Los Testigos & Isla Margarita - Venezuela
We had been o the Trinidad Carnival 2006, and now we were looking for a quiet place with clean water. In Chaguaramas the water is not good for bathing. Los Testigos, one of the islands north of Venezuela was just a short distance away. The roomers told us that the islands north of Venezuela are very pretty..
We have heard several stories about pirates at the coast of Venezuela . It was a theme for us, too. The stories of pirates in these waters, have frightened many people from sailing in these very beautiful waters. Sailors that do take the chanse, often “get bit” and stay in these waters for a long time. Especially among the islands north of Venezuela .
Together with Vanvara we got the anchor onboard just before sunset at Chaguaramas. Then we would arrive at Los Testigos during the morning hours the next day. We felt some safety in being two boats together in the unknown, possible pirate water. First we headed north towards Grenada for 30nm. To get a safe distance to the Venezuelan mainland, we sailed north to a Trindadian oil drilling platform, before we turned west for Los Testigos.
The wind was good and we had to take in a reef or two in the sails, to keep the same speed as Vanvara. It was quiet a nice tour to Los Testigos, except for Vanvara's rudder quadrant. It came loose from the rudderstock one and a half hour after we departed Chaguaramas. Anne steered the boat by the wind rudder, and Jørgen was the mechanic. After one hour in the heavy seas we could continue the journey for Los Testigos.
We arrive Los Testigos, or “the Witnesses” at 1100. We dropped the anchor in the bay at the south side between Testigo Grande and Testigo Pequeno. It did not take us long time to see that this was a lovely place.
When we passed around the north side of Testigo Grande, before we dropped the anchor, we had seen some large sand dunes at the east side of the island. We had to explore that part of the island. The Vanvara and Empire crews jumped in the rubber dinghies to find the walk that would lead us to the sand dunes. In a bay a bit south we took the dinghies ashore. We met some friendly local people that showed us the right way. It was a warm, exciting walk through cactus and Manchinel trees to get to the sand dunes. The sand dunes are at a hight of 100 meters above sea level, and it was a very nice view form up there. We followed the sanddunes down to the beach, and “slided” into the water.
At a place like this, you really get a feeling of being on tour. There is no rental boats in the vicinity and the best restaurant is our own grill at the beach with newly caught fish.
160 people live at Los Testigos. Moustly fishing families living of what the sea can offer them. There is no electricity at the islands, there is no ferry and no airport At Isla Iguana Grande, where most of the people live, there is a very small “shop”, a school and a church.
At the same island is also a small Coast Guard station located. Here we had to make a report of our arrival to Venezuelan territories. The Coast Guard decides how long you are allowed to stay at the islands before you have to do a real check in at the mainland or at one of the bigger island. Normally you are allowed to stay for 48 hours.
Jørgen and Eivind took the dingy to the Coast Guard to check in. When we had used our 48 hours, we did not feel like we were ready to leave yet. We would like to see some more of these beautiful islands. After some thinking, Vanvara and Empire agreed that we had mistaken 7 in the morning for 7 in the evening, and stayed even until the next morning before we left the islands. The Coast Guard does only speak very bad English or Spanish, and we only spoke English… At 7 o'clock in the evening we announced our departure for Isla Margarita to the Coast Guard at the VHF. It was a funny conversation in English/Spanish, and Jørgen from Vanvara could hardly speak, because he was laughing, when he announced Vanvara's departure after us. The Coats Guard wished us a happy sailing.
Isla Margarita was our next and last stop in Venezuela . We departed from Los Testigos at 500 in the morning, to bee sure to arrive Porlamar at Isla Margarita in daylight. It was calm peaceful downwind sailing from Los Testigos to Porlamar.
The ”Skyline” at Porlamar, the biggest city at Isla Margarita, can bee seen from fare away when you approach the island from east. When we got closer we could see that many of the high buildings had “airconditione naturale”. The buildings were only skeletons with floors and pillars, completely abandoned. The builders probably turned broke during the start of the building process…
We dropped the anchor outside Marina Juan in the bay of Porlamar . We had heard it was a good idea to use an agent to do the check in by the Venezuelan government. It was a bit strange to give away our passports and ships papers to a stranger. We got our confidence in Marina Juan, even though he probably makes good money at our check in and out. I we should have done the work ourselves it would probably have taken us two days. And our Spanish is still not very good…
You can also deliver your empty gas bottles and your laundry to Marina Juan in the morning. And you get the bottles back full and the laundry back clean, dry and ironed in the evening. And to a reasonable PRICE. That is luxury.
A lot of things are cheap at Isla Margarita. A lot of people get here to do some shopping. And everything is toll free. Some of the weekdays Marina Juan have organized bus tours to some of the shopping centers in Porlamar for the sailors. After two hour of shopping the buses returns to Marina Juan with the sailors, followed by a separate truck with all the merchandise and groceries. We dealed for 700.000 Bolivars in one of the shops – an enormous amount and a big pile of paper – but when it all comes to the end it is not more than 2.000 NOK. For these amount we stocked up Empire for several weeks ahead.
In Venezuela it can be a good idea to bring some US dollars. The exchange rate varies a lot, and the poorest exchange rate you get in the banks. At the streets many people want to trade with US dollar, but that is illegal. If you take the chance, you have to be on the alert, because the traders often are nimble-fingered, and end up cheating you for a lot of money. If you pay with US dollars in some of the big shops, you get the best exchange rates ( at about 2700 Bolivares for 1 US dollar ). If you have to withdraw money from an ATM, you also have to be careful, and do not accept help from anyone. Don't let even the old ladies give you a hand with the transfer…
We wanted to see more of Isla Margarita, but we did not have the time to sail around the island. Instead we ended up in an old Dodge “quarting” from the days of the war. And the driver was the worlds best guide. It was a nice exciting day at the back of the red Dodge. For Jørgen it was “love by first sight”, when he saw the Dodge coming to pick us up at Marina Juan. We travelled almost all over Isla Margarita that day. We visited the National Park at the Highest mountain, and we visited the famous beach at the west side of Isla Margarita. We also went for a ride in a local lagoondolas in the water in the mangroves. We drove through “the Channel of love” and “the Channel of kiss” – very romantic. And from the boat we could see pelicans and other birds of which we don't remember the names. In Boca de Rio we visited the naval museum. Here we could se live fish of different spices and skeletons of Flippers and whale. The museum was interesting, and gave a good view of the fishermen's life at the island. The following off road tour, or jeep massage, in the sand dunes at the north coast of Isla Margarita was climax for the male part of the passengers…
We should have had some more time to explore more of the islands north of Venezuela , but now we had to sail back to Chaguaramas. We had to go back to give Empire a “spring shine up” and to get on some new antifouling.
It was sad to wave “See you some time” to Vanvara with Anne and Jørgen after spending so much time together, when we left. We have seen much of each other the latest months. Vanvara is soon heading north, towards Bermuda, Azores and back to Norway … We are staying out here for some more years, and hope to see them onboard our ship maybe on another Ocean…