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Friday, March 16, 2012

Lost in Los Roques

 

Just when we thought it couldn’t get better……..that the deserted and remote island of Blanquilla was astonishingly beautiful……we discovered the awesome coral reefs and islands that are Los Roques. 

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       Wow…..they truly do rock!  One of the nicest places we’ve been.

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Los Roques is an archipelago – much of which is deemed national park -   sitting in pristine turquoise water about 100km from the Venezuelan mainland…..and 180km east of Bonaire. 

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Now….this is where it gets tricky.  Officially, we have to check in to Venezuela to be here but you can only do so in either Isla Margarita or the mainland.  For the past few years Margarita has been considered a no go area due to pirate attacks and the Venezuelan coast is also not a recommended place.  We were a bit disappointed as the diesel in Margarita is cheap as chips….but so is life there apparently..…..and we quite like ours!

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So we had two options; avoid Los Roques or slip in illegally with fingers crossed.  For years friends had been telling us we had to visit.  Ryan was here in 2006 and loved it and fellow cruisers have raved about it.  So it was a no brainer….we were coming.

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Scouring the internet and sailing magazines we read many conflicting stories.  Some said yachts could stop here without checking in provided they paid the national park fee, others who stayed illegally had to bribe coastguard with cash, cigarettes and booze if found.  Hmmm…not so sure we like the idea of that. Others stayed undetected for days.  We did stock up on rice, cooking oil and soap as we’d heard coastguard need such basics.

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With all these conflicting stories floating in our heads we anchored off the gorgeous main town of El Grand Roque, pleased to be out of the swell  - boy, it’s been windy and rolly out there lately! The plan was to play it safe – go into the national park office, pay our fee (around US$120) and enjoy the five days we would hopefully be given.

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 A Swedish cruising boat was anchored nearby so, before we headed ashore, we popped over to say hello and see what their experience was. Like us, they’d decided to go the official route as they’d been here before illegally and found it too stressful. So this time they went into park headquarters but were told the fee (for 15 days) was US$900!  Gulp…….!!

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The high fee was due to their “illegal” status. When they tried to negotiate the fee down they were given 48 hours to leave. Their advice to us was to skip the park headquarters and just try and stay under the radar. We didn’t need encouragement……$900 doesn’t figure in the Bandit cruising budget.  So we upped anchor and left….fast!

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We headed to Crasqui – one of the many stunning islands in Los Roques with an unbelievably white sandy beach stretching for miles, that amazing turquoise water and only a handful of other boats. The reef snorkelling was wonderful…..some lovely fish and good coral.  Sundowners on the beach with Balvenie were magic as the sun set over the amazing sea.

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Wanting to keep on the move (and hopefully avoid detection) the next day we headed to nearby Agustin which was also beautiful then Sarqui. All were absolutely magnificent anchorages but navigating to and from them between coral reefs caused a little anxiety.

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We sent Balvenie first – figuring they’d done far more coral navigation than we had and drew a little more too! David rigged up a step for me on the pullpit so I could get high and spot the reefs and coral bombs. Much of this area is uncharted and the electronic charts are wildly inaccurate so it’s a case of only moving in the middle of the day, doing so slowly, wearing polaroids and using eyeball navigation.

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On our fourth day in Los Roques we found, what we all voted, the best anchorage ever – Cayo Carenero.  It was calm, sheltered, crystal clear water with white sandy beaches and heavenly snorkelling within a stone’s throw.  Best of all – we were the only boats in the anchorage apart from one motor boat.

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We stayed two nights here before moving to Cala de Agua. Before coming here our American friends told us we’d see lobster crawling on the sea bed.  “Yeah right” we thought.  But in Cala de Agua it happened – as David was swimming back to Bandit he spotted a lobster out for a morning stroll.  Naturally, by the time he came and got a glove the lobster had gone!

The days just seemed to melt into the next.  We’d snorkel, walk on the gorgeous beaches, do a few jobs on Bandit, have sundowners on the beach and thrash Balvenie at cards at night (actually…..the only time we played it was skippers vs cooks and the girls won convincingly).

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It wasn’t an easy decision to move on….but we figured we’d already had six fantastic free days here and we really didn’t want to risk the wrath of authorities.  Bandit was also getting dangerously low on fresh fruit and veges!  So reluctantly, we upped anchor and headed to the Aves….leaving behind one of the most beautiful spots in the world.  We’re just sad Venezuela seems so reluctant to share it with the rest of the world.

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At least we got to experience it...and we slipped under the radar, never seeing a coastguard or park official our entire time.  Now what do we do with all this cheap cooking oil, bulk buy rice and foul smelling soap?  

Thank you Los Roques for a magic time!

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