Caribbean sailing: Netherlands Antilles to Venezuela

July, 2008

With only a short sail today of just under 80NM from the Netherlands Antilles to Venezuela, I’m hoping the wind is kind and nothing goes wrong…

Chichiriviche, VenezuelaThe Sail

Bonaire: 12°09.850’N 68°17.110’W
Chichiriviche: 11°06.758’N 68°13.283’W

With only 76NM to Venezuela and apart from a very rolley sea, and being sick again, nothing much else happened on this sail from the Netherlands Antilles.

Chichiriviche

Reaching Chichiriviche, we anchored behind a little island before moving up to the lake area to see the Caquetios cave.

Chichiriviche: Caquetios cave, Venezuela

Caquetios cave

The sheer cliffs against the clear blue sky are quite dramatic. Some cliff-sides are over 200 metres high and sprawl down to the water’s edge. This area is dotted with caves and inlets.

Took the dinghy into a small cave, which was used by the Caquetios some 3,400 B.C. and obviously still used today, as a type of shrine area.

This whole area is covered in small religious statues, people’s medical cards, photos, Rosary Beads, ornaments, and an array of other various religious artefacts, cemented into the rock forms. The cave also contains numerous rock carvings of various meanings such as the dawn of time and birth. It’s an extremely fascinating region.

Chichiriviche: Shrine

Shrine in Chichiriviche

Puerto Cabello

Chichiriviche: 11°06.758’N 68°13.283’W
Puerto Cabello: 10°28.596’N 68°00.751’W

After a couple of days at Chichiriviche, we sailed down to Puerto Cabello so to officially check into the country.
When checking into Venezuela with a boat, it’s supposed to be easier if one uses an “Agent” for all the running around to the various departments, for a fee of course.

Chichiriviche, Puerto Cabello, Venezuela

Well, our agent Carlos speaks fluent English, which is a bonus but also means that he is savvy to making loads of money. He turned up in a bright new shiny Harley Davidson and over the next few days, came with 3 other expensive vehicles.

Our first quote to check in is USD$800 – I nearly choked!

When I baulked at this price, the next day Carlos advised the fee decreased to USD$500, but also advised, “if we sailed to another port it would probably be cheaper as this was a commercial port” (yeah right). Now I know how Carlos affords all the expensive vehicles.

It appears that the entry cost is at the Port Master’s discretion (and pocket) – so much for Venezuela being a cheap destination!

We are allowed to stay in Puerto Cabello for a few days before officially checking in to Venezuela, although the private marina doesn’t really want us here and the boat isn’t in a safe spot.

Local warnings

Caracas, Venezuela

Pan Pipes throughout the streets of Venezuela – Caracas

Loads of locals warned us about where and where not to walk for our own safety. Later, we learnt that this town has the worse violence in Venezuela, although walking around, I didn’t really feel threatened or unsafe.

Whilst here, a sole-sailor we’d met was robbed at knife point on the beach opposite the marina. This was at midday on a Sunday with children and people watching around him. No one came to his aid. After all, he is a Gringo. Two guys held a knife at him, ripped his shorts half-off, and stole his wallet. Whilst walking back to the marina still in shock, a local laughed at him and yelled out “hey Gringo, you got robbed!” – obviously, a common occurrence here and a big joke to everyone. The sailor came back to our boat for a drink and compassion.

We heard what appeared to be artillery firing in the hills most days and throughout the nights. As tensions were increasing between Colombia and Venezuela, we weren’t sure if this was actual artillery fire or training. Later, we learnt that the Festival of the Drums is on in a couple of days and the firing is only the sound of fireworks’ rocket launchers…talk about paranoia setting in!

There is a lot of violence in this town. Whilst here, our yachtie friend who’d been robbed got to know some locals and was invited to a street party. Whilst there, someone was shot in front of him. Everyone apart from our friend danced on as if nothing happened and he wasn’t sure if the guy died or was just injured.

Although we met some really helpful locals and didn’t have any problems with anyone or with any violence…maybe it’s Karma? In the streets, some people smiled at us and others just looked, but this happens in most places. We were the only 3 Gringos in the town, so we stood out. Not many foreigners visit this town.

La Guaira

La Guaira, VenezuelaPuerto Cabello: 10°28.596’N 68°00.751’W
La Guaira: 10°35.957’N 66°56.723’W

Decided to sail the 67NMs to the next port, for a cheaper entry fee, which still cost USD$350 to check in. At least this is cheaper than USD$800. We’ve since learnt that it may cost another USD$200 to exit this country yet…gotta love corruption. Again, the cost depends on where you exit Venezuela, so have to do a little research before leaving.

The easy overnight sail to La Guaira saw us sailing East, whilst catching glimpses of Venezuela’s beautiful coastal mountain range: Cordillera de la Costa, nearing Caracas at dawn. The mountains are over 900-metres high and appear to push downwards to the sea. The sprawl of the city creeps upwards from the sea to the hills and covered with a million lights and rooftops.

Venezuela: Caracas dawn sailing

Sailing the Caracas dawn – not a great shot with my small Compaq camera!

Finally reaching La Guaira’s commercial port in the early hours of the morning, we soon realised that this port isn’t set up for pleasure craft. The height between our boat and the jetty meant that the officials couldn’t, and wouldn’t, climb down onto the boat to do our check-in to Venezuela. Half-heartedly, the official motioned that we were free to go – bonus!

As the morning is still young and a lovely breeze about, decided to continue on a short sail to Caraballeda, to find a marina or at least somewhere to drop the pick (anchor).

Caraballeda

Caraballeda, VenezuelaLa Guaira: 10°35.957’N 66°56.723’W
Caraballeda: 10°37.302’N 66°50.807’W

I radioed the marina ahead of arriving for a spot but was advised nothing is available, so, anchored outside the marina in Caraballeda. Decided to try our luck in person instead.

As a result of the 1999 floods this marina is still under renovation and not taking any new boats on. We only managed to get 3 nights here as the berth belonged to another boat returning in a few days.

Also tried the surrounding private marinas and clubs, which are extremely upmarket, and full of berthed multi-million dollar launches; mostly American. Later we learnt that one club’s membership is USD$80,000 per year…how obscene! Guess this gives you a picture of the amount of money that’s sitting in Venezuela.

Venezuela: Caraballeda boat local

Caraballeda local

Walking around Caraballeda, you can’t help but notice massive hotels such as the Hilton, closed down and deserted…a legacy of the 1999 floods, nothing around here happens in a hurry. Such a waste of a massive building and infrastructure, especially as there are so many homeless here.

Caraballeda is a seaside resort town and very popular with Venezuelans, but most of the resorts are abandoned and I can only imagine the opulence here before the floods.

Caracas for a day

Caracas, VenezuelaDecided on a little day trip so took the local bus into Caracas, on a Sunday as not so busy. The bus trip swerves around huge mountain ranges, which is very picturesque, albeit a little nauseating.

Caracas is a sprawling and bustling city.

One thing that is noticeable is the security bars everywhere. In fact, thirty-storey apartment blocks have bars on windows, around balconies, doors, but right up to the top floor, which resembles jails.

Actually, whilst walking around this city, I noticed that of the homes have security iron bars on all doors and windows. And, the tops of 3-metre high walls include broken glass and bottles cemented in, then an electric fence on top. Surely this is overkill Obviously, there’s also a huge problem in this country.

Walked around for the day and wanted to see the museum and the cable car, but both were closed, so, opted for a wander through the street markets instead.

Caracas, Venezuela, markets

Market butcher preparing a delicious marinade

Venezuela is full of street markets and stall sellers selling a myriad of stuff such as pens, lollypops, drinks, food, lingerie, clothes, and even one cigarette from a pack; just about anything can be purchased on the street!

Caracas, Venezuela, markets

At least Venezuela can feed itself

It’s common to see a lady sitting on a small stool on the broken pavement, with half a dozen mobile phones’ chained to the stool. They’re selling phone time, which is cheap and a great system. This means there is no need to scour the streets looking for a public phone, which usually doesn’t work in most countries.

Caracas, Venezuela, markets

Fresh produce

Venezuela: Simón Bolívar's birthplace

Entrance to Simón Bolívar’s birthplace

We stayed about a week in Caraballeda, mostly outside of the marina on anchor during the day, then re-anchoring inside the marina at night, for our own safety and under the Port Captain’s instructions. He is worried that we would be held up at gunpoint and robbed, if anchored outside – comforting thought!

As it turns out, the Port Captain wasn’t exaggerating. Two weeks after leaving this anchorage, we heard that a French Catamaran was boarded by pirates in this very anchorage. The skipper was shot and later died from four gunshot wounds, so very tragic and is confirmation of how dangerous Venezuela is for a cruising boat.

Venezuela: Los Roques Archipelago

Los Roques Archipelago

Los Roques Archipelago

Caraballeda: 10°37.302’N 66°50.807’W
Los Roques: 11.8575° N, 66.7575° W

This area belongs to Venezuela and is only an 80NM sail from La Guaira.

This short distance ensures the area is frequented by many Venezuelans from Caracas on day trips, and many wealthy tourists, especially from Europe.

I’d never heard of this area until arriving in Venezuela and also checking the charts.

Consisting of approximately 350 stunning islands, cays, and islets in a total area of just over 20 miles and scarcely populated (1,500 permanent inhabitants), this area receives approximately 70,000 visitors each year!

Spent a few days sailing around this gorgeously beautiful Archipelago as the pristine waters offer wonderful swimming, snorkelling, relaxing, good sailing breezes, and much more.

Pueblo del Gran Roque is a quiet village offering a few small restaurants, Cafés, and supply shops. Local islanders are much friendlier here and life is very relaxed, much more than in Bonaire.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on the Caribbean at Image Earth Travel.

Venezuela: Los Roques, Pueblo del Gran Roque

Local end of Pueblo del Gran Roque

Venezuela: Los Roques, Pueblo del Gran Roque

Los Roques’ blues

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