  We became friends with Stan and Maggie back in Trinidad in 2007.  Stan and Chuck used to lift weights together at a gym in Chaguaramas.  Click here to refresh your memory.  Stan came aboard, and while we were reminiscing,  a pirogue came by containing two fishermen and -- oops -- one of the staff from the Guardacosta station on Isla Larga, the largest and southern-most island of Sotavento.  Busted! (Our guidebooks told us we were supposed to call them by VHF on arrival to Sotavento in order to make arrangements to be inspected.  We had decided to play dumb and wait and see if they would find us.  They had.)  We promised to come to Isla Larga the next morning for our inspections, and they left happy, the fishermen because they had sold us a large snapper at a too-large price, and the coasty because he had done his duty.

We made plans to get together with Inner Wisdom the next evening at the Mangrove Bay anchorage in Isla Larga, and indeed, later the next day after a painless inspection during which FIVE officials came aboard, accompanied by Devi who served as translator, we moved from the station to Mangrove Bay where the three couples later gathered on TTII for drinks and a friendly game of Quiddler.  So good to see Stan and Maggie again.

The next morning, July 17, we left the Aves for Bonaire.  But to read about that extended visit, dear readers, you will have to wait for the next exciting episode of "Barb and Chuck go Cruising".

Tuna caught on the way up to Sotavento

Checking the anchor at Isla Palmera

In the Aves, it doesn't take many palm trees for an island to be named after the distinctive tree

Inner Wisdom arriving at Mangrove Bay

Stan and Maggie




Return to Home Page