Venezuelan Mainland.

2nd September - 25th October 2002

More than a little unnerved after our boarding during the night we left the island of Cubagua for the mainland on 2nd September at first light.

Despite the forecast of 10 - 15 knots of wind, about an hour and half into the 60 mile passage, we realised that there was no wind at all and it didn't look like any would arrive later.   At this moment it also dawned on us that we'd run our diesel so low, not wanting to buy any at Caribbean prices and also to reduce weight for haul out, that in fact we very probably didn't have enough fuel to motor all the way to Puerto La Cruz.   Pretty stupid with all the people who had been trying to sell us diesel in Margarita!    Finally we decided that we'd have to divert to the town of Cumana, about 15 miles away on the mainland, to pick up some fuel at the "full service marina with fuel dock" described in the pilot book.

On arrival, the entrance to the marina, which passed over a shallow bar, was quite nerve-wracking and with the luck we'd been having in the past 24 hours, of course we found that the fuel dock had run out of diesel!

The only use for the sign at the fuel dock in Cumana, a perch for tired pelicans!

 

Quite exhausted by worrying about the attempted robbery and the fuel situation, we decided to check into the marina overnight and take a taxi to a filling station, to pick up some diesel.   We didn't really have any choice, so we parked up our still-not-legally-checked-in-to-Venezuela-boat between the customs boat, the coast guard boat and the navy boat on the pontoon.   We'd been in Venezuelan waters now for a week and nobody seemed to care.   We weren't able to check in there either, as the bureaucracy would take too long and we wanted to leave for Puerto La Cruz at first light.

 

We found a friendly taxi driver, Alex,  to drive us to pick up fuel, 88 litres of diesel for 4000 Bolivars (less than 2), the same price as the taxi fare!    Made our way back past the security guards armed with sawn-off shotguns (a little off-putting but at least we slept soundly after the previous nights disruption) and refueled Anju.    This was our first visit to a marina, with free and plentiful water for about 3 months and we made the most of it by washing Anju down and indulging in a small water fight!   Naturally, as soon as we finished the heavens opened, making the whole exercise a waste of time, as Anju got washed all over again.   It seemed ironic that we'd headed to Venezuela to find dry conditions for sandblasting and when we arrived at the mainland, it rained continuously and heavily for 12 hours!   The weather kept us aboard for the evening, watching a man with a dancing donkey on local TV!

 

Anju safely moored at CMO in Puerto La Cruz.

Next morning we motored through the beautiful Mochima National Park to Puerto La Cruz.   It's a pity that cruisers are so nervous at the moment about anchoring in the quiet bays around there, due to several armed robberies which have happened, as it would be a perfect, tranquil cruising area for exploring.

We arrived at Puerto La Cruz, after almost being run down by the high speed catamaran ferry to Margarita and after a scary stern-to parking manoeuvre, next to a several million pound super-yacht, we went ashore to meet the friendly team at CMO, the boatyard where Anju was to be sandblasted and finally, finally, to check in to Venezuela.

After finalising all the details with Luis Sanchez, the manager, we arranged our haul-out for the following Monday, leaving us a few days to explore the surrounding area.

 

All the marinas are located in what was once a mangrove swamp and has now been converted into a luxury residential area.    The security is excellent, the beautiful houses, each with their own private dock are quite stunning and at one end of the two square kilometre complex is a shopping mall with cinema and excellent supermarket, all within easy reach by dinghy.   The whole area is a striking contrast to the residential area which lies between CMO and the city centre of Puerto La Cruz, which has the very inappropriate name of Paraiso (Paradise).   There toddlers run around with no clothes on and all the houses are lean-to shanties.    Times are very hard for many Venezuelans at the moment.

 

 

Views of the area around CMO.

 

 

The following Sunday was the Fiesta de la Virgen del Valle (or something like that), the festival of the patron saint of the fishermen.    All the local boats were jazzed up with balloons and flags, some also with bands aboard to provide entertainment and a procession was held through the lagoon complex and across the bay to the town of Puerto La Cruz.   It turned out all the banging we'd been hearing wasn't gunfire (just how paranoid were we getting!) but firecrackers in honour of the saint.   Quite a relief as we'd been hearing the noise every night since we arrived!

Anju was hauled the next day and within a week all the sandblasting was finished very efficiently and professionally by Alfredo and Adrian.   We were very pleased to actually see for ourselves that the steel below the waterline is in excellent condition.  Miraculously the whole job, including nine coats of paint was completed within ten working days and we were amazed how quickly we were back in the water.   It was great to get away from the heat and mosquitoes in the yard so soon!   We were very pleased with the quality of the work.  Unfortunately our budget didn't stretch to repainting the topsides too but we'll probably be back next year for that.

Party boat off to join the procession.

Before the blasting - whole chunks of paint had just fallen off, leaving plenty of room for barnacles!

Alfredo and his handiwork during sandblasting.

After launching Anju, it was time for some routine maintenance on the crew.    We had our eyes tested and got new glasses from Ivan Castillo, a very friendly and entertaining optician at Optica Profesional de la Vision in the city centre.    

Next came the much overdue and dreaded visit to the dentist recommended by Judi in the CMO office.  Our fears were justified, Phil needed a filling but this was carried out painlessly and without anesthetic by hi-tech laser treatment.   Christine had to have an old filling replaced and horror of horrors, they wanted to pull out her wisdom teeth again.   A fact which Christine had been trying to ignore since it was recommended by the previous dentist in St. Barts.    Christine is not the sort of person who normally hides from problems, so this is an indication of how terrified she was about having this operation.     

We thought about waiting to have this done in the UK but on meeting the lovely dental surgeon, Julio, with his charming and reassuring bedside manner, who trained in the US and Germany, we decided to get the ordeal over with.   Despite the four days of anxiety waiting for the big day, the operation was fine and despite a passing resemblance to a hamster, Christine was weaned onto solid food again after only a couple of days!    Thanks to Julio for making a frightening ordeal much more bearable and for calling to the boat next day to check up on the patient! 

 

Not a crazy woman but post operative therapy to reduce swelling.  It was supposed to be ice packs but as we don't have ice aboard, cold drinks had to do instead.

 

During our stay at CMO's marina in Puerto La Cruz, we have finally made use of the portable air conditioner which has been lashed down in our forepeak since we left Cardiff.  It has certainly helped to make the nights more bearable, although on occasion it struggles to keep up with the temperature here which is constantly in the 90s with humidity around 88%.   It was probably designed for British weather.    On occasion water leaks out of the bottom and one morning when we discovered that this had happened again and the water had run down into a deep bilge in the back cabin, it was decided that it was Christine's turn to hang down the hole to dry up the offending water.    

This was successfully completed and several minutes later Phil was greeted by the sight of Christine running from the back cabin, still in her nightwear of course, looking pale and saying, "I think you'd better take at look at something I found in the bilge".  Knowing that if she actually told him what she'd find, she would never get him to take a look, as it was the most enormous SPIDER she'd ever seen outside a zoo, about the size of a human hand with big, thick, hairy legs and it was happily living right under our bed, aargh!!!!!

Naturally the Captain delegated the task of retrieval of the beastie to the first mate and a few moments later the bemused security guard in the patrol tower behind our boat was treated to the spectacle of Christine running down the pontoon, still in her nightwear, naturally, with the offending arachnid trapped inside a container for release outside.   Unfortunately part of the way to the garden where he was to be freed, the spider decided the container was too small and made a break for it, resulting in an ear-splitting scream from Christine and the container and spider all being hurled into the nearby bushes.    Luckily he escaped unscathed and we hope he won't be back, although perhaps he'd make an effective Pest Control Officer.    Unfortunately we were too shocked to take any pictures for evidence but next time you find yourself scared by a small spider in the bath, just think of us!
 

The boat next to us in the marina belongs to a lovely Italian couple from Caracas, Guilio and Giancarla and their young son Lucas.   They often visit on weekends and one Saturday night we enjoyed a barbecue with them and their friends from an American yacht, Destiny.   Guilio has been helping us investigate travel options and also keeping us posted on developments with the current political situation in Venezuela and giving us first hand reports from the demonstration marches held in Caracas.   It's always such a help to have some local knowledge.  We're hoping to meet up with Guilio and Giancarla again on our next visit to Venezuela or elsewhere in the Caribbean if they managed to take their planned sabbatical with their own boat.

Our neighbours Guilio, Giancarla and Lucas on their boat.

After all our hard work on Anju and ourselves, we have found ourselves in a social whirl, with old cruising friends arriving and many new friends we have made here.  Our new friends Ron and "Teresa Cerveza" on Odyssey, who have been here for 9 months took us one evening to "No. 4", one of four bars on the seafront outside their marina which are constructed entirely of concrete, (including the tables and chairs) where we indulged in the most enormous, delicious langostinos or very large prawns.   The portion was 8 langostinos each which was a struggle even for Christine the langostino fanatic.   All that indulgence proved too much for Christine's still delicate jaws, however, and next day she was back in the dentist's chair when a splinter of needle-sharp bone suddenly appeared through her gum and had to be delicately removed with a big pair of pliers by Julio! 

The Wednesday night "Manager's cocktail party" at Maremares, a five star hotel and marina complex nearby, has also become a regular fixture and not merely because for an hour all the cocktails are free, although that must increase it's popularity amongst the impoverished cruisers.  We've also spent several delightful evenings with the CMO manager Luis and his charming wife Marian with an assortment of other cruisers.

So as the time approaches when we must leave Puerto La Cruz, we find we keep putting off our departure.    It's not a prospect we're looking forward to, heading against the wind back to Grenada, from where we want to fly home over Christmas, so any excuse to delay seems acceptable....the weather, the general strike taking place on Monday, another trip to No. 4.   Slowly, we are getting Anju ready for sea again after her two month break and we have our ticket to pick up our 500 litres of diesel for 10.43, so all we have to do is cast off when the moment is right.   Next year we hope to be back for longer and make some trips inland.

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