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Venezuela 2007

 

Los Testigos 

We reluctantly left Grenada at about 6pm on 19 June having originally planned to be away by the end of May ! We had a lovely sail overnight to Los Testigos (about 90 miles) and arrived at about 9.30am – a much faster trip than our Atlantic crossing….. Los Testigos are a small group of Islands just North of Venezuela with about 160 inhabitants – very pretty and quite remote although much windier than Grenada and the water was much cooler (by about 6 degrees). We were allowed to stay there for 4 nights without a Visa and we enjoyed the peacefulness and the snorkelling. It was like swimming in a tropical fish tank, the colours were amazing and we now think we need to get a waterproof digital camera !






Margarita

We moved on to Porlamar on the Island of Margarita. There is a big liveaboard community here and the people all seem very friendly. Cruisers seem to stay here for years as the weather is good, it’s out of the hurricane belt and it’s as cheap as chips. 2 beers cost just 20p in happy hour and 35p not in happy hour!! Roger is very happy as Gordons Gin is only £2 a bottle but, unfortunately, we have not yet found any tonic to go with it….

 

Since being here, we have met up with a few familiar faces from Grenada including Double Waters (Graham, Bridget, George, Jack & Jed) and Stephanie Lynn (Dwight & Stephanie) as well as meeting new friends such as Lawrie from Minshara who has been fantastic in showing us around the Island and how/where to get things done as well as helping us with our Spanish. Roger has also had a bit of help from Dwight (well, a lot of help really) and we now have an Invertor which actually works and is wired into all our sockets so we can, at last, plug in our microwave and have jacket potatoes without getting any electric shocks!! Unfortunately, they needed the plug from our hairdryer but, as this hasn’t been used for 2 years, it probably won’t be missed too much!!  Dwight previously worked for Enza Marine in Prickly Bay and is a whizz with electrics as well as having some great anecdotes which have kept us amused for hours. 

 



We intend to stock up on Duty Free Goods (Wine, Beer & Gin) whilst we are here before heading off to mainland Venezuela in the next week or so where we have booked into a Marina in Puerto La Cruz for a month’s holiday. Malarkey, Adonde, Squander & Scorpio are all booked into the same place so it should be good fun – a bit like being back in Las Palmas. We hope to explore inland as well as luxuriating in a Marina that has 2 Swimming Pools, Wifi, Air-Conditioning, Cable TV, Electricity & Water all for £6 a night – can’t be bad. We recently heard from Lawrie & Siobhan (Light Blue) who headed North to the USA for the hurricane season and Marinas seem a tad more expensive up there – up to USD200 (£100) per night – so maybe we won’t go there next summer after all……..

 

Malarkey turned up 07/07/07 and we quickly realised that we wouldn’t get many more jobs done before we left the Island although we did manage to travel into the Town centre to buy an Air-Conditioning unit ready for the Marina in PLC. 

 


It was Roger’s Birthday on 10th July so we celebrated by having lunch at Pepe’s Restaurant on the Beach which serves fantastic food. Trevor, Jo & Lawrie joined us and, unsurprisingly, lunch was extended into Happy Hour at The Rum Bar followed by Birthday cake back on El Vagabond. Whilst the cake initially looked very impressive, sadly, it met with an early accident on the cockpit floor (which isn’t the first time Vicki has dropped a Birthday Cake – last time it was hers on a pontoon at Clarence Marina in Gosport!!). Luckily, being hardy Sailors, a few cat hairs and bits of dirt weren’t going to put the 4 of us off and we happily tucked in without any hesitation once the candles had been blown out……

 

A few days later and it was time to leave Margarita and head off towards Puerto La Cruz. En route, we stopped for a couple of days at Coche which is a pretty little Island with a very long sand spit which seems to be very popular with Kite Surfers and we also stopped overnight in Mochima which really reminded us of Cornwall (but not quite as pretty as the River Fal).

 



Puerto La Cruz



We arrived in PLC on the 20th July and tied up only a few Boats away from Malarkey – we just can’t get away from them !!! The first thing we did was go for a swim and it was lovely to be in a pool and be able to get out without feeling all salty…. We think we will enjoy our month's holiday here !




It is now late September and our 1 month holiday in the Marina at Puerto La Cruz (PLC) has turned into 2 months and we still haven’t yet left !!  We can’t believe how quickly the time has flown by since we arrived in July… 


PLC is in the State of Anzoategui on the Northern Coast of Venezuela. There are a number of Marinas but Bahia Redonda (where we are) is the largest with it’s own Swimming Pool, Restaurant, WiFi etc. The advertising blurb tells you how safe and secure you will feel in the complex which is very true but they omit to tell you that you have to get a Taxi everywhere as you walk out of the gates straight into the largest ‘Barrio’ in the area. Consequently, popping out for a quick stroll (or even a jog) is a big no-no. This having been said, the local Police are cleaning up the area and, indeed, shot the local Gang Leader and a number of his cronies earlier this year which we have been told has made a huge difference…..

 

There is a complex Canal system that runs between the Marinas within the El Morro  development and you can dinghy all the way to the local Shopping Mall which took us about 50 minutes with our little Outboard and actually is much quicker in a 10 minute Taxi!! The poshest Marina is the MareMares Resort which was once a 5* Hotel famed for hosting a summit, some years ago, between President Chavez and Cuban Prime Minister, Fidel Castro. Whilst not now quite so plush, it is still more expensive than the other Marinas and the Hotel provides “room service” to the yachts on it’s pontoons !!  It also has 2 Golf Courses but Roger still hasn’t found the time to play a round.
 




On the Sporting side, we have become supporters of the local Football Team – Deportivo Anzoategui and have been to watch them play a couple of times with Squander, Adonde and Malarkey accompanied by our local friendly Taxi Driver, Andreas, who leaps around madly in a typically Venezuelan fashion whenever they score ! The new Stadium in PLC was only completed earlier this year ready for the South Americas Cup and is now the Venezuelan National Stadium (a tad smaller than Wembley). As a result, the crowd supporting the local team has increased from 200  to 18,000 since last season! The Team are currently lying 6th in the First Division although we did witness one exciting win…..

 

We have been very spoilt in the Marina with unlimited Water and Electricity and have managed to avoid both Hurricanes Dean and Felix – the latter passing only 15 miles north of Bonaire so relatively close. Since being here we have completed lots of jobs (including finally greasing our winches) and had time to relax and enjoy Venezuela. Unfortunately, we have not been able to explore inland as much as we may have liked as most trips are for a minimum of 4 days and, whilst lots of our friends here have offered to look after Mish, we did not want to leave him for more than 1 night at a time.

 

Our first foray was to a small Village in the Mountains called Los Altos de Sucre where we stayed in a lovely Posada (B & B) called Vista Montana (Mountain View). 

 

It is about 1,000 metres above Sea Level and on one side looked out over the lush green Rainforest and on the other down over the islands which comprise the Mochima National Park – Both stunning views although it did get a bit chilly in the evening and it felt very strange to have goosebumps for the first time this year !!

 




We also went inland to see the Guacharo Caves which were first discovered in 1799. The main Cave is 8 miles long (one of the World’s largest) although we only walked about 1 mile on the tour. It is inhabited by about 18,000 Guacharo Birds (also known as Oil Birds). These are strange birds who live in the dark and navigate by using very high pitched squawks to echo locate like Bats. They grow up to a size of 60cm with a wingspan of 110cm and look similar to a Bird of Prey. They come out of the Cave at night to collect and feed on fruit and make a real racket. We went to see them leave the cave at Dusk on the first night but didn’t hang around for their 4am return unlike some people who pay to camp there overnight. Inside the Cave, there are also amazing Stalagmites and Stalactites which only grow 1 inch every hundred years. What was fascinating (but maybe shouldn’t have been) is that we found ourselves treating the graffiti which appeared deep into the Cave dating back to the 19th Century with some kind of awe. Mind you, for someone to venture a mile into an unexplored Cave without a guide and a torch was pretty impressive……

 



We chose not to camp outside the Cave but, instead, stayed at a Ranch in nearby Caripe. This was in a beautiful setting and, although the rooms were fine, there were no secrets from the room next door as the walls were pretty thin.

Whilst we could hear Aid & Jan whispering, they had the short straw as they were stuck between Vicki snoring on one side and big John Cooper (Durban Dancer) on the other. There was also a certain etiquette when using the Toilet which was to drown out any noise by making sure the Shower was on at full blast !!! 

 

In the Morning we arranged to go Horse Riding (well, Pony actually) around the Farm which was great fun and the first time Roger had ever been on horseback. Not only did he not fall off but he really enjoyed it so definitely more riding to come as we continue on our travels.

 




Roger had to unexpectedly fly back to the UK in early September so Vicki took the opportunity to explore Barcelona which is the Capital of Anzoategui  and dates back to 1671. It was Neil’s Birthday so she joined him and Tracy for a Birthday Tour which included visiting the City’s Cathedral (which was the original Cathedral in Venezuela although not the oldest Church) and also a Museum comprising various Sculptures made to look like UFOs…… strange, but true !!


Unsurprisingly, this was followed by a lengthy Birthday lunch at the local Restaurant.  

 



 




While Roger was away, Vicki spent a worthwhile week “spring cleaning” the entire Boat (better late than never) and she now looks very clean and brightly polished. Upon his return we moved into the Marina's Penthouse Apartment so that El Vagabond could be lifted out for her bottom to be scrubbed and anti-fouled - all done pretty cheaply over here. The Apartment is quite luxurious and we had a small party on our first night in residence to celebrate having a huge Sun Terrace, a proper Kitchen with a big Cooker, 4 gas rings, a freezer, a normal sized fridge and 2 huge Bathrooms (sadly, these are equipped with Showers and not Baths)!! Mish initially seemed a bit agoraphobic and spent the first 24 hours hiding under the bed - He has now progressed to sleeping on top of it and generally strutting around the place like the proverbial Lord of the Manor !!





Whilst we have enjoyed our ‘holiday’ in the Marina, we are now becoming a little stir crazy having stayed here longer than we wanted and it is now time to get to Sea again. We can only take so many “Pot Luck Evenings” which are organised once a week with the form being that each yacht takes it’s own Meat (for the BBQ) together with a “pot to share” which ultimately means that the Brits’ miniscule pieces of Meat are dwarfed on the barbeque by huge Yankee Steaks and you have to be pretty quick off the draw to get anything out of the “pots” before our American Cousins have devoured them. To our credit, we haven’t yet succumbed to joining the Sunday ‘Domino’ or Tuesday ‘Spade’ afternoons but, if we stay here much longer, who knows what may happen…..

  

Before we left PLC, we decided to treat ourselves to 1 night at a Hotel with a Bath and it was no easy feat to find one. We ended up in the Aladdin Hotel which is a luxurious Hotel devoted to Love & Romance and designed in an Arabian fashion – our Suite was decked out in true “Ali Baba” style and it turned out having not just a Bath but a huge Jacuzzi in addition to our own private indoor Swimming Pool and Bar on the ground floor.

This was our first Bath in over 18 months and our stay indulged in pure luxury even including Breakfast in Bed !

 



 




Los Roques

 

We finally left PLC on 7th October sailing West to the Islas de Piritu where we spent a pleasant 24 hours before heading North West towards Tortuga which is a very flat Island uninhabited except for a couple of Fishermen. The Island has beautiful beaches, clear blue water and it was a fantastic place to get away from all the hustle and bustle of PLC.




We stayed there a few days before sailing to the next islands – Las Tortuguillas (the Little Turtles) which are described as 2 lovely deserted islands. That may be the case but we spent the entire night being eaten alive by Mosquitoes so it was time to quickly move on and we set off for Los Roques.

 


Los Roques is a National Park Cruising Area of about 14 x 25 miles of protected reef-studded water dotted with a number of very pretty islands. The snorkelling was fantastic and we spent 3 weeks pottering about from island to island enjoying the breeze and the sunshine.




Only the main island, El Gran Roque, is inhabited and it was great to be able to find our own private anchorage day after day and to swim over to the shore and walk along the picturesque sandy beaches.

 

Unfortunately, the days passed too quickly and it was soon time to start heading East back to Margarita where we were meeting Graham & Belinda who were flying out for a 2 week holiday - taking a break from their idyllic life in Brittany.

 

Whilst in Los Roques, Roger discovered that one of our Engine Mount Brackets had sheared so he patched it up with lots of string, seizing wire and tape (not to mention the “sticky backed plastic”) so that we could get going. Unfortunately, there was no Internet service available so we phoned our good friends Neil & Tracey (Adonde) who were still in PLC and managed to get them to e-mail Graham to organise a replacement to bring out with him to Margarita – what a network !! 

 



It took us 2 1/2 days to sail the 140 mile (direct) trip as, typically, we had the wind on the nose all the way. We were passing Cubagua - a small uninhabited island about 20 miles West of Margarita - at about 4.30pm and we thought it would be a good idea to stop there overnight rather than hit Margarita after dark. This meant that we would be able to relax and watch the sun go down and it made a change from stopping at Coche as we had done in July en route to PLC. Whilst this was a cunning plan, we did not anticipate the dodgy holding and, after 9 anchor drops, we finally got our hook dug in. Sadly, it was now dark and we had missed the moment for sundowners !!

 

Up early the following day, we made way to Margarita and arrived with 48 hours to spare before our guests were due. We made good use of this time and visited the Dentist – aargh !  As a result, Roger has had full root canal treatment and is awaiting a nice shiny new Crown to be fitted and Vicki had to have a replacement filling. Hey ho, at least the treatment is a lot cheaper than the NHS and the Dentist is very nice, has a great sense of humour and speaks excellent English……….

 


Graham & Belinda on Holiday

 

G & B arrived safely with our replacement bracket and, having stocked up with provisions (3 dozen bottles of Wine, some Gin and a few bits of Meat), we set off to the island of Coche, where we celebrated G’s 60th birthday, before setting sail for mainland Venezuela to explore the Golfo de Cariaco which we had not previously visited.





We found this part of the mainland to be quite different from anywhere we had been before. We initially anchored just off the Araya Peninsular in a bay at Punta Arenas which is not particularly positively described in the Pilot Book and which we therefore affectionately nicknamed “Theft or Worse” bay !!  Luckily, we were not troubled and the fishermen who passed us seemed very friendly.

 


From here, we sailed on to Laguna Grande which, as the name suggests, is a big lagoon and which is surrounded by an endless variety of contrasting hills in whites, greys and glowing reds; a very colourful desert landscape which could have been used as the set of “The Clangers” !!

We stopped here overnight and then sailed further up the Golfo de Cariaco (the Gulf is 35 miles long) towards Guacarapo. En route we were joined by endless pods of Dolphins who were happy to cavort and frolic with our bow waves – much to B’s delight.

 

 

We anchored off Medregal Village which is a small Hotel Resort owned by a Belgian who loves to cater for visiting yachtsmen. We were amazed to find that he operated an “Honesty Bar” which worked really well as you just settled your bill as you left. He provided a free wifi service, you could use his showers and swimming pool free of charge and he even offered special discounts for Cruisers in the Bar & Restaurant – what a fabulous place !!

 



Unfortunately, we had to leave after 3 days as G & B’s return flight was looming so we left and headed back towards “Theft & Worse” for another overnight stop. We were up at 6am to get back to Coche (about 31 miles away) and after the first 10 miles of cruising gently North we reached the tip of the peninsular. We turned to the East and the wind kicked in straight away right on the nose (yet again)!! We tacked and tacked and tacked some more and eventually reached the anchorage in Coche at 7.30pm all feeling a little jaded having covered some 30 miles more than we had expected !

 




Margarita

 

A good night’s sleep was had by all before we headed back to Margarita the following day. It was off to the Dentist again for us while G & B did some last minute holiday shopping followed by a final lunch together on the beach. Sadly, G & B didn’t get to experience either Pepe’s or the Rum Bar as the former has been temporarily closed down and the latter was having a new roof fitted.

 

Luckily, Dwight (Stephanie Lynn) is back in Margarita and has had time to help Roger remove and replace the broken Engine bracket. Between them, they have also replaced the Engine Water Cooling Pump and have installed our nice new Raymarine Autohelm (which Roger ordered when he was in the UK, Aid (Squander) kindly brought over from the UK, Trevor (Malarkey) transported from PLC to Margarita and Lawrie (Minshara) babysat in Margarita until we arrived) !!

 




As you are no doubt all aware, the second to last Thursday in November is American “Thanksgiving Day” and we were invited to our first ever Thanksgiving Dinner aboard Stephanie Lynn. Dwight and Steph provided a fantastic feast of Turkey and a host of other traditional Thanksgiving grub and we had a great evening. The only downside was that a Tropical Wave was passing by and it rained consistently for over 4 hours. Not a problem in itself except we had left our stern hatch open and, having got soaked to the skin in the dinghy returning home across the anchorage, we then had to sleep on towels as all our bedding was wet through – It’s a tough old life !!

 

We are now just waiting for Roger to get his crown fitted later this week and for the weather to calm down a bit and we will be leaving here heading for Bequia. We need to be in St. Vincent by the 6th December as Roger’s brother, Dave, is flying out to see us for a week so, we cannot be late……….