Sunset for full moon sail
Sunrise & Prism on right
Steve's birthday party L to
R: Ed & Dorothy (Prism), Tim (Merlin), Bob (silly), Steve, Susan
The boys looking buff !
Getting ready for the "green flash"
TOP OF THE ISLAND
Our 4 boats next to small island
Fifi, our guide, at the top (talk about sun damaged
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
Porlamar: big city with many vacancies
The cruisers' hangout at Jak's Restaurant/Bar - cheap, but
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
Porlamar in foreground, mainland in
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
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
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
the Island of Margarita, Venezuela
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.
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
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 ...
Sampling (above) periwinkles (below)
Susan & Bob
Bob assisting with the redressing process
Like nomads finding our way home
Return trip down the dunes
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