Our Diary Venezuela

Greetings from Venezuela… Hurricane season is now over and the cruisers have come out of hibernation. The marina at Bahia Redonda, Puerto La Cruz is slowly emptying - with boats heading north for another season in the Caribbean or west towards Panama and beyond. Shortly we will be following the latter group.

The last few months have been work, work, work. We took the opportunity of our stay to complete lots of projects that needed electricity, water and time - the list was enormous and included: paint decks (both non-slip areas and the bits in between), varnish, replace lifelines, change some halyards, new staysail, replace canvas work - it goes on and on… But we took some time out to go racing and came 10th out of 17 boats. And, as normal in this lifestyle, barbeques, partying, swimming in the pool were still regular events… work hard and play hard was certainly true.

After all this we rewarded ourselves with a short holiday touring Venezuela by bus and had a great time visiting Angel Falls (with a drop of 975m this is the world's highest fall). That trip entailed a short hop over virgin jungle in a 5-seater Cesna airplane, a 5-hour ride in a dugout canoe up a tributary of the Orinoco River (through rapids, etc), and sleeping in hammocks. Then a 2-hour hike through jungle. The falls were magnificent. The rain during the previous night made it too dangerous to go down to the pool below them but the close lookout point was enough! The wind and spray made it difficult to stand and took your breath away. After returning to Ciudad Bolivar by light airplane, we caught an overnight bus to the Andes - stopping on the way for a couple of days of R&R at a monastery which has been converted into an hotel. Onwards by local bus to Merida where we took the cable car (the longest and highest in the world) to the high Andes. At 4045m we hopped on the local taxi (mules) and had a 5-hour ride through the mountains to Los Nevados - a sleepy village. We stayed two nights here soaking up the view. The local bus (a 4WD "Jeep") back to Merida was the most hair raising "bus" ride you can ever imagine. The 3m wide "road" is carved out of the loose shale hillside providing a rocky bendy ledge, a cliff one side and an unobstructed drop down 2,000m to the river below. The departure time was delayed due to rain (which makes the trail impassable) and landslides were common. The jeep itself had seen better days. The trip down to the town normally takes 3-4 hours along this track. But due to the bus breaking down every few miles, including a suspension spring breaking, when we had to walk for a couple of kilometres to the next village, where a quick repair took us on our way. The scary journey lasted a little over 5 hours.

So what of Venezuela in general? As a holiday destination, great! Lots to see and do. It has jungle, mountains and great beaches and clear water for diving and snorkelling. The food is cheap, meal prices ranging from $2-$10 PP. Posadas (local "guest houses") cost around $10-15 per room. Bus travel is cheap and efficient with European-style luxury coaches on long journeys and small "bone shakers" on local trips.

As a cruising pit stop - not good. Chandlery is hard to get and expensive. Canvas/sails/rigging work is OK but there is limited choice - so time scales are measured in months not weeks. Prices have been creeping up due to demand and now approach the US for many jobs. (Lots of boats have opted for Puerto La Cruz as an alternative to Grenada). Provisioning is good, except for canned meat as fresh is so cheap, good and readily available - some cruisers can their own meat. And filling up with fuel at 1½p per litre (US$0.03) is a pleasure! Beer costs about 15p per can and rum GBP2 per litre bottle.

Surprisingly the country is self sufficient in food with lovely meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Being the home of the humble potato they taste lovely. Venezuela has large oil fields and lots of hydro electricity. So why is 60% of the population so poor? Our observations are: corruption at local and national government level is rife; there has been little investment in roads and social projects. Business leaders are irresponsible; skill levels are low, which is an education problem. In other words, lots to sort out. Thankfully, Chavez the new president, (like Castro feared and disliked by the US) is determined to tackle these problems and the evidence is starting to show.

The fear of most visitors is the high level of violent crime, we have had reports of 6 cases of attacks on cruisers in the last four months. Our experience has been otherwise with friendliness, helpfulness and courtesy from the locals. Like any dysfunctional society, there are bad elements and they see cruisers as soft (and lucrative) targets so be cautious.

We are now fully provisioned and will be heading west shortly to Bonaire, Curacao and Columbia.

The bears have gone into details about their trip inland, so for a more in-depth story of our time in Venezuela, check out the Bear Adventures pages!