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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 or murders.

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 hoping for… 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 and there… 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.

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