Venezuela part two. Beautiful Beaches, Tricky Travels and Rubbish (avian) Radar !!!
Cumana Travel Blog› entry 28 of 31 › view all entries
Phew ! after another lengthy bus ride ( at some point I will work out the stats on this, exactly how much of our life has been spent on buses in the past 6 months !) We arrrived in Tucacas, a small ( and to be honest, Grubby) little town serving the purpose of being the main hub for tourists ( mostly Venzuelan) to get to the beautiful offshore beaches on the islands of Morrocoy National Park. So we arrived in town and checked into our Hostal. Thank god it was cheap, as this one was a right dive (- which was Ironic, as the guide recommended it as also a "dive centre" for scuba, but we saw no evidence of that ! ! ) We had arrived in town on a Thursday, and knew that the following Monday was a "bank holiday" in Venezuela, so the town was expecting a lot of tourists, even our "dive" hostal was full, so we would be forced to move on.
The plan was to catch a boat to one of the islands and camp for a few days, so we set off to look for the Park rangers office , as , according to the guide, you have to register and pay the princley sum of one dollar per day for the privaledge. After searching for a while, we found what we think was their office, and after pestering some lady for a while ( the concept of customer service had not hit the ranger stations here yet, and if we had not pestered we may have been there all day) we were told in no uncertain terms that camping was not allowed.. PERIOD ! eeeep, this kind of scuppered our plans ! no camping, hostel full, bank holiday, hundreds of Venezuelans coming into town tomorrow.... PROBLEM ! So in true H&M fashion, we solved the immediate problem of worrying about accomodation by eating some cake ! ( it may have been a dive of a town, but there was a good cake shop!). We approached one or two of the touts selling boat tours that afternoon, all of whom advised us that it was no problem to camp on the island, and so bouyed up by this news we decided to give it a go anyway, went back to the hostal, repacked our stuff to take one bag with us for the duration and got an early night ready for our "boat trip" tomorrow.
So next day came and with some trepidation, after some last minute shopping ( snorkel set, bread, bananas and (thank god) a jar of peanut butter) we met our group of 10 or so Venezuelans and headed off to the docks to catch our boat trip to the islands. The trip consisted of a short tour taking in 3 beaches and returning home at the end of the day.. it was our intention to stay out on one of the islands until monday. We mentioned this to our driver, who seemed to have no problem, but the other passsengers were quite alarmed and we heard ( again in no uncertain terms) that this was not possible due to many diverse reasons ( Its turtle mating season, its a new law, giant sand crabs would eat us.. or something like that , my spanish was not too good :-) anyway, we shrugged this off and just got on with enjoying the day , thinking we would worry about it later.
The Park is staggeringly beautiful, and after about 2 hrs boat ride we arrived at our first carribean island, a cresant of white sand with gentle lapping water that was crystal clear over a ( sad to say, very damaged) coral reef. WE stoped here for a while, then back on the boat to what I can only describe as a swimming hole, an area of boats moored in about 4 ft of water wher everyone just jumps off the side and has a swim. And then finally to the main island, Playa Sombrero, where we were hoping still to camp ..
As it was a holiday weekend, everywhere was rather full, and we were amazed at how friendly and nice the Venezuelans were, and more importantly, how much they can drink ! Everyone, and I mean everyone was drinking booze. Swigging cans of beer from Huge ice filled coolers at 8:00am in the morning, and when that booze ran out, Hard liquor for the afternoon !They were all totally smashed and having a whale of a time ! And if we were dissappointed by the Brazilian beach lack of laydees in tiny thongs , Venezuela made up for that ! Ok, they were slightly larger laydees ( well some VERY LARGE) but all had the skimpy thong and , more importantly, had the beauty queen pose down to a tee. Whenever a girl was in front of the camera, the demeanour totally changed and the beauty queen pose came out !! Even for the kids ! it was incredible to see, these girls really knew how to work the camera ! - but I digress!
We arrived at the island and decided to risk it and set up our tent, as we saw one or two other tents also ther. As we were setting up, some Venezuelans came and asked us if we had heard if this was ok, as they were also planning to camp. They were ( luckily enough) a group of english teachers from central Venezuela, and we all decided that we had safety in numbers and if we all set up, the park rangres couldnt do much about it, and so thats what we did ! We spent the rest of the day swimming and mucking about, and at about 5pm, the boats all left the island taking all the Venezuelan tourists with them ( and we have a very drunken goodbye from our boat, who were amazed we were staying, wished us luck and wobbled back to the mainland.. empty brandy bottles in hand !) So we were left on the beautiful island, virtually alone ( about 20 people camping in total !) It was fantastic watching the sun set on a deserted beach ! and, as our torch had died (again) we did not stay up late and went to bed with the sun !
This is how it was for the next few days, mornings and evenings were peaceful and deserted as we wandered along the beaches, the days were full and vibrant as the tourists arrived and all got smashed on the beach! We had a bit of a problem as we did not have much food or money and the only place on the island selling food was exorbitantly expencive, but we survived on fruit and peanut butter from the jar for a few days ! By the monday afternoon however, we were ready to leave. What the desert island fantasy does not tell you is that after a few days of having no fresh water and bathing in the sea, you get very sticky, and more than a bit smelly ! so we were ready to head back to the mainland to get clean and look at our tans in a mirror. The boat back was about 3 hrs late, but at least it was there ! and we checked back into our hostal and relished the cold, yet freshwater showers and a change of clothes !
The next day we haded north for the next phase of our Carribean oddessey. We headed for the town of Puerto la Cruz on the northern coast, again passing through Valencia bus station with all its scam artists telling us .. no bus .. no bus etc. This time it was even more fun as we had to wait for a few hours when we DID find the bus, and while i was in the loo I had two people coming up to me, one to ask me if I wanted him to buy me the "requisite" tourist visa ( there was no such thing, he just was scamming for cash) and another offering me drugs.. and all this in the time it took to pee !!
We got on the bus no problem ( it was over an hour late starting) and after the first breakdown and fan belt change (quite a spectator sport in venezuela it seems) we were on the road at the princley speed of 20km per hour for the 11 hr bus ride to Puerto la Cruz ! Naturally we arrived at stupid o clock ( about 2 am) , and jumped into a stupidly expencive taxi to the hotel (as nighttime in a new town in Venezuela is not a good time to take a walk) and Amazingly the hotel lobby was full with some sort of convention that had also just arrived ! so we eneded up next door in one of the WORST hostels of the whole trip. No water, dirty and we got bitten by bed bugs ! Ugh. but at 2am there was no other reasonable choice so we just hunkered down ready to leave ASAP the next day... which we did (as construction work had begun outside our room at 6am) , to a much nicer hotel round the corner with TV and a balcony .. Phew !
Not much happens in Puerto la Cruz, it is more of a stop over on the way to Isla Margarita, Venezuela's main Holiday hotspot, but we spent a couple of nights here. You can promonade up and down the sea front, eat excellent kebabs (as all the restaurants seem to be turkish) and sort out your chores ( money, shopping etc) before heading off to more deserted beaches. We did this on the third day.. we tried to get a boat out to one of the local islands, but on arrival at the portside, were told the boats only go if you have 5 or more people.. where the hell were we going to find 3 more people on a wednesday morning !! So after waiting around for an hour or so, we gave up and were heading back to the hotel when two young venezuelans grabbed us, and asked us if we were going to the playas ?.. "why, YES!" we said and so the 4 of us were able to convince the boat man to take us out to Playa Saco for the afternoon, where the venezuelans met up with their friends ( about 20 of em, all screaming queens , drunk as skunks on rum and partying on their friends boat, pumping out reggaton). We joined in for a bit ( I can gay it up with the best of em !) but when they decided to head off to another island to carry on the party we declined and returned back to the hotel !
Juat a litle aside here.. to note how nice Venezuelas are.. we had a bit of a worry as we were checking ther cash situation. We had changed some money but when re-checking , we found we were about 200 bolivars short ( about 50 us dollars), and were really a bit pissed off ! H had the sense to ask at the hotel reception, in case we had dropped it in the corridor ( I thought this was a waste of time as someone would have just nicked it anyway). But on returning from the beach, there it was, all 200 that somehow had been "found" and returned to us ! WINNER !! how nice is that.. I doubt even the posh hotels in England would do the same, so we were well chuffed !
The next day we moved on along the coast to our next deserted beach.. Playa Colorado. Again the "town". if it could be called that, was a total dump, but the beach was nice and we spent two night s there in a Suisse run hostal where we met two engligh backpackers and swapped stories. The main highlight of the place was the one house that doubled as a shop where we bought .. well.. basically whatever he had to offer for our dinner ( ther we no restaurants) .. one day chicken, the next tomatoes etc....
After Colorado we moved onto Santa Fe, a slightly bigger town that at least had a shop and a couple of bars, so we felt like we were properly back in Civilization again! We got a great hostel, totally empty of course ( as they all were) but Directly on the beach, so much so, that we could lie in bed and watch the sea ! The town was odd, one one side it was a really grubby, shitty charmless fishing village full of rubbish and drunken fishermen, but crossing a car park you get to quite a beautiful and well kept beach with crystal clear water and a few restaurants, which was where we stayed ! Food was a bit of a problem, there were restaurants, but they followed the south american tradition of only doing lunches ( we did not realise this on the fist day) so had to resort to street food ( pepitoes, like a sicked up meat sandwich. I liked em, but it made H ill). By the second day we had learned, and I tried the national dish.. Pabellion Criollo.. which was nice ;-) But with H being ill, and getting a but fed up with being off the gringo trail ( this was the first country were kids would cycle past us shouting "gringo, gringo" , we assumed because so few came here !) it was time for Civilization again, so we set off for the regional capitol, Cumana !
The Hostel in Cumana was by far the best place we had stayed in Venezuela so far ( and possibly the best in all South america) It was Clean, air con, towels, fridge , the works ! and after "roughing it" in the arse end of Venezuela for a while it was a godsend! The town itself was very pretty in places, with old colonial charm, and like most towns in south america, a total dump elsewhere. We walked up to the old fort and had an excellent free tour , and on the way down saw a funeral procession remeniscent of the openeing sequence of "live and let die" ( except with less music and more booze). We had decided that we would go to the Isla Margarita to end our Venezuelan oddessey ( rather than Angel falls, as we met some folks that had been there and even though it was beautiful, it was dry season so it was just a trickle !) but before we left Cumana and the Venezuelan mainland, we thought we would have one last adventure, a vist to the cave of the Guacharo !!
The cave is one of Venezuelas Highlights..it's longest cave system, over 10.km (6.3mi) long and is inhabited by the guácharo (oilbird), which lives in total darkness and leaves the cave only at night in search of food. Great we thought, and after chatting to the lady at our hostel, who advised us how to get there and back, we thought it would make a grat day out. Well, comedy of errors does not even begin to describe what happened that day !!
We left for the bus terminal for the 9am bus we were assured left direct for the cave on its way to the town of Caripe. On arriving at the bus terminal, there were no buses, and i mean absolutly no buses. In each of the signposted stations where you would expect a bus , was one of those old beaten up communal taxis !! we asked about for a bit, and no one had heard of a bus to the cave ( no suprise there) so we sat and waited for the next taxi to fill up, so we could go. Over an hour later, finally some business had been drummed up and we set off. The car was a real piece of shit and after chugging along at 10km per hour for a bit , it broke down and needed 25 minutes repair work at the side of the road ( I think the fuel line was ruputured) but eventually we got off again. It dumped us off, 2 hrs later in the backwoods town of santa maria, where we luckily got into another communal taxi ( this time a beat up, and chavved up old Punto... mmm blue neon !) who took us the last 45 minutes to the cave.. Phew!..
The cave itself was utterly amazing. Itis huge, and as you enter, the screaming of the birds is more unsettling than anything I have ever experienced, it was like walking into Draculas Lair or something from a horror movie (apparently its the lights from the guides Torch they dont like ). And its really creeepy to hear them flying over your head. Its pitch dark in the cave and the guide told us that the Guácharo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oilbird) fly by highly developed radar as they live in total darkness. Well, I didnt agree with him as 5 minutes into the cave, one of them twatted straight into me ! Hightly developed radar my ass !!!
Anyway, the cave was a brillant ( if a little muddy) affair ( take big boots if you go). Especially when you leave the bit the birds live in ( very noisey) in to the a bit they dont , and it all goes totally silent !!.. vey creepy !
We were done by about 3pm and ready to return home. The hostel had advised us that a bus came past the cave at 3.30 direct back to Cumana, but when we asked at the cave, no one had ever heard of it, and told us to get back to Cumana would be "difficult" .. eeep.
We waited for a while to see if a taxi came past, and when nothing did, I got chatting to a tour group of germans who nicely gave us a lift to the outskirts of the local town Caripe, where we might have more luck. We left them and virtually ran the 3 kn into town to the bus station ( as it was getting later and later) and asked if any buses were running... well the answer we got was a resounding NO ! and we were again told that to get back to Cumama at this time of day would be.. "Difficult" , but there was a bus tomorrow at 6am !! On checking our finances, we did not have the cash ( or inclination) to stay a night in Caripe ( although it looked like a great town) , especially as we had a boat booked the next morning that would take us to the Isla Margarita. So after looking a bit franatic for a while, a Local guy named Juan, who ran jeep tours and spoke english offered to take us back for 200 Bolivars... DEAL !
Things were looking up, he was great and after picking up his girlfriend ( for company on the way home) we set off through the hills back to our "home" in his Toyota land cruiser. He was a real character, and essentailly gave us a full tour, telling stories of the towns and what fauna and flora we were seeing, even stopping for photos. I sat up front and chatted to him, ( H was in the back) complimenting him on the nice car (and how reliable toyotas were!) Well, after a while, disaster struck again, the Toyota started acting up, we pulled over ( H was sick from being thrown around in the back) and he decided he could go no further as the car was knackered ! - Amazing !! the most relable car in the world, and ours was knackered !! typical !
He was really apologetic, only took half the cash ( although we were three quarters of the way there) and spoke to some locals who assured him ( and us) they would look after us and get us on the right bus. It was getting dark and he was concerned about two tired gringoes out on the roadside in the middle of nowhere, but still cheerfully drove off assuring us it would be ok. By this point we were down to our last few Bolivars, and with no other cash I was getting a bit concerned.
As it turned out, there were no buses to Cumana, but the locals , true to their word, put us on a bus going the right way ( well, not a bus but an open backed truck with no lights) that took us to Marguita, where we got direclty onto another bus that took us finally back to central Cumana and our hostal.. and a good thing too, as we got home with less than a dollars worth of Bolivars to our name !!
What a day !!
After all that we needed sleep, so crashed out, looking forward to tomorrow when we would leave the mainland for Isla Margarita, the tourist Haven ( UK package tours have been going there for over 20 years). Where we hoped things would get a little easier as they would be more set up for Gringo needs.. and we were two tired Gringoes with some needs!!!
Next time.. scamming on the Isla ! how we nearly got duped by some cambio wizards !!