Thursday, February 12, 2009

Los Roques

February 10, 2009
Caya de Agua, Los Roques, Venezuela
coordinates 11 50.386N,066 55.623W

We've just rounded out an incredibly peaceful week in the islands of Los Roques, Venezuela. Without any true guidebooks and charts that were measuring a consistent 1/2 of a mile off to the north, the navigation was interesting but worth the effort. We entered the archipelago at the southeast entrance and snug ourselves in behind the reef at the Sebastapol anchorage. Small spits of soft white fine sand surrounded by old piles of coral and light blue waters. You can walk forever in the water up
to only your knees. No palm trees to be seen but green patches of salt wort, a low lying succulent of sorts, cover parts of the tiny island bits. Piles of conch shells are left behind with the distinctive hole cut into their side where others have made a tasty meal out of them. Shelled creatures of the smaller size, specifically hermit crabs o' plenty here. Once you sat on the beach and let your eyes adjust, you would see the entire sandscape come alive as the hundreds of tiny critters were busily
going about their business, walking to and fro across their own horizons. The only other living creatures we spied were the occasional day trip boats coming out to view the islands and then head back to the main island of Gran Roque. We spent 4 wonderful days there filling our mornings with school and boat projects and afternoons with swimming, exploring and hermit crab races. The ideal spot with calm flat shallow waters, consistent 15-20 knots of winds, made this location perfect for kite boarding.
Our challenge for the moment was a misbehaving alternator we thought. We changed it out with the back up only to find out it is the regulator instead. Changed it out again with the back up to the back up that happens to have it's own built in regulator. Though not as efficient, for now it will do fine. The great winds and bright sunshine are keeping the batteries topped off nicely, but no rain to speak of.

Since we are officially checked out of Venezuela, we are technically treading illegally in Venezuelan waters. They have created a system that makes it nearly impossible for sailors such as ourselves to visit these islands legally. The only place to check out of the country is back at the mainland and to sail back there would be too great of a challenge. So people do as we are and simply avoid the main island of Gran Roques just a stones throw away. The locals we have met thus far have been very
friendly and cordial, letting us know that we are safe to continue on as we go. Very rarely the coast guard will do a sweep of the islands at which time we would likely have to pay a fine and head on our way. So until then, we continue to play ignorant and apologize after.

Next stop was the island of Francisqui in the northeast corner just beside Gran Roque. The few happy tourists that are visiting here are brought over in water taxi's each day to enjoy the same shallow waters and simple beach. Again a great location for kite boarding though we are spoiled now with having the anchorage all to ourselves and perfectly flat waters. We lasted only two nights here before moving on. Further west, the island of Crasqui was our next stop for one night. Anchored in 10 feet
of sand we spent the time watching the pelicans scoop up their fair share of the plentiful fish. Sometimes soaring from high above to dive bomb and capture their prey but just as often, here they simply sit in the water, dunk their heads in and scoop up a mouthful. We have also noticed the green cloud phenomenon that we've seen on one or two other occasions. As the low cumulous clouds roll over the widespread shallow light blue waters and green islands, they reflect the green colors off their bottom,
giving your green clouds as plain as St. Patty's day.

Last stop, Caya de Agua, the farthest point west in Los Roques. Again, anchoring in only 10' of sand after negotiating our way around some coral reefs. This island seems to be home to hundreds of small black and brown lizards and to the thriving population of Brown Boobie birds. Dozens of their nests dot the shoreline set back up in the grasses. The mommies are all protectively sitting on their clutches of 4 or so eggs. No babies have hatched yet that we can see. After our experience in Isla
Isabella, Mexico, we know that you don't mess with a Bobbie mama and her babies. They'll chase you and go straight for your toes and ankles to keep you away.

A lovely anchorage, we stayed 3 nights. The waters here are a bit more choppy and rolly, and the waters not quite to clear close to shore. We took a quick snorkle at a nearby reef to find little coral and a few fun fish but not much else. The locals seems to come up with some great goods of lobsters, large fish and conch shells every time they go down. We'll have to see if we can go with them next time.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Isla Margarita, Venezuela

Saturday January 31, 2009
Porlamar, Isla Margarita, Venezuela
coordinates 10 57.075N,063 49.916W

We had more motoring than sailing on our way to Venezuela than we had hoped, so now we really did need to stop for fuel. We were understandably unsure and apprehensive about staying long at this destination due to the overwhelming reports that came out regarding the increased physical violence along with the armed robberies that had been occurring here. The bay itself does not have a lot of redeeming values to it though the water is clean enough to swim in. The skyline of shore is surprisingly
tall with hotels and office buildings. We did not expect that. The shoreline itself has much the feel of a very run down barrio and the down town feels like a bustling once upon a time tourist destination. The taxi cab drivers we met were extremely helpful, friendly and were happy to let us know that they loved living there, it was better than the main land. Safer for them but not for tourists, too many guns. That little hand signal for gun is universal. According to all of them Chavez is crazy
and Obama is great.

We timed our arrival for sunrise Monday morning, hoping that we could check in, get fuel and check out potentially in a days time. Oh well. There are 50+ boats anchored there at any given time and some look like they have been there for 50 years. It is a good place to "lose" yourself if so desired. Try to explain that concept to your kids. Though we never felt threatened ourselves, we never felt relaxed either, especially at night. It is recommended that you lock yourself in and bring all items
inside that might grow feet. Not in our entire travels have we ever been told to "lock yourself in". Usually we sleep with all the doors and windows open. On shore you can meet Juan of Marina Juan. Full of information and well spoken he offers a wide variety of services from propane on tue/thur, laundry 5 bolivars/kg, free shuttle mon/wed to town for a shopping experience and provisioning. There is a huge selection of books for trade and he'll gladly do your check in/out for you for a fee.
Approximately $290 Bolivars in/ $250 Bolivars out for the four of us. Or you can do it yourself at the Coast Guard just down the beach for much less. We checked in with him and then realized we could check out on our own saved about $120. Taxi cab rides are 12-15 bolivars and they'll take you right down town for your shopping or money exchanging needs. At the bank the exchange rate is 2.5 Bolivars to 1 USD. At the little clothing store "Ellos" across the street from the BP fuel station you can
safely get the black market exchange rate of 5 Bolivars to 1 USD, which everyone recommends you do. Don't change money on the street by solicitors as they will likely run off with your money. Following everyone's advise we went to the clothing store to get the most bang for our buck but are still have questionable feelings as to whether or not we just contributed to some underground drug ring.

We did eventually get our fuel. Though we made appointments for him to come Monday afternoon, then Tuesday morning, how about Tuesday afternoon, he finally appeared Wed at 4pm. That is island time. Happy to help, he drove his panga (fishing boat) up beside us and let his partner hand crank the 300 liters into out tanks. It was worth the wait at 40 cents/gallon. As Bruce says, what fuel crisis.

Lastly, no trip to Venezuela would be complete with out some discussion of the booming plastics industry. A whole new lesson in anatomy, it is apparently very common and very cheap to have breast augmentation done here. We heard stories that it can be a right of passage for many 16 year old girls. Easy to say we have never seen so many big boobies in all our days. Grandma, mom, daughter, right on down the line, everyone was wearing them. The boys seem remarkably unaffected by the anatomy lesson,
mom and dad were still flabbergasted. We debated, fuel ??? new boobs ??? fuel ??? new boobs ???. OK, this time we needed fuel more.

Happy to have the company of the pelicans and frigate birds again we are moving on to more remote waters. Currently under sail and half way to our next destination of the atolls and islands of Los Roques and Aves before heading onto the ABC's. Though it was tough to unplug from the internet we are very excited to seek some more peaceful settings and get our feet wet.

until next time,
your Ohana Kai crew
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