Pictures/Journal - page 14

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VENEZUELA cont'd,  APRIL 2 - MAY 2005:   Previously, pages 12 and 13 have focused on our experiences in mainland Venezuela and our travels inland.  This page focuses on travels taking us in a northwesterly direction towards Houston.  Unfortunately, we have to take ARGO back to the factory for some interior cosmetic warranty work.  As hurricane season officially starts June 1, our goal is to be back in Houston by then.  Therefore, we have only 2 months in which to make this 2,300 nautical mile (2,650 statute miles) trip back.  It's a real shame to have to hurry this part of our trip, as we could easily have spent a month in some of these places.

In general, our return journey takes us to Venezuela's offshore islands that lie northwest of Puerto La Cruz, then to Bonaire (ABC islands), continuing on a northwest course to Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Yucatan/Mexico, and finally Gulf of Mexico ending in Houston.

 

 

After topping off our fuel tanks with 10 cents/gallon diesel, we left Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela on April 2 to first explore areas east of us that we missed previously.  This is the dry season, and we're on the north coast, so things are more a desert-scape than lush rainforests, albeit a sight to behold - red-red and white rock spotted with greenery.  First stop Mochima National Park - 4 miles deep with numerous "fjords" - we anchor off Mochima town with scenic lone resort/restaurant/bar for local Venezolanos.  We had been advised that winds howl through this region starting mid morning and get up to 35 knots routinely, so we left early for Golfo de Cariaco - a bay that is 35 miles long (east to west) and no more than 8 miles wide.  The north coast of the Golfo is pretty well uninhabited with the exception of fishing camps scattered about, thus safety issues are not a concern in this out-of-the-way area. 

By late morning winds are already 25 knots as we approach Puerto Real, an anchorage we figure is big enough for high-wind maneuvering.   We have the anchorage to ourselves, although a small fishing camp is located on one shore.  We leave early morning for another on-the-nose motoring trip east to Medregal Village, known among cruisers as the "Oasis".  In the middle of nowhere, Jean-Marc (a Frenchman, in case you couldn't tell) has built a small "resort" area with "hotel" rooms, good restaurant, and for cruisers free use of the pleasant pool and cabana area, honor-system open bar, and very nice hot & cold shower facilities.  He is currently building an impressively organized haul out facility for 70 boats and a marina for about 20 boats.  If he can get internet access, we suspect this could be a popular place for cruisers to go, especially during hurricane season.  While here, Deborah broke [another] tooth, fearing we may have to go back to Puerto La Cruz.  But, a 2-hour bumpy-dusty ride in the back of a covered pickup truck put us in Carupano and a modern female dentist fixed her right up for a few bucks.  Three other cruisers kept us company for the ride, lunch and grocery shopping.  This certainly is a unique, but enjoyable place, as we meet the 7 other boats, mostly European, here. 

An early morning westward jaunt downwind (finally) puts us at the do-not-miss Laguna Grande, a mini Grand Canyon.  This is about a 3-mile deep area with about 8 "fjords", red hills all around, greenery scattered about - an incredibly picturesque desert-scape.  We have the entire place to ourselves, although a few small fishing boats come in to net bait fish.  Even though we're behind big hills, the winds whip through here but the seas stay flat.  We could have stayed here a month.  Upon leaving, many dolphins escort us out of the Golfo.

After an overnight staging stop on Isla Caracas de Este, we leave in the dark (using waypoints we had marked the day before upon arrival) and head to Venezuela's Offshore Islands. 

                    

Typical (large) fishing village along relatively uninhabited north coast

 

  Laguna Grande, Venezuela

 

Puerto Real: fishing camp

 

Medregal Village: Oasis in the desert

 

Laguna Grande: only boat there; ARGO's mast barely visible

  Cayo Herradura, Tortuga

 

 

 

 

 

 

TORTUGA

Cayo Herradura: just us and some fisherman, a fine spot

  

 

 

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LAS AVES de BARLOVENTO

Red-footed booby and white fluffy booby babies abundant in the mangroves

Rum & coke got us 2 large lobsters for dinner

Leaving our "mark"

 

Venezuela's OFFSHORE ISLANDS are very remote, and except for one island with a small village for holidayers, are virtually uninhabited except for small fishing camps here and there.  We always thought Tobago Cays was remote - think again!  Venezuela's Offshore Islands consist of Blanquilla (which we did not go to), Tortuga, Los Roques and Las Aves.  (Heading west from there, are the ABC islands of, in order, Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba, all part of the Netherlands Antilles (Dutch)).  These islands are a favorite of cruisers as they are truly isolated, with lots and lots of gorgeous pure white beaches and clear shallow waters perfect for snorkeling.  They are typically low and dry, many with only a single palm tree on it (a popular decorating scheme with Mother Nature).  They remind us of the Bahamas but much more remote - and no charter boats!

TORTUGA (14 miles wide) is our first stop (Playa Caldera), spending 3 nights in different anchorages.  A real gem was a tiny island off called Cayo Herradura, where we were surrounded by light jade water and 270 degrees of pure white beaches.  The only other boat there (we knew them from Tobago) had been there for 2 months - their 2 sons were learning to kite-board here.  We would highly recommend this place for an extended stay!

A rolly overnight passage downwind with sails only (finally), takes us to LOS ROQUES, an area about 25 x 14 miles made up of many small islands and lots of reefs.  Rounding the north end of the main island, as we start the motor in order to take the sail down and enter the anchorage, we hear a loud grinding noise similar to transmission dysfunction (we had to replace our transmission in Trinidad 4 months earlier).  After hearing the noise several more times, AND not being able to sail in 18 knot winds (weird) we kept looking over the side of the boat thinking we must have picked up a fish trap or net, but couldn't see anything.  We limped into El Gran Roque (the only village in these islands) and went through their official 4-step check-in procedure (reminded us of a scavenger hunt).  Although we were a yacht in transit and limited to 2 days in Los Roques, the Guarda Coasta (Coast Guard) was very nice and understanding and said we had as much time as needed.  Four of them came on board to "verify" the problem, which consisted only of a lot of paperwork amounting to nothing.  However, we have not been able to duplicate the problem and are cautiously optimistic that it was a fluke thing (like net caught on prop then fell off). 

The village of El Gran Roque (the only town in these offshore islands) is very charming with neat, brightly painted posadas galore, sand streets and no cars.  This is clearly a remote get-away for the affluent Venezolano who wants to rough it.  There is an airport for small aircraft from the mainland, and day boat trips to neighboring islands for water activities.  We then made our way westward to a few other anchorages (Cayo Namusqui and Cayo de Agua).  Cruisers rave about this cruising ground, and we only saw a speck of it.  A pity.

A day hop puts us in LAS AVES, which are two separate little island archipelagos about 10 miles apart.  We were first at Aves de Barlovento (Eastern Aves) on Isla Sur for a few nights.  "Aves" means birds and is derived from the fact that a large number of birds live here in the dense mangrove forests.  The majority are various species of white and brown booby with their red-webbed feet and blue-pink beaks.  The white fluffy babies are adorable.  Coming around the corner it smells like a zoo, but the anchorages are off-wind so not a problem but you can see them and still hear their loud chatter.  This was another spot we could have easily stayed a month.  Surrounded by birds on one side and light blue waters/reefs on the other.  We bought (for a bottle of cheap rum, Coke and a few Bs) 2 large lobsters from fisherman.  After much mess of getting every scrap of meat, we had 2 huge tails and wonderfully rich lobster bisque for dinner, with leftovers for lunch the next day. 

We then moved over to the western Aves, Aves de Sotovento.  About 10 boats we knew from Puerto La Cruz were scattered around here.  We anchored in the dead coral-rich environment (not good for anchoring!) of Long Island, awaiting better light the next day.  As Steve strolled along the beach a fisherman approached him with an empty bottle of outboard motor oil and 2 lobsters - voila', we have dinner and all it cost was 3/4 qt. of oil!  Although a bit scary looking from the charts, with good light and waypoints from another cruiser, we ventured into and behind the reef, which is 7 miles long.  It was a piece of cake.  Anchoring, however, was not.  This was probably our worst anchoring experience in that it took us 2 hours to finally hook the anchor, as the sea floor was a lot of marl (coral covered with a bit of sand).  Nobody else seemed to have a problem, funny how that goes.  Anyway, that evening's happy hour was delayed but well deserved.  It was pretty incredible out there, calm as a pool, able to see 40 ft. down, surrounded by numerous reefs loaded with fish and some with good coral, many within close swimming distance of the boat, others only a dinghy ride away.  A couple of the other cruisers were successful in spearfishing dinner.  Again, not enough time spent here.  We stage outside at Long (Curricai) Island for an early morning departure day trip to Bonaire.

 

       Staged for early morning departure (not ARGO)

 

A day passage takes us out of Venezuelan waters (after  5 months) and away from the cheap cost of living that we have become so accustomed to. With it so affordable, and offering such a large and varied cruising ground, it's easy to see why so many cruisers get "stuck" in Venezuela for years.  We have done a lot here, met a whole lot of new cruisers, renewed friendships with old cruising friends and will miss all of this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOS ROQUES

El Gran Roque island

Neat, colorful town of El Gran Roque, only town in offshore islands; local cuttin' the cheese

 

Deb's bird deterrent system - it really works

Cayo de Agua

 

 

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LAS AVES de SOTOVENTO

  Easy to navigate the shallows / reefs as long as there is good light

Anchored in/behind the huge 7 mile reef with friends

Long Island & fishing hut: quart of outboard motor oil got us 2 more lobsters

END   OF   VENEZUELA   TRAVEL   SECTION

 

For updates for Bonaire, Jamaica, Cayman Islands and Mexico, go to Page 15

 

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