Dean’s Venezuelan Sojourn

October, 1994


These are the notes from our 7th WJ cruise, a two week cruise on FANTOME..

GETTING THERE:> We left home at 4:45am for the drive to BWI. We arrived a little before 7am, and stood in line for 45 minutes to check-in. American will get a nasty­gram for that.

Waiting in the San Juan airport for the next leg of the flight, we started scanning the passengers for other WJ’ers. We met several, including one fellow wearing a backpack and a WJ belt. Since the only people that usually do that are crew, we asked who he was. “why, I am Captain Max, of the Fantome”. We hadn’t met Max before and took an instant liking to him. The other WJ’ers were mostly veterans, and it really helped build the enjoyment and anticipation for the newbies that were travelling with us as we began trading WJ stories.

Once underway the trip to Grenada went very smoothly. We arrived at Point Saline on time at 2:05pm, finally there! This was our 3rd trip leaving from Grenada, and it seemed like we were home again. One of the first things we noticed was it didn’t seem as hot as on previous October trips. Maybe we are getting used to it.

As usual, the flight was met by WJ personnel, including crew and the island agent. They had minivan arranged for us, and a truck for the luggage, which was delivered directly to the ship. We cleared customs quickly, and we on our way to the harbour. Captain Max rode with the agent.

DAY 1,SAT> We got to the Caranage and were dropped off at the Nutmeg. We saw Fantome anchored in the middle of the harbour, and YC over at the crowded dock. The noise from the Nutmeg was loud, so we decided along with some others to walk around the harbour and go to the floating bar, the 007. There we passed a lovely couple of hours until time to meet the launch and board at 5pm.

We arrived at 5pm, and were met at the gangway with swizzles.Three steps later I had my shoes off. I was Jammin! We checked in with the purser, Holly, and were shown below by the steward, Rodwell. Maybe it was the 2nd swizzle, but the below deck cabin wasn’t like any of the others we had been in! A double bed, not bunks! The head seemed a little larger, and had a clothesline and hot water! A dimmer switch for the cabin lights! A thermostat! WOW! They had really done a nice job in refitting the cabin. But what about the others? About 6pm, we formed a boarding party with other vets, and began checking out the other cabins. Eventually we had 14 people in the group. Each room turned out to be a little different! We saw the tubs in the two forward rooms (We can get two in them), and the shower stalls in the aft cabins . (Steward Owen couldn’t figure out why 14 people suddenly decided to go down the saloon stairs). Some cabins did have bunks, but the double beds seemed to be a constant. Our cabin was small, allowing only on person to dress at a time, and only had one shelf, the bottom of the top closet. There was loads of space under the bunk for storage. It turned out to be just fine for us. We were even able to toast ARION (Thanks Mike!)

There was also a lounge! below decks,with a TV, vcr, stereo, books, keyboard and guitar! The ship as refitted is beautiful and comfortable.

Dinner was served buffet style, top deck, beef curry and rice, turkey and shrimp. Many turned in early, worn out by their first day in paradise.

This may turn into a 10­-part series at this rate! I WILL finish the series tomorrow, as I have the day off.

DAY 2:SUN> First thing we noticed was that the bell was missing. Lost overboard or taken, no one knew. The crew used the PA system to announce things. YUK! At the first storytime, Capt. Max introduced the crew, including Mates Dan, Brasso, and Mike (soon to leave). Activities ­ Louise , Purser­ Holly, Steward ­ Sam , and Bartenders Mark and Curtis. Also aboard was “Captain in Training Mark”, who, according to present plans, will take the helm of Fantome for a while in November and December.

There were 52 aboard, including 8 ol’ salts. That morning there were several island tours, and a fishing trip. We chose to walk around St. Georges harbour, up to the gazebo and back by the hospital. It was very pleasant weather, and enjoyed the quiet town. There is no shopping Sunday morning, and it was a nice walk. We made it back to the ship just before a rather long, strong shower moved through. We set sail about 1pm to Amazing Grace, which always evokes strong memories and admiration of these ships. As we headed west and downwind, Capt. Max was able to shut off the motor for one of only two legs during the two weeks. After the compulsory safety drill, we enjoyed a lovely afternoon watching the water go by. The swizzles at 5pm seemed stronger than I remembered, as was true the entire trip, but I’m not complaining ;­). The after­swizzle activity was Wacky Olympics, a very apt description. After a marlin or stuffed porkchop dinner, we returned to the top deck to watch the lightning to the SW, and the falling stars above. Can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.

DAY 3: MON> Arrived at Los Testigos in the morning. LT is a small group of islands, volcanic in origin. It is also a rookery for Frigate birds, and they were there in huge numbers. We stopped at a small island inhabited by a few fishermen, a horse and 10 goats. The water felt a little cool (maybe 79, not 84), but was nice. We dove along the north end of the beach, which has excellent brain coral, soft coral and sea fans. And an electric ray. The water was a little murky & green, due to an algae bloom..

After lunch, Louise arranged for a “little” hike, up to a light 801 feet above sea level. To be fair, she said it would be tough, and you needed to be fit. After taking the launch to a nearby fishing village, we walked through a small fishing village and began out assault on the summit. Seven passengers and 4 crew started up. As we traveled up the goat paths through the cactus, three dropped out. I did alright for a while, but the heat and the slope began to get to me after about 40 minutes, I decided to stop and wait for them to return. I couldn’t see the top, and it turned out that I had stopped 200 yards from the top. Being that close, Louise showed me the way to the top, and the view was very nice. The trip down went much better, although we lost the trace twice. BTW, when I told Louise it was referred to here as the “Louise Death March” she liked the name, and the name was adopted for all other hikes. Also, no one on this march went on ANY of the others! That evening we set sail around 4pm. The after swizzle activity was a new one for me, Ascot Races. Made a little money!

DAY 4:TUESDAY> Reached in Margarita early in the morning. The bay is lined with half finished buildings and hotels, victims of the inflation rate.

This was the day we chose the Angel Falls trip. There are only 18 seats, and the trip filled up early. We left the ship early in the morning, and went to the airport, a 35 min. ride from Pamater(?). After boarding the plane, we flew south for an hour, and stopped at Ciudad Bolivar, on the banks of the Oranoco River to refuel. At this point you began to realize that you are really on the interior of South America. All you have to do is count the number of operating and broken DC­ 3’s around. The only out­of­place thing was a Budget Rent­ a­Car booth. After resuming the flight, flew for another hour, to Angel Falls. We flew by the falls and got wonderful pictures, on of which I’ll blow up and frame. We then went back to the Canaima Park airport. (The only way to get to Angel Fall’s on the ground is a 3 day canoe trek, sleeping on hammocks in the jungle). After changing, we rode canoes across Canaima lagoon, with massive waterfalls coming into it, and landed on the opposite shore. After a 1 mile walk though the jungle, on a trail that was occasionally muddy, we came to SAPO Falls, a MASSIVE waterfall. Walking behind it is a test for anyone. The trail is narrow, and the tons of water cascading by you a couple of feet away would scare anyone. The guided were marvelous, though. There is a rope, but I found it hard to use. We wear contacts, and at times, the wind and water made even breathing a challenge, and I feared losing my contacts. At one of the worst spots, there is a 3­foot step down, but the guides were right there, so it worked out. We emerged on the other side, with a great sense of relief. We paused for a while on the other side for pictures and recovery, then back through again! This time we knew what to expect, and it was much quicker and easier. The sense of accomplishment called for champagne, but alas, we had none. We walked back to the canoe, and rode back to the other side. There at a small open restaurant on the picturesque banks of the lagoon, we had a nice chicken lunch before we began out trek home. After the gift shop stop, we got to the airport, and were aware of what seemed to be unusual activity. Finally, we found out that a small plane had crashed an hour before, and we were going to look for it on the way back! Indeed, 20 minutes later, we came across the scene. A military helicopter was on the ground lending assistance. Our pilot was a friend of the victims, and we circled the crash. We were told the passenger plane had crashed after stalling after take­off from a jungle airstrip. Only the pilot and co­pilot were aboard the “too heavy” plane, and that they would survive. The rest of the trip back was uneventful.

It was raining in Margarita, and the band didn’t show at the beach BBQ, but we were so tired form the days adventure, Fantome was a WONDERFUL sight. About 10:30 we set sail for our next island.

DAY 5:WEDNESDAY> Arrived La Banquilla around 10:30 am. Lovely beach day, and this was my favorite beach of the entire trip! The island is flat and dry, with sand like powdered sugar. There was excellent diving at the ends of the beach. We had a school of mullet join us as we entered the water, and follow us ALL over the reef. As a marine biologist, I can’t explain it. They even waited for us when we rested, and didn’t swim away when I dove down to join them. Very interesting behavior, just like that nights PPPP party! We set sail at 5pm, headed for Puerto La Cruz.

DAY 6: THURSDAY> Took the photo launch around 9:30 as we entered the Mochima inlet. Very interesting shale and sandstone islands! We then arrived at Puerto La Cruz about 11am, a town of 500,000, devoted to exporting oil. There is much marina development on the west side of town, but again that is affected by the high inflation rate.

We took the Coffee Plantation tour up into the mountains, and met a most charming man, Hector Jose, whose family has been on the land for 128 years. He has 28,000 coffee and 10,000 cocoa trees. The prices for coffee, chocolate and liqueur are very good, and so is the brewed coffee. Don’t be fooled by the one ounce cups ­ they are stronger than a full cup here! We walked along Paseo Colon in the evening. Prices here, as everywhere, are very good. Almost everyone will take $US, but Bolivars are convenient since a lot of calculations are necessary. (Oct. rate 170B/$1 US) The one thing I noticed was that there wasn’t SINGLE t­shirt for sale. Tourism hasn’t really hit yet, I guess.

DAY 7: FRIDAY> Went a few miles offshore to a beach called El Saco, a place WJ had never been to in the Mochima National Park. This anchorage is surrounded by high, dry hills., and the entrance is very narrow. There are thatched sunshades and a small bar/restaurant on the beach. They people make money by charging for use of the shades and chairs, which WJ took care of. The sand wasn’t my favorite, being a hard­packed brown sandy clay. The diving was best along the right hand side of the beach. There were neat fire corals, with worm plumes decorating them like Christmas ornaments. During the day, boats came and went, ferrying passengers to and from Pto. La Cruz. I managed to use a little of my high school Spanish with a fisherman who asked about “El Barqco”. We set sail about 3pm for Margarita.

DAY 8: SATURDAY> This was the end of cruise for some of the passengers. We docked at 4 am at an isolated dock somewhere west of the airport. There were 9 staying for the next week. Most of us chose to stay aboard, and lay around in the shade watching the pelicans and world go by. One couple went off to Playa El Agua, the best beach on the island. I didn’t need the sun! Our chore was to stay out of the way of the crew as they thoroughly cleaned the ship. We were given a nice lunch, and watched a cargo ship dock next to us, in a poor display of seamanship. When they tried to leave, they had so tangled the mooring hawsers, that 13 of their crew couldn’t undo them. They had to wait for us to leave, which we did about 10pm. We had to cut the loop off the end of our hawser to get away. I have told about the problems people had with the airlines in a previous note. If you are going to Margarita, please check it.

The new passengers began arriving at 5pm, as we began our second week in paradise. After checking in, we found 42 new people aboard, for a total of 51. There were 4 people that missed the ship, but caught up with un Monday in Pto. La Cruz. It was interesting how different this group was from the previous weeks passengers.

DAY 9:SUNDAY> Still sailing next day at 9am, some 12 miles from our next island, Los Tortugillas, small islands of Tortuga. After the safety drill, we sighted whales and dolphins. This trip provided sightings nearly every day, which is more than I had ever seen before. Captain Max decided he wanted to learn to fish, so he began trolling off the stern of Fantome. The captain had never fished before, so this was an adventure and he was an eager student. After an hour, we hooked a 4­lb Bonita, which was landed while underway. I showed Capt. Max how to hold the fish, and he showed it to EVERYONE on deck. He took it below, and later shared it at dinner.

The island was small, flat and dry and took about an hour to walk around (shoes required, as well as wading & swimming). It was easy to imagine being marooned on a desert island during the hike, and I watched the time for last launch VERY closely. There was a strong breeze, so snorkeling on the reef was a little difficult, and murky. A lagoon was also murky, but there was a school of 4­6 inch fish being chased by several 2ft barracudas. It was neat to watch. The sand was wonderful, however.

DAY 10:MONDAY> Again saw many dolphins as a couple of whales as we approached the Mochima Inlet, as well as a Venezuelan Naval vessel. We ran a photolaunch inside the inlet again, and the pictures were better, as the sails were full.

We anchored off Pto. La Cruz around 12 noon. That afternoon we went to “the ranch”, Hato Nuevo. This was reached by an hour drive through the city and into the pampas. The countryside was very interesting. Hato Nuevo is a combination working ranch and 12-room hotel built as hacienda on a hill about 40km inland. You really got a feel of being a long way from civilization. We spent the day lying in the sun by the pool, looking out across the green valley. Some went horseback riding, and some of us talked to the animals, like the Howler monkey. Before leaving, they provided us with a traditional meat and vegetable dish. Once back in town, most passengers had dinner in town, with good prices (steak dinner, $6 US.) A stroll along Paseo Colon was a pleasant way to end the evening, but I was surprised at how busy it was. Fantome is the only cruise ship to visit La Cruz, but the streets were crowded.

DAY 11: TUESDAY> We stayed at anchor overnight, and set out for another beach in the Mochima NP about 6:30am. We motored down to near the inlet to Chimana Segunda, at a beach called El Faro. We anchored in a very deep 150 feet of water, and went ashore. The beach was a nice sand beach, with a vendor providing shades and chairs like El Saco. There were 3 ft. iguanas all over the place. The diving was best to the left of the beach, past the dock. You had to watch out and not bump your head, because the cliffs all were undercut, and the overhang protruded out at the water level. This was a very nice beach stop. We set sail at 3pm for Margarita. Many dolphins swam with the ship as we sailed along. That evening was a BLT party.

DAY 12:WEDNESDAY> Back in Margarita. The Angel Falls tour had filled up by Sunday, and reports back were that they had a very good time, although without the plane crash. The colonial and lagoon tours were also enjoyed by those that went. That evening was the beach BBQ, and the band showed up this week. There were may thunderstorms around, which added a dramatic backdrop. The anchorage was exposed, which made launch operations a little wet, as the wind kicked up. We set sail for Los Testigos at 10:30pm.

DAY 13:THURSDAY> After sailing all night, we arrived at Testigos at 9:30am. This time there were a group of French campers (yes, we could tell from the ship) on part of the beach, so we took a section at the south end. The water was clearer than the previous week, and there was less beach, due to the full moon tides. The diving was excellent, and I spent 3 hours in the water. Saw a wide variety of critters, from eels (which I am careful around) to octopi and squid. All in all, it was a wonderful beach day! We set sail at 4pm for Grenada. After swizzles, we had Wacky Olympics and crab races (made money again). There was a 4­6 foot swell running, which gave a pleasing ride. Toward sunset, dolphins surrounded the ship, and there was an excellent sunset. I shot several rolls of film that evening.

DAY 14: FRIDAY> Arrived back in St. Georges, Grenada about 11 am. Tied up alongside Amazing Grace for re­supply, including, most importantly, a new bell! Louise arranged a tour of Grace before things got busy. That afternoon, we took the Grand Etang island tour, which goes up to the rain forest, and the national park. It also stops at Annadale Falls, but after you’ve seen SAPO, nothing is the same. One of my favorite stops are a group of spice shacks on a narrow road with a steep slope overlooking a high school. I was there last year, and the best selection and prices are from the blue shack on the right. You can’t beat the prices anywhere.

We got back to the ship and watched the resupply operation. Boy, those guys work hard! That night was the Captains dinner, and Max brought along Rocky. Grace had a steel drum band aboard, and many went over to listen.

DAY 15: Saturday> BOO! Up early for our final morning aboard. Watched the ugly RC Viking Sun come in to dock. That morning we had to leave the ship by 9am, but WJ had kindly arranged with the Flamboyant Hotel on Grand Anse Beach for those on the late flight to use their beach and pool. It has an absolutely wonderful view of the beach and St. Georges. This was a very nice way to spend a few last hours on Grenada before returning to the real world.

This has been a wonderful two weeks, which I’ll never forget. The sailing legs were too long, but otherwise it is a trip I’d recommend to anyone. This itinerary is really different from anything WJ does right now.

That’s it. I’ll be happy to answer any questions from the deck.

Dean (planning for the full moon NEXT October)