Margarita 1995

by Glenn Woodell

The following is the report of my trip to El Yaque, Margarita in the winter of 1995. I left on Delta Airlines from Norfolk to Atlanta to Miami on the 22nd of February at 6:00 AM and switched to Servivensa at Miami. If you fly Delta at least, you better bring along something to eat. From 6AM to 12 noon all I got was 2 packs of graham crackers. I guess it's better than the peanuts. I guess. The Venezuelan airline was much more accommodating. I got at least a small sandwich and a cookie on all their flights and their planes really weren't that bad. I landed in Caracas and had to switch from the international airport to the national one but it was an easy task since theu're next to each other. Upon landing you will first notice how closely spaced the houses are all stacked against the mountain. There is laundry hanging from almost every window and the lines strewn about the mountainside with laundry hanging from them are almost pretty. Almost. When you get off the plane, follow the crowd to immigration and pick up your luggage. Grab one of the "shopping carts" before they're all gone. You can't go far with them but they're there to use for free, unlike in the airports in the States. After picking up your baggage, you will be asked for your baggage claim ticket to be checked against your baggage. It's nice to know someone is checking. Now look around for one of the women in a red dress uniform. She works for the national terminal and will direct you. Just walk up to her and say, "Porlamar?". She will turn you over to a guy who will put your bags in a pile on the floor and you will swear you will never see them again. Don't worry. I never had anyone try to get any tips out of me or take anything. I approached one guy with American dollars in my hand asking where I could get it changed to Bolivars and he almost ran away from me. Just look for the Cambio's just after you give away your baggage. They are small booths (2 of them I believe) with orange lighted signs above them and 3 girls working in them. I don't know why it takes so many to do it. Don't get behind the guy I was behind or you may miss your bus. By the way, don't go there with just a little cash expecting to put everything on your credit card. It ain't goin' to happen unless you bought a pre-paid package. If you go the cheap route and shop for lodging when you get there like I did, you will need cash. There is very little provision for credit cards down there. If you don't have much cash you can get some with your ATM card at the airport in Porlamar. However don't expect to get any dollars. You will get only Bolivars at 170 per dollar (subject to change without notice). Next, look for either another woman in a red dress or a guy standing near a white bus with orange stripes. The stripes are on the bus, not the guy. This is the bus that will take you to the other airport. The driver will take you there when he feels like it. There you get on another plane and head to the island. You'll get another sandwich. At the airport, while waiting for your baggage, you may want to ask around if anyone else is going to El Yaque, or wherever you're going, so you can share the taxi fare. The taxi ride to El Yaque is 800 Bs. The ride the other way is 700 Bs. You are charged per ride and not per person so it helps to split the costs. If you don't have Bs by now, walk over to the international side of the airport and you will find an ATM. When you get outside, one of the taxi drivers will walk up to you and ask if you want a taxi. Just say "Ola. Playa El Yaque?" You'll end up there one way or another. The Village looks third-world.

It is.

Everyone there either lives there and fishes for a living or is a visiting windsurfer.

About the only watercraft you'll see are windsurfers and small fishing boats.

The people there are extremely friendly and you will see children all over the place,

along with a few overly friendly horses and some dogs.

I didn't get a picture of him, but there is a cute little monkey chained to a tree, at the restaraunt next to Sharks. When you get there, if you don't already have a room you'll want to start asking around. This is where it helps to know some Spanish. I stayed at Ezekiel's which is right across from the taxi hangout.

It has a lavender wall. It's also called El Vigia but the sign says something about Windsurfing Club. I ended up paying 15$ per night for room 3. The others cost more because their air conditioners worked. If you like fresh sheets and towels every day, don't stay here. You will be stuck with the ones you start out with all week. I also sprayed down the bed with insect repellant every night after the first night. No more red spots after that. All you get is cold water in the shower but there is not much need for hot water anyway as warm as it is there. You can't flush any paper down the toilets so you have to "pack" neatly and use the wastebasket. They won't change this either. You'll have the windows open anyway. Other than that the room was quite adequate. The other places cost quite a bit more for clean sheets and towels and probably hot water. You get what you pay for I guess.

The food there is really good. You will find mineral water, "agua", everywhere for about 150 Bs per 2L bottle or 275ml for 80 Bs. The local Sprite-like drink called Chinotto is pretty good and costs about 80 Bs per bottle as well as Pepsi. I tried a Frescolitta. Not bad. Not good. Just different. When I asked someone what it was, because it looked like an orange drink, the reply was, "Peepee Iguana". I never finished it. Ezekiel's has a pretty good dinner lineup. Lots of pizza, pasta, and seafood. The espaghetti quattro quesa (4 cheese spaghetti) was pretty good as well as was the pizza. Watch out for falling coconuts. No kidding. If you go as big group on a busy night, expect to wait at least an hour to see your food. I went by myself one night and got the spaghetti in just a few minutes. Across the street, next to the basketball court is Gabriella's or Fuerza 6, (Force 6). Good chicken there. I also had their quattro quesa and their Napoleon something, I think it was called. Spaghetti with meat sauce. Very good. Gabi's, next to Piranha's, has BBQ 1/4 chicken, rice, red beans, and coleslaw. Combined with a couple Chinotto's it amounts to 600 Bs. That's only about $3.50 US. That's cheap. At Piranha's I had quesadillas, a Pepsi, and a bottle of water for 1025 Bs. Another night I had the soft tacos filled with beef. Pretty darn good. You can probably eat at the hotels also but I'm sure at closer to American prices.

I got sick there for 3 days even though I heeded all warnings about not drinking the water. Not sure what from in particular but it started out as a bad headache, progressed to nausea, then to nuclear diarrhea. Popped 3 Immodiums over the course of it and by the end of the 3rd day I was fine. There was only 1 day when I didn't sail at all. I just layed on the beach in the shade and thoroughly enjoyed the scenery all day long.

It was quite pleasant actually. That's Flora on the right. She, her boyfriend, Bobo (not pictured here), and her friend are from Brazil.

The sailing was pretty good although the winds weren't their usual.

This is me below on a 5.8. The smallest sail the whole week for me was a 5.0 and the largest was a 6.3. So it wasn't bad but it wasn't incredible. I sailed a variety of boards but my favorite was the Mistral Screamer.

I weigh 145 wet and just loved this board. I tried as small as a Tiga 260 and a Mistral Ecstacy but there really wasn't enough wind for them. I rented out of Sharks, all the way at the east end of the beach.

It's the most windward of the sites and John and Carol there are just great. I spent $200 for the week of rentals. Practically everyone there at Sharks was from Canada because Sharks is run out of Montreal. John and Carol came to Margarita to go windsurfing and ended up making El Yaque their new home. I hung out with Julie

who I had met last year at Hatteras. She's a dear friend of mine from Montreal so she was a great interpreter for some of the conversation there. The staff at Sharks consists of

Alexi who was the Venezuelan national windsurfing champion,

Francisco,

his brother Joel,

and 12 year old Jesus.

All are excellent windsurfers. I have pictures of Jesus getting air. All you have to do is ask or tell them what you want to go out on and they will take the gear right to the water's edge for you. The staff and all the Canadians there were great to hang out with. Alexi speaks good english but the 3 others only know Spanish. It can be fun trying to communicate with them. The water there is very salty. I'm used to sailing the waters of the Chesapeake Bay but the waters of the Caribbean will burn your eyes and throat. The water is waist to neck deep out to just before the platform (150 meters or so) and gets deeper beyond that. You can see the color change in the water when it gets deeper. There was really no shore break to speak of even when the wind picked up but coming towards shore there was enough wave height that I was able to get some air. You will probably find that you get blisters pretty quickly. Bring duct tape. I don't know if it's the salt content, the fine sand, or what, but you WILL get blisters and they WILL be ripped open for sure. I did hear recently that wearing hospital gloves underneath regular gloves will prevent this. Also bring high SPF sunscreen. The sun gets directly overhead there. It also gets hot there early in the morning and burns almost until sunset. Remember you're near the equator.

If you want to send post cards you can get them at Piranha's or at the travel agent's office at the El Yaque Beach Hotel. I believe he's the only one who takes outgoing mail. This is the same guy you will need to check with the day before you depart. If you don't reconfirm your flight, you will probably not have one when you get to the airport. He'll do this for free.

Upon leaving you ought to get to the airport about 30 minutes before the flight. Check with at least 2 others around you as you are waiting for the plane to make sure you are on the right flight. Once you go through security nobody checks or even seems to care which plane you get on. I was just about to start climbing the steps onto a DC-3 when I found out it was not going to Caracas. I found out that it was going to Barcelona. And that was only because I asked. Also note that my 9:00 flight was cruising down the runway at 8:48. Don't be late! There were no assigned seats so I was able to just pick one. You really have to ask questions AND ask more than one person. Once you have landed in Caracas, look for another woman in a red dress and she will direct you to the white and orange bus which will take you to the international terminal. Exchange your money here. The Cambios close however between 12:00 PM and 2:00 PM. My flight out was at 2:00 so I had to wait until I got to Miami.

There are 2 security checkpoints in the inetrnational terminal. The first where you would expect it and the second is right at the gate. There they will open every item you have and sort through your dirty underwear then check you out with a hand held metal detector. Then you get to board the plane. You get another sandwich. They will also play a round of Bingo. For $5 you could wind a round trip between Miami and Caracas. With a sandwich! The rest of the flight was pretty routine. The stewardess made all her announcements in Spanish and machine-gun-speed-awful-English so I never understood anything she ever said. You know how you're supposed to wait in your seat until the plane comes to a complete stop at the terminal? Not on this airline. People start popping up and grabbing their things about the time the nose wheel makes contact with the runway. Well, almost. If you can, get a window seat. The view of the islands below will give you something to look at or bring some reading materials. All they provide is the airplane emergency procedures card...and a sandwich.

If I had to do it all again, I would bring more cash and an extra towel, probably stay in the same place and eat at the same places and would rent out of the same place. I enjoyed going without any reservations. I guess I had gotten tired of relaxing trips and wanted some excitement. Actually, I saved a lot of money. My whole trip cost me $640 from my driveway, to Margarita, and back, everything included. The nice thing about renting from Sharks is that they charge in Canadian dollars rather than American dollars. Pretty darn good deal. My next trip will not be to Margarita just because I would like to travel to another new place but if I was given a free ticket I would definitely jump at the chance for another Margarita vacation...and a sandwich on a Bingo flight.


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