Venezuela - Isla Margarita Hotel Las Palmeras in Playa El Agua
scuba diving with Scuba Pelicano
From Wednesday December 5th to Thursday December 20th, 2007
Venezuela Isla Margarita
Margarita Island (Spanish: Isla Margarita or Isla de Margarita) is the largest island of the Nueva Esparta state in Venezuela, situated in the Caribbean Sea, off the northeastern coast of the country. The state also contains two other smaller islands: Coche and Cubagua. The capital is La Asunción, located in a river valley of the same name. Primary industries are tourism, fishing and construction. Its population is about 420,000. Located in the Caribbean Sea between latitudes 10°52'N and 11°11'N and longitudes 63°48'W and 64°23'W, it belongs to the State of Nueva Esparta which also comprises the islands of Coche and Cubagua. The island is formed by two peninsulas joined by an isthmus. It covers an area of 1,020 km². It splits into two sections linked by an 18-km (11-mi) spit of sand. It is 78 km long and its widest side measures roughly 20 km. The climate is very sunny and dry with temperatures from 24 to 37°C.
Most of the island's 420,000 residents live in the more developed eastern part, especially in the city of Porlamar and adjoining city of Pampatar. Others are found in the much smaller city of La Asunción, the capital of the region or Juan Griego. Direct flights from Caracas and other Venezuelan cities, as well as scheduled or charter flights from a number of North American and European cities, ferries from Puerto La Cruz, Cumaná, and La Guaira also travel to the island.
The Macanao peninsula to the west has a central mountain range in the east-west direction. The highest altitude is 760 m at Pico de Macanao. Several smaller ranges derive from this axis following a north-south orientation with deep valleys between them. The most notable of this valleys is San Francisco in the north-central part of the peninsula. The Paraguachoa peninsula to the East is formed by a mountain range in the north-south direction from Porlamar to Cabo Negro. The highest peaks are San Juan or Cerro Grande (920 m) and El Copey (890 m). Both peninsulas are connected by La Restinga, an isthmus of low altitude with a lagoon called La Restinga.
In 1498, Christopher Columbus discovered Margarita Island. The local natives, named Guaiqueries, received the conquering Spaniards with open arms unaware that they later would become slaves of their own wealth. Pearls represented almost a third of all New World tribute to the Spanish Crown. Margarita Island had to be fortified against the increasing threat of pirate attacks, and several of these fortifications remain today. In 1561, the island was seized by Lope de Aguirre, a notoriously violent and rebellious conquistador who held the islanders in a grip of terror until he returned to the mainland in an attempt to take Panama from the Spanish crown. In 1814, the islanders fought successfully for independence from the Spanish, and Isla Margarita became the first free territory in Venezuela. It was on Margarita Island that Simon Bolivar, later called the Libertador, was confirmed as Commander in Chief of the new republic, la gran Colombia. From there he started to free Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia from the Spanish Crown.
The biggest city on Margarita island is Porlamar, known for its commercial center; it flourishes with shops and good restaurants. About 85,000 people live there during the low season in Porlamar; about 125,000, in the high season. It has two city beaches and a soon-to-be-opened harbour for cruise ships.
Pampatar has around 50,000 citizens in its greater area. Most of the larger shopping malls are in its Jurisdiction: Sambil Margarita, Rattan Depot, Centro Comercial AB (Avenida Bolivar), and La Redoma. It has several beaches. It is the seat of the Castillo San Carlos Borromeo constructed approximately from 1664 to 1684.
La Asunción is the capital of the Federal State of Nueva Esparta with about 25,000 citizens. It is the seat of the regional government.
A city of around 45 000 people, it has small shopping centres and nice beaches. Some of the best restaurants are in Juan Griego. La Galera is a fortress not far off the city centre, where, in the early 1820s, a fierce battle for independence was fought.
Margarita Island can usually be reached by ferry or by airplane, as the Santiago Mariño International Airport is located 25 kilometers away from the city of Porlamar. Its status as a duty-free port and proximity to the mainland make it one of the top vacation spots for Venezuelans. Vacationers crowd the island especially during Christmas time, Easter week, and from July to mid-September. Venezuelan tourists come on shopping sprees; whiskey, cheese, chocolate, and electrical appliances, are among the goods that can be purchased less expensively than on the mainland. Also, many retired people choose Margarita as an ideal, peaceful dwelling place. The island has numerous beaches, which range from solitary to crowded. Playa El Agua, in the north, is the most popular with 4 Km of fine sand. Playa El Yaque is internationally known as an excellent location for windsurfing. Playa Parguito, Playa Caribe, and Punta de Arena are also popular beaches. Many resorts cater to the international, Caribbean-loving crowd, especially from European countries. The beach of Playa Puerto Cruz is one of the most popular with tourists.
Wednesday December 5, 2007: Departure to Isla Margarita
Yes, yes, yes, the day has arrived! Today we leave on a well-earned vacation to Isla Margarita, Playa El Agua. We have known a lot of stress building our house and at work, so we can leave now and we will enjoy a 1000 percent. Getting up is the least today, after a short sleep. It’s 04:00 when we get up; prepare everything to go to Puurs station by car. Yesterday Eef had packed all things and Timo did the hand luggage and the bag with camera material, so now we only need to pick everything up and put it in the car. We say goodbye to Cartouche: Be good little one, we’ll miss you. We take the car and drive to Puurs. Maurits and Betty will pick up the car later today and bring it to their place. A very good arrangement. The first train leaves at 05:02 from Puurs to Antwerp central station. It’s a train that stops at Niel, Boom, Hemiksem and other small stations.
At five thirty we arrive in Antwerp. Nothing is open yet, so we wait a while to buy tickets and to have breakfast. The ticket we already had, will be extended to Schiphol and it costs 22,40 Euro. A few minutes before 6 Panos opens and we eat two croissants and two biscuits, of course with a cup of coffee. We then walk with the entire luggage to level –2 to railway number 21. That train leaves here at 06:31 and we will arrive in Schiphol about 2 hours later. We read, we try to solve some crossword puzzles and let the train race the tracks. Roosendaal, Dordrecht, Den Haag. Then Jean passes us, de father of Davy. Roza and Jean go to Isla Margarita to visit Yvonne, Davy and especially the kids Victor and Diana. They have left in July and try in Venezuela to start a completely new life. We’ll meet again at the airport. According to schedule we arrive at Schiphol at 08:20. We look for the counter where we need to check in, we need to queue a long time, but then can leave the bag pack and the luggage and that’s perfect. We buy some cigarettes and small cigars and smoke one outside.
Very good, the vacation has started! Then another period comes of queuing and waiting. First at the customs check, then to check the hand luggage and then we arrive at the gate for departure: within ten hours we will be in a better place. Or maybe not. The airplane is not yet there, so something is wrong. And indeed. We were supposed to board at 11:10 and at 10:50 they notify us of a problem and at 11:15 they will provide extra information. A lot of fuzz starts and at 11:20 bad info is given. There is a problem with the airplane and there is a delay of 24 hours. Yes, indeed, twenty-four hours. At first they said there was a delay and they were looking for a solution and then after 5 minutes there is a delay of 24 hours; that sounds like deceit. Two groups are formed: one that wants and can return home and another group that wants a hotel to stay. Well, we don’t really have a choice. For us it’s very difficult to go back home and get up tomorrow again at 04:00 and do the same route a second time.
So we join the group that prefers a hotel. We need to wait for about 30 minutes and then we can collect our luggage under an escort of a stewardess of ArkeFly. All goes pretty fast. At 13:00 we are outside in the rain and the cold and we wait for shuttle buses of NH-hotels. That is not very smooth: only 7 people with their luggage are allowed in the bus and there are only three shuttles. This means each time the buses arrive they can transport 21 people maximum. If you then know there are about 150 persons waiting for transport, you can calculate yourself how long this will take. It’s raining, it’s cold, and the wind blows hard; there are better circumstances to wait. Four times the three buses pass and we could not be on the buses yet. It’s about two o’clock in the meantime, so it’s time something happens. Then one of the stewards has a fantastic idea. He arranged a large bus of normal airport transportation. In 1 time the driver brings 40 people to the hotel.
We are on the bus almost as first two and 30 minutes later we’re in the lobby of the NH Hotel. Jean and Timo smoke something while Eef and Roza wait for the check-in. At 14:45 we arrive on our room and first can have lunch. A buffet with different things. We have calamari with pasta and can enjoy it. After lunch we drink an Affligem from the barrel and then go for a break. We watch some TV and sleep a little bit. Then suddenly at 19:00 we receive a call on our mobile, a 0058 number, probably Davy. Roza had tried to call Yvonne and then Davy a few times, but she had no luck. Then they phoned Danny (their other son) and asked him to call Davy and that way Davy knew that there was trouble. So Davy called Timo and he went immediately to the room next-door and gives the phone to Roza.
They take care of business and instead of today they will pick Roza and Jean up tomorrow. Now we have another hour to prepare for diner. We take a shower and then go to have something to eat. It is again buffet and now we have chop, very nice. After that we stay in the lobby and drink again an Affligem. We talk a little bit, but not too late, since we need to be ready for pickup at 07:30 and then we will go to the airport, the second time then, hopefully the good time. We go to our room at 23:00 and sleep at 23:30.
Thursday December 6, 2007: Departure to Isla Margarita: The Sequel
Yesterday we had set the TV-alarm at 06:15. The alarm wakes us up right on time and then Timo’s mobile rings a few minutes later. We have had a good night of sleep, the beds were great and we were very tired yesterday: we got up early and then had to wait a lot and carry luggage. Today it will be better hopefully. We go for breakfast and Roza and Jean are already there: bread with a lot of choice between cheese, ham and others with coffee. We will take it easy today, no stress. We eat quietly and without a rush and Jean and Roza already go to the airport. They will probably take the first bus, but we still need to check out, take the luggage, smoke a cigarette and take the bus, maybe in a different order, but OK. When we’re ready we indeed take the bus (the third one and a bigger one this time) to Schiphol airport and we check in.
That goes very smoothly and we’re done almost at the same time as Jean and Roza. They have been waiting more than 30 minutes longer than we. We go to the passport control, drink ice tea and water and at 09:30 we go to gate G05. The airplane is already there for us and that is a relief. Everything goes very fast, a lot faster and smoother than yesterday. A lot of people think that ArkeFly during check-in already knew that there would not be a plane available, otherwise they would not be able to have arrangements made that quickly. In less than three hours they found rooms for 150 people, they had arranged extra buses and meals. Well, on itself that really does not matter anymore now. We can board on time now and the plane leaves on time too. Now we need to fly ten hours to Isla Margarita. Everything is OK. The pilot apologizes a thousand times and also the crew, but we can’t do much with apologies. Almost immediately after take-off the stewardesses give drinks and dry biscuits.
The lunch also is there fast: chicken with beans and rice. Then from time to time they bring drinks and we use it every time. A quick fright comes to us, when the pilot says we will pass over Azores and Bermuda; well we don’t care. It is a bumpy flight, with a lot of turbulence. We fly through a turbulent area about three times. Two hours before landing we get another meal: penne with peas and something else. And then there is relief for all: we land on Isla Margarita. We made it, yes. First we need to pass customs; rather quickly that was done: within 20 minutes everyone is through. Nice. Roza can’t hold it anymore and she runs immediately towards her grandchildren. We can understand that of course. She has not seen them for 6 months. We need to wait a bit longer for luggage and customs. We had really quickly filled out the immigration forms for Venezuelan customs, but everything was OK and we are allowed on Venezuelan soil. At the luggage check we already see Davy and Yvonne. Everything is OK and it’s nice to see them and the children again. Diana runs through the whole hallway of the airport (20 meters) and victor behind her. They think it’s great that grandma and granddad are here together with Timo and Eef and we love it too.
Nice seeing them, but not very long today, but we already agree to see each other tomorrow. Then we load the luggage into a trailer after the tourismo-bus and wait for Ira, the hostess of Holland International and ArkeFly. She already provides some general info on the island, money and other things. Then we drive off to the hotels. Ours is the second: 6 people get off. Check in and we go to our room (number 113). Immediately we put everything in place and take a shower. After that we have an aperitif at the bar: Polar and Polar Ice are the local beers and it is a very good fresh pint, all is well. We are not really hungry, but we eat something and drink Polar again.
A bit after 8 we order an other Polar to take with us to our room. We enjoy it all very much, it’s warm, but we also get a shower. When it rains, it rains very hard, the wind blows very hard, but after 15 minutes it’s over and another 15 minutes later everything is dry again. We love this kind of weather. We have the last Polar of the day on our balcony and at 21:30 we’re dead beat and go to bed. We are then awake for more than 20 hours and have had a very tiring day. We sleep like roses, we hope. Maurits, Betty and Linda have been informed that we’re OK, so the most important things have been arranged. We especially need to make sure we learn some Spanish the next couple of days. Very good, we’re here and the vacation can start!
Friday December 07, 2007: Exploration of Playa El Agua and visit Yvonne and Davy
Today we don’t want an alarm. Despite this we’re awake at 06:00. This is the normal way; we already saw this in Costa Rica. We get ready and explore the village. We walk out the hotel Las Palmeras and go to the left and hope to find the coastline somewhere here. And indeed after 10 minutes (or only 5) we see the beach: a beautiful sandy beach and alongside there are plenty of palm trees, a really typical Caribbean view. A small disadvantage here: we will not be able to snorkel, because there is too much surf. We walk on the beach and then down the boulevard. A lot of dogs also walk here and there are a lot of birds flying. Yes, thinks Timo – and actually Eef too. The condition of the roads is not that good, but that’s typical Latin America. The plants that grow here are not high, only small ones and on the right side we see the sea and on the left side we have a mountain view, magnificent. Everything is also green, except for small white clouds on the slopes of the mountains. Otherwise it’s a blue sky. We walk for about 30 minutes and enter a small street at random and then arrive on the main road. That leads directly to our hotel and we can already have breakfast there now. It is a buffet and we take a kind of red sauce with bread and sausages and ham and cheese with juice, fruit and coffee. The fruits are delicious here: pineapple, watermelon, and papaya. The taste is much better than at home: muuuuuuuuuuch better.
After breakfast we rest a bit and check out the possibilities of excursions with ArkeFly. Especially diving, Coche maybe and we should ask information about Los Roques. After our short break we walk back to the beach boulevard. Now we go to the other side and we stop at the market of Playa El Agua. Along the road everybody is selling something: necklaces, T-shirts, statues carved out of wood and all the time we have a great view on the sea. Also we try to stay out of the sun as much as possible, because it’s hot here, even at 10 in the morning. We walk back to the place where the info meeting is. That is all the way back to the street where our hotel is, so this takes a while. At 10:50 we are there and we watch some birds and trees next to the restaurant La Isla, because the meeting only starts at 11:00. First Ira asks everybody if there are any problems with the hotel. Either there are some really bad hotels (leaks and stuff like that) or Dutch people are a bit pickier than we are. We then receive all the info about excursions and do pick up some good info.
Tomorrow Ira will come by at our hotel and we then will be able to book Los Roques and maybe some dives or something else. The meeting lasts until 12 and we go back to the hotel, because Davy and Yvonne will come here. We just have ordered at the pool bar some water and Polar and then they arrive: the whole gang: Yvonne, Davy, Roza, Jean, Diana and Victor. They come to pick us up to swim at Playa Caribe. First we drop off Roza and Jean at the hotel: we were in the car with 6 grown-ups and two children. Suddenly Diana dives under the dashboard, because children are not allowed to sit at the front and we pass a police station just outside Playa El Agua. We stop at Felicia’s place, the mother of Yvonne, meet her and then walk to the new house of Yvonne and Davy and the children. It is a big piece of land of 57 by 57 meter and surrounded with a high wall. Their estate is very beautiful. A nice kitchen, nice rooms for themselves and for the kids.
And the garden is unbelievably great: there are banana trees, mangos, sugarcane, pomegranate, cassava; they have it all there. And there was a big surprise: they have four dogs, 1 picked up from the street, 1 German shepherd, and two small ones, like Labradors. They were still very little and that was the biggest surprise: one was named Cartoucho. Great named after our Cartouche. We can eat mangos and pomegranates, fresh picked from the tree. We quickly visit Felicia again. She was outside a minute ago selling empanadas at her own kiosk. She has two dogs too: a Rottweiler (only two months old, a cute one) and Laika, a street dog with about 7 puppies, that’s beautiful. Also here they give us a snack: boiled backed banana. Then we drive to the apartment of Davy and Yvonne, so they can change clothes. They have a view on the mountains and at the front end of the building they see the bay of Juan Griego: a small paradise on earth: a harbor with plenty of boats and many, many pelicans. In the air plenty of frigatebirds circle: fabulous. Then we quickly grab a snack in a restaurant where Yvonne and Davy usually go: 1 large pizza, 2 spaghetti carbonara, caipiriña and Smirnoff Ice and 2 ice tea. We sit with our feet in the sand, at bout 2 or 3 meters from the sea. Everything tastes very good, much better than at home. It has a lot to do with the fact that we’re on vacation. We talk about how it is here on Isla Margarita and about Sint-Amands, the sporting hall and all our friends there. We have a great time. At about three in the afternoon we go by car to Playa Caribe. There we meet Roza and Jean, who live here at the hotel.
We swim in high waves, rather jump towards every wave that smashes down the beach. Everybody is playing except for grandma and grandpa. The current is very hard here and sometimes surprising. Even as a grownup you can’t stay up when a wave hits you or pulls back into the ocean. We have a good time. The water is lovely, the temperature outside is hot and there is a blue sky with from time to time small white clouds, just a gorgeous sight. At about 5 Davy and Yvonne bring us back to the hotel. On the way to the hotel we stop for Polar and to see the sunset. We have a great view on the ‘hotel of my grandpa’, as Victor and Diana calls it, because he works at the hotel. A view on the bay and on the hills surrounding us. Just magnificent. The setting sun disappears a bit too fast after the clouds, making it not a perfect sunset, but a beautiful one. We drive to the hotel – which was not for sale – and we prepare to eat. When we arrived on the island Yvonne told us out hotel was for sale, but it was not true; it was the house next to it. We take a shower and drink 2 caipiriña and Timo writes the trip reports. Suddenly Eef feels the drinks a lot, so we eat something, lots of vegetables with meat sauce and beans. Eef drinks water and Timo the rest of the cocktail. We stay for a while on the terrace with view at the pool and at the Venezuelan band that just arrived. We drink some more water and Polar and again it is only early when we go to bed: 21:30. We sleep again like rose, tired of what we did today and what we drank.
Saturday December 08, 2007: A day of making plans and doing nothing
Timo is up at 07:00, is sitting on the balcony and writes and is watching birds. He has fun, while Eef is still sleeping. At about 8 she wakes up too and we get ready for breakfast. Breakfast is good, buffet and they also prepare eggs on the fly. Timo has not taken an egg, but that will not be long anymore. We start our day by making plans. We plan some things and also try to free some time to see Yvonne and Davy. Plan is – if Arke doesn’t change it: today snorkeling at Playa Zaragoza, Sunday to Yvonne and Davy, Monday and Tuesday we will rent a car, Wednesday: Los Roques. Thursday will be a day to chill, Friday and Monday we will go diving at Los Frailes, Saturday a boat trip to La Isla de Coche, Sunday Yvonne and Davy again and on Tuesday we will be watching dolphins at Cubagua. When we count all of the costs it will be about 900 Euro, especially because of Los Roques. We drink a coffee and prepare to go to the snorkeling spot. When we start this, dark clouds are coming and it starts to rain. And not normal rain, it’s almost a flood. And after 30 minutes it’s finished.
Timo takes the bag pack and we go to the beach. First to the bus stop and the market place. The bus does not go to Pedrogonzalez and Eef can’t find nice slippers to wear on the market, so we look for a taxi. When we’re back at the road of our hotel, the wind starts to blow again and it starts to rain again. We seek shelter under the roof of a supermarket for about 20 minutes and then think that snorkeling will not be a good idea today. We walk along the coast road, that is now an open river and hope to see the beach bar of the hotel. We don’t see anything, but actually we don’t really know what we’re looking for. We walk until there is nothing to see and then return via the beach. It is very beautiful; we walk under palm trees and have view over the sea and a small rocky island. An the trip we don’t see an indication of Las Palmeras, so we don’t drink anything at the beach bar and decide immediately we won’t be snorkeling today, so we go back to the hotel.
A few Polars, a quick dive in the pool and then the rain starts again. Good we decided not to go snorkeling, because how we would have looked like, the cameras and stuff. It is already 14:00 and we eat something in the restaurant. Today we keep it healthy and eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. After lunch we rest on the sun beds, but we need to find another option, because at 16:00 we see we are getting sun burnt. Out of the sun and do something else. It seems the sun burns that much you’ll be sun burnt even in the shade. We try to do a walk and exploration along the main road, but that is way too busy and dangerous. We return immediately to the hotel and drink Polar on the balcony, write postal cards and our diary. Then that is done. Eef had bought during our walk postal cards and we can almost send al of them. We rest a bit and make sure we’re at the reception at 18:30 to book some excursions. We wait a bit with a caipiriña and the hostess Ira arrives soon. We need to change our plans, because Monday and Tuesday we can’t rent a car.
At the moment it will be: Monday dive at Los Frailes, Tuesday rent a car, Wednesday Los Roques and Thursday a car again. Those things are already done and we book it. The details of the car need to be done with the rental company. And tomorrow we will need to see Davy and Yvonne to be able to arrange things the rest of the week. On the planning we also have Coche another two dives and Cubagua. If Yvonne and Davy do this with us, we don’t have to make arrangements ourselves. We’ll see. We ask some more questions on the hour difference and some extra info: today the time changes here: 03:00 becomes 02:30. Phone and internet we should use on the other side of the road. Then we’re done and it is time to drink and eat something.
Today it is BBQ. We take vegetables (cold and warm) and go outside next to the pool to get our meat. For us it’s chicken. It tastes very good and we drink something fresh with it. We want to avoid that we have too much alcohol, so now it’s cola and water. Then we go to the bar and drink something and a Margariteño prepares everything for Karaoke. We quickly take a caipiriña and sit on the terrace with view on the pool and drink. From this side it’s OK, not too much noise and we can see it all. We stay up till 22:15 and then try to sleep with the singing on the background. We manage quite well.
Sunday December 09, 2007: Playa La Caribe
Eef had not a very good night: the bed is good, only a little bit too small. Timo is on the balcony, writes the diary, watches birds and creates a list of all different species. Eef sleep another hour and then we go for breakfast. We want to prepare everything quickly to go shopping and we receive a phone call from Davy. The connection is very bad and Timo hears Davy, but not the other way. Then a half hour of stress, maybe a bit overreacted, but it was pleasant, kicks in. we want to call back, but at the reception it is not possible, they don’t want to or they can’t. On the other side of the road we can only have international calls, and surf the internet. So we need to buy at the supermarket Bodegon Johnny a phone card.
At the same time Eef buys sandals, sun block and cigarettes. Then we try to call Davy and after 5 or 6 times it still does not work. We need to follow the steps: 1 descuelga el auricular, 2 escucha el tono de invitacion a marcar, 3 insert y retiro o desliza la tarjeta en el sentido de la flecha, 4 espara unos secundos, 5 escuha y sigue las instructiones. We try it several times, but it does not work – we must be doing something wrong. Eef crosses the road to the supermarket to buy a hat and when she returns Timo is speaking with Yvonne and then with Davy. We will come to their place and then we go to Playa El Yaque. All is OK. Is was not easy to get in touch with them, we don’t understand enough Spanish, wrong mobile numbers, … but in the end it works out fine and we will meet at Brisas, Altagracia, Playa Caribe in the neighborhood of Centro Social del Arabe. We’ll see how that works out. We return to the hotel after this short session of stress, get our stuff and drink something at the bar. De rule of the train of 11:00 is also valid here, because only then the bar opens. We drink a Polar and take the taxi to Yvonne and Davy.
Everything goes well, the taxi drops us off at Felicia and Fanny (Yvonne’s sister) with the little Fabiola, and also the rest is there: Yvonne, Davy, Jean and Roza. We go to their place and eat a sandwich with cheese and vegetables baked in the pan; it tastes very good. Then at 14:00 we drive to Playa La Galera, close to Juan Griego, nice beach. We can swim and sit in the shadow, because we are red as lobsters already. It is very nice, Davy has a cooling box with him with beer and soft drinks and we enjoy every moment. The pelicans come and go, the Margariteños are having a fiesta on the beach with marvelous music and lots of booze. It actually is a genuine atmosphere, very busy, loud music, sun, sea, palm trees, beach, everything is great. Eef and Timo keep in the shadow; but the kids and Yvonne and Davy can already stay in the sun, they’re used to it. They swim in the sea and play in the sand.
At 16:30 it starts to rain a bit, very shortly a few drops, and so we return to the apartment. Jean, Timo, Eef and Davy walk there, Yvonne drive with the children and grandma. We’re there almost at the same time, so it is not far. In the block they have a swimming pool on floor 1. We swim there and then it’s time to go and check the sunset. It is beautiful and we only arrive just in time. We enjoy the sunset briefly and we drink an aperitif in the same restaurant, where we ate the pizza. We have 3 caipiriña, 3 Polar, 1 Smirnoff Ice and water and fanta. We chat a bit and promise to call or come by on Tuesday. Timo is buying and pays only 32.000 Bs for everything. In Euro that is 4.57, great isn’t it. We walk back to the apartment, there Davy arranges a taxi to the hotel for 35000 Bs. We say goodbye for now and we will see each other back soon.
The ride with the taxi is really crazy. The driver is going very fast; we people drove badly in other countries, but this beats all records. And we’re used to driving in Greece, but this. On 2 or 3 occasions we feared, we would not make it to the hotel alive, but we manage to get there safely over the mountains after a beautiful day at the beach. Timo tries to backup all pictures, but the camera breaks down. Deep shit. Try it again, still not OK and then it is too much and we go for dinner to think about something else; we drink three Polar (1 almost bottoms up!) and we have pasta. When we’re back in our room we only drink cola and water, because we’re diving tomorrow. Then Timo tries the camera again and now it works after the second attempt. Nice. We smoke something, write the diary and go to sleep at 21:30, exhausted. We need to be fit for our two dives tomorrow. Yes and hopefully with underwater camera.
Monday December 10, 2007: Dive at Los Frailes
Yes, today we will dive the first time in Caribbean. We have breakfast and have a good meal. That way it will work out fine. We pack everything for our dive and put everything in our bag pack. Then we’re ready and we receive a call on our room. There is already the pickup and it’s only 08:45, well on time. We still need to pickup one couple at Hotel Coco Paraiso and that is a Dutch couple that was on our flight. They join us for snorkeling. The boat is already in place at Playa El Tirano, we go there with a small speedboat and then it will take us one hour to get to Los Frailes. Cool, let’s go. On the way we see ten flying fish, a group of 10 boobies, many frigatebirds and we are well off here.
We stop 1 minute to hand over a package to a local fisherman and sail along the rocky coast of Los Frailes. On the cactuses there are many pelicans and frigatebirds. There are also birds with a red throat sack; those are the males during the breading season. That’s great. A species of eagle flies over the rocks and many brown boobies too. We did not spot that before. We first arrive at the dive spot El Infierno. We prepare everything and we go into the water. This dive takes us from here to the corner of the island and then the same way back. Under the surface it is just magnificent, lots of coral, plenty of fish and many many colors. We mention some of the fishes: trumpetfish, parrotfish, snappers, angelfish and many others. It is really great. We dive in-between shoals, the fish don’t seem to be scared of human beings. Timo has the camera with him and takes pictures at will. We are a group of 5: Eef, Timo 1 instructor and 2 Swiss guys, not too many and that’s nice. On many spots you notice the coral has been damaged so we need to pay attention. We swim over rocks and over fields of corals; it is breathtaking. Half way (at 100 bar) we turn and swim back to the boat. It swarms with fish; something like this is unseen for us. We have a good dive, after 45 minutes we come out of the water, which luckily is very warm, so everything is perfect. We had no trouble going down, ears and nose was OK, so everything was perfect. When we arrive back on the boat, we change oxygen and are already ready for the next dive.
But first we can eat something. It is plenty and tasty: cutlet, rice, salad, tomatoes, potatoes and as dessert watermelon. We don’t eat too much, because on Rhodes Timo’s stomach was too full, but this time it will be OK. When we are preparing for the next dive someone shouts: “Look dolphins!” and indeed a few meters away from the boat we see a group of dolphins swim by. We think they’re about 6 or 7 adults. It’ s great to see these creatures in the wild. This excursion is a very good one, that’s a sure thing. OK, second briefing: we dive on the same spot and end in the next bay. We dive with the same people in our buddy team and now the camera stays on board. Timo can now enjoy even more than the first dive: red fishes, nice colors looks like a rainbow. Also now we see the same species, 1 cuttle-fish and especially many yellow fishes, they always are visible in complete schools.
The blaze of color is huge, small yellow with a black dot, complete black, fully red, blue, all colors can be seen here. This dive goes directly to the boat, lasts 46 minutes and is as beautiful as the first one. We are well trimmed out, closely watch each other, we’re getting close to perfection. When we’re back, everybody is already there, so the dive of the other group (three people) took about the same time as ours. 2 people snorkeling are still in the water and when they come out the boat can leave immediately. It takes about an hour again and at 15:15 we are back on the island. Here in the harbor we need to wait on the pick-up bus. At this moment there is nothing much to see, the fishermen and vultures of this morning have left and we can only wait.
At 15:50 an obscure van arrives and brings us to the hotel. The bus is almost falling apart, like most of the cars here too. Everything is broken or almost broken. The cars would not pass the checks at all. They’re all old American cars, but all fallen into pieces. We are back at the hotel at half past four and we rinse everything and take a shower. Then Eef has the idea she needs to call, so we go out looking for a cheap phone. Right across the hotel the phone is broken, so we try it at the beach. There we don’t receive connection, so we will need to send a message, while we drink caipiriña, watch the pictures and write the reports. We have 4 caipiriña and sit at the bar until we can go to eat something. A small anecdote: on the boat to Los Frailes Eef had a headache, no migraine, but normal ache. The problem got solved, when she loosened the strings on her hat, well done baby…
After dinner we see a live band at the hotel. We are close to the atmosphere. We enjoy it very much: 1 harp, 1 bass, 1 ukulele, 1 singer and 1 guy who gives the pace with samba balls. It is very nice, but a bit too busy because we are too close. After about 5 songs they take a break and we move to the balcony with view on the pool and the band. We drink some more Polars, light our candles and enjoy the second round of the band. We stay up until 22:00.
Tuesday December 11, 2007: La Restinga and Macanao
After a good night rest we get up at 07:00. We have slept very well and we need to go to the breakfast right away, because at 8 someone drops off the rental car at the hotel. He is there right on time, at 08:10 and we fill out the necessary forms. The rental is expensive, 65 USD), because we could not plan the days after one another and receive a discount. We pack all our things and at 08:45 we’re gone. We drive in 1 time to La Restinga, a lagoon of mangroves. We drive by Altagracia and Juan Griego and everything goes smooth. We had thought traffic was worse and the car does have a manual gearbox, so that’s very nice. The last kilometers is a highway and we are there at 10.
We do have a short delay, because there is a police/army check post. They ask my passport and driving license, OK no problem, except for the license not being an international one, but for rental cars that’s not needed. OK very well, that’s OK for office Martinez. But then he puts his head inside the car, the barrel of the gun right in front of Timo’s face. He needs to stay cool now. So he asks for the ‘passaporta del señora’, but that one ‘es en hotel’! That is a problem, according to him, because he says you need to have your passport with you at all times. The people from Arke told us we should leave the passports in the hotel. After some talking in Spanish-English he lets us drive off. The macho with the machine-gun did not loose his credibility with his friends. We are literally 200 meters from the reserve, when he stops us. We can move on and need to de-stress for a minute with a cigarette before we enter La Restinga. In a big visitors book we need to write our names and then we can explore the lagoon with a small boat. We get in only the two of us and we’re waiting for other people, but the master is already gone. This will be a private trip then. So we sail off.
The guy sails over a huge water surface to the other side and dives into one of the canals between the mangroves. The trees grow with long roots in the brackish water (Eef actually tasted) and that are the mangroves: those ‘air’ roots give a special effect: the thick trunk with roots at all sides seeking for grip. Some trees have roots hanging from the branches into the water and other ones only from the trunks. Up to two meters high the roots go and from there into the water with a giant bow and they sometimes form a circle with a diameter of 3 to 4 meter. The guy sails through the canals. They are sometimes rather wide – 5 meter – other ones are just wide enough to get through by boat/ and they all have romantic names: el canal del amor, el tunal de mio amor. When the area widens a little bit squares are formed and then they have a tag plaza. Suddenly he stops the boat and looks for something between the roots of the trees. He has found a starfish and put the animal on Eef’s hand: it’s completely orange and looks pretty. On the trees and the roots also dozens of crabs live, completely black ones with a little bit of red on the pincers. He slowly navigates through the canals and we enjoy the cruise. There are plenty of fish in the water and oysters grow on the roots and there are a lot of pelicans. Suddenly he stops again and sails between the branches and the roots. He takes something out of the water and puts it in a cup of water: a seahorse! Magnificent, our first seahorse in a wildlife environment. He quickly put it back on the root and we move on.
Time really flies and we have requested one hour ‘sin playa’, so we need to return to the pier. On the way back we pass by a pontoon where oyster are being cultivated and nearby an eagle is tracing the environment: a beautiful majestic bird. That is the end to the tour and we pay 70000 Bs. We thought that it was 70000 each, but the price was for the boat. Such an experience for only 10 Euro, you can’t miss this. Now we take the car to Boca del Rio. There is a maritime museum (entrance is 10000 BS per person) and check it out. There are several beautiful exposition areas over two floors. The room of the turtles is magnificent and the one of seashells too. Inside there is an aquarium with small fishes and some of them we saw during the dive and there is a bigger one outside with turtles, sharks, rays and some smaller species. Here is also a skeleton of a whale. After about half an hour we take the car and go out to explore the island Macanao. Isla Margarita consists of two parts: Margarita and Macanao. The only connection between both parts is a small bridge, but actually they are two islands. Here along the road nature is more dry, no palm trees, lots of small bushes and plenty of cactuses. It is a beautiful sight, first with the cactuses, then the white beach and then the blue sea. On the other side high mountains rise out of the earth with wasteland. We drive on a good paved road around Macanao, apart from beautiful sceneries and nature there is nothing much to see. Only one village can be called an actual village: Boca De Pozo.
We don’t stop there, we do try to find something to eat, but nothing is open. The trip around Macanao takes in total 1.5 hours. We try to find something to eat in Boca del Rio then. On the side of the road there is a little kiosk and there Timo has the choice between chips and water, so he takes a package of Cheeto’s and half liter of water. Then the trip goes back to Juan Griego and we want to visit Yvonne and Davy. The guard let’s us enter the building, but they’re not here. Also in their house in Altagracia there’s nobody, so we decide to return to the hotel. We want to cool down in the pool, but only Timo takes the chance. Then Eef calls home, they’re expecting freezing temperatures, but everything is OK. At first we want to arrange everything for the car. We park the Nissan Sentra behind the hotel and then drink Polar with the Dutch Bianca and her father, almost ten. We take a shower and want to call Ira. At the reception they tell us the trip to Los Roques is cancelled.
Shit! We call her and she confirms we will be able to go on Friday for 100 percent. We cancel the car for the day after tomorrow (our second day), because we saw almost everything on the island and 65 USD is a lot. The people flying back now have a bit of luck: the flight has a delay of 6 hours, that’s then 30 hours in total. We now need to revise our planning and we’ll request three other things from Ira: 1 dive and two excursions: Coche and watching dolphins at Cubagua. She will confirm this through the reception. The party for the parents and friends of Victor and Diana will be on Friday, so we’ll have to miss that. We drink some stuff and we meet here somebody who lived in Bornem for 1.5 years, in Luipegem, only a few 100 meters away from Timo’s home. After all this we need to eat something, because we had too much polar and caipiriña. Then we go to bed early. We’re really tired and sleep like babies.
Wednesday December 12, 2007: Porlamar
Because the trip to Los Roques is cancelled, we get up a bit later today, for Timo that means 07:00 and for Eef 08:00. We have breakfast en check what we can do today. Yesterday we thought about Porlamar, so we will do that then. We take the bus at Bodegon Johnny, the supermarket closeby. The atmosphere on the bus is great, loud salsa and meringue music, love it. When we’re a minute on the bus it starts to rain like hell; the weather is very bad today. The whole morning there are grey clouds in the sky the sun is almost never visible. The benefit is that despite of it all, the temperatures are very good.
The shower stops the same way it started and the music continues – it never stopped anyway. The drive takes about 1 hour and costs 4000 BS, a bit more than 1 Euro for two persons. We arrive in the city and it is very busy, everywhere people walk, everywhere drive cars or stay queue and use the horn constantly. Together with the heat – here the sun is shining – and the exhaust-gases this must be like an average South American city. The bus left us at 100 meter from the Simon Bolivar square and that’s the direction we immediately go. A place in the shadow and everything is OK. In 1 of the high trees Timo sees 5 macaws; that is surprising and very cool. One wouldn’t expect this in a crowdy city like Porlamar, or the animals are tame of course. We walk in the busy shopping streets and are constantly being asked if we need a money change.
Here they give 7000 Bs for 1 Euro, so that is where Davy gets his high exchange rate. Here we primarily have shops and we’re not really the shopping type of people, so we take the boulevard to the sea. We arrive in the outskirts of Porlamar and walk criss-cross through the city, always trusting the sense of orientation of Timo. After about 1 hour we stop in a shop with only bikinis. Eef still needs a new one and we buy 1 for 125000 Bs (17.8 Euro), they had sales and the price was 155000, rally very cheap here. Despite our lack of knowing Spanish we can explain rather well. After that the walk brings us back to the main square and we start looking for a restaurant and something to drink. We see stands with hamburguesa everywhere, but first want to check it out, buy 2 cans of Polar Ice and sit down in the shadow. In the city it is very hot. All the stands are on the road, besides the pavement, but one has a seat next to his stand and not all of them have somewhere to sit. OK, let’s buy one or better two for 9000 each. A hamburger really stuffs your stomach. It contains: meat, ham, cheese, salad, tomato, chorizo, an egg and they are really huge. The guy cuts them in two and even then one half is bigger than a normal burger in Belgium. Actually 1 burger each is too much, but it tastes very well and we both eat it. Then we buy two more beers in a supermarket and the liquid does us well. A cold beer in this heat is very refreshing. It’s already 13:30 and we take the bus back to Playa El Agua.
This time the driver leaves the main road and many people get off at San Andres. Until then it was really stressy on the bus. Even on the bench at the end we were sitting with 5 people and 1 woman had a huge bag with her and two giant buckets: it was not really comfortable. We get off at the main bus stop of Playa El Agua at the end of the village and we go to the beach bar on foot. There we drink a few Polar and see that everything is OK. Except for the weather then; because it’s been bad the whole day and still is. The sky is dark grey and the wind blows every hard.
Maybe we’re lucky we were not in Los Roques at this moment. We return to the hotel on foot, dive in the pool and rest by the pool. From time to time the sun comes through the clouds every 15 minutes for 5 minutes, so that’s nothing much. We then realize we’re on vacation and in Belgium we would need to work and the temperature is freezing. Then we hear the flight to Amsterdam does not have a delay of 6 hours, but of 22 hours, that’s nice – for those people then. We stay here anther week and drink loads of caipiriña. We will need to kick-off when we’re back. We sit at the bar with Luc and Marian, with Bianca and here father and drink Polar while Eef has cocktails – Tom Collins. At 22:00 we go to the restaurant to eat. Today we have lasagna, but someone has drunk too many cocktails, so we immediately go to our room and sleep, while Timo watches Champions League. We don’t stay up late, so at 21:15 we hit the sack.
Thursday December 13, 2007: Rest at the hotel and work our tan
We get up at 08:00 and have breakfast. We don’t take a lot, because we would be a bit to thick caused by the food and the beers and cocktails. What will we be doing today? Nothing much probably; the weather is the same as before. It rains and there are a lot of clouds, but from time to time the sun appears. Temperatures are still OK, so we can run around in shorts and bikini. We won’t be cold here. Before we hang out by the pool we call Davy and Yvonne to tell them we won’t be seeing them tomorrow, because we’re going to Los Roques. They’re having a good time and maybe they will visit La Restinga today.
Then we surf the internet for 45 minutes for 4000 Bs (0.6 Euro) and we write an e-mail to Ju, Roel, Mike, Patrick and Maurits. We give them a short extract of how life is here. On www.weather.com we see it is freezing in Belgium at night. Then we swim in the pool and do nothing in the shadow. Well, there is not a lot of sun; the weather does not seem to get better. We eat pasta; we do have all-inclusive: this is the second time already we have lunch here. After lunch we rest on the sun beds next to the pool and we can get used to this kind of life: do nothing, free food and drinks as many as you like. Perfect! The flight leaving today has not departed yet, but will have a delay of in total 31.5 hours. We stay at the hotel on the sun beds and start to feel pain of lying all the time. In the afternoon at 16:00 the hotel provides a snack. It’s nothing much, but it tastes good. Today we don’t have any attention for that and we shower and go shopping to go to Los Roques tomorrow. Jippie! We pack the bag pack and ask the reception to wake us up at 05:30 tomorrow morning. Then the second time there’s bad news: the guy at the reception says: Manaña cancellado! Damn, shit, this time apparently because of the weather. We call Ira and she confirmed, but maybe she can book LR on Saturday through another company. She does confirm – depending on Los Roques – we can have the trip to Coche on Sunday, diving Los Frailes on Monday and watch dolphins on Tuesday. We go to the bar to have a drink with Bianca, Ties and Luc and Marian. They will leave Isla Margarita later at 21:15. From that moment the hotel will be primarily taken by Colombians.
We have a chat and have fun: there is a downside at this moment: Luc has forgotten his digital camera. He tries trough the reception to get it back from the taxi company, but he does not manage to do so. We have their contact information, so if they return something we will deliver it to them. During dinner Marian was speaking about a dog on the beach that had puppies and also was hungry. That is something you need tot ell to Eef. Tomorrow we will go to the supermarket and buy some dog food. At 09:00 the pick up bus is ready in front of the hotel and now there seems to come an end to their long vacation. They all were nice people. And maybe we will meet again. We drink something on the terrace, already nine candles are burning, and that’s a lot. At 22:00 we go to be, we are busy the whole day and are pretty tired.
Friday December 14, 2007: Playa Zaragoza
At 06:00 we awake both of us. Eef gets up first and wants to go to Bodegon Johnny to buy dog food. Not yet open. At 07:00 we try again, still not open and we walk to the beach and back. At 07:30 we already can have breakfast and we’re done at 08:00 and by that time the supermarket is already open. We buy for 8500 Bs 1 kilogram of Pedigree and go for the lookout of a Jack Russell on high feet and with long nipples and a litter. We see some neglected dogs and give them half of the bag. We don’t think we got the right ones, so we keep 0.5 kilo.
Then we return to the hotel and call Yvonne. They are at school and we say we will come at their house by taxi. Ira called in the meantime and the planning changed gain. Tomorrow diving, Sunday Coche and Tuesday Los Roques; we’ll see. The taxi drops us off in Altagracia for 25000 Bs and then we go with Davy, Yvonne, Jean and Roza to Playa Zaragoza. Yvonne and Davy come a bit later, because the workmen are working on their doors and they need to buy some new handles. We swim and after about one hour Yvonne and Davy arrive with the cool-box, so we can drink cool beers and we enjoy the beach, sun and sea. We only need to be aware not to get sun burnt. At 14:00 we get hungry and we eat: three large pargo (red snapper) with rice, fries, vegetables, arepa and baked banana.
The fish tastes wonderful. We can drink our own beers, but take two cocktails, so everyone can taste. We’re sitting under the palm trees at the Caribbean Sea, so everything is great. The whole feast costs 213000Bs, about 30 Euro. You can’t leave that for that money. At 16:00 Yvonne brings us to the square of Altagracia and we take a taxi back to Playa El Agua. We think we take a taxi without assurance – Union Juan Griego – but the female taxi-driver brings us safely to the hotel through the heavy rains over the mountains.
Once we leave the beach we only see rain. The weather is a bit confused. We take a shower and drink an aperitif in the bar and enjoy the rest of the day here. Again we did not do a lot, but we had fun. One also knows that one won’t see Yvonne and Davy for a long time, so we need to take advantage of this now. We speak to Ira at 19:30 about some excursions and about the way of living here and then go to eat, not really a lot, because we already had a big fish today. At the restaurant a band starts to play and the Colombians see to it there is a lot of good atmosphere. We seek the quietness on our balcony, drink and smoke something and then go to bed.
Saturday December 15, 2007: Dive at Los Frailes
Damn, damn, bad weather today. Will the dive take place, it’ already the forth day in a row bad weather and rainy. We fear the worst. We are already thinking about a backup plan – rent a car and drive round the island. At 09:30 they still have not picked us up and we quickly call Ira. She confirms that we will be picked up soon, but they’re having some trouble with other people at the different hotels. We go to our room, get our gear and at 09:45 the old bus arrives to get us. At the harbor there are high waves, everybody is on board, but we can’t leave yet. The boat is full, 32 people in total; that is too much. There are high waves and the boat is rocking like a roller coaster. We fix our eyes right in front of us and neither one of us gets seasick, unlike a couple of Germans, they are hanging overboard. After one hour we arrive on Los Frailes, now first on the island on the left side, the previous dives were on the island on the right. Everything is prepared and we go into the water.
Timo has trouble descending and returns to the boat to collect two additional pieces of lead. The guide of Scuba Pelicano did not really know, which blocks weighed how much, apparently Timo took 2 kilo too few and now he manages to dive under water and we can move on. We did not know where we had to look first – the corals are beautiful, the fish marvelous and they come in that high numbers, really beautiful, a pity the sun is not shining, because that would make it even better. We dive close to a wall until 100 bar and then return the same way and surface at 50 bar. Worth mentioning: 1 barracuda and 1 giant dorada, the rest we will need to identify from the pictures and from our memory. To be continued. At 50 bar we are right under the boat, Timo again was the first one to reach 50 bar. Eef and Timo rise as the first ones and the guide and the three Swiss people stay on the bottom for about three minutes longer.
Timo changes tanks and then we have lunch: 1 small piece of chicken, a whole pile of rice, salad, tomato and 1 piece of watermelon; we did not really like it – very greasy – and we don’t eat very much. The weather does not get better, because it starts to rain. The diving guide says this is because of a hurricane on the Dominican Republic, it is supposed to get better one of the next days. The boat moves to the other side of the island on the right and we have a drift-dive. It is really hectic when we need to enter the water, because they are scared to hit the rocks and reef. We go down directly to 16 meter, everybody follows OK. Here we see some lost cages. These were used to catch fish and scrape oysters from the bottom. Also in this area there is some current.
We’re relaxed, so everything goes well; we enjoy it and don’t bother about the hectic when we started. For us – not really experienced divers – this is paradise. Loads of fish, many beautiful colors, a grace for the eye. We enjoy it all and we are pretty hard impressed, the splendor of colors, the amount of fish. And then we think that there are even more beautiful places on earth to go scuba diving. For us this is really something and we won’t easily forget the four dives on Los Frailes. After about one hour we go up again, because we have 50 bar, Eef has 60, so well done Timo. We come to the surface – a few meters earlier the guide went up too, to check the direction and we swam ever further from the boat away. “Ich habe das Boot verpasst” was the only thing he could say. We palm in the direction of the boat and he raises an inflatable emergency tube in red.
They have seen it and come for the rescue and immediately we leave to the mainland and all goes well. On the boat there was a photographer with another diving school with real professional equipment, maybe he is someone famous. The van is waiting for us this time and we can get off first at our hotel. Shower, logbooks, diary and (s)cuba libre. Tasty! After a day of diving you’re always tired, so we don’t hold on too late today. Two Polars on our terrace and then sleep. A special note on the dive: a certain moment we saw a stone statue of Maria on the bottom. Nice to make such a discovery.
Sunday December 16, 2007: Catamaran to La Isla de Coche
We had set our alarm at 07:00, because a bus picks us up at 07:30. Because hotel breakfast only starts at 07:30 we don’t eat, only have quickly two cakes and drink a coffee. The bus arrives on time and brings us to the harbor of Porlamar. We are personally welcomed by Suzanna and Daniel; two very sympathetic people. We wait for 20 minutes on the last buses and enter the catamaran with 56 persons. We receive a briefing, introduction of the crew (a gang of madman) and safety instructions, always laid back and with a funny twist. They give us orange juice and Venezuelan Christmas bread, very good. We sit inside the cabin, but it smells there and there is a lot of running around, so we go and sit outside, in the sun, we need to use plenty of sun oil, so we won’t get burnt.
The crew plays tricks on everyone and there even is 1 guy who films the trip – of course to sell the DVD afterwards. With all the funny stuff, time flies and before we realize we arrive at Coche. We talk with a German couple, from the ex DDR and they even lived during communism, they even spoke Russian. We arrive on Coche and this is really Caribbean, waving palm trees, beautiful blue water and a sandy beach white as snow. Just splendid. That is why you come to the Caribbean of course! We choose two sun beds with a parasol so we can sit in the shadow, because it is hot like hell and there is a breeze, so that is dangerous. They improvise a beach bar and we can drink everything, just like on the boat, very well arranged.
The crossing apparently took a while, because it’s already time to lunch. It is a buffet in a house a bit down the beach and we have tomato, cucumber, cabbage and carrots and a piece of fish with rice. The German couple sits with us at the table and we talk about one thing and another. After lunch we try to see some fish during snorkeling, but there is nothing to see. We swim to a pier with a dozen of pelicans, but apart from some mussels we see nothing. So we rest on the beach, doing nothing, that’s nice too. At 14:00 the crew calls everybody to join to the Salinas: salt mines. We walk a minute and arrive at the deserted salt mine; here are mountains of almost petrified, crystallized salt. Behind that there is a rose-purple lake; that is a beautiful sight. There is a part of the lake with really black mud, it seems that it’s good for the skin, but it stinks unbelievably hard. A few of our group rub it on their skin and even plunge in the mud. Not us. We solely watch and enjoy the surroundings. As the first ones we go back to the sun beds, rest another 30 minutes and drink a beer.
At 15:00 it’s time to start the journey back. We arrive at La Isleta and the same bus as this morning brings us back to the hotel. Just outside the harbor Timo sees a caracara fly over the road, yes; that bird was still on the list to be spotted. At 17:30 we’re back at the hotel, rinse our gear, take a shower and then it’s back to caipiriña time at the bar. All inclusive does have some good sides too. We are hungry and are tired, that is surprising, but you know, we always are outside in the plain air, you get tired of that. We eat pasta with cold vegetables and fish from the buffet. After dinner we take another caipiriña to our room and drink it there. Already 12 candles, Jesus, our time here is becoming short. Das ist Schade! We fall asleep like rocks and it’s only 21:30.
Monday December 17, 2007: Love doing nothing
Today we don’t have anything planned, so we sleep long, till about 8. Then breakfast and surf the internet. Apparently nobody answered out first mail, so we now send another one. We check some things out and after half an hour and 2500 Bs we stop. We have Pedigree with us, so we walk down the road to the beach, try to call mother Linda, but ‘no connexxion’ today. We walk down the boulevard towards the beach bar and look for the Jack Russell. At first we don’t see anything, but then wee a dog running towards us. This must be the one we’re looking for, so we give her the half kilo of food and watch her eat, almost all at once. Now everybody is happy and we take a picture for Marian. She will be happy too: on the way back to the hotel we meet Ira. She calls the tour operator to check on tomorrow: 99 percent sure it will happen. Great!
We stop at the supermarket and then rest at the hotel. Timo drinks Polars, Eef cola and lemonade; she is a bit out of her normal behavior. We have lunch too: small cutlet (Timo) and fish (Eef) with potatoes and a little bit of pasta that they prepare at the moment itself. We sit at the bar and wait for a call from Yvonne to see what we can do together today. We don’t know yet. We sit in the bar and watch the butterflies and the birds. Butterflies are very common here and all different species, all are pretty, white, yellow and orange ones. They’re all rather big and very beautiful, so we found it was worth mentioning. We decide to do a siesta, about an hour or so. It becomes two long hours and we are woken up by the phone. We hear Ira say the trip to Los Roques is cancelled – another time.
Fuck, shit, hell and devil, really, really down we call her back to confirm we got the message. Timo asks if she has other possibilities, she hasn’t, but on the beach road there are plenty of tour operators and she says we could try it. So we walk down to the beach and stop at Magic Tours. A young guy – in his twenties – lures us inside, speaks very good English and French. Together with a lady inside behind the counter he looks for a solution to our trouble. The daytrip is no longer available, but the trip for 24 hour is. They perform some phone calls and they book a night in a posada. It is a bit more expensive, 495 Euro, but we’ll make it there, great! We can’t pay with the credit card, so Eef runs like the wind to the hotel to get 500 Euro in cash. In this heat, unbelievable, nice running, because all the offices close in less than half an hour. First Eef runs past the office when she returns, but we’re just in time. We happy!
At 06:15 they will pick us up and then we go by plane and then by boat to two different islands and we will stay there for the night. The next morning there will be a flight back to Porlamar. We drink one at the bar and dive in the pool. Then we prepare the bag pack and also the small bag from Eef. Will it work then after all? We ask the reception to give us a wakeup call and they tell us time changed to 04:00. That’s early! So then we go to the bar and we won’t stay p late. Each one of us has a caipiriña at the bar and we enjoy the day, which could be – without delay – our last one here al of a sudden. It’s been quite stressful; we have not yet experienced this during a vacation, but tomorrow will be the grand finale of a beautiful vacation. YES! We drink after dinner another caipiriña on our terrace and go to bed early. Tomorrow: Los Roques.
Tuesday December 18, 2007: Los Roques
An early rise today: 03:35. A good thing we had set our alarm, because at the hotel they had forgotten to wake us up. At 03:45 Timo was at the reception and only then the guard was woken up, very nice, almost thé trip of the vacation missed. We wait a few moments and a normal car comes and picks us up. The guard first check out who it is and confirm it’s OK. We drive with a stranger to the airport; this is a little bit creepy. But without trouble we arrive after 30 minutes at the airport, with an average speed of 100 kilometer per hour. The check-in is fast; there are only 20 people for two small airplanes: a Cessna 208B Caravan I. We sit with 9 passengers and 2 pilots in the mini-aircraft.
That is an experience on itself. We fly over La Restinga and then over the open ocean, we pass over the island La Tortuga and then start to descend slowly. Through the clouds we can spot small islets like a Caribbean paradise in the sea. All small pieces of land form an archipelago of about 300 islands, all surrounded with a white beach and a blue sea. The view is magnificent. We land after about 1 hour of flight on Gran Roque, the main island and we are welcomed very friendly there. The airplane lands on a mini-runway, stops half way down and returns the same way to the airport building. That is only a kind of kiosk where they welcome us. Everything is ready and we pay 12000 Bs airport taxes in Porlamar and 3800 taxes to enter here. It’s a national park, so they need to keep this rather exclusive. José waits for us, already gives us the key of the posada tonight. We dress for a day on the beach, only take our snorkeling gear, passports and money; only the most important things. We have still about 30 minutes of time before departure at 09:00 and we wait for our guide on the beach. Here must be a lot of fish, because hundreds of pelicans and boobies fly into the water to catch them. We enjoy the sight and we stare our eyes out. Along the flood-mark there are plenty of shells and pieces of coral; it is a marvelous sight. The 30 minutes are over almost in a second and we can board the catamaran “Tornado”. It sails with us and about 40 other people to the first island: Francisqui Bay. There we have time to walk on the beach and swim a little bit.
At 11:30 we can go snorkeling. With a big group we walk towards the end of the bay, where we can see more corals when we snorkel. Plenty of fish, anemones and we like it here a lot. Timo dives from time to time to take closer pictures of the fish and corals and Eef stays above the water. We snorkel a long time and stay in the water as the last persons in our group. This was very beautiful, now we need to wait what it will be on the photos. Then we walk back to the boat and get lunch: cabbage, fish in tomato-sauce and rice. We started to be hungry already. After lunch we have another half an hour to rest, sunbathe, swim and that is all perfect in this Caribbean atmosphere. In the back of our head we think about the freezing temperatures in Belgium and the heat here. The sea has deep dark-blue parts and other less profound and those parts are turquoise and azure-blue. When the sun plays with the waves, it is a paradise. At 14:00 we sail towards the next stop: Madrisqui.
Under a lead sun, we walk along the beach to a settlement that is only inhabited during the season of the lobsters. We wade through the water, the sea connects the two parts and an area with a width of 5 to 10 meters is only half a meter deep. It’s beautiful. We walk through the village and see the people clean and filet fish, we see the cages where they capture the lobster and fish. Suddenly Eef shouts: Dear you have 10 mosquitoes on your back. And then she realizes the mosquitoes are on her body too. Timo kills in one stroke 4 mosquitoes on Eef’s cheek and we run back to the other side of the bay, where the boat dropped us off. At that side there are no mosquitoes and we rest a bit, because we need to come to ourselves.
We cool down in the water and luckily the dozen of bites are not really that bad. Eef has two big ones in her face, but in the water they don’t grow. The ones on her legs have grown. We stay in the water the whole time and that is very refreshing. At 15:30 it’s time to return to Gran Roque. Here they give back our bags and we find the room where we will sleep tonight. Small, cozy, clean; it does not need to be more. At our last sunset in Venezuela we write our diary and enjoy the coming and going from the frigatebirds, pelicans, boobies; everything is magnificent. We sit at the beach and enjoy it all. Previously we had explored the village. Very special here are the posada, no roads, but beach and sandy roads and everything is rather well organized. It really is unbelievably worth the visit.
Words can’t describe what we’ve seen: al these impressions on 1 day, hopefully the pictures will provide a good idea, but anyway this is a special place that deserves a special place in our hart. Super! We search for the restaurant: they had told us the white building along the beach with blue shutters. There are two exactly alike 20 meters from each other and we are waiting at the wrong place. In the end we reach the correct building and eat and drink something and around 20:00 we go to the room at the posada. They will wake us at 06:00 tomorrow morning and at 07:15 we can fly back to Porlamar. That then will be our last day here, of if there is a delay maybe not yet.
Wednesday December 19 and Thursday December 20: Nice warmth, sun and departure home
They forget to wake us, but we had taken that into account. At 06:00 the mobile phone starts beeping to wake us. Right on time. We quickly pack and ask info at the desk of LTA: Linea Turistica Aerotuy. We receive the boarding passes in a small office (only 1 desk) and need to be ready at 07:00 at the airport. Well, airport, if you may say that. From the village a small road comes to the tarmac and there is one waiting room and 1 desk to pay the entrance taxes. We got everything settled now, Timo fetches the bag pack and two vests and then we have breakfast: a sandwich with cheese and cornflakes. Timo squeezes the juice from a few oranges and at 07:00 we ready at the runway. The plane lands at 07:05, all bags are unloaded and our bags are loaded to the plane and at 07:20 we already can leave; if on the flight back to Amsterdam it would work out the same, it would be great. We first fly out a roundabout over the archipelago and enjoy again the splendid view from the airplane.
We are impressed; such a gorgeous place on earth. We hope people can keep places like this for the future. We land after an hour in Porlamar and we take the luggage from the airplane and go through the airport. The same guy that brought us is now also waiting. At 10:00 we are at the hotel; it took a long time, because there were a lot of traffic jams. At the hotel there was a note from Ira: delay of 7 hours and another note from Davy and Yvonne. They passed here and wanted to do some more stuff together. We first go to our room to put everything in order and Yvonne calls us. Timo checks on the reception and there they are. We tell then about Los Roques, show the pictures, and prepare quickly a bag. Then we are going to say goodbye to the children and the dogs. Around noon we drive to Juan Griego once again, have a hamburguesa and a hotdog. It is very good at a stall along the road. We also buy rum, walk through the streets of the city, we go to all and no directions. It’s nice, our last day. At 13:30 we call Ira to know if the seven-hour delay is final and indeed: the plane has left Amsterdam. We need to check out at 13:30. Damn, that’s going to be difficult. Davy and Yvonne go to collect the kids at the hotel where grandma and grandpa have been and they drop us off at Hotel Las Palmeras. The posada on Los Roques had the same name.
The goodbye is not pleasant, but this is something that needs to be done. We will see Davy again in May, but Yvonne and the children that will be something else. We wish them the best and then we have to do something that’s not funny either. The time is 14:20 and we need to be out of the room at 14:30. Tough luck! The people of the hotel are suddenly not very friendly anymore. We quickly pack, but we don’t stress or at least not too much. We are ready at 15:00 and drop the luggage behind a counter of the reception. We take a swim, take some tan, sun, color for the last 1.5 hour. The hotel has a room where we can take a shower, so we do that, change and go for a walk to the beach. We take a caipiriña with us and go to thank the people from Magic Tours. We stop at Bodegon Johnny for coffee and some souvenirs. We still can drink and eat at the hotel and at 20:30 Ira and the bus arrive to bring us to the airport. We fly at 00:30 to Curacao with the company Rutaca. The airplane for us could not land on Porlamar, so we need to go with another company to Curacao and there the same plane needs to pick up people to Porlamar and there a plane should be ready to bring us to Amsterdam.
In the bus Ira is calling whole the time and people start to gossip. The first one is to go to Curacao, then back to Porlamar, the second one is we don’t leave at all and they bring us back to the hotel and so on. The check in procedure takes long, even longer than the check at customs. And then indeed there is a Venezuelan company Rutaca waiting for us to fly us out to Curacao. The flight takes about 1 hour and local time is 02:00 when we land: there is a difference of 30 minutes with Venezuela. Then our flight brings the other people directly to Porlamar and we need to wait more than 1.5 hour for Schiphol.
The people leaving from Curacao have numbered seats, the people in transit don’t. It is a fight between everyone to have a good seat. We find one until suddenly two small children pop up. We sit NINE hours with a weeping kid behind us. The parents had nothing to say about those kind of actions of the kids, they could not or did not want to. We even suspect the Dutch couple was not bright enough to do so. Anyway, Timo manages to get some sleep, but Eef does not. We arrive in Amsterdam very tired, after a flight of nice hours. But there all is going very well. We have our luggage quickly and can walk through the customs control and then we need to check on our first train. As it happens always we only have 2 minutes and we can’t make that, so we smoke our last cigarette and eat at Burger King.
There is a long queue and as always during this trip when Jean chooses a queue it’s always the wrong one. Anyway we come on time to catch the train to Mechelen and there Maurits is waiting for us, who will bring us home. A vacation with a lot of making arrangements and a lot of fuzz has come to a good end. We are happy everything is OK and that we could have made the dives, that we could see Los Roques, that we could rest and sunbathe. Also this beautiful event has come to an end.