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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Sixty-Eight

When we purchased Sojourner in December 1998, a dinghy with a 1992 vintage Evinrude, 10 hp outboard motor was included. At that time the 'rude didn't run, but our son overhauled the carburetor and it ran fine until about mid 2002, when it started acting up again. Over a six month period, I overhauled the carburetor again, replaced sparkplugs and sparkplug wires, filters and even the fuel pump. Each effort was rewarded with a few weeks excellent performance, but then it would get balky and hard to start again. Then one day in January of 2003 the starter recoil spring broke. We were in Trinidad at the time and a new spring wasn't easy to find, but eventually we located one. For both of us, it seemed the last straw. When we got to Isla Margarita, Venezuela, a tax free zone, we bought a new 15 hp Yamaha and sold the old 'rude. It was the right decision. The new Yamaha starts every time with one pull and has enough power to get the dinghy up on the plane quickly where we can then throttle back. I actually think, this engine burns less fuel than the 10 hp 'rude, that had to run wide open to keep us on the plane.

Since arriving in Puerto La Cruz, on the mainland of Venezuela, we have been busy with various projects again. Nothing serious like we engaged in while in Trinidad, but nagging jobs like replacing rusty hinge screws for our 14 hatch covers. Over the years we had replaced many of them with a hodge-podge of different sized screws, which while functional always bothered us. So, we bought 200 matching screws and set about replacing all 168 old ones. We have to allow for a few malcontents that will jump ship during installation. Of course saying that we will replace screws is easier than doing it. Most of the holes had to be filled with new fiberglass as they had been drilled out previously to allow over sized screws to fit. So as not to appear fanatical about this and other projects we limit ourselves to working during the cool hours between 0700 and 1000. After all, swimming and dominoes cannot be neglected.

Another favorite diversion is going to the movies. The cinema at the Plaza Mayor boasts four screens where we can see first run American movies in English with Spanish sub-titles. A main floor (patio) ticket is 3,500 Bolivars or about $1.50. Balcony (balcon) seats are 3,000 Bs. A very large box of popcorn is 2,000 Bs and a very large pepsi is 1,500 Bs. Affordable, as cruisers say - not cheap. And the theaters are very nice and clean with very comfortable reclining seats. And as has been true throughout the islands, the air conditioning is formidable.

Living in a marina, even one as nice as Maremares, has its disadvantages. With the close living it is not so easy to have a lot of privacy. Someone is always walking by the boat and many stop to say hello. Being close to a lot of friendly cruisers is a lot of fun, but it is also not exactly what we had in mind when we started cruising. We are much more comfortable at anchor than in a marina in that we have more privacy and we don't have to pay a marina fee. But anchoring around Puerto La Cruz is not an option. The only safe place to be is in a marina. So, we tried to take advantage of the marina while we could, especially the ease of shopping. While at anchor everything purchased has to be carried to the boat in a dinghy and sometimes that is not real convenient. So, we did a lot of shopping for odds and ends while we had convenient taxi service and the ease of walking on and off the boat.

At the regular Wednesday night cocktail party at the marina, we have a chance to meet new cruisers, but we also meet Americans and Brits, who are staying at the hotel. Even though it is said to be a cruisers' party, the hotel invites other foreigners to attend. Most foreign guests at the hotel are men and most of them are in the oil business. Not surprisingly, many are from Texas or Oklahoma or have at least worked in one of those states. Since Jan and I are from Texas, it is always fun to meet someone who is familiar with our home state. And speaking of parties, the marina manager and her staff went all out for we Americans on the fourth of July. The pool bar and BBQ area by the pool were reserved for us from noon on and was decorated with dozens of U.S. flags. Recorded music was provided with lots of 50s and 60s music for us seniors as well as all the familiar patriotic songs, including to our great pleasure - Dixie. It was a pot-luck affair with about 25 cruising couples providing everything one could ask for in the way of potato salad, beans, slaw, garlic bread and deserts. Management provided the charcoal and managed the fire and each couple grilled whatever they had brought for themselves. Three of the cruisers were very talented. One sang and played guitar, one played drums and one played harmonica and concertina. Management also provided noisemaking paper horns, door prizes and a huge cake with frosting in the shape and color of the U.S. flag including all 50 stars. It was without a doubt the best 4th we have experienced since starting our cruise.

During the celebrations I had a conversation with a retired history professor about the link between Arab or Muslim countries and terrorism. He noted that the word "assassin" comes from the Arabic word hashishi (the "h" is silent), which means hashish-eater. It seems that in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries an Islamic sect, the Nizari Ismailis, took hashish when committing acts of religious terrorism. He further opined that the U.S. would certainly have an impact on Iraq, but it would not equal the impact Iraq would have on the U.S. He explained that since Mohammed wrote the Koran in the seventh century, Islam has shrouded an Arabic history that is basically tribalism, and terrorism that continues to supercede nationalism. And that this "culture of death" as he put it, has survived to this day. Not a pleasant thought and one that truly baffles me. But then, many cultures are difficult to understand, even many in the U.S.

I am reminded of a memorable poem from the fictional musings of King Henry VI in the short story, "Neither Pity, Love nor Fear," by Margaret Frazer.

How God must weep to watch the foolishness of men
Or mayhap he laughs
Or simply leaves the tears and laughter all to us

Stay tuned.

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