Pictures/Journal - page 12

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DECEMBER 8 - 12, 2004:   .  .  .  We left Chaguaramas, Trinidad and made a big 3-mile trip over to lovely Scotland Bay on the west coast to stage for our overnight passage.  Here in Scotland we spent 2 days listening to the loud "roar" of the Howler Monkeys and waiting for the rain to pass, and to decompress from the busy social life and seemingly never-ending boat projects in Chaguaramas.  Actually got out the 2 books we started to read over 3 months ago and started up on them again.  The peace and quiet was so nice for a change. 

We left Scotland Bay at 8:00 a.m. and arrived safely in Porlamar, Isla de Margarita, Venezuela at sunrise the next day.  We picked the right weather window as seas tapered off to 1-foot swells from behind so rolling wasn't too bad, but  winds astern were light so had to motor sail.  We were doing 8.5 knots at times (1 - 1.5 knot current with us), then slowed down so we wouldn't get to Margarita in the dark.

Traveling off the northeastern coast of Venezuela is considered dangerous due to piracy, so cruisers typically travel many miles offshore and without lights at night.  Upon leaving Trinidad, we went due North 16 miles (10 deg 56' thereabouts) then turned due west for 122 miles to Margarita.  Even though we originally said we would run with lights due to reportedly heavy shipping and fishing traffic, we ended up running without lights as there was not much traffic.  We only lit up when we saw fishermen and when we were about 15 nm out of Porlamar.  It was also a clear, starry (moonless) night which made it easier to see.   

ARGO is equipped with radar, a big radar reflector (we've been told we look like a big ship on radar) and the C.A.R.D. system.  We also had the Q-beam (a very bright spot light), flare guns and pepper spray handy just in case we had unwanted visitors during the night, and a plan:  go below and lock ourselves in to keep intruders from getting below.  As it goes, if you're prepared for something, then probably won't need to use it, and so it was an uneventful passage. 

Several dozen dolphins kept us company for several hours until morning twilight broke.






Porlamar, Margarita: city and anchorage

Don's boat, friend to all pelicans (and smells like a zoo)


Isla Coche: kite-boarders


North coast of Venezuela


VENEZUELA, DECEMBER 12, 2004 -        :   We arrived in Porlamar, Margarita, an island off the north coast of Venezuela.  We were here in fall 2003 for 6 weeks, so have seen and done this island already.  But the attraction to Margarita is that it is duty free, in fact, Venezolanos come here from the mainland to stock up.  Our priorities are set:  Buy beer (US$3.50/case), wine ($3.50/bottle), rum ($2/bottle) and other liquor, excellent quality "lomitos" filet mignon ($3.80/lb.), diesel ($0.28/gal.), quality reading glasses (hate getting older eyes) and miscellaneous consumer goods.  We are ready to leave 6 days later after catching up with various friends here.

A day sail takes us to Isla Coche, once home to thriving pearl beds in the 1500's.  It is an odd little island, with bare red cliffs at one end, some kind of mining in the middle and a "resort" at the other end - supposedly Europeans like to holiday here, not sure why, although there were enough kite-boarders here to make it look popular.

A 5:00 a.m. departure in the dark gave us a day sail (motor) to Puerto La Cruz on the north coast of mainland Venezuela.  A group of dolphins greeted us with sunrise, only to return 6 hours later (one was recognizable with a 3-inch scar on it's left "shoulder").  Although not enough wind to sail, the day was beautiful with gorgeous skies, as we went past many islands and along the coast.  It was like sailing through Colorado and New Mexico:  High mountains, some with bare red-rock cliffs, others plentiful with green trees.  Truly breathtaking.

We arrive at the Bahia Redonda Marina in Puerto La Cruz (near Barcelona) greeted by our good friends from Houston, Bob & Susan, s/v Sunrise.  They have been here for a year now.  Wonder why.  Perhaps it could be the free dockside electricity ... or the free dockside water ... or dockside air conditioning ... or cable TV ... or wireless internet right on the boat ... or the free worldwide phone calls from the boat ( - it's free) ... or the cheap, cheap cost of living here ... or all the other cruisers that have been here forever, too ... or ...  ...  You get the picture. 

Although all those things are very enticing, we plan to be here only a couple of months to do some inland traveling (Venezuela is as varied a country as the U.S.) and to do our routine annual medical exams.  Venezuelan health care is excellent with state-of-the-art equipment/facilities and highly trained, English-speaking physicians, not to mention extremely cheap.

The marina "district" here is a mile outside of Puerto La Cruz proper, and consists of miles and miles of canal waterways past marinas, condos, large mansions, resorts, and shopping areas.  We have been here a few days and have already participated in a marina BBQ, birthday party, boat decorating contest (no, we vote, don't decorate) and a 14-dinghy night-time convoy through the canals looking at Christmas lights.  Although this is a very social place, similar to Chaguaramas, Trinidad, we have so far met lots of new cruisers, as well as renewing old friendships.

ROLLING IN THE DOUGH:  We're big millionaires here in Venezuela!  What you're looking at is 2,350,000 Venezuelan dollars covering other assets.  With an exchange rate of US$1 = Bolivares 2,350, this equates to only US$1,000.   [NOTE:  As of March 2005, this same amount of Bs would have cost us only US$886]



New Year's Eve with Bob & Susan, s/v Sunrise (right).


Excellent Health Care in Venezuela

We both took advantage of the affordable and excellent health care here.  We had our wellness exams including lots of lab work and eye exams.  We are very healthy but every so often you need to have the Doctor and Doctora confirm this.  The system operates very efficiently as the GP sees you first, orders all tests and makes any referrals to specialists as needed.  But unlike the States, you may be able to get everything done within a couple of hours in the same location, without a lot of running around.  All of our doctors speak excellent English so it is easy.  Our only complaint is sometimes we have to wait awhile as not all doctors will take appointments.

Steve had surgery for the varicose vein problem in his right leg and is recuperating well.  His vascular surgeon said it was a simple and straightforward procedure - easy for him to say, it wasn't his leg!  Sorry no pictures, but Steve is wearing the attractive white stocking on that leg for a month.





Andrea teaching Spanish class


Bahia Redonda Marina; mountainous mainland and islands as backdrop


Other observations of Venezuelan life: 

All women here wear tight tops and tight low-slung pants, thong underwear, and major breast-enhancers (push-up or gel-filled bras).

We have found the Venezuelan people to be very friendly and most helpful, and extremely patient with our attempts to communicate in Spanish.  In fact, the locals love to practice their English with us.  Deborah has been taking Spanish lessons for the last six weeks here at the marina, so she is able to communicate fairly well.  Steve just speaks LOUDER. 

Buildings, including high high-rises, all have burglar bars covering windows and doors.  This is supposedly a decorative architectural style that dates way back, but also serves to keep kids and plants from falling out the window. Too bad they don't have architectural control committees as they are all different [ugly]. 

Crime and theft is a big way of life here, as locals complain often and openly about it.  In fact, one of the taxi drivers who caters solely to the cruisers had his radio stolen recently, and another had his new car stolen last year.  We make sure when we leave the secured "marina compound" that we don't wear nice jewelry or carry purse or backpack - in other words, we try to look like we don't have much.  Taking these common sense precautions, we have never felt at risk and thoroughly enjoy our outings. 






Noodle aerobics each morning



Puerto La Cruz / Barcelona located on North coast.  This is where we are with ARGO.  Los Altos is just to the east.

Angel Falls (Salto Angel) / Canaima located in Southeast Venezuela.

Merida / The Andes located in  Northwest Venezuela.

Colonia Tovar located west of Caracas.

Caracas located on north coast.




Los Altos

Artisan making dolls completely out of banana leaves and corn husks


        LOS ALTOS

We took a relaxing day trip up to Los Altos which is a little village in the mountains on the north coast, not far from Puerto La Cruz.  Mostly artisans here displaying their crafts and a few local restaurants.  Toured a coffee plantation, and saw local wild life.  Unfortunately it was overcast and the clouds were hanging low, so not a lot of photo ops.

We stopped for lunch at a place suspended in the mountain valley clouds where three monkeys - 2 Capuchin monkeys and a 6-month old red monkey - hang out.  Feeding them apricots got them hyper, so much so that they were jumping on lunch patrons, pulled a jar of sauce off a display table breaking it and excavated a hole on the thatched roof over the bar creating a big mess.  The "park" area had various birds and other animals living in the open.



Pottery craftsman

With Hector at his coffee plantation


  From the air, Canaima Lagoon, Sapo & Sapito Falls (left)



Canaima Lagoon & Falls



Walking behind Sapo Falls - at times couldn't see nor hear



On top of Sapo Falls; Canaima, Lagoon below



Sapo Falls; note golden-amber colored water



Map of Angel Falls (AuyanTepuy) center, Canaima Lagoon bottom right, and river we navigated in between



Latvian friends (L to R):  Girts, Eva, Aldis, Santa


        ANGEL FALLS    (Canaima National Park) - by Bus, Airplane, Canoe & Foot

Angel Falls at sunrise - SPECTACULAR !!!

view from the hammock 

Wow what an adventure!  Day 1 we board a public bus in downtown Puerto La Cruz for a 5-hour ride to Ciudad  Bolivar, located on the Orinoco River which is the second largest river in South America after the Amazon.  There an agent meets us, the only gringos on the bus, and takes us to a hotel for the night. We explore the city and stroll along the river front. 

Day 2, the next morning, he collects us and puts us on a 6-seat Cessna plane for a low-level hour flight in to the Canaima National Park (1/2 million acre park), where another agent finds us and takes us to the base camp and posada where we will stay the 2nd night.  Canaima, located on the large and scenic Canaima Lagoon into which several large waterfalls empty, is a little village of 800 Kamaracoto Indians. A few posadas, two stores, airport and local crafts are all that is here for the visitor.   Our posada had private rooms with full baths (cold water only), were very clean but basic and had the feeling of a youth hostel.  Meals were served at one very long table so meeting new people was easy. 

A local guide takes us in a dugout canoe across the Canaima Lagoon to the base of Sapo Falls, one of the "golden water falls".  Note in the pictures the golden-amber color of the water.  This is caused by decomposing plant matter.  Here we hike up to the falls and walk behind them for an afternoon adventure.  Scary as the path is narrow, slippery and at times the thunderously-loud, cold water is blowing back at us so strong you can not see where you are going. Better not slip as it is all over if you go down the falls with the tremendous water force. Our local Indian guide, Jose, kept us safe.

Dugout canoes here are made from large, straight cedar trees.  After the bark is removed, they hollow out the inside by strategically burning the tree  and using tools.  Resin is then applied to help "waterproof".  The whole process takes about a month, all by hand.  These particular canoes range from 36 - 42 feet in length, with less than a 3-foot beam.  No keel, so staying in your seat is important, especially when making sharp turns to avoid rocks!

Day 3 we again board a 36 ft. dugout wood canoe with five other guests and two local Indians (captain and bowman) and take a wild ride upstream the Carrao and Churum Rivers powered with their 48 hp Yamaha outboard for 4 hours. It has been a particularly rainy month and the rivers were unusually high for this time of year - good thing, otherwise, we may have had to help carry the canoe over shallow rocky spots.  We had been advised to bring boat cushions to sit on so this made it tolerable for the bottom.  At one part the rapids were too dangerous so we had to walk for a while while the two boat boys went up the rapids by themselves.  The skilled Indian captain seems to bend his canoe around the rocks and under low hanging branches at full speed but he never hit anything.  We were VERY impressed.  Although rainy and cloudy, it is a scenic ride through jungle and rock canyons.  Tepuys, large geological outcroppings with flat tops, similar to buttes in Utah, surround us.  We arrive at the Angel Falls base camp and take a strenuous hour hike up the rocky and tree root-laden mountain with barefooted Indian Gonzales where the clouds part as we arrive and offer a spectacular vista of the falls. 

We manage to get back down without injury and settle in for cocktails (rum & beer that we brought) at the camp while the Indian guides are cooking whole chickens on an open fire. The camp had another great view of the falls and we awed in appreciation of this natural wonder. Angel Falls (Salto Angel) on Auyan Tepuy, is the highest waterfalls in the world.  The vertical free-fall drop is 3,000 feet. The falls were accidentally discovered by the American pilot Jimmy Angel in 1937 who flew charters over this rugged country, and later crash-landed on the summit of this tepuy, which is at an altitude of 1.5 miles.

We understand that in the early days of travel to the falls it would take 15 days for the paddle-powered canoes to make the trip upriver with affluent visitors. This was of course before the Indian guides knew about Yamaha!  Nowadays, trekking adventures up to the summit take 2 weeks.

The stay at this rustic base camp was great provided you don't mind a cold shower, no electric lights and a sand floor.  Flush toilets were an unexpected treat, though, with numerous candles adding ambiance to the bathrooms and long dining table.  We sleep in mosquito-netted hammocks under a roof.  Unfortunately there were a couple of really drunk Polish doctors there on holiday that snored very loudly all night.  But all this was more than made up for by the unbelievable view of Angel Falls across the river, especially the next morning as the dawning sun shown perfectly on the Falls.   Our only complaint is that we would have liked to stay another night at this magnificently-located jungle base camp!

You must click here for photo gallery of our Angel Falls trip !

Day 4 we left the Angel Falls base camp for another thrill boat ride.  This day we had bright blue skies and the current was with us and we flew down in just 2 hours for 80 kilometers of river that took twice as long yesterday.

We stayed another night in the posada at Canaima to clean up and unwind.  During the course of our trip, we never saw another cruiser.  In fact, out of about 60 people that we met in Canaima, there were only 3 Americans (young females on extended travel).  We met people, mostly  younger than us, from all over the world - most which spoke English, and many doing extended traveling.  We particularly enjoyed making new friends from Latvia, and others from England.  It's pretty funny when people ask where we are from:  We say "Texas" (as everybody has heard of Texas) and their usual response is "Bush".  Texas/Houston furthermore has the international reputation for putting more people to death AND for the fattest people.  We kid you not.  News does get around.

Day 5 we took another flight back to Ciudad Bolivar.  We had planned on flying directly over Angel Falls, but cloudy skies made it not practical.  In Ciudad Bolivar we got a por puesto (private car for hire) to drive us back to PLC and all the comforts of ARGO.

If you're interested in seeing more great pictures or more information, check out:  Be sure to scroll to the very bottom of their page for other great links.

  Angel Falls at sunrise


                              MERIDA in the ANDES MOUNTAINS  - check back for details about our next adventure planned for March.  We are letting Steve's leg recover for a month.  Also, Caracas had horrendous flooding the middle of February, which has closed many roads around that area and has made traveling to and around Merida more difficult.  We are awaiting more details before planning our trip. . . 

Our Merida/Andes Mountains trip is now on page 13 ...


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                                                                          Last updated 03/15/2009                                             



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