Puerto La Cruz and onward...

Published: November 5th 2007
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Here we go again, see if this works!!............A VELCRO PARTING FROM PUERTO LA CRUZ AND MORE…

A sad day as we leave PLC…after 8 weeks of boredom, frustration and general stir-craziness it was a day to look forward to…but then I realised what I was leaving…the espanol lessons, the gym, the good friends, the pool, the bars, the restaurants, the golf course…the markets, the people……it was a velcro parting…the boat was welded to the dock……we left with a wrench……..I feel I’ll be back!

But here we are now, it’s midnight and I’ve just been woken for my 4 hour shift. It takes a few minutes to acclimatize to the rock and roll and the darkness. A quick rundown on the situation from the skipper and I’m alone. A good wind is following us and with the main and gib up we’re getting 7 knots. A fair swell is coming in on an angle behind us, huge dark waves rushing towards us and disappearing underneath. White, frothy caps have a magical glow and sparkling plankton leaves a trail of fairy dust behind. Some small sooty clouds obscure some of the sky but mostly it’s a dazzling array of stars. Off to the south the inevitable thunderstorms over the mainland coast flash violently every few minutes, lighting up the whole ocean. ….relampagos y truenos…..lightning and thunder…

The boom rattles and bangs, the mainsail cracks as it fills and the boat shudders, we’re rolling and pitching in surprisingly abrupt movements, feels like riding a brick in jelly, how 20 odd tonnes can be thrown around so carelessly reminds me of the power of the sea again….did I need reminding?. But it’s peaceful, just the wind and the sea, alone to contemplate something……naval maybe…..sorry….

Staring at the instruments, are we going the right way?…the wheel jerks back and forth as the auto pilot, controlled invisibly from some magic, guides us to the next destination. The video game plots our course, the wind bizzo does it’s thing, the depth and speed gauge is out, I’m glued to the radar and can’t see anything, but luckily there’s pretty good visibility with the lightning flashes….nothing to sea, see…

It’s such a totally different world sailing at night, I can see changing shapes in the waves, ominous, is that a whale?…searching for the glow of night dolphins, constantly casting a worried look around the horizon for great tankers about to run us over…thoughts of just slipping into the water try and edge their way into my mind…where did that come from?…this afternoon I read an article about a woman overboard, that must have lodged in there somewhere….but it is a whole different world now….

After pulling out of Puerto La Cruz we had to motor up the coast 3 or 4 hours to Cumana to get diesel. Hard to believe but just another of many curiosities of this country. One of the top 5 oil producers I think and no-one sells diesel in the development…hundreds of cruisers in the marinas…no fuel!!…and there’s only 1 pissant little floating dock for gasoline…and it only opens weekends…and there are hundreds of great gas guzzling motor launches…go figure!!…..,anyway, we went up to Cumana and found the diesel dock was closed…nothing before the next morning at 7.30…well, by the time both boats were fuelled up it was after lunch….there was a big rusty research vessel tied to the diesel dock, we had to tie up alongside and feed the fuel line over it and down to us….

Raffy and Helen came down the first night here, always good to have them on board….so now we had dekkie uno (David), dekkie dos (Raf) and dekkie decoration (Helen) they are coming with us to Los Roques…mi casa es tu casa pero mi cocina no es tu cosina jajaja..Helen showed me how to make arepas…a classic traditional Venezuelan brekkie roll…..I’m going to try making them tomorrow, when the bread runs out!!

We were also travelling in convoy with friends in a 50’ really shmicko mono hull yacht, Michel and Jennifer on Heart Jump…we had known them in Mare Mares and it’s always good to have company……and you get to take photos of each other underway which is cool…

As we pulled away from Cumana and out to the islands we passed a dog in the water, a german sheperd by the looks, just swam until he couldn’t go any further…in the crystal clear water he was floating upright with head, legs and tail hanging down in the water…one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen…

So, we headed out to Cubagua, remember the wreck? For the night…then off to Tortuga again…remember the big day?, still stunning blue and white, and now to Los Roques….we have small bottles of rum, cigarettes and cans of coke, the accepted currency for lobsters, they say….at Tortuga we bought a huge lobster for $20, a bit steep I thought, but they are obviously used to dealing with rich cruisers….and have evolved past the rum and cigarettes stage to wanting cold hard!!…good luck to them!

You know, I had thought the biggest pot in the galley was a whopper, fit anything, but when I got this lobster aboard, the pot looked pretty minor league……so, I had to drown it in fresh water and then break it up to get in the pot…and then spent a painful hour and a half getting all the flesh out…but it fed 7!!

And the diving…and the divers…always fraught with style nazi wankeurs…but so beautiful in the water here..I don’t really care if I don’t have the hands in the ‘approved’ position…the supplicant’s pious poses or the bent-knee-float-and-gawk-pseudo-buddhist-mantra-lotus-position that is soo popular amongst the wannabes…jesus wept…just enjoy the scenery!…omg, he actually moved his arms!!…ban him from the ocean!! ..Ha, as Steve so succinctly put it…not everyone needs an underwater-fart-re-breathing certificate!

The only bummer has been a bit of toothache that has slowed my descents….it

Los Roques
starts at about 60 - 70 feet so I’ve got to go slowly to get down past 100’…just holding off with it….hopong that it will just go away…..anything rather than go to the dentist!!…

So, last thoughts on Mare Mares Marina/Hotel and PLC……..

There’s an exit to the sea from the development near our marina, a narrow channel with a tight S bend and a low bridge, hence only dings and low, cigar boats and fishing pangas get to use it.
Scooting thru the S bend to exit the marina,, a fishing panga slides around the corner towards me, I back off the ding and we both try to get over each others bow waves, ding gets a little air, then I’m past and shooting out into the bay….always tranquil and glassy in the mornings, out to sea the grey islands in the mist, rolls and folds of grey elephant skin, mostly deserted by vegetation and animation,…..always a few bored tankers hanging out near the islands, just milling around, waiting to load ……pollution is not unknown here and at the fish market I’m always looking for the sort of fisherman who likes to go way, way out to sea……but there’s a sort of beach, sand, palms etc…looks better than it is…

just along the coast, the cement works, the refinery….if it only rains lightly the boat gets covered in black crap….if it rains longer the decks get washed a bit cleaner but the blackness collects anywhere it can…rolls of cloth, under ropes,

The apartment block up the road continues to stumble towards completion, the old guard now gives a tired salute and smile when I pass, the dog still gives me a dirty look.

The cleaning women all have uniforms in various pastels with unmatching trims…here at MM they wear an aqua outfit with pink trim, all very subtle, faded but impeccable….but the main distinguishing feature is the hair styles….nearly all the cleaning women, certainly all under 30 have immaculate, intricate hairdos…..lots of Bali-braids and beads, and shaved eyebrows with carefully painted, or maybe tattoed, bands of colour and full make-up……it’s like they’re dressed up to go out and party but this is work!!….maybe waiting to be plucked from the crowd like the wannabe starlets in Hollywood….with good reason as they only make about $30 a week and work long
to Ray!!to Ray!!to Ray!!

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And still the security thing, gatehouses, checkpoints, constant patrols, razor wire fences, barred windows and doors, fence tops embedded with broken glass in concrete.

The traffic was at a standstill up on the main drag one afternoon, not uncommon but it was a bit more serious than usual. I could see lots of cops and an ambulance so figured it was a traffic accident. Later I found out. A half finished apartment block had been settled by squatters, the owner called the cops to evict them and one decided to shoot rather than leave. So there’s a little gunfight going on while I’m up the street getting some bread.

Taxis are the big link between the boaties and the world…it can be scary outside of the development, for many people the first time in a place where nobody understands you nor you them!!…several smarter taxistas, speaking English, have cornered the market and hang around the marinas servicing the cruisers.

Money. Another strange custom to be learnt. Quick is best. The official currency is the Bolivar and there are roughly 2,300 to the US$. However, due to restrictions on US currency there is a thriving
to Ray!!2to Ray!!2to Ray!!2

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black market in US$ (or euros or quid) and it’s always a little sport to try and find the best rate. When we first got to Margarita the black rate was 3,800 and every day its been going up. Last week I got some 5,100 and in Caracas they say it’s over 6,000. This is while the official rate is still 2,300 or so. So you can see it makes a lot of difference to one’s spending.

The downside is like my episode last week. I’d gone back to PLC and got the flights stuffed on the way back. So I had to spend a night in a hotel near the airport at Caracas. And I had no US$ or Bolivars so it all went on the plastic fantastic…and the Oz$ gets a whopping 1,900 or so…ouch!…..so a bill for 600,000 Bs could have been as little as 100US but was now closer to 300.

Going Back to PLC for a few days was v cool….I stayed with a very good friend, Ray, who has his yacht just up the dock from where we were at Mare Mares. He’s a computer specialist among other skills and Ray, David

Los Roques
and I led each other astray on many occasions…usually culminating in tequila shooters…..Ray had given M charts of the world’s oceans but he was having difficulty accessing them, so when I got back to Los Roques we had a phone link up and finally got it sorted…Ray’s fee was for the three of us to do some shooters with the fine single malt tequila he had given us earlier….here’s to you mate!!

Language. Ah, español, the more I learn the less I understand. Really need to get into a Spanish environment. I was loving the lessons but going back to the English speaking marinas was soo counter productive. However, on my last quick trip back I was offered work at an institute at Plaza Mayor and then my Spanish teacher told me the institute where she used to work was for sale…a mere 70mil B’s…like 14,000 dollars. I’m excited. Partnership in a language school. But it’s looking like there’s a problem so it all might die in the arse…but an exciting idea all the same!!..at least I know there is work here and I checked out a bit of local real estate…all do-able..jajaja

Shortages. Another weird one. Price

at sea
controls, pissed off producers, panic buying punters…somedays there are shortages…you can’t get milk or sugar or chooks or whatever…cooking oil limited to 2 bottles per customer. I can’t go into it all right now but there is a bright side…as things run out you’re forced to try different things…and the same at restaurants…when they don’t have your usual dish, you gotta try something new..fantastic..and a whole new world of food opens up!!..things you might never have tried…and some you’ll never try again of course…but by and large worth it.
There are also power and water blackouts from time to time but nothing too serious. I suspect there will be more as the whole of PLC and the ‘burbs have been overgrown with highrise apartments and nothing has been added to the infrastructure…power, water, sewerage, roads etc …already the signs are out…

OK, back to the present…here we are this morning in Los Aves, a couple of little island/cays. OK are they cays, keys, quis, kays, or all of the above? I dunno, but for us we’ll call then cays…low-lying, coral reef raised up a bit, patches of sandy white beaches, sometimes dense old mangrove forests, grassy knolls,
gran roquegran roquegran roque

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(one next to here looks like a flaming golf course, immaculately tailored lawns), all deserted except for occasional fishermens camps and unbelievable blue water…what makes the water so freaking blue?….it is soo intense…I thought Tortuga was good but when we got to Los Roques…from 10 miles out you could see the undersides of the little fluffy clouds were actually blue!!…from the reflection off the water…quite extraordinary…..and the white gulls flying over are blue on their undersides!!…..for everything they had raved about Los Roques it was better…up the inner channel between the reef and cays…..and then La Gran Roque, yes, the BIG one….a huge slab of stone sticking up out of the blue water on a 45 degree angle….three main humps and then a flatter part with enough room for an airport and a small town, maybe a 3 or 4 hundred people…a quiet little village, no vehicles, sandy streets, a cross pattern of 3 main streets and cross lanes…a Plaza Bolivar zocala of course, no big hotels…its all a national park so development has been restricted….fantastic…lots of posadas…more like rooming houses than hotels…all very laid back…little restaurants and stores…and government offices…Ha….it reminds me somewhat of Asia, Indonesia, Bali in the early days, Thailand, you know? Those postcard little resorts, everything so perfect?

The whole Los Roques area is huge and dotted with little cays and reefs. Most of the people who come here fly in, get straight on a water taxi (fishing boat) and go out to the nearest cay…depending on how much you want to spend you can: go further, have an esky, umbrella, chairs, towels etc etc …and the guy comes back and picks you up when you want….you can get dropped off out in the middle of nowhere on your own private beach, beautiful pristine white sand, crystal clear blue water, coral reefs, fish, palms and mangroves optional extras…..

This option of absolute isolation is what sets this place apart from other ‘paradises’ I reckon I’ll have to go a long way to find a blissfuller place…however, never say maybe..

And for us of course its everyday we want to!!…just sail off for a few hours (days) and find another bunch of cays, motor in v carefully and park….it’s really reefy, shallow parts, and the GPS is just that 2 to 3 hundred metres out .ayayay….which is fine out in the middle of the ocean but not much use here where 100 meters might be all you’ve got…so it’s eyeballing time, dekkie uno and me on the front peering into this turquoise wonderland, just astounding….watchout for that big coral head…oops

Off ashore in the mangroves are mobs of Boobies, the adults have distinctive red legs, the chicks, almost as big as the adults, are just big puffballs of fluffy white…tres cute…then some big frigate birds move in…the boobies go beserk…I’d always thought the frigates were pretty cool but having seen them in Los Tostigos beating up on small gulls and now harassing the boobies, I’m not so sure I like them as much.

So, there all these cays and little islands out in the western carib off Venezuela…then its on to Bon Aire and the Dutch Antilles which will also be the next internet op and that’s when you might get this…time for some pix!

And there’s always the flying fish. Mostly little tackers but some get to 30 - 40 cm. They burst out of the water and can fly up to 100 metres. Mostly they follow the wave patterns and weave their way around and up and down finally slipping back into the water. But some days they seem very unco, they pop up and crash straight into the first wave, or clip the top of a wave and spiral out of control. Haven’t actually seen one dip a wing/fin? And cartwheel but I’m sure it’s on the cards. I’m wondering if they suck water into their gills and hold it while they fly?

And more fish!…little tuna that we sashimi directo and a big barracuda that was disappointingly bland to eat….

Now we are at Bonaire….very Dutch…yes, clogs, cheeses, windmills etc etc …pretty much everyone speaks English so that makes life easier but I’m hanging out to be speaking and learning more español….

Bonaire is another just fabulously wonderful place….we have a mooring along the beachfront where they have endless mooring buoys on 3 ton blocks of concrete, you just pull up and tie on….the water is absolutely crystal…the visability is scary…you can see forever thru’ blue water…we are about 50m off the beach, the bottom slopes gently from the shorelibne to us at about 12 metres deep and then there is the drop off…the bottom just falls away to 30 - 40 m almost
some caysome caysome cay

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vertical, coral covered, fish everywhere….even under the boat where it’s predominantly sandy there are squillions of fish…all your fave tropical specials…swimming around I’m followed by a cheeky pack of zebras, then juge masses of silverbait, big parrot fish scavenge everywhere, in clumps of coral small family groups congregate defending their territory…a few different styles of the electric blue, yellows, well, every colour and shape you can imagine!! Lot of diving to do here….and this drop-off seems to go for miles…..someone told me Bon Aire was the world’s first protected reef..like a long time ago, very progressive, and it’s paid off…it is astounding….dive sites all around this side…something like 50 or 60 named sites with marker buoys that you can tie the ding up to…amazing…grace!

Now, this is it, finally, the end, yes, no more….I’m off to the cybercafe this morning,…there is some wifi I’m getting but we have to buy access in town….so I’ll probably use the higher speed of the café…..chau…..B

Well, just one more thing…..it’s 6.30am, the sun’s just heading the trees over the bay……. off the back of the boat we are floating in air…the water is so clear I’m watching fish gliding around over
tortuga fishtortuga fishtortuga fish

Isla Tortuga
the sand and coral…and it’s 12 metres deep….it does get scary tho’….I dive to the bottom…thinking it’s a bit closer than it is……I’m pushing down and down…then I look back up and there’s the boat…soo far up in the sky…..I just get back to the surface before the lungs give up!

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Los Roques

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