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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Sixty-Six

On 9 May 2003, we renewed our paperwork, which would allow us to stay in Venezuela another 90 days and the next day departed Porlamar, on the island of Margarita, for the Venezuelan mainland. The weather dictated that we make the trip in two stages. First, we sailed downwind to the island of Cubagua. Since this time of the year, the trade winds blow every day out of the east at about 5 knots in the morning, building to 20 to 25 knots by mid-day and tapering off to 5 knots again after sunset, it behooves prudent sailors, who are trying to sail eastward to be in a sheltered anchorage by 1100 hours or suffer a rough ride bucking wind and waves. In a larger body of water, tacking into the wind would be acceptable, but in these relatively shallow waters with islands around, the period between the waves is so short that the ride can really be an ordeal. Cubagua lies southwest of Margarita and seemed a good jumping off point for our run to the Golfo de Cariaco, which is a large 35 mile long by eight mile wide gulf that runs east and west along the north shore of Venezuela. The west end of the golfo is open and the east end tapers to a marshy area that is fed by mountain streams. So, after spending two nights anchored off Cubagua, we left at 0300 on 12 May and sailed south and then east into the golfo arriving at our first anchorage on the north shore in Bahia Puerto Real by 1030. Puerto Real is a small fishing village located on the shore of a small bay that is fairly well protected from the trade winds. Even so, by 1400 we had white caps in the bay. However, we were snugly anchored and spent the day and one night with very little rolling or pitching.

We left the next morning for Laguna Grande, which was only six miles eastward along the north coast. In order to see as much of the golfo as possible, we had decided to circumnavigate it in a clock wise manner, eventually arriving in Cumana, which is on the southwest shore. From there, it would be a scenic sail south by southwest to Puerto La Cruz, where we planned to stay a few weeks. Land along the western end of the golfo is very dry. Barren hills rise several hundred feet from the waters edge, not unlike Baja, California. The colors of the hills range from pale yellow to dark red with lots of shades of brown in between. It is a hauntingly beautiful area with sparse vegetation on the hills, but with green bands of mangrove along the waters' edge. Disappointingly, the water is not real clear in the golfo. Because of erosion from the surrounding hills, the bottom is mostly mud, which does not encourage clear water as coral or gravel would. Nonetheless, we stayed three days and three nights in Laguna Grande, enjoying the solitude and beautiful landscape.

The second day in Laguna Grande, our little fleet of three sailboats was visited by a young boy of 11 named Antonio, who rowed out to visit us from a nearby village. He was very polite and very curious about where we were from and what we thought of Venezuela. He only spoke a few words of English, which surprised and disappointed us because either he did not attend school or English was not taught. We were able to communicate effectively however as he was very patient with our bad Spanish and was very quick to pick up English words. I am sure we weren't the first cruisers he had visited, in that he made it known very quickly that he and his parents would appreciate any gift we could give him. In this manner he collected two soft drinks from each of the other boats. We gave him some bread Jan had baked and half a jar of peanut butter. Preferring trade to gifts, I told him before he left that if he would bring us some fresh fish the next day, I would pay him for them. This seemed to interest him a great deal and the next day he indeed brought us 12 pan-sized local fish. They were fresh, however, and a deal was a deal, so I bought them. That made him very happy and with many pledges of friendship he rowed home. We cleaned and fried the fish for a delicious lunch.

On the 16th, we left Laguna Grande and motored east along the north shore past several rustic villages to Punta Guarcarapo, which is only a few miles from the east end of the golfo. We spent the night there, but did not go ashore. The next day, we continued east for another two miles and anchored off a restaurant that we had heard was very good. Indeed it was and the six of us (one couple from each boat) had a great time. The restaurant was spacious and was family owned, but because of the poor Venezuelan economy, we were the only customers, so we got royal treatment. The whole family waited on us and our dinner was excellent.

The most eastern village on the golfo is Muelle Cariaco, which means Cariaco Dock or Pier. Before the road was built to Cumana, at the other end of the bay, most commerce to and from the east end of the golfo traveled by boat into and out of Muelle Cariaco, but today, the big wharf is gone and only small fishing piers remain. The population is probably not more than a few hundred, including cats and dogs. The main industry seems to be fishing although there is a shrimp farm nearby and some tourism due to subterranean caves that were reported to be about a 45 minute drive by taxi. Not being interested in spelunking, we avoided the caves. The other main attraction for this area is the nature preserve and habitat of hundreds of scarlet ibis. The ibis are about the size of a domestic chicken, but with much longer necks and legs and narrow bills almost as long as their legs. As the name implies they are scarlet, but simply saying that in no way describes the beauty of these birds. They are so bright red from toe to beak that they look iridescent. At first glance, they look artificial, like some decoy that has been sprayed with red day-glow paint. Up close they still look artificial until they move. None of us had ever seen anything like them, even in zoos. While at anchor off Muelle Cariaco, we were visited twice by children, who would row out to stare at us, practice an English word or two and ask for candy. We really don't like to reward begging for candy, but these kids were so polite and curious, we could not resist them.

We left Muelle Cariaco and sailed westward back along the north coast to a small resort that we had passed on the way eastward because it looked closed and no one answered our radio calls. The resort is named Medregal Village and indeed they were open. They had not heard our earlier radio calls. The facility includes a small motel of 8 rooms, a saltwater swimming pool, first class restaurant, pool table, ping pong table and European style "football" table as well as a laundry and free hot showers for cruisers. Again, because of the economy, we were the only customers, so again we got the royal treatment. We stayed three days and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Stay tuned.

Dates: 2003-05-09, 2003-05-20
Locations: Porlamar, Margarita, Laguna Grande, Punta Guarcarapo, Muelle Cariaco, Venezuela

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.