Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Isla Margarita, Venezuela (June 2003)

If you want to relax and get away from it all, Margarita Island, Venezuela is the perfect place to go. This Caribbean Island is full of beaches, rum, and laid-back friendly people.

When I visited in June of 2003, the "unofficial" exchange rate was 2,000 Venezuelan bolivars per US dollar. That means the $500 in travelers checks that I took made me a MILLIONAIRE!

I picked Margarita Island to visit because I got a really great deal. I won a bid for a week at the Hilton for $2 on SkyAuction. You can't beat that - even after they added another $195 of fees and taxes. The Hilton was located on Moreno Beach, in the Costa Azul region of Porlamar.

Trying to grab a coconut on the Hilton grounds.

Moreno Beach
Playa el Agua. This is the longest and most developed beach. There are numerous restaurants and shops along the road next to the beach.
Typical beach restaurants consisted of a kitchen, bar, and outdoor tables, usually surrounded by lots of stray dogs. I ate at this restaurant on Playa Guacuco and had a fabulous meal. After eating, I relaxed on a beach chair under this sun shade, so the waiter could bring me a continuous supply of drinks. If you tip well, they will watch your stuff while you play in the ocean.
The man in the background is doing the Guacuco dance, which basically looks like he's doing the Twist. As he wiggles from side to side, his feet dig up clams/oysters, which he puts into the bucket he's carrying. Then, when he has enough, he takes them to his beach stand and sells plates full of the fresh seafood.I left Phoenix to visit a place that looked exactly like Phoenix! Macanao, the western peninsula of Margarita is very rocky and dry, with a lot of cactus, prickly pear, and scrub brush. I took a jeep tour to this peninsula.
Punta Arenas a long smooth sandy beach at the very western tip of Macanao. We ate lunch and relaxed there for a while, then visited several rocky beaches that could only be reached by 4WD.

On this jeep tour, We also visited the national park of Laguna de la Restinga. We took a boat tour through several of the 110 canals in the park. This was a beautiful mangrove area, with bright orange starfish found at the base of many trees, and oysters clinging to the aerial roots. I'm told that there are also sea horses, but I didn't see any. These are the only 2 pictures I have from Restinga, because my camera broke and Penelope's ran out of film.

I took a catamaran trip to Coche Island for a fun day in the sun. This is a view of Porlamar from the catamaran. This was the only thing I did that wasn't worth the time or money. Coche is a big flat island with not much of interest, other than lying on a beach. The water at the beach is very calm, so you can't even splash in the waves.
On the way to Coche, there wasn't enough wind to get there, so they had to take down the sail and use the engine. On the way back it was very windy, with lots of waves. The ride back was cold, wet, bumpy, and a lot of fun!
Attack of the Creature from the Black Lagoon?
No, it's just my guide on the excursion to Isla de Coche.
Not too far from the beach are old salt mines. The guide took us there to see them. Just under the surface of the ground is a black mud that smells of sulfur, but is supposed to contain minerals that are good for the skin. The guide "proved" this by smearing it all over his body - and parts of ours!!!

Isla Margarita - Attractions

There are several historic sites in La Asuncion, the capital of Nueva Isparta (the state in which Margarita Island is located.)
One of them is the castle of Santa Rosa which dates back to 1682 and was where Luisa Caceres de Arismendi, wife of one of the leading combatants against Spanish Imperialism was held hostage in 1816.View of the lake next to the castle.

This cathedral is the oldest church in Venezuela. Construction was begun in 1570 and completed in 1621.
Inside the church are numerous headstones embedded into the walls. The cremated bodies of important members of the church are buried within the walls of the cathedral.
This is a typical governmental building, in Spanish colonial architecture.
This Church of the Virgin Mary in El Valle del Espiritu Santo is considered the most important pilgrimage destination in Venezuela. The outside used to be painted pink, but was recently repainted to this tan color. There is an ongoing effort to raise the funds to repaint it to the original pink.
One of the many stained glass windows in the church of the virgin.

A church at Juan Griego
Fishing boats docked at Juan Griego.
Fishermen returning with the day's catch.

Sunset at Juan Griego

Canaima National Park / Angel Falls

Penelope and I signed up for a day tour to Canaima National Park. It was a 2 hour flight from Margarita Island on this tiny 14-seat airplane.
View of the plane from the inside.
View of Laguna de la Restinga from the air.
View of the Orinoco River from the air.

Angel Falls, the world's tallest waterfall, at 1000m.
One of the many other waterfalls flowing out of the tepuys.
Other waterfalls in Canaima. We later took a canoe ride up to them.
Canoe to take to the falls.Once at the falls, we went for a short walk across the top of them
Aerial view of a waterfall that we visited on our hike.
Standing on the slick rock at the edge of the waterfall in the previous picture.View of Sapo Falls from the hiking trail.
We actually hiked under Sapo Falls to get to the other side.
This picture shows the full volume of water coming out of the falls. The last few steps of the hike actually take you through the falls. Hang onto the guide rope because the water hits you with the force of a fire hose!

Sapo Falls from the other side.
Starting the hike back.