2011- Venezuela
  

LA GUAIRA & CARACAS    
Aboard MV Discovery

 

Wednesday 16th March

We had been due to dock at La Guaira on our previous cruise but there had been awful mudslides and the government had declared the locality a disaster area and forbidden ships to dock.

This time, the weather was fine and we arrived at 8.00 a.m.  We had quite a wait before the port workers had sorted out how we were to disembark the vessel as they could not get their gangplank to synchronise with any of our exits from the ship.  Finally they said that we could use our own gang plank and we left some 45 minutes late.

To reach Caracas, we journeyed for about an hour – climbing from sea level to 3000 feet.  Caracas has a population of 10 million and is not a pretty place even though it occupies a valley between mountains.  Buildings are crammed in and include many high rise flats dating from the 70s and 80s.  These replaced a lot of the squatter houses but there still remain much in the way of shanty type housing.

We saw a little evidence of the red soil mudslides that had carried away housing a few months ago.

Venezuela does not seem to be geared up to tourism, at least in these parts.  Our guide told us that there are only one or two cruise ships a year and she spends her time on small V.I.P. tours.

Our pre-booked tour was to include a cable car ride up Mt Avila and on the way to this we visited the military zone of Caracas where the Avenue of the Heroes is.  There are two rows of statues facing each other depicting notable personages from Venezuelan history.  We spent about quarter of an hour there before moving on to Quinta Anauco, a restored colonial house in its own grounds.  It dates from 1797 and was visited by Simon Bolivar on his last visit to Caracas.  We had been due to see his grave, but were told that the sarcophagus was being opened and therefore the Pantheon Nationale was closed without notice.         

We took the cable car to the top of Mt Avila – a twenty minute ride taking us up a further 4000 feet.  Unfortunately the top was shrouded in low cloud  but the journey gave us panoramic views of the city.

Oil is the main source of income for Venezuela and petrol costs only 4 cents a litre and about half that for diesel.  Possibly because of this, there were very many 1960s – 1980s American gas guzzlers

Our guide said that many in government were very rich but there remains a lot of poverty.  We were also struck by the presence of bars on all windows.  Our guide said this was a Spanish tradition but we doubt that that is the case with the razor wire and broken glass on the tops of most walls!

We returned to the ship at 3.00 p.m. – late  because of the horrendous traffic jams.  They kindly held lunch for us though so we didn’t go hungry!

We had been warned not to visit Caracas by ourselves – one of the reasons why we took a trip.

In the evening we came second in the Quiz and were awarded a pen for our efforts as the same person (Dorothy of 32 cruise fame) had been winning every time!)

MARGARITA ISLAND    

 

Thursday 17th March

Our previous trip had been an unscheduled stop and we did little more than go to the beach and buy from the market stalls.  This time, we took a half day tour to the eastern end of the island which is more lush and contains the main cities.  The population of the island is around half a million and it is considered THE place to live in Venezuela.

There is much fruit growing and the temperature all the year round is about 28 degrees centigrade.  We crossed to the northern coast and followed this but really without stopping.  We had a short break to photograph a large and imposing hotel apparently for the blind and then at a local craft outlet.

We headed back via the capital La Ascuncion.  Whilst our driver negotiated a very tight turn between parked cars, we were able to see Bolivar Square and the small cathedral.  We were quickly in the town of Pampatar which merges with Porlamar and forms a modern city with more traffic than it can handle.  Clearly there is much more to Margarita Island than we had seen previously.