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Sailing Trinidad to Puerto La Cruz in Venzuela

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Trinidad to Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela
By Chrissi

Bottom cleaned, provisions in the lockers, water tank topped off, dinghy on deck. Raise the sails, pull the anchor, smear on some sunscreen and we’re off! Finally! We left Chagaramas, Trinidad at 7am on June 30, 2003, and arrived in Los Testigos, Venezuela, seven hours later. We dropped the hook in the lee of Testigo Grande, and officially (according to the Captain) completed our first leg of our round the world journey.

Before now, we have just been bouncing around the Caribbean, filling the cruising kitty and making improvements to the boat. But now there’s no going back, and the next time we visit Trinidad, it will complete our circle. From here we just keep going west.

Los Testigos: miles of sandy white beach marred by nothing more than hundreds of turtle tracks and some interesting junk washed up on the last high tide... gentle waves just big enough to body surf on, sand dunes, sea shells, and no other footprints than our own...a crystal clear anchorage in the lee of a coral reef teeming with colorful fish, squid that obligingly impale themselves on our spear tip, and monster sized clams who’s shells conceal all colors of the rainbow...a village where the 20 inhabitants spend their days either fishing or lying in their hammocks beneath the shade of palm trees...there are no stores here, no bars, no restaurants, no nightclubs, no civilization... paradise? Close enough.

Isla Margarita: Babylon again. Great supermarkets, improved internet access, plenty of diversions and things to enjoy, but the dinghy thieving problem in the anchorage at porlamar is out of control. While we were there, something like eight weeks, 12 dinghies were stolen, and there were several boarding incidents, one where the captain was badly wounded by machete wielding pirates who stole the dog the night before the attack.

Isla Coche: we spent one night here in the protected bay on the southwest corner, called El Saco, and discovered... treasure!!! we found a half mile stretch of shoreline completely covered with perfect and unbroken sea shells. It was a shame to walk along this strip of beach, no matter where we stepped, we left crushed shells in our wake. Disregarding Jack’s growls of weighing down the boat, I collected a big sack of beautiful spirals and swirls.

Isla Cubagua: when I dove overboard to check that the anchor was set, I discovered that we had anchored directly over a clam bed. A few minutes later, I had a bucketful of “pepitonas” and we feasted on linguini with clam sauce that evening. The next morning, while walking along the beach, I met Iris and her family, who are permanent residents of the island. Her husband is an oyster fisherman. and in exchange for some powdered milk and kool-aid, she gave me about a kilo of shucked and steamed oysters, and a dozen tiny natural pearls. Before pulling up the hook and moving on to our next destination, I dove beneath the boat one last time to collect a bucketful of clams, to go.

The gulf of Cariaco is one of the Caribbean’s secret wonderlands. On the way from Cubagua, we saw a large pod of dolphins-there was no wind so the water was clear like glass, and we could make out every scratch, smile and intricate feature of our aquatic visitors, we could even hear them talking! (In whistles)

Our first anchorage was Puerto Real, Mike and Suzy on Malana beat us by half hour in their mono-hull, (which really pissed Jack off, he hates not coming in first) They motored all the way while we battled shifting winds, light winds, and no wind. I cooked up my delicious clam chowder and brought it over to Malana to share. In the morning we went ashore and begged some gasoline from a fisherman, made his wife’s day by paying about four times more than the fixed fuel price, then walked thru the tiny village. There was a chapel on a hill, and at the foot of the steps leading up to the chapel was a frangipani tree. In its branches were two amazon parrots, and the baby came down to sit on a limb just inches from where we stood. That was the only thing of interest in the village, besides ourselves, or so it seemed, everyone stared at us as if we were aliens from outer space. The only way to get to this village is by boat, and I don’t expect they get much in the way of tourists.

Next stop was Laguna Grande, a dry desolate wasteland of red hills, bushy mangroves and murky water. We stayed one night but the morning mosquitos chased us out.
Next stop was Madrigal Village, a surprising little oasis in the middle of a desert wasteland. Owned by a Frenchman and his lovely Venezuelan wife, Madrigal Village is a resort complex catering specifically to cruising sailors. It does have the occasional Venezuelan tourist staying for a day or two, but Its pretty basic compared to what most Americans idea of what a vacation resort should look like. Considering where this place is located, and what most of us cruisers are used to, it’s a welcome little touch of luxury and decadence. Its amenities include a swimming pool, bar and restaurant, ping-pong, table hockey, billiards and volleyball, laundry services, hot showers, hammocks strung in the shade of a palapa at the end of the dock, and an ultralight amphibian airplane (in need of repairs.) For the traveling couch potato, they even have an air conditioned television room, complete with couch and cable TV. There are rooms for rent, and excursions available to caves, hot springs, or just the weekly Saturday morning market trip.

We arrived on a Monday, a long wait for the Saturday morning market trip, so I decided to just make my own way into town and see what kind of marvelous adventures I would encounter. I waited on the windless and steamy road for over an hour, staring at nothing but cactus, dirt, and a cloudless sky before the first vehicle even passed by. The second vehicle to pass gave me a lift. It was a pick-up truck, and rather than have me sit in back with the fuel drums and dirt, I was invited up front. I was given a ride all the way into Cariaco with a little boy asleep on my lap, a 45 minute drive down a bumpy dirt road. In my awful spanish I explained to my saviors who I was and where I came from. The driver offered to wait for me and drive me back to the resort when I was done in the market, but my adventure had just begun, so I declined the ride back, deciding to take my chances on the hospitality of other desert dwellers. I had great fun in the market, taking pictures of the shop keepers who patiently put up with my feeble communication skills. The market was well stocked with all the necessities, and I was able to fill my backpack with much needed fresh veggies and meat. I wanted to bring home a live chicken, but knowing Jack, he would most likely make ME kill and clean the poor thing, so I settled for a chicken that was just killed that morning, already gutted and most of the feathers removed. After stopping for a snowcone, I walked thru the busy little town to the plaza where busses and taxis picked up passengers, but none of them would go all the way out to Madrigal Village for less than 20,000 bolivars. Instead of paying such an exorbitant amount, I got in a por puesto (shared taxi) for 1000 bolivars that took me to the next village, thinking I could hitch a ride again down the dusty dry road to Madrigal. The driver understood what I wanted, and before letting me off on the far side of nowhere, he flagged down a truck heading in the direction I needed to go. The truck stopped , the taxi told the truck driver I was a gringa in need of a ride, and I jumped in the back with 5 girls and two chickens (alive). The girls aged around 8 to eighteen were all sisters, the parents were in the front. They were on their way to a cottage out along the gulf where they would spend a few days vacation. I thanked them for their kindness and they let me off right in front of the resort. It was a nice trip to town, I always enjoy shopping in the local markets, and I met such kind and friendly people.

After 5 days of pampering ourselves, we left Madrigal for a change of scenery and headed to the south coast of the gulf. we poked our bows into a place called Pericantal but turned around when we saw the large number of loud and boisterous children playing in the water there, obviously a safe place to anchor, but we would inevitably be invaded by swarms of curious little people. Just a half mile further down we found a quiet bay with good protection from the wind, and dropped the hook there.

We took the kayak out for some exploring the next morning and met some fishermen in knee deep water harvesting shell fish, we found out from them information on the different kinds of clams, muscles, and oysters in the area, and what kind of bottom the different types could be found in. Further along the coast we found an abandoned copra plantation, the old house and out buildings were all built of wattle and were falling down on themselves, the grounds were badly overgrown with weeds but still we saw found banana, mango, guava, paw paw, and citrus trees. Unfortunately, the booty had already been pilfered by others long before we happened upon the potential treasure trove.
Later that afternoon, Another windless day, we motored across to the northern shore of the gulf, and anchored to the east of a small village called Guacarapo. Shortly after arrival we kayaked down the coast a couple miles, went in search of scarlet ibis but instead saw six pink flamingos, with their long elegant legs and necks, walking in the shallows side by side they looked like gunslingers slowly walking down a dusty main street to gun down the bad guys. As we got closer we startled them and they flew in circles over our heads, they looked like flying pink sticks.

Had dinner at a restaurant, the menu choices were fish and french fries or fish and french fries. So we had fish and french fries. I had a pepsi and jack had a beer, but when he asked for a second one, they told him they were out of beer. Sorry, out of Pepsi too. What do you expect on the back side of nowhere? The property the restaurant is on is called Bellorinero, 4 or 5 acres of land covered in fruit bearing trees. The property next door is for sale, has fruit trees also. It has a well built brick structure which includes 6 rental units and a dock. Our host from the restaurant, Senor Bellarinero said the price for the property next door is 400,000,000 bolivars, or about $16,000 US dollars. That really got me dreaming, yes well, Jack says it’s the back side of bumfuck, but I think it sure is a beautiful place.

Sunday afternoon, a special surprise visited Naga, boatloads of revelers came alongside and sang to us, accompanied by quatro and drums, the revelers cheered loudly when Jack accepted some fiery-tasting rum-based tincture to drink, the bottle was stuffed with suspicious looking roots and twigs. The party were celebrating their festival patronales, the patron saint of the coast dwellers and fishermen is Nuestra Virgin del Valle, our lady of the valley, the virgin Mary statues proudly displayed and decorated in the centers and bows of the fishing boats.

A couple days later, we motored Naga up into the head of the bay, just as far into the shallow water as we could safely get her. We were completely surrounded by mangroves so dense that the mouth of the river was well concealed. At first we thought we must have missed it, but we got into the kayak to take a look around anyway. We headed for what looked like a break in the trees, and just about when we spotted the river mouth, a torrential tropical downpour began. We took shelter under some overhanging trees, but we were soon soaked through. The rain was warm so we decided to keep going. We paddled up the Cariaco river in a nonstop deluge, the sight of scarlet ibis and other beautiful birds made us forget for a while how wet we were. The river was narrow with the trees overhead nearly meeting to form a lush green arch above. The river was the color of coffee with cream, and there was a substantial current but not so strong we couldnt paddle against it. The sights and sounds of the jungle surrounded us, awesome in its wild and untamed beauty. Jack really takes me to some fantastic places. We turned back long before we wanted to, we were getting chilled in our wet clothes and the rain showed no sign of stopping.

Heading west again, we said goodbye to the Gulf of Cariaco and all the magic and wonder it held. We sailed into Cumana, a large dirty Babylon where we could get internet access for a few days before we left again for prettier waypoints.

Marina Cumanagoto hasnt changed much since I was there 20 years ago. The concrete docks are still rough and dangerous to hull sides, and falling through the loose and cracked slabs still seemed a real hazard to life and limb. The price of diesel fuel and gasoline was still insanely cheap but the water, though free, was undrinkable. The massive consumer complex adjacent to the marina was brand new, complete with a movie theater, three cyber cafes, game room, food court and numerous boutiques and shops. A sure sign of globalization; rather than a stroll in the town plaza, that used to be the traditional evening social event, now it’s a stroll through the shopping mall.

Next stop, Mochima National Park. This is a beautiful area with deep clean water and dozens of well protected anchorages tucked up into tiny bays and tropical fiords. While anchored in front of the small town, we discovered a stowaway who must have climbed aboard in Cumana. The first night, we were helpless to do anything except confine him to the aft cabin and bilges, where he shamelessly peed all over my sail loft and chewed through the floorboards. The following morning, I took a por puesto back into Cumana, and jammed like sardines into the back of a jeep, we drove though Venezuela’s magnificent countryside. The splendor of the scenery made me forget how cramped and uncomfortable I was. The purpose of this excursion was to purchase a rat trap.

Unwelcome visitor and his mess taken care of, we continued our voyage of discovery in this beautiful corner of paradise. We anchored in another of the many bays with Susie and Mike on Malana for neighbors once again. The water was clear, the fish abundant and the coral reef colorful and enchanting.

Next stop: Babylon. (That’s what we call all big cities.) Puerto La Cruz is a large coastal city with marinas, boatyards and nautical facilities in abundance. The canals and waterways that zigzag through the area bear a close resemblance to those in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We “parked” Naga deep inside one of these “trailer parks” with neighbors just 12 inches away on both sides, and spent an airless and uncomfortable ten days crammed into this expensive gated community. Just outside the gates, separated from us by barbed wire and security guards packing cannons, was a barrio of such impoverished conditions that most yachties were afraid to step outside the marina, fearing attack and mugging.

Aside from the stifling heat and lack of privacy, I had a great time at the marina. I met some women to run and do yoga with in the mornings, and the swimming pool was a welcome antidote to the furnace the boat became every afternoon. I ran into an old friend who was lost to me by a twist of fate, and seeing him again brought back many nice memories. I was able to sell some of my canvas creations and jewelry at a swap meet the day before we left, and I threatened to dismember the staff at the drop-off laundry service that lost my clothes, towels and bed sheets.

Next stops were Isla Tortuga, Los Roques, Las Aves, Bonaire, Curacao, then on to Cartagena, Columbia.


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