19 October 2008 | Puerta La Cruz, Venezuela
Our ideal cruising life includes close-knit family time, healthy natural lifestyle, respect for the ocean environment, personal growth, supportive teamwork and appreciation for new cultures along our path. All of these things have become a daily part of our lives on Zen. But being able to appreciate new cultures is challenging with only a few days or a week to spend. It could take years to fully immerse yourself in a new place with new people, new language and traditions. Why am I being so philosophical? I don't think I will be able to put into words the depth of what we experienced here in Puerta La Cruz, Venezuela. Long story short, we befriended a person in Grenada Marine and promised to deliver some special boat parts from Grenada to his friend in Puerta La Cruz. On Tuesday, when all the businesses were open, we made our way around the marina to find our friend's friend, Jorge Garcia. Mind you, the two boxes with his name written in big black marker, were sitting in our forward cabin for about 3 weeks. Every time we used the head, we saw the precious cargo. He had become part of Zen and had traveled hundreds of nautical miles with us. Anyway, Tom and I were doing some errands, mosquito netting, to be exact, when he looked up and said, "Hey, check out that mast. I bet the boat attached to it is pretty cool. Someday I hope to have a custom painted rig!" Not 20 minutes later, after locating the infamous Jorge, Tom was standing inside the cool-painted-rig-boat. And it kept getting better and better. After an hour of personalized tour, Tom tells me he met the nicest guy ever. He and his partner, Male (Mah-lay), would be coming onto Zen at 7:00p in the evening to pick up the two cargo boxes and show us a slideshow of how they rescued their gorgeous boat from a reef. The salvage story was riveting and the evening did not end until almost midnight. Plans were made for us all to taste the local foods on Friday evening. The local specialty is a bread, almost like English muffins, called arepas. They are filled with just about anything you can think of. At the restaurant, it's like a cafeteria, you pick and choose from fillings that are so tempting, it's dizzying. The 6 of us sit down with arepas in hand and chow! It's filling and so satisfying. Cole is the first one done. To wash it all down, freshly squeezed juice. Perfect. Next stop, gelato! We shared meals with Jorge and Male, but also shared ideas, cultural differences, and dreams. The friendship was cemented. Next day, our plan was to split up. The kids, Tom and Jorge would go 60 miles per hour on his catamaran speed boat (Cammi wrote about this in her blog). Male and I would shop for food and other necessities. At 9:00a, Jorge's lead worker walked the docks to Zen to tell us that Jorge had an accident at home and his hand needed stitches! We immediately told his messenger that we would happily post-pone or cancel the boat trip and wished him quick recovery. No....no...no, he'll be here to pick us up at 2:00p, no problemo! Sure enough, bandaged and ready for action, Jorge and Male arrived and fun followed! Tom said the speedboat was crazy fast, unbelievably smooth through the waves and powerful like no other toy he's ridden in on the ocean! There was a big squall, no problemo, we'll race it and drive this way, towards Isla Margarita. The kids came home with tons of wonderful stories. For me, I simply nicknamed Male, My Saint (Santa in Spanish). We went to 2 different fresh vegetable markets. I bought a gazillion kilos of beautiful fruits and vegetables for hardly anything. We went to a pharmacy and got everything we needed and then did some special December provisioning (my friends know what this is). Hour upon hour, she drove me through the weekend traffic, negotiated parking lots and all with a genuine smile on her beautiful face. We chatted about recipes and food and cruising. Male and Jorge will be cruising on their own boat soon. After a full day, they informed us that the visit would not be complete without a trip to the beach with their dalmatian, Luna, who is deaf. Absolutely! This morning, after delivering special ancient indian leather/stone bracelets for the kids, home-grown bananas and coconuts, along with homemade desserts and cheeses and more local foods (I think Male was an Italian grandmother in another lifetime...she loves food too!) we got in their big tender and zipped over to Mochima national park islands and bays that were totally private and idyllic. As Luna swam and played in the water, we looked up to see hawks soaring in the thermals, primitive fishing huts built with logs and palms, and mangroves surrounding tranquil coves with majestic mountains all around. It was outrageous. To think, only one week ago, we were dodging big tanker ships in this same bay. Now, we all have a very special connection to this place, all because of one good deed and two special Venezuelan sailors. They made us feel like life-long friends. It's going to be a teary goodbye from a place we were apprehensive about coming to. Cultural immersion is something most cruisers hope for, but it's rare to occur, especially in such a short time. We are tremendously grateful to Jorge and Male for giving us the gift of immersion and making this visit so special for the four of us. Hopefully, someday, we'll get to do the same for them in Newport, Rhode Island.