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In addition to an extensive coastline, Venezuela has 72 islands in the
Caribbean...most accessible only by boat.  Though each island and
island group shared many traits, each had a personality all its own
which we endeavored to discover and explore.  We spent 1-1/2
months in the islands before ever heading to Puerto la Cruz and the
mainland.  Without exception, we found the islands a delight.  The few
inhabitants were friendly and courteous.  The politics of the mainland
were never evident in these outlying areas and even the cosmopolitan
island of Margarita showed little evidence of the political unrest
endemic elsewhere in Venezuela.
We left Chaguaramas, Trinidad around 1530 for the 95-mile sail to
Los Testigos.  Our informal entrance to Venezuela and South
America was made on 16 October 2002. The 16-hour journey was a
sailing delight…a broad reach northwest then a jibe southeast on a
port beam reach directly to the anchorage…it doesn’t get much
better. We had a northwest current helping us and we clocked 8-9
knots consistently on the GPS.
Los Testigos - The anchorage is cool and calm.  
The climate is dry and the breeze is constant.The
snorkeling is excellent and there are huge sand
dunes to climb.  This view of Nine of Cups is
taken from the top of the sand dune.
Along with 4 other cruising boat couples (Tu
Salen, Paramour, Negotiator, Avalon & Nine of
Cups), we took a day long guided tour of  
Margarita including  forts, castles and vistas.
Picture in your mind a beautiful, mostly
deserted Caribbean island with palm trees
swaying and white sandy beaches... you´ve
just conjured up Blanquilla.  The cruising
guide showed an anchorage on the west end
... near the two palms. Sure enough, here it is.
Our meeting with the local "abuela" and lots
of kids highlighted our visit ashore at
isolated Cubagua.  The kids met our dinghy
and "helped" us beach it. We gave them
powdered milk and some popcorn and
school supplies. In exchange,the kids gave
us some very fine shells and their mom
gave us some fish for dinner.
The Gulfo de Cariaco (Kahr-ree-AH-Ko) is
35 miles long and never more than 8 miles
wide.  It is bordered on the north by the red
clay hills of Peninsula de Araya and to the
south and east by mainland Venezuela.  Both
sides of the gulf offer spectacular scenery and
wonderful anchorages.  
Laguna Grande is an almost surreal setting.  The anchorage is surrounded on three sides by red
mountains that rise rather steeply from the water to about 600 feet.  We climbed to the top of one
and oh,  the views were spectacular.  Laguna Grande is quite large and there are several little bays
and islands... all of which were visible from the top of the hill.  The climb was somewhat arduous...
somewhat steep and lots of shale and cactus to keep your attention.  We stopped frequently
ostensibly to take pictures, but I was catching my breath if you really want to know the truth!  
s/y Nine of Cups
Venezuela's Out-Islands
2002
Los Testigos
Los Testigos (the Witnesses) are a small island group
consisting of about 5 main islands and several other little ones.  
Our informal entry to Venezuela
and South America were the Los
Testigos, about 90 miles from
Trindad.  Check-in is on Isla
Iguana Grande and  is a fishing
village of about 160 inhabitants
with a small school and church and
a Guardacosta (Coast Guard)
station. Checking in with the
Guardacosta was painless and
efficient. The Capitan’s wife,
Estrella, and 7-month old son,
David, were very friendly and I got
to hold not only the baby, but my
first full-fledged conversation with a
local in Spanish…I understood
about every fifth word, but you
have to start somewhere!
The beach area along Isla Iguana is
beautiful. The Guardacostas station is
located on a hill behind the beach.
Fishing boats abound and the local folk
were friendly.
The islands are arid and cacti thrive. A
white cross high on the hill on Isla
Iguana could be seen on our approach
from sea. True to its name, there are
lots of iguanas here…all sizes and
colors and to our surprise, they were in
the trees and jumped down when
startled. But then, who startled whom?
We moved from the anchorage near Isla Iguana across to
Balandra Bay off Testigo Grande island to have closer
access to the sand dunes and the lighthouse. Because the
heat is so intense in the afternoon, we left for the dunes at
0700. The climb was very steep, made more challenging by
the soft, deep sand…good exercise for the legs and calf
muscles!  The view from the top was terrific. There were
lots of iguana tracks, but no large iguanas were sited.  There
were lots of cacti, which David insists jumped out at him
and clung to clothes and skin as he passed (muy Ouch!).
The sand dunes (dunas de l'arena) were
a short dinghy ride away and a long,
hot, steep, sandy climb up. The view,
however, was stupendous.
One day was spent  helping out the locals. A fishing boat
with a broken engine starting drifting and ended up
nearly hitting us. David and another cruiser got into the
dinghies and towed them to safe area to re-anchor.
Catastrophe averted. Another fishing boat stopped by to
see if we had any hose clamps which we did and gave to
them.  They promptly went to the first boat and helped
to repair the hose problem it had and got it running
again.  We ended up with a freshly cleaned red snapper
just in time for dinner and some new friends.
The sky has been bright and full of stars
each night. Orion shines brightly now
and is easily distinguished from all the
rest. The full moon was brilliant and
provided  a “moonpath” from the shore
to our bow.
What a delightful respite this has been.
No stores, not too many people, no
“traffic” of any sort other than an
occasional fishing boat.  But after 5
days, it’s time to leave.  We make ready
the night before for an early start to
Porlamar, Isla de Margarita tomorrow
morning.  We anticipate the 50-mile
daysail will take us about 9-10 hours
depending on the winds so we should be
in Porlamar before nightfall tomorrow
night.
Isla Margarita
The view from offshore demonstrates the cosmopolitan nature
of Porlamar. It’s a  city of ~170,000 people…largest on the
island…very modern with high-rise buildings, luxury hotels
(many of which are deserted) and classy gambling casinos.  
Though we usually refer to this country
as simply “Venezuela”, the actual name
is La Republicana Bolivariana de
Venezuela…the Bolivarian Republic of
Venezuela…after their Father of
Independence, Simon Bolivar.
Venezuelan fishing boats called
“pañeros”  (pan-yer-os) are very unique
in their look and design.
Nautical trivia…   Why did sailors traditionally wear a gold
earring?   Because it was the law that each man always had enough
money to have himself buried. The gold earring always insured he had
the required sum on him if he were drowned and washed ashore…the
locals wouldn’t have to bear the expense of burying him.
Juan's Marina, where Juan pretty much runs the harbor
as far as the cruisers are concerned, is a central
meeting place on the dock. Juan has found his niche
among the seafaring crowd and is the independent
agent for clearing Venezuelan customs and
immigration. He’s multi-lingual (Spanish, English,
French and a smattering of others, too!).  Additionally,
he offers two computers with Internet service,
postcards, stamps, laundry, a book swap, tour service,
garbage disposal and water as well as trips to the local
grocery store and all the information you need or want
to know about Porlamar and Isla de Margarita.
Juan has a rather large dinghy dock (hence the
name “marina”), but he doesn’t accommodate
anything larger than a dinghy.
Isla de Margarita is the biggest and most important of Venezuela’s
offshore islands. It is a popular recreation destination not only cruisers, but
for Venezuelans as well as it is  not only beautiful but a duty-free port.  
Originally, the area was called the Pearl Coast because of its rich pearl
beds.  The Spanish arrived as early as 1537 and enslaved the local Indians
to work and dive for pearls, thus eliminating the need for African slaves.
On one of our forays foraging for food, we came upon a small restaurant on the beach side of
the road. The fish looked great...swimming in a tub waiting to be "invited" for lunch. We had
“pargo plancho” (grilled whole red snapper) along with a small salad and tostones (fried
plantain). Cold beers with the meal made it perfect and the owner treated us to another round
of beers “for the house”. Above you can see, David left "nothing but the bones". The ocean
was so close that our toes got wet on occasion as the odd wave came a little too close.  The
meal took about 2 hours from start to finish, and will remains one of our great memories.
One of the highlights was a visit to El Valle del
Espiritu Santo held both historical and
legendary significance  It seems that a statue
of the Virgin Mary was carved out of wood
and painted  in Spain in the late 1490´s and
brought to Isla Cubagua (an island not far
from Margarita) in about 1510.  In 1541 a
huge earthquake and tidal wave hit the island
and all was lost. A year later, the Virgin was
found floating, totally undamaged by
earthquake, tidal wave or a year in the water,
and this they considered a miracle. She was
brought to Isla Margarita where she is kept to
this day in a basilica.  We did get a kick out of
the cart upon cart of "Virgins" for sale in the
plaza outside the church.  No irreverence
intended.
View of Pampatar from Fortin de Coranta  
(1595-1626).
Scenic views were plentiful and from the vantage
points of forts and high plateaus, we got some
splendid photos. Above, the beach at Juan Griego.
Blanquilla
The two local beers in Venezuela are both a
Pilsner-type and quite good:
Polar (POE-lahr) and Brahma
Trivia...Opposite sides of a die always
add up to 7. (This knowledge comes from
playing too much Yahtzee).
Juxtaposed with the opulence of  Porlamar and its
resorts are these 400 year old adobe houses in
the national park area of central Margarita. Still
occupied by descendants of the original owners,
most have mud floors and minimal modern day
conveniences.
Castillo de Santa Rosa, built in the 1700s,
was complete with moat and drawbridge.
Note the same Spanish style sentry boxes
as we saw in Santo Domingo, DR and
San Juan, Puerto Rico.
About 50 miles north of Margarita, the 6x5 mile
island is flat, low lying and very desolate...
populated only by a Guardacosta station, and a
few fishermen, wild donkeys, iguanas and cacti.
A typical “fish camp” located on the beach near
our anchorage. There were about 5 fishermen
who come out here to fish and return to the
mainland every so often.  The structure is
basically a lean-to with thatch roof and
hammocks for sleeping.  
This natural arch  bridge is located at Americano Bay so named by the locals for the eccentric
American who came here decades ago, built a house and visited from time to time via his airplane
which he landed on a flat spot next to the house. The house is abandoned now.
This young iguana was about 2 feet long. We
also saw wild donkeys and several species
of birds during our exploration of the island.
In the late 1970’s, a car ferry caught fire and
was run aground off the north point of the
island. It is now known as a  good
snorkeling and dive spot and a chic hangout
for the local pelicans.
Cubagua
In 5 days at anchor at Isla Cubagua, we
managed only one day ashore and no snorkeling
due to consistently high winds (20-25k) and
laziness.  The island is low-lying and beautiful.
We anchored in 10’ of water and could see the
small fishing village ashore, the lighthouse and the
wreck off the northern point.
On to the Mainland
After over a month of cruising and exploring the out islands, we began a short, but
circuitous trek , to the mainland and Puerto La Cruz. Our passage took us  from
Gulfo de Cariaco, through Machimo National Park. We wanted to take advantage
of this cruising time because we planned to have the boat hauled in Puerto La Cruz
for annual maintenance and repair and as such would be out of the water for awhile.
We also planned to base our inland travel of Venezuela from PLC so we would stay
in a marina. Though we anxiously look forward to this prospect, being away from
cruising for a while makes us want to do as much of it as we can now.
Gulfo de Cariaco
The very best part of sailing in the gulf was meeting up with dolphins... lots of them.  We saw dozens
of them all jumping and swimming in our bow wake.  It was a joy watching them.  We ran up to the
bow and watched 6 to 8 to 10 of them at a time jump in unison in front of us... as if they had
choreographed it in advance... just for us.  
A view from the top. You can barely make out the
Nine of Cups at anchor far below.
To continue on to mainland
Venezuela with us, click here.

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Hopping, click here.

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All stars and no stripes! By the
time we reached, Puerto La Cruz,
our ensign was in tatters...eaten up
by the wind and elements.