Monday, November 25, 2002
Puerto La Cruz to Caucagua
Amelio arrived at 7:30 am to take us to
the ferry terminal. The sun was still low in the sky, still
soft, just stretching her arms from a good night's rest. As
I helped Amelio shuffle our bags into the car, I watched Curt
securing Force Five's dock lines one last time for the week
we'd be gone. I tried to stop the million and one calculations
in my head about what harm might come her way while we're
gone. We've never left her alone for even a night, and now
for an entire week? How do parents ever do it?
Alfonso, our dockmaster at Margarita Marina,
was there to bid us "Ciao!" I looked back over my
shoulder as we drove away in the cab. He was moving Pam's
basil plant into a shady spot and checking our handiwork with
the chafing gear. It appeared the kids were definitely in
warm and watchful hands while we were away.
After all of our preparations, we arrived
at the ferry dock to find that there is no ferry to Caracas
on Mondays. Puerto La Cruz, yes. Caracas however, no. This
unforeseen glitch so early in our trip would add a day's worth
of driving to our trip before we'd even begun. No need for
deliberation though. We still went.
The ferry was actually quite big, and felt
more like an airplane with stewardesses, a movie playing,
and the like. And what an absolutely odd sensation it was
to move A) so fast, and B) so smoothly over the water. It
made our mode of island hopping transportation seem inane.
On the macro-scale, the two hour ferry ride would be at least
a two day adventure with a stop at Isla Coche for the night
if we had done this on Force Five. On the micro-scale, I pressed
my face to the glass to watch the waves whip by us that we
couldn't feel inside at all
. they were of no consequence
whatsoever. I couldn't feel them pushing back against this
boat, couldn't hear them crashing by, or taste the salt they
left in their wake. While on Force Five, each one has its
own personality for me. The way it meets our bow, either lifting
it, crashing into our cockpit, or has enough force to push
the boat heeling to one side. But from behind the glass windows
of the ferry though- they were no longer individual waves,
just one big sea.
I should stop for a moment before I go on
here. We are now getting to the part where we arrive on mainland
Venezuela. Most cruisers don't venture as far as the offshore
holiday island of Margarita, no less the infamously dangerous
mainland. The government is unsteady at best, the economy
is certainly worse. And already this summer we'd heard of
a boat being boarded, robbed, and ferociously beaten. And
there was yet another boat, Panacea, who's fate was much the
same while visiting Venezuela. Bandits tied them up, stole
everything not nailed down, and then shot their Captain in
the knee as a final farewell. "What to make of this?"
we had thought. We couldn't be sure. But we thought perhaps
once well away from the coast, we'd be safe.
So we were transcending on Puerto La Cruz.
I had no idea what to expect. A masked siege of gangbangers
to meet us at the ferry landing? Or would it be more like
a covert, lone assailant- stealthily posing as a taxi driver?
What a disappointment to arrive to children running to embrace
their grandparents, businessmen racing off to the office,
or lollygagging twenty something vacationers still in the
lazy haze of their weekend away. We caught a cab and he took
us to the car rental desk at the airport. Still no muggings
It took quite some time to filter through
all the different companies. Their prices varied greatly from
$70 to $30US per day. We opted for the sketchy looking company
at $30 per day. There was no sign on their counter, and they
couldn't even give us the more accurate road map we had been
but it was cheap and we were on our way!
That first afternoon, we decided we would
see how much headway westward we could make before dark. The
glitch being, since we had unexpectedly arrived in Puerto
La Cruz, we would now have to drive through Caracas to get
to the Andes. We drove for three and half hours through dry
and arid desert similar in landscape to Arizona, and later
through lush, tropical jungle. I wouldn't have been the least
bit surprised if a gorilla stepped out right in front of our
car out of the palms, vines, and dense green bush. Instead,
we got our first glimpse of the very, very poor side of Venezuela.
People walking along the side of the road, carrying cutlasses
or perhaps some bananas. Little stands were sprinkled here
four poles holding up a palm roof to cover
a table filled with arepas (something like pitabread), or
fruit, or perhaps some sort of handicraft they'd made. The
landscape flew by us as we drove westward, chasing a setting
sun. We started to look for a hotel or posada (Venezuelan
for guesthouse) along the way. The first one we saw was down
a dirt road. Locals actually stopped in their tracks as they
rubber necked to see the gringos passing in their rental car.
Surrounded by walls on each side, it had a man standing at
the entrance. We peeked inside the walled posada to see a
dirt yard and buildings that were barely standing. Though
it was growing dark, we opted to take our chances on what
we might find next. Meanwhile, we were nearing Caracas.
In some of our notes, we had heard that
there may be a hotel called Hotel Tajamar in a town called
Caucagua up ahead. But when we got to the next town, we thought
surely this can't be it. It was hard to tell where the town
even began, or if this was town at all. Dark now, we slowed
our pace, and could see clearly into the lit houses lining
the road. It was largely a black neighborhood. Naked babies
and toddlers clung to their mothers hands as they walked along
the roadside, though to where, who knows? Men seemed to be
gathering after work- maybe on their way home? Grandmothers
sat on their stoops. We saw faded billboard signs for the
hotel, but no roadsigns to find our way. We stopped to ask
for directions and headed down a different road to get there.
Turn left at the bus station at the bottom of a steep hill.
Up the hill, on the right, you'll see the hotel. Sure enough,
it was there. From the street, we only saw a little sign.
The hotel was hidden down a short passageway, behind a locked
door. But it only $15,000B's, was clean, and the staff was
friendly. As we unloaded our bags directly into the hotel,
locals leaning against doorways, or watched from their storefronts
checking out the gringos. I noticed that the hotel desk had
a close circuit TV positioned on our car parked in front.
We were told we should move into their parking garage as soon
as the attendant arrived at 7:00.
After a day of unexpected turns, driving
for the first time in months, and the excitement of being
in mysterious Venezuela- we were worked up and hungry. First
things first: we poured ourselves a rum drink and crashed
Pam & Steve's room to recap the events of the day. We
had already broken rule number one: don't drive after dark.
But alas- we were still here to tell about it. With a little
food in our bellies, and some sleep under our belts, we'd
be ready to face the day tomorrow.