From Tobago to Bonaire
Belgians on board on Tobago
After having lived and worked in Suriname for nine months, we spend a few days in Charlotteville on Tobago, relaxing and enjoying nature, we snorkel in Pirate Bay and spot beautiful fish among the coral. This is where we meet Gerrit and Arne, two nice Belgian guys, who sail with us to Castara. A local fisherman drops them on Happy Monster because our minimonster is too small to row four people and two heavy backpacks to our boat. Gerrit steers during the whole trip and they help with everything that needs to be done on board.
In Castara, about three hours from Charlotteville, the two sporty Belgians swim to shore while we bring along their luggage in our dinghy. They were supposed to find a place to spend the night here, but unfortunately the only place they could find was far too expensive. That night, we move some stuff in our boat and soon we have created two sleeping places in the saloon.
They don't get a lot of sleep because there is a lot of swell at the anchorage, but the pancakes Dory serves them for breakfast make up for this. Their two-week holiday is over, they swim to shore for the last time, produce clean, smart clothes from their backpacks and leave for the airport in a taxi. We sail back to Charlotteville where we clear through customs.
Back to work on Trinidad
It takes 24 hours to sail to Trinidad and after Suriname and Tobago it takes us a little time to get used to Chaquaramas, because of the many boats packed together in no less than five harbours and dozens of moorings; we've never seen anything like it before. As a result, it takes us several days before we are able to find our way around all the shipyards and shops. We discover a new phenomenon, the net. At eight in the morning we listen to the VHF to find out what is going on in Chaquaramas. It's about safety, the weather, you can ask all sorts of questions about repairs and anyone who has anything to sell or wants to buy something can announce this.
Via this net we find a second-hand dinghy, because a new, roll-up dinghy is not to be found in any of the shops. Because these days, everyone wants a dinghy with a hard bottom, but we have no room to store one of those on our boat. Via the VHF we arrange to meet the current owner of the dinghy. He inflates it on the jetty and it looks good. It's a lot bigger than our small Mini, so we call it Maxi. We take it with us to our own marina, inflate it and paddle to Happy. Then we find out it leaks quite a bit of water. We buy a big piece of vinyl and it takes us a whole tube of glue to repair the worst leaks.
An old Vietnam veteran who has been anchored in this bay for months with his boat 'Wounded Spirit' and who tries to live on only ten dollars a day, teaches us how to service Mickey, our outboard motor. All parts are removed, we clean everything thoroughly and after we have placed back every part - fortunately, we don't have any screws or bolts left - Mickey runs smoothly again. We now row around bailing with Mickey and Maxi and we are very happy.
There's a beautiful stainless steel two-burner gas cooker in the Budget Marine shop, with automatic ignition, and it's exactly the same size as our own cooker. At first we are indecisive, but we quickly decide not to waste this opportunity. With the help of Rien, a sailor from South Africa, we set to work. We find it hard to see Rien taking the brand new shining cooker apart, drilling holes in the sides and claiming, with beads of sweat covering his forehead, that everything will be all right. It did turn out all right and now we can simply click to switch on the gas, the burners are no longer switched off when we turn down the gas and the oven reaches higher temperatures.
One of the most important reasons why we came to Chaquaramas is to apply the anti-fouling, which we bought in Suriname, on the submerged part of the boat. Our boat is lifted out of the water and placed on shore. We decide to have the anti-fouling done by Andy, a so-called contractor who earns a living by doing odd jobs on boats. Meanwhile, Hans mounts the 'Link 10', a battery monitor which allows you to see exactly how much energy is generated by the wind generator and the solar panels and how much energy is being used. Dory seizes the opportunity to take the free bus into town to do loads of shopping. Andy shows us his 'magic', several white, nicely polished patches on our boat. These patches stood out clearly against the yellowed hull. Wonderful magic, now he really should use his magic on the whole boat. Within a few hours, the hull was beautifully white and shining Happy was put back into the water.
Holiday on Los Testigos
After a beautiful and very fast trip thanks to having the wind and the current behind us we arrive on Los Testigos, a small group of Venezuelan islands with a population mainly consisting of fishermen. What a relief, we enjoy the peace and quiet. One evening someone comes alongside in a small wooden boat and shouts: "Hi, are you really Dutch?" Marjan turns out to be Dutch and she decided to stay here after she arrived on her sailing boat a few years ago. Recently her brother and sister-in-law arrived as well, on their own sailing boat. Together with her sister-in-law Hilda, Marjan and a little girl she is baby-sitting we climb the only mountain on the islands. Hilda and Dory clamber on a rock, the highest point; the view is yet again breathtaking. On the way back we find a tortoise which the little girl wants to take home as a pet. Once we are back down we swim in the crystal-clear sea to rinse off the sweat. We have to explain that this land tortoise cannot be taken into the sea. In the afternoon, we have maize cookies at Marjan's place, with fish of course. After a few days we say goodbye to Los Testigos and continue on to Isla Margarita.
Shopping on Isla Margarita
After another super-fast sailing trip we arrive in Porlamar on Isla Margarita. We drop anchor in a large bay where nearly a hundred boats are anchored on average. There's a morning net here as well and we can use wireless internet.
They say everything is cheap here, but we are shocked when we hear what we have to pay to clear through customs; it'll cost us 230,000 bolivar (85 euros). And when we go to a luxury shopping centre on the first day, the prices aren't exactly low either. Fortunately, our visit to the supermarket turns out to be a success: a beer costs 25 euro cents and delicious rum costs 3 to 4 euros per bottle, and the rest of our groceries are cheap as well. So we try to buy as much as possible, but in the end it's never enough. Our store cupboards are considerably filled by now and this will have to last us until Bonaire. Our supplies in cans will last us even longer.
We also visit the city. Each Venezuelan city has a Plaza de Bolivar in the centre, where we enjoy watching the people strolling around. This feels like a South American country should, very different from the enormous shopping centres and the supermarkets.
Hopping along Venezuelan islands
After about ten days in Porlamar we finally leave in the afternoon to sail to Isla Blanquilla in one night. This island is slightly to the north of our course, but it is supposed to be very beautiful and we don't want to miss it. When we arrive, we find the small beach with the two palm trees, as described in our guide. Well, how do you describe the beauty of a white beach with palm trees and an azure blue sea in which you can still see the bottom at a depth of six metres? The scenery is unsurpassed. Together with a Swedish couple we walk through the unspoilt scenery among the many cactuses and we see donkeys living in the wild. These donkeys have been brought here by a rich American, who used to live here. According to the coast guard, his other animals have been eaten by the local fishermen. But apparently donkeys aren't very tasty and they are able to survive in a relatively dry area. We look at the donkeys and the donkeys look at us; there are ten of them staring at us from a safe distance. It'll give them something to do.
After this island we visit Los Roques, our first introduction to coral islands which are difficult to navigate. If you hit the coral with the bottom of your boat, you might end up with a hole in your boat. In our guide it says that you have to be careful near the entrance to the eastern part of Los Roques and that you have to navigate by sight (use 'eyeball navigation'). This makes arriving there very exciting, but it turns out to be a piece of cake. The deep parts are very wide and clearly visible. Within the coral reef the sea is calm and we are moored there very comfortably; it's like the Vinkeveense plassen back in the Netherlands, except in the middle of the sea. When we leave again after a few days we have to exit on a rough sea with head wind, wind force 7, on high waves, which is a lot more difficult.
The next coral island, Dos Mosquises, is another dream with a white beach in beautiful blue green water. It is no bigger than 300 metres in diameter. We visit a turtle farm and learn about the history of the island. You can see from all the artefacts that have been found here that Indians used to lived here. We stay for three nights and then continue on to Bonaire.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)