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…
Bonaire: 12°09.850’N 68°17.110’W
Chichiriviche: 11°06.758’N 68°13.283’W
Leaving Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles, the 76NM sail to Chichiriviche in Venezuela is without any dramas today.
With only an uncomfortable rolling sea and a queazy sickly feeling again, nothing much else happened on this sail from the Netherlands Antilles.
Gorgeous Reality sails well and is very comfortable – purchasing Reality from the US is a good choice so far.
Reaching Chichiriviche, we anchor behind a little island before moving up to the lake area to see the Caquetios cave.
Sheer craggy cliffs against the clear blue sky surround Reality and is quite dramatic.
Some cliff-sides are over 200 metres high and sprawl right down to the water’s edge.
This area is dotted with caves and inlets.
Taking the dinghy to a small cave, which was used by the Caquetios since 3,400 B.C., this cave is still used today as a type of shrine.
The 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: 11°06.758’N 68°13.283’W
Puerto Cabello: 10°28.596’N 68°00.751’W
After a couple of days exploring around Chichiriviche, this next sail is down to Puerto Cabello as we need to officially check into the country.
When checking into Venezuela with a boat, it’s supposed to be easier if you use an “Agent” for all the running around to the various departments, for a fee of course.
Our agent Carlos speaks fluent English, which is a bonus but also means that he is savvy to making loads of money.
He turns up in a bright new shiny Harley Davidson and over the next few days, arrives in 3 different expensive vehicles.
Our first quote to check in is USD$800 – I nearly choke!
When I baulk at this price, the following day Carlos advises the fee decreased to USD$500, but also advises: “if we sail to another port it would probably be cheaper as this is a commercial port” – yeah right. Now I know how Carlos affords all his 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!
Although allowed to stay in Puerto Cabello for a few days before officially checking in to Venezuela, the private marina doesn’t really want us here and the boat isn’t in a safe spot.
Loads of locals warned us about where and where not to walk for our own safety. Later, we learn that this town has the worse violence in Venezuela, although walking around, I don’t really feel threatened or unsafe.
Whilst here, a sole-sailor we met was robbed at knife point on the beach opposite the marina.
This happened at midday on a Sunday with children and people watching around him, but 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, this a common occurrence here and a big joke with everyone. The sailor returned to Reality for a drink and compassion.
Hearing what appears to be artillery firing in the hills most days and throughout the nights, it’s worrying.
As tensions are increasing between Colombia and Venezuela, we’re not sure if this is actual artillery fire or training. Later, we learn that the Festival of the Drums is on in a couple of days and the firing is only the sound of fireworks – rocket launchers – paranoia setting in…
There is a lot of violence in this town.
Whilst here, the same friend been robbed on the beach became friends with some locals and invited to a street party.
Whilst at the party, 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 just injured.
We met some really helpful locals and don’t have any problems with anyone or with any violence…maybe it’s good Karma?
In the streets, some locals smile at us and others just look, but this happens everywhere. We are the only 3 gringos in town, so we do stand out – not many foreigners visit this town.
Deciding to sail the 67NMs to the next port for a cheaper entry fee, this still cost USD$350 (cash of course) to check in.
At least it’s cheaper than USD$800.
We’ve since learnt that it may cost another USD$200 to exit this country…gotta love corruption. Again, the cost depends on where you exit Venezuela, so a little research is required before leaving.
The easy overnight sail to La Guaira sees us sailing East, and catching glimpses of Venezuela’s beautiful coastal mountain range: Cordillera de la Costa, whilst 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 and deep into the hills, which are covered with a million lights and dimly lit hints of rooftops.
Finally reaching La Guaira’s commercial port in the early hours of the morning, we soon realise that this port isn’t set up for private vessels.
The height between our boat and the jetty means that the officials can’t and won’t, climb down onto the boat to do our check-in to Venezuela. Half-heartedly, the official motions that we’re free to go – bonus.
As the morning is still young and a lovely breeze about, we continue on a short sail to Caraballeda to find a marina or at least somewhere to drop the pick.
I radio the marina ahead of arriving for a spot but advised nothing is available and to anchor outside the marina instead.
We decide to try our luck in person instead.
As a result of the 1999 floods this marina is still under renovation and not accepting any new boats. So, only manage to get 3 nights here as the berth belongs to another boat returning in a few days.
Also need to check with the extremely upmarket surrounding private marinas and clubs, which are full of berthed multi-million dollar launches mostly flying American flags.
Later we learn that one club’s membership is USD$80,000 per year – obscene. Guess this sets the scene of the amount of foreign money that’s sitting in Venezuela.
Walking around Caraballeda you can’t but help notice massive hotels such as the Hilton, closed down and deserted – a legacy of the 1999 floods – nothing around here seems to happen in a hurry.
Such a waste of a massive building and infrastructure, especially as there are so many homeless.
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.
Pirates in Caraballeda
During the stay of around a week in Caraballeda, Reality is anchored outside of the marina during the day, then inside the marina each night – for our own safety and under the Port Captain’s instructions. The captain is worried that we may be held up at gunpoint and robbed if anchored outside. Comforting thought!
As it turns out, he is not exaggerating.
Two weeks after leaving this exact spot, we hear that a French Catamaran is boarded by pirates in this very anchorage. The skipper was shot and later died from four gunshot wounds.
This further confirms how dangerous Venezuela is for a cruising boat.
Caracas for one day
The bus swerves around huge mountain ranges and it’s a very picturesque trip, albeit a little nauseating.
Caracas is a sprawling and bustling city.
Security bars and razor wire adorn most buildings. Even 30-storey apartment blocks are graced with bars on windows, around balconies, doors, and right up to the 30th-floor, resembling jails.
What to see?
Actually, walking around this city you notice that most homes have iron security bars on all doors and windows. The tops of 3-metre high walls are cemented with broken glass and bottles, then topped with an electric fence. Surely this is overkill or maybe there’s a huge problem in this country?
Strolling around for the day, wanting to see the museum and the cable car, both are closed so opt for a wander through the street markets instead.
Venezuela is full of street markets and stalls selling a myriad of stuff – pens, lollypops, drinks, food, lingerie, and clothes.
You can even buy a single cigarette from a pack – just about anything can be purchased on the street.
It’s common to see a lady sitting on a small stool on the broken pavement with half a dozen mobile phones securely chained to her stool and selling cheap phone time – a great system. This means you don’t need to scour the streets looking for a public phone, which usually don’t work in most countries.
Sail to the Los Roques Archipelago
Caraballeda: 10°37.302’N 66°50.807’W
Los Roques: 11.8575° N, 66.7575° W
This stunning area belongs to Venezuela and is only an 80NM sail from La Guaira.
The short distance sees that the area is frequented by many Venezuelans from Caracas on day trips. But, also many wealthy tourists, especially from Europe and the US.
Never hearing of this area until arriving in Venezuela and checking the Nav charts, this must be a well-kept local secret.
Consisting of approximately 350 gorgeous islands, cays, and islets in a total area of just over 20 miles and scarcely populated (only 1,500 permanent inhabitants), this area receives approximately 70,000 visitors each year.
Isolated Gran Roque sits at the northeastern slice of the archipelago and is the most inhabited, which also includes a low-lying domestic airport almost at sea level and close to the beach.
A quiet village with a few small restaurants, Cafés, and supply shops, Gran Roque is a great stop-off.
Pueblo del Gran Roque
Moving further up to an even tinier slice of beach at the end of Gran Roque dotted with fishing shacks, tin houses, and small fishing boats provides even more serenity in this impossibly blue Caribbean sea.
Local islanders are friendlier here and life is very relaxed – much more than even in Bonaire.
A few days sailing around this pristine beautiful Archipelago, exploring the clear waters, which offer wonderful swimming, snorkelling, relaxing, and good sailing breezes, is glorious.