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Los Testigos, Venezuela

Finally it was time to leave Trinidad. We found another boat, our friends Sangaela, to sail with, and left Scotland Bay on a saturday evening, bound for Los Testigos, a small group of islands off the coast of Venezuela about 16 hours away. The northeastern shore of Venezuela, just west of Trinidad, has had a very high number of armed robberies against cruising boats. It's considered the most dangerous area of Venezuela for yachts. We decided to give it a wide berth, and sailed 20 nautical miles north before turning west towards Los Testigos. We also arranged with Sangaela not to speak on the VHF radio (only to monitor it, but not speak in case the banditos were scanning frequencies) and to check in with each other every few hours by SSB radio. We sailed without running lights, and it was a very dark night. We kept ourselves close- but not too close- together by watching Sangaela on radar. It was quite spooky to be ghosting along in the pitch black night. It felt like a scene out of Master and Commander and the young son our companion boat wondered if we ought to launch a dinghy with lights and send it out as a decoy in case there were any pirates about! In any case, we arrived at our destination without incident, as we probably would have even without taking the measures we did.

At dawn we hooked into a LARGE fish, but he broke out line as we were bringing him in. As a consolation we caught a big Tunny as we approached the Testigos. Los Testigos are beautiful, remote, and very different-feeling from the Eastern Caribbean. The land reminded us of the B.V.I or Spanish Virgins, and the water, although not crystal-clear, was much clearer than anything we'd seen in a long time. There are only a handful of settlements on the islands, mostly fishermen in colorful pirougues and fishing boats, and everyone was friendly to us. The cruising boats were mostly French and European, with only one or two norteamericanos. It was definitely a big change from Trinidad!

On Testigo Grande is a mammoth sand dune that reaches from the east side to the west. We joined Sangaela and climbed past a dead snake (some type of constrictor) and through a thicket of poisonous Machineel trees (like poison oak or poison ivy), up a steep hill of white sand, across the dunes to the long windward beach on the other side.

We could see turtle tracks from recently nesting turtles, and the dunes were littered with thousands of large sunbleached bones. At first we thought it was the remains of a whale, but there were way too many bones. I went for a walk and finally had the sinking feeling that they were the bones of hundreds of poached turtles....

The beach was wonderful, though, and the swimming and boogie-boarding was a lot of fun. The water is quite a bit cooler here than it was in Trinidad and Grenada, and much more refreshing!

Here's Liv about to enter the Machineel thicket and attempt to twist her way through without touching any of the leaves! Luckily we all emerged unscathed...

At the north end of Testigo Grande is a beach that looks like it belongs in the South Pacific: perfect white sand and palm trees. We spent a night there, but it was quite rolly, so we moved again the following day.

Since Los Testigos is not an official port of entry, we were only allowed 3 nights there before we had to continue on to Margarita to clear in. But every day we spent there was beautiful, with spectacular scenery and dramatic clouds...

It was an easy day-sail to Margarita, where we are now. It's very different here, very urban. The coast at Porlamar, where we are anchored, is lined with tall Miami-like hotels and apartment buildings. There are large, super-modern malls and supermarkets. But there is also grinding poverty and rampant crime. Our friends were held up by a teenager on a bike who had a gun. Every business has multiple rows of barbed wire and broken glass on its fences. The parking lot at the supermarket has guards in raised towers watching the cars. You take a taxi even to go a half-mile down the road to the chandlery. It's quite sad. But it's also a neat place. The downtown pedestrian streets are packed with local shoppers and street venders selling interesting local snacks. Everyone speaks Spanish, only a handful speak any English at all. Venezuela is a big, industrialized country, compared with the Caribbean islands we've been visiting, and it is a very different feeling.

We'll stay here another week or so, having doctor and dentist check-ups and stocking up with cheap provisions, and then we'll head west to the more peaceful out-islands of Venezuela.

Next: to Margarita