Pictures/Journal - page 5

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Sunset for full moon sail

Los Testigos

Sunrise & Prism on right

 

Steve's birthday party      L to R:  Ed & Dorothy (Prism), Tim (Merlin), Bob (silly), Steve, Susan (Sunrise)

The boys looking buff !

 

 

Getting ready for the "green flash"

TOP OF THE ISLAND

Our 4 boats next to small island

Tim

Fifi, our guide, at the top (talk about sun damaged skin !!!!)

Thousands of lobster traps made here; Fifi in foreground digging for crabs

Sailing from Los Testigos (in background) to Margarita.  L to R: Prism and Sunrise flying spinnakers, Merlin

Margarita

Porlamar: big city with many vacancies

The cruisers' hangout at Jak's Restaurant/Bar - cheap, but excellent food

Bob, Susan, Deb at Jak's Happy Hour dressed up for a nice dinner out at ...

... The Dolphin for Pasta Fiesta, a platter of 5 delicious pasta dishes ...

... and dessert at French pasteleria

Rabbit Market

 

Porlamar in foreground, mainland in background

Virgin of the Valley, patron saint of sailors

 

Fisherman holding up just caught  octopus;  outboard weighs more than the fisherman!

VENEZUELA, OUTER ISLANDS, (South America) OCTOBER 5 - NOVEMBER 24, 2003 :  We left Grenada at 5:00 in the evening for an 80 mile overnight sail southwest to Venezuela.  We traveled with 3 other boats (Sunrise (Bob & Susan), Merlin (Tim), and Prism (Ed & Dorothy)).  We have a very nice full moon sail, 10-15 knot winds, beam/broad reaching, and light seas.  What more could you want?  We arrive in Los Testigos, Venezuela mid morning.

Los Testigos are several very remote and rather small islands located northeast of the mainland that are nice and quite picturesque.  About 160 fisherman live here.  That's it.  Nothing else is here - no stores, no roads or cars, no boat boys, no ice or beer, and no garbage dumping.  Couldn't spend a buck if you wanted to.  Being only 80 miles away from Grenada, there is much contrast:  Grenada with it's mountainous terrain and lush rain forest, high clouds and daily rain, hotter-than-usual weather;  Los Testigos, arid, less humidity, pleasant, steady cooling breeze (actually covered up with a sheet at night).  All in all, similar to Tobago Cays at first blush.  Our first anchorage is just off of a very narrow cut between 2 small islands, with white beaches on either side and light turquoise waters.  Thousands of frigate birds riding the rising air currents and thousands of fish congregating in the shadows of our boats.  Snorkeling is a must each day to a different spot. 

The seven of us celebrated Steve's 55th birthday with a BBQ / potluck dinner on the beach.  The close friendships that we make while cruising are invaluable.  That afternoon, Susan had collected dozens of periwinkles (we think that's what they're called) while snorkeling - small conical-shaped shells.  She steamed them in white wine and served them with butter/lemon/garlic dipping sauce, using a small fork to pull the escargot-type critter out.  They were very tasty and quite a nice treat.  This was truly a great birthday, because about 15 years ago Steve set the goal that by this birthday he would be cruising:  He reached this goal 7 months in advance!!   

As remote as we are, American cultural influences still are obvious:  We tuned into an English-speaking radio station out of Margarita and immediately heard "My Ding-a-Ling" playing (that sure brought back memories).  This was followed by Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin, English then Spanish version.  Other selections included Chubby Checkers, Dinah Shore (Burt's old flame), Andy Williams, and the later evening hours thankfully blessed us with  good ole' classic rock.  That was the same day/night Deborah (first caffeine high in many months) decided to RE-learn Spanish and the stars in the sky and celestial navigation.  Whew!  OK, this is a great place to get some of that stuff out and start playing with it, including the sextant Deborah received for her birthday a while back.

One more big happening here:  Deborah saw her first ever "green flash" - actually, we saw 3 here.  The "green flash" is a natural phenomenon where as the very last bit of the sunset disappears below the horizon, the light beams are refracted (may not be stated technically correct) and a green flash of light is emitted.  A clear horizon is necessary, i.e., no land or clouds in the way.  If you stand up quickly you can see it again; and I have been told you can see it at sunrise, but it is difficult because you have to be looking at just the right spot to see the green flash.

We moved to a new anchorage on the south side of Los Testigos Grande.  One day we hiked to the very top of the island - a challenging, and hot pursuit, with a great 360 degree view as our reward.  Fifi, the local hairless dog with a good personality was our guide as the path is not well marked.

 

 

The next day we ventured to the sand dunes:  a very steep, but short, struggle up the dunes, then cross over to the secluded (heck, everything is secluded here at Lost Testigos) east side of the island.  We skinny dipped on our own gorgeous, private beach.  (Interestingly enough, Venezolanos, do not support toplessness or nudism, although they think nothing of routinely sporting itty bitty thongs and voluptuous tops - even by those who really shouldn't.)   The trip back down the dunes was fun - you just pretend you're in about 1 foot of snow and "run" down the steep slope, stepping lively!  

 

 

 L to R: Tim, Dorothy, Steve, Ed, Susan, Deb

 

 

 

 

We leave early in the morning and sail to Porlamar on the Island of Margarita, Venezuela (go back to page 12, Dec. 2004).  Margarita is a large island north of the mainland.   Although part of it is mountainous, it does not get much rain so most of it is dry.  Porlamar is a large city, European in some respects, in fact, the most sophisticated that we have seen since the States.  The more affluent Venezolanos come here from the mainland for the weekend or to holiday, and to shop (many things are duty free in Margarita, including wine, electronics, watches), much the same way people from Mexico City come to Houston's Galleria to shop.  There is a "Rodeo Drive" here with upscale shops (Calvin Klein, Versace, Oscar del Renta, etc.), and large malls that rival those of Houston.  The grocery stores and delis are very well stocked, reminding me of Central Market and Rice Epicurian in Houston. 

Although Porlamar seems like a bustling city to us, locals say that it isn't anything like it was 5 or 10 years ago.  Many shops and shopping centers have closed.  The city's skyline has numerous large office/apartment/condominium buildings scattered around.  However, many of these are unoccupied, or have NEVER EVER been occupied.  Venezuelan business practices:  Get a bank to finance a commercial project; first partner to abscond with the money wins; other partners lose; and building sits there under construction or unoccupied for years and years.  Seriously.  Venezuela has also fallen upon poor economic times, and major political turmoil under Chavez's corrupt party is taking it's toll as elections are coming up.     

Good news for American cruisers is that the US$ goes a very long way here so everything is VERY cheap and a perfect place to provision.  Furthermore, Margarita is duty free, as opposed to the mainland, which is an added bonus on certain purchases.  The official exchange rate is Bolivars (Bs) 1,600 = US$ 1.  However, Venezolanos want US dollars so badly that we get Bs 2,500 = US$ 1.  We have even written personal checks (with no identification) on our US$ account to pay for larger purchases, as many merchants hold US$ accounts as they are limited in the amount of local currency they can take out of the country.  Incidentally, we are on a cash-only basis here as credit card fraud is widespread. 

So let me do the math for you.  The local Polar beer (good stuff) is $0.13 each, or $3.12 a case, slightly more at a fine restaurant.  Rum $2/bottle.  Phone calls are $0.04 a minute to the US (elsewhere in the Caribbean we had been paying up to $5/minute).  Internet service is $.32/hour.  Diesel $0.22/gallon.  Taxi ride is $1.00.  His wash/haircut $3; her wash/haircut $5, both as good as anywhere else.  Venezuela is known for their excellent beef - really thick, tender and tasty filet mignons cost about $0.40.  We'll be stocking our freezer full before leaving here!  Laundry service is $1.60/load for wash/dry/fold.  A big, tasty meal out for the 2 of us with drinks/wine may cost  $6 - $12 total.  Unbelievable!  While here we celebrated our wedding anniversary with a lobster dinner that was excellent (now that did cost a few bucks more).   

Exploring Porlamar means checking out the shopping from large modern day malls to the Pedestrian Plaza to the Mercado Conejo (Rabbit Market), where you can bargain for clothing, shoes and miscellaneous throughout the couple hundred stalls.  Once again, we wonder how anybody can make a living at this, as you see the exact same stuff from one stall to the next.  And where else can you pick up Victoria's Secret lotions or Adidas shorts or Nike shoes for $3?  You can bet they're  knockoffs, although they look real for the most part.  I did see at the big mall a CD of Yanni - on the front cover it said "Yannie" with his picture, but the spine and back said "Yanni"!  Hmmm.  You can buy pirated CDs all over the place down here for a buck or two, selection limited however.  Lunch while browsing might be perros calientes (hot dogs), hamburguesas, or empanadas (baby shark is excellent) from a sidewalk vendor's cart.  Take in a movie (recent releases) in air conditioned stadium seating comfort - movies are in English with Spanish subtitles.   Several Sundays have been spent at the breezy beach under the many shady palm trees eating really delicious grilled whole fish ($2.80), drinking beer ($0.13) and playing dominoes (free) (jump down to pictures).  Or, at the other beach under thatched roofs eating raw oysters on the half shell, fresh ceviche and empanadas, all just a dinghy ride away.

Stop at Telcel to make a phone call.  Bell South spent a lot of money to upgrade Venezuela's phone system and it is totally reliable and quite impressive.  All over the city in buildings, malls or on the street are very efficient cabinas - multiple, private, air conditioned phone stalls able to seat 2 people with a small desk and a read out advising the caller of time and money spent by call and cumulative.  Very nice.  You pay an attendant with cash so no phone cards to fool with.  As mentioned, there are several very nice grocery stores.  From the anchorage, there is a free bus service that takes cruisers to one of the nicest/cheapest grocery stores + mall.  Groceries are boxed up, numbered and loaded on the bus for you and then unloaded at the dock.  Makes provisioning very easy.  Diesel, gasoline and water are delivered to boats by boat.  Once again, makes things very easy.  We are getting really spoiled here, as most places don't have such convenient services available. 

Besides exploring the various parts of Porlamar, we toured the island of Margarita including:  Virgin of the Valley (hundreds of years ago a porcelain-looking wood carved Virgin Mary was washed out to sea during a huge cyclone and later was found by local pearl divers floating at sea without a nick, and so has become the patron saint of sailors, with a shrine built for her at the Basilica);  a few forts with great views;  several fishing villages, including Juangriego (John the Greek, a shipwrecked Greek pirate);  a trip on a small but fast boat through the huge maze of tree-canopied channels winding through the mangrove lagoon, each one marked with a sign noting that channel's name, all having to do with love.  We saw small orange starfish and seahorses clinging to the underwater branches. 

On our tour we ran into a friend of our guide who invited us to his house that night - an old, restored house, open air (no walls) on 2 sides opening to the beautifully landscaped and lit yard with a huge tree whose roots spread upwards and outwards 6 feet.  Never would have guessed from behind the wall on the street.  We were also invited to the monthly full moon party in November which also happened to be the total eclipse of the moon, hosted by a local high-end woodworker (boats and houses) and his wife at their house.  Once again, a real treat seeing their home that they built, which was all open air (remember, it doesn't rain here much), with gorgeous woodwork throughout.  She, being very artistic, has done so many unique touches to the house and lovely grounds.  It was a great time meeting many of their neighbors and other locals.     

In Venezuela, we have celebrated Steve's birthday, our anniversary, Halloween (costume party) and Thanksgiving.  We have spent over 5 weeks here in Margarita, longer than expected (imagine that).  As you can see by the lengthy account of our stay, there are many good reasons cruisers favor this area.  We have enjoyed our stay, and have found the people to be very nice and receptive of us, not wanting anything ($) from us, as opposed to some of the Caribbean islands where wanting hands are usually waiting.  It's a shame to leave now as Deborah's Spanish has been progressing nicely.  We will spend Thanksgiving here, as there is a large pot luck dinner party for cruisers hosted at Jak's who supplies the turkeys.  We plan, contingent on weather, taking off north by the weekend (11/29), possibly heading to St. Martin/St. Barts for the Christmas holidays, but who knows where we'll end up ... but we hope our family and friends will come and sail these French islands and Guadeloupe and Martinique with us.  We also speak a little French!   Can you say "baguette et brie" or "bonjour"?

    Cooling off after a long, hot day ...

Merlin

Los Testigos

ARGO

Sampling (above) periwinkles (below)

 

 

 

 

SAND DUNES

Susan & Bob

Bob assisting with the redressing process

Like nomads finding our way home

Return trip down the dunes

 

Margarita

Porlamar's large anchorage; Arrow is Sunrise, ARGO behind

 

View from Jak's of city and nice dinghy dock

"Briefcase  men" selling local jewelry at Jak's

 

Workout facilities  on the beach. Memberships available.  Imagine the condition of the equipment in this environment?!

 

 

One of the many religious shrines - this one roadside

Temporary mud wall that is now permanent art

 

 

 

 

 

Picturesque fishing village

Mangrove lagoon: Canal of Kisses channel sign; starfish

View of Juangriego from fort, with Bob & Susan

 

 

 

 

Bob carving and serving Thanksgiving turkey

 

Nov. 25 - Dec. 3:  We celebrated Thanksgiving with about 40, mostly American, cruisers for a very nice and delicious pot luck dinner at Jak's.  Jak cooked the turkeys, and Bob (Sunrise) masterfully carved them.  It never rains here - except on Halloween night and on Thanksgiving afternoon, but it didn't seem to keep anybody away.  Since it was looking like weather (unfavorable wind direction and higher seas) was going to keep us here a while longer, we enjoyed another Sunday at the beach eating whole fish, playing dominoes and enjoying cerveza frio.                

   

We are waiting on weather now before heading north . . . to  [page 6] . . .

 

Sundays:   eating whole grilled fish (excellent) and playing dominoes

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