Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Wild Wild West

Lately, cruisers have rightfully given Venezuela a wide berth because of some incidents of piracy. Los Roques is an archipelago that is a territory of Venezuela. We went back and forth about visiting these islands. All recent reports suggested that despite being about 70 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Los Roques is gorgeous and safe, and doesn't even really consider itself to be Venezuela. However, we had all but ruled it out because at the official dollar/Bolivar exchange rate, it would cost about $900 to check in. As we would only be staying for a week or so, this was too rich for our blood.
Gran Roque

When we heard reports about the ease of getting a ten-fold better exchange rate through the healthy black market for American dollars ("lechuga verde"), we changed our minds and decided to visit the island chain. We were a bit nervous because we had had zero experience with black market anything. Then, just before we left another cruiser informed us (through second and third hand reports) that we were putting our lives at risk and exposing ourselves to rampant local corruption. As we had not heard this from any other sources, we decided to forge ahead.

As we made our way to Los Roques, we put our AIS transponder into "silent mode," to prevent anyone from tracking us. We left our mast lights off and only used our deck navigation lights. On my watches, Matt advised that I should wake him up if I saw any fishing boats headed towards us at high speed.

Having spent about a week in Los Roques, we are happy to say that we have found it very safe. The few other boats in the area seem to be mostly mega-rich Venezuelans and local fishermen just making a living. My guess is that pirates here would be tolerated about as much as pirates descending on Martha's Vineyard.
This bird was foundering in the water and let Matt pull him out.

Changing money and checking in was time-consuming but otherwise uneventful. Almost no English is spoken here. We have been the only boat in many of the anchorages. The terrain and water remind us of the Bahamas. The water is not as clear, probably because of the super-fine sand that is almost like flour, but the fish life is incredible. Everything is super-sized: sea stars, sea cucumbers, big parrotfish, school masters, grunts, huge  conch, and gargantuan sea biscuits. Spear-fishing is not allowed and the fish seem to be a lot less scared of snorkelers as a result. Cero mackerel and mullet jump out of the water all over the place and the place is swarming with turtles. Our only complaint is the many mosquitoes that descend at dusk.
The turtle research center was closed but was interesting.
The island (Dos Mosquises) is an archaeological dig site for
the founding natives.
The sailing is great. Lots of wind and relatively smooth water. We have mostly been able to sail between the islands, other than one almost windless day. We haven't seen any sharks but did pull up our trolling line one day to find the head of a tuna with the body chomped off.
Lobster anyone?
Matt caught a few crawfish with the lobster snare. It is basically a little lasso on a stick that you hook around the tail of the lobster. You have to hook them just so or they wiggle away. Fortunately, several lobsters let Matt get a third and fourth try after escaping initially. One side effect of not shooting the lobsters was that they stay a lot more active. Seeing the first lobster wriggling around apparently drove home the fact that it is a living creature and Conrad started crying and wailing uncontrollably and saying that he wanted to let it go (conveniently, Conrad doesn't like to eat lobster). He has never given a second thought to the many lobsters and fish we have captured and eaten over the last couple of years. After initially saying that he planned to stay in his room for 3 days in protest of the impending lobster slaughter, he apparently got over it and didn't have any issue with the subsequent catches.

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