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by Dan and Jan Ahart
We arrived off the coast of Puerto La Cruz (PLC), Venezuela on 27 May 2003, after leaving Margarita and cruising the Golfo de Cariaco for 10 days. Adjacent to downtown PLC is a development called El Morro. It is a community built around a system of canals reminiscent of those in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. El Morro means many different things in Spanish, one of which is "snout." However, the locals say morro means, "hill" and the area is named for a nearby one. Which makes some sense, I guess, since the area is a converted swamp. Perhaps it sounds better to call it "hill" instead of "swamp." Or maybe it's just one of those meanings that gets lost in translation. Whatever it means, it is a great location that includes four first class marinas, very modern high-rise condominiums, apartments, many luxurious private homes, a hotel and a beautiful modern shopping center. Everything in the complex is reachable by boat.
Deciding to indulge ourselves, we chose to stay at the Maremares hotel/marina, which is a large, luxurious resort adjacent to a very nice golf course. The hotel offers all the usual amenities one expects in a first class hotel, including 24-hour room service to cruisers in the marina. A free complimentary rum punch is offered to each new arrival and each Wednesday night a free cocktail hour is provided for cruisers at poolside. We contacted the dock master on the VHF radio and asked for directions. The assistant dock master, whose English is excellent, volunteered to meet us at the breakwater at the entrance to the channel into El Morro. He guided us, by dinghy, through the maze of canals to the marina and into a slip beside the dock master's office. Once we were securely attached to shore, we negotiated a daily rate of $12.00, which included water, electricity, cable TV and telephone with internet connection on the boat as well as unrestricted use of the hotel facilities. With this formality out of the way, the dock master, asked to see our checkout papers from Margarita. I stated that we did not check out of Margarita. I produced a copy of the Venezuelan law, issued on 30 August 2001, which eliminated the need for check-in and checkout between states. The dock master agreed that I understood the law correctly and I legally did not have to check-out of Margarita and in to PLC, but I was informed that the local harbormaster still required check-in fees and if he checked our papers he would give us a hard time. I said I would take my chances. We had no further trouble.
As nice as Maremares is, the most popular marina in El Morro is Bahia Redonda. It is a little cheaper, but it does not have cable TV or telephones for the boats. However, it does have a small grocery store that includes an internet café and long distance telephones. Plus there are weekly pot-luck BBQs, buffet dinners, free cocktail party on Fridays, dominoes on Sunday afternoons and periodic Saturday swap meets where extra supplies or equipment (treasures of the bilge) may be turned into cash or the old books and videos swapped for different ones.
La Plaza Mayor (the larger square), the shopping mall in El Morro, is easily accessible by dinghy. It includes banks, shops of all types, dentist, optometrist, pharmacy, multi-screen cinema and a wide variety of restaurants as well as a very up-scale super market called Unicasa, which is well stocked and busy although eggs, potatoes and flour were in short supply. And maple syrup was non-existent. However, it is a beautiful store with marble columns instead of the usual painted girders and even a very nice hand washing facility in the produce department for customers' use.
Obtaining Bolivars at a good exchange rate in PLC is very easy. Most marinas will purchase dollars via cash or personal check for an exchange rate of over 2,100 to one as opposed to the official rate of 1,585. Plus there are no service charges such as those experienced if credit cards are used at banks or ATMs.
Outside El Morro are two chandleries for boat supplies and equipment. There are also several large stores such as the EPA hardware store, which is much like a U.S. Home Depot. It has a great assortment of items from rugs to wrenches. There is also another large store with merchandise ranging from tools, to clothes to groceries. It is called Exito and is modeled after a super Kmart or Walmart. A third discount store modeled after Sam's in the U.S. called Makro, is also a short taxi ride away. Membership is required, but a one-day membership card can be had for the asking.
Like most areas where a lot of cruisers can be found, a morning "cruisers net" operates each morning on VHF at 0745 Monday through Saturday. Cruisers take turns being coordinator (net control). The net is used for new arrivals to announce their presence, or departing cruisers to announce their departure. Someone usually gives a comprehensive weather report and general interest announcements are made and questions about supplies and services available can be asked of more experienced cruisers. It is a nice informal way of allowing everyone to stay in touch and feel part of the cruising community.
Our first few days in PLC were spent getting acquainted with old friends and having a look around. We also filled our diesel tanks and although it is not usually a pleasure doing so, this time I really enjoyed it as we paid the incredible price of eight and one half cents per gallon. Gasoline for the outboard was 17 cents a gallon. This is definitely the place to be if you have a fuel hungry powerboat. Most everything in Venezuela is very reasonably priced, but fuel, via the state run oil company, is definitely sold below cost. Interestingly, lubricating oil is not such a bargain. It averages about $1.50 a quart. But that may be because most lubricating oil is a BP or Shell Oil product, or maybe it is refined here under license. Regardless, we're not complaining.
One day Jan and I and another couple hired a local man to drive us around
town and show us the sites as well as help us locate some difficult to
find urethane insulation our friends wanted. Our "guide" was a laid off
engineer, who had worked in the oil business for a number of years and had
even worked in Houston, Texas for a couple of years so his English was
pretty good. He also helped us with our Spanish. We spent four hours
with him, visited several stores and learned a great deal about PLC and
Venezuela. His bill was a modest $18.00. Stay tuned.