Puerta La Cruz
13 October 2008 | Venezuela
Sailing Zen into Puerta La Cruz was like bringing a single-engine prop plane into Logan Airport in Boston during rush-hour. We had the distinct feeling we were "in the way" amongst over twenty 800-foot-behemoth-tankers. As gringos on the Venezuelan (pronounced: Benna-zway-lahn) mainland, we are most definitely a rare sight. Upon arrival, I started using my broken Italian on the VHF radio. The smiling, friendly faces greeted us in a bright yellow tender at the mouth of a 300-slip marina. We fumbled through with hand signals and broken Espanol. After Tom backed Zen, with her 26' beam, into a 28' wide slip, and we were med-moored (sterns close to the quay with 2 boats along sides), Freddy took our electrical cord, and we successfully plugged the boat in for the first time since Newport Shipyard in November 2007. Our battery charger was cheering as it topped up our battery bank and brought them up to a healthy level. We plugged in every device that needed charging, locked all our hatches and doors and stepped ashore, bound to check ourselves officially into customs/immigration. Passports in hand, clean faces and smiling children, we showed up at the marina office on a Friday afternoon at 3:30p. They warmly welcomed us, showed us the dock fees here at Bahia Redonda, basically $20/day for our catamaran (hey all you New Englanders, isn't that just outrageous?!) and told us to use one of the many local travel agents in the complex to act our agent for checking-in. Travel agents suggested we just chill for the weekend and wait until Monday for check-in. OK...that's easy-going, considering we are gringos who's ambassador just got booted beyond the borders. But, we'll go along w/their program and keep a low profile. While inspecting the Women's Shower facilities, I met another cruiser from Virginia. She clued me in to the exchange system down here. I won't go into the details, but there's 2 exchange rates, the public one, i.e.. banks, and the not-so-published-one, i.e.. Jose. One is about 2 Bolivars to the dollar, the other is over 4 B's to the dollar. By Friday at 5:00, thanks to Jose, we had plenty of Bolivars to cover us for whatever weekend excursions we encountered. Saturday morning was grey with some rain, which was great, because if the sun had been out, forget it, we'd have been dried-up raisins. The dinghy was lowered and the adventure began immediately. The Puerta La Cruz marina zone is quite unique and somewhat convoluted. A little tourist map was needed from the marina office before we could start navigating. If you were to blindfold me and transport me to Miami's inter-coastal waterway, I would not have been able to tell the difference. The houses are beautiful and the boats, mostly power, are outrageous. All of them sparkling new. The apartments are multi-leveled, painted beautiful colors, each with their boat/tender, carefully raised out of the water, off the back patios. The larger homes, with their infinity pools and sculptures and yachts were really something to see. First we arrive at a neighboring marina to procure a visual check of a friend's boat. More of my broken Spanish. This time we converse with marina security guards who are donning sawed-off shotguns and plenty of ammo. My husband and kids are riveted by these accessories. Funny, but I was so taxed just trying to negotiate us past the massive guard dog and security gate, my brain doesn't even register the weapons. We are basically imprisoned in a beautiful, nautical, jail, with only one exit: out to sea. Don't go inland as a gringo in this region of the country. Period. After the weapons show, dinghy conversation is lively, as you can imagine. "Do you think they ever have to use those, dad?" "What is the big green bullet? A flare?" You get the picture. Dorothy, this ain't Kansas anymore. At the dinghy dock, another couple on a monohull chats w/us. They are from Gloucester, MA and have been sailing for 4 years. They give us loads of local information and really get us psyched up for visiting Cartagena. Finally, under dinghy power, we are heading through winding canals towards Plaza Mayor. Upon arrival, we are convinced we're at Bayside Mall in Miami instead of VZ. There are nice open-air restaurants covering many kinds of cuisine, high end retail stores all arranged tastefully with tropical plantings and tiles and fountains. Loads of local families are out enjoying their day off and we tie up the dinghy, at the mall dock. But, reminder, don't go past the mall boundaries aka safe zone....remember? Anyway, it's at this point that we realize, maybe for the first time, we can communicate openly without being understood by others. Sure, some folks must speak English, but the norm is definitely Spanish-only. Stop thinking what you are thinking. No, we did not start chatting about the locals by any means. But it's a new feeling, one we've never felt. Ordering meals, making purchases, and navigating foreign currency exchange can really set my brain in overload, but fortunately, there is such tremendous overlap between Spanish and Italian, things seem to be going very well. When it gets more technical, that's where I'll start to lose it. Only once, in an ice cream shop, did I utterly fail at my communications. How does one say, "I am so full!" in Spanish? I think I said, "Soy gordo." I am fat? The nice ladies just furled their brows, shrugged their shoulders, and looked at each other. Never mind, here's my funny-money, thanks for the heavenly dessert. After a huge lunch and gelato, we are in food coma by the time we reach the grocery store. It is teeming with people. It is not like Grenada. Carriages are full of purchases, overflowing actually. In Grenada or Antigua folks shop daily and only get a couple of things. Cruisers' big provisioning runs are dizzying to the locals. Not here. They are just like us. Carriages are bulging over in the check-out aisles. And finally, speaking of daily needs, let me tell you about fuel. Where do I begin? One cruising family traded 2 Heinekens for over 25 gallons of diesel, plus they were given a couple of local cervezas during the exchange on a local fishing boat. You can do the math on that one! The locals pay $0.03 USD for a gallon of diesel. Yes, that's 3-cents. It costs less than water. The visitors, gringos included, pay a whopping $0.40 per gallon. But, one hitch, we cannot just drive our boats up to the fuel dock here in PLC. Another convoluted system. We, meaning Americans or any gringos for that matter, need to go either by dinghy or walk down the dock and fill jerry jugs. It is totally more work, but as you'd agree, the price is so worth the extra effort. Not to mention, it's necessary since we depart for many remote outer islands after our stint on the mainland. Fuel will not be seen again until Bonaire, at which point, it will rise again to $5/gallon. While I was preparing dinner today, the kids and Tommy climbed up the sea-wall that protects our marina/prison. As they enjoyed the vista, they wondered what would happen to this lovely country after the pending elections in November. We chatted over dinner, and tried to help the kids understand what a unique life-story they may have to tell to their own children someday. Will such secondary oil countries like Russia and China merge forces w/Venezuela and forever alter it's access to future American tourists? Will the Republicans in Washington get the oil rigs cranking off of Alaska, helping to make the US self-reliant concerning oil? Will the the US get serious about green energy sources? As I look at the bountiful country around me, I could easily forget I am over 2000 miles from Miami, that gorgeous Spanish-speaking American port of call. But who's future is rosier? With our financial markets in turmoil, our fuel prices still 20 times higher than here and food prices soaring, it's anyone's call. History will be made this November in Washington and Caracas. One thing is for sure, Cammi and Cole are getting a first hand education in world economics and politics.
P.S. New Photos in the Photo Gallery! Enjoy!