Clearing into Margarita
31 January 2008 | Porlamar
We were informed that we needed to get out paperwork to Juan by 9AM in order to get cleared in. Hideko and I made a trip ashore at what we though was 9 but it turned out to be 9:30. The Caracas area uses a half hour time zone in between the East coast time and the Atlantic time. Fortunately Juan called the car back for us so that we could make the cut.
Juan is a charming fellow who runs the cruisers outpost for all of Margarita. If you are a cruiser and need something in Margarita, you should ask Juan. Juan can change currency for you, get you cleared in or out and explain the extrme idiosyncrasies of said process to you, set up an island tour for you, advise you on tours to the mainland and orient you in any number of other ways. Juan also is one of the rare locals who speaks perfect English, not to mention French, Italian, German and lord knows what else.
His marina is a little pier in one to three feet of water, depending on the tides and where you tie up (I'd recommend the end near the steps). The swell can break all in front of the pier so while there's usually enough water for a dinghy you're better of swinging out way west of the pier on your approach.
Pedro is a large guy who watches over everything on the pier. Juan suggests a $1 US or so a day tip for Pedro when using the pier as this is his only income. Whether you pay him or not Pedro will always help you carry things out to your dinghy and make sure that nothing is ever stolen while he's on watch. Pedro is a fine gentleman and I can't imagine anyone not contributing to keep him on duty.
Veronica runs a small store in the building with Juan's office. You can get drinks and beer here as well as ice cream on occasion. Tulio works with Juan handling all of the clearance chores and also acts as a local tour guide and taxi. Trying to clear in yourself does not seem to be a fruitful use of time in this particular country, especially if you don't speak fluent Spanish. If you let Juan handle it, Tulio takes your stuff over in the morning while you do whatever you like, and by 4PM your docks are back, you sign things and your paperwork is ready by 5PM.
After dropping off all of our paperwork, Hideko and I dodged the mud puddles in the dirt road on the way out to the large shade tree in front of Juan's where the Taxi's wait. The local taxis can be anything from a beat 1984 Toyota to a fairly late model four door economy car or micro van. We rode in the Toyota into town. This cost us 8 Boulivares Fuertes. The new Boulivares are worth 1,000 of the old Boulivares. The old ones will be out of circulation by June and it is just as well. It is complicated paying for things in millions of Boulivares when you can barely count to ten in the language.
The official exchange rate is a little over 2 BF to the dollar. The actual international exchange rate is about 6BF to the dollar. Thus while Chaves wants everyone to buy Bolivares at 2:1 no one in their right mind would actually pay this rate unless forced to by circumstance. Most places will exchange cash at 4.5:1, giving you considerably more buying power and making the changer a nice profit in the process. At 4.5:1 Margarita is pretty inexpensive, at 6:1 it is very reasonable. Several of the cruisers in the harbor were basically retired here.
After a nice walk around town and a bite at one of the many Chinese restaurants (weird trying to communicate with the Chinese folks in Spanish) we returned to the harbor. The first cab we hailed wanted 25BF for the ride so we passed. The second guy had a little more beat up car but only charged us 10BF. Cab drivers seem to be the same the world over, except London of course.
We picked up our docs and joined Denali Rose and Wind Quest for dinner and Rancho de Pablo. We had a very nice Chateau Briand for two with wine, a shrimp appetizer and what have you for about $40US. It was an interesting first day exploring Porlomar.