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Venezuela

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Click on the map to see a larger version showing more detail
Click on the map to see a larger version showing more detail

Language: Spanish
Population: Over 7 million (2001). Mostly European.
Money: Bolivar: fluctuating but currently there are about 1400 B's to 1 US$.
Landscape: The eastern coastal region is semi-arid and very hilly, with lots of white, sandy beaches. The offshore islands (La Blanquilla, Los Roques and Las Aves) are low and arid with clear water and fringing coral reefs. Inland the geology varies from flat, river-filled plains (Los Llanos), to the Andes with Pico Bolivar reaching over 15,000 feet. The Orinoco River drains much of the country, flowing from west to east. On either side of the Orinoco the region is rain forest with high stark mesas.
Visited: Sept 20 - December 28, 2002

Ah, the Spanish Main!  We sailed to Venezuela in September 2002 and stayed about 4 months.  We left from Grenada and, as it's about 90 miles, we did it as an overnight sail, our first with the kids.  After a couple of squalls early in the evening, the crossing went well, with the wind well behind us and gentle swells rocking those off watch to sleep.

We first spent a few days off the island of Coche, playing in the water and lounging by the hotel pool with friends.  There were several other cruisers with kids here, enough for a midnight soccer game on the beach.  Then we went to Porlamar, on the island of Margarita, where we spent the majority of our time.  Margarita is a duty free island, so there were lots of bargains to be had.  We flew from there to Mérida with 2 other boat families, and spent 2 glorious weeks in & around the Andes.  Then Jon's brother visited with his family of 5 and we sailed around the Margarita area.  We visited the Golfo de Cariaco, Laguna Grande, the Guacharo Caves, and Isla Blanquilla.  After they left, we hauled Ocelot to paint the bottom and do other routine annual maintenance.  Then we piled as much food on board as we could and headed out for the outlying island of Tortuga, and the archipelagoes of Los Roques and Las Aves, before heading off for Bonaire.

Venezuela went through considerable political turmoil during the 4 months we were there.  President Chavez is a protégé of Castro and saw himself as the champion of the poor (probably a good thing in a country with such a large & poor lower class, and such a small wealthy upper class).  He wanted to turn Venezuela into a socialist, or even communist state, claiming that he wanted to turn it into another Cuba.  Now, Cuba is reputed to be a beautiful place, but it's very poor.  I understand that many things are rationed or unavailable, and the public is not even allowed to own private cars.  Why a prosperous country like Venezuela would want to aspire (de-spire?) to this is beyond me.

Although there had been strikes earlier, around Christmas things started to boil over.  The vast majority of the action (marches, with attendant violence) only happened in Caracas, and out in Isla Margarita where we were anchored, we were largely unaffected.  Many businesses said they would go on strike, but mostly only the larger ones did.  Even the large grocery stores simply shortened their hours.

But after several weeks the supply chain had dried up enough that shortages were starting to show up.  Ships refused to stop so imported goods ran thin.  The banks shortened their hours, resulting in huge lines to get in.  (Luckily, we only needed the ATMs, which were outside and unaffected.)  Enough members of the oil companies (like the crews of the oil tankers) joined the strike that oil distribution, internal and for export, largely stopped.  Since Venezuela is the 5th largest oil producer in the world, this could have a large ripple effect.  Beer and canned butter (of all things) got scarce.

So what did we do?  We left, of course.  One of the joys of cruising is that we don't have to stay anywhere.  When the anchor comes up, all bills are paid, by definition.

Margarita | Coche | Merida | Los Llanos | Golfo de Cariaco | Blanquilla | Los Roques | Las Aves

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