We had an interestingly painful week in port prepping for #9, the trip we are now on. I had two large shipments to navigate through customs and in some ways was unsuccessful with both. The first were 8 solar panels which had been shipped to Miami two months ago and then brought down to Margarita by boat. I’d done this to avoid the hefty import taxes Venezuela places on “luxury items”. The second was our paragliding tow winch, which was coming from Slovenia via Air France freight, to arrive in Caracas.
On Wednesday, 4 days from departure I took a ferry from Puerto La Cruz to Margarita (2 hours) to hopefully abscond the panels and get them back to the mainland without raising the Aduanas’ (Customs) alarms. Somehow I failed to realize that 8 panels, weighing 16 pounds a piece, all packed within a bombproof wooden crate was not something I would be capable of hiding in a day bag. After much negotiating I hired a Pescadore to bring the panels as “contraband” in the middle of the night on his boat for 2 million bolivars (about $500 bucks on the black market, which doubles the value of the US dollar as most people with the means are actively hoarding US dollars with the hope of escaping Chavez and the mess he’s been creating for some years in Venezuela). All up, including the shipment to Miami, the boat shipment to Margarita, the ferry trips, payoffs and headaches, it would have been cheaper to send the freight overnight via Fed Ex and pay the damn taxes. Lesson learned.
From Margarita I learned the tow winch was similarly held up in Caracas, but this time in the firm grips of the Aduana. I would have to fly to Caracas to get a customs agent, which is code for opening your wallet. I jumped the next flight to Caracas, was met by the shipping agent, who dropped me off at the nearest bus stop assuring me that “manana” the package would be mine. I took the bus 40 minutes to downtown Caracas which to my eyes seemed like an endless slum, or “barrio”. I’d spent a few days in Caracas while backpacking some 15 years ago and my memories of the place would hardly improve this trip. A country that is so rich in natural resources (gas costs less than 3 cents per litre)does not appear to be spending their wealth on projects that would assist the population at large. Sure, health care is free, but the educated all leave, or try very hard to do so (a US visa is 10 grand). There are countless 1st world projects like unused soccer stadiums and splashy Chavez billboards, but I saw little signs of useful infrastructure under construction. In short, the countries health seemed on par with its road system, which is atrocious.
I’ve learned a few things about how things work in Venezuela. The first is that when someone tells you “manana en la manana” that means it will NOT happen tomorrow, and definitely not in the morning. Such was the case with the tow winch. We tried until the late afternoon to get the winch free from customs to no avail. My agent, correctly sensing my state of unhealthy agitation suggested I forget about the winch and return to Puerto La Cruz. I would have to return to Caracas another time.
On Friday I siphoned 600 litres of diesel into our tanks (about 17 dollars at the national price), which reminded me of my commercial fishing days in the Bering Sea (not wholly pleasant memories). Nico spent the day provisioning for the next 15 days and Jody got Discovery ready for her next guests. By Saturday morning, although seriously scrambling, we were ready. Miguel Willis, Best rider was the first to show after flying the last two days from Seattle, followed by the return of Bruce Marks, and new owner Rob Bass and his girlfriend Kristin. We departed immediately for Tortuga, leaving Puerto La Cruz forever behind. In my opinion, and those of our new guests and our permanent crew- good riddance.
Tortuga is just 55 miles from the mainland, but it is a world apart. We motored most of the way but had an unexpected explosion of wind a few miles out which started as a pleasant sail and ended in a full blown “Tormenta”. About the same time the tormenta hit we caught a nice Sierra Mackerel, which I bled, put in a bucket then promptly lost over the side. We barely got the mainsail down before things got really ugly, a blizzard of rain and wind screeching down from the heavens. I think the ocean was pissed about taking and then losing one of its gifts, and I had to concur.
The last three days have been spent searching the sky for signs of wind. The regular wind pattern we got on the last trip has returned, blowing at sunset through the night, ending at sun-up but this time we have no moon to keep us on the water. Miguel had enough of waiting last night and launched under a dazzling canopy of stars. The night was almost pure blackness, but he and Bruce made the most of it and came back smiling and unscathed. These are times of rest and recuperation. The wind will return; the anchorages are spectacular; the food out of this world. We wait. Albeit impatiently.