About seven years ago, my sister, our friend Shannon and I were in need of a girlfriend trip. Venezuela sounded fun, and the round trip required only 35,000 Alaska Airlines miles. Our three week vacation included zip-lining in Merida (following a treacherous bus trip through the mountains from Caracas), an expedition to Angel Falls (sleeping in jungle hammocks surrounded by giant black spiderwebs) and R&R on Isla Margarita (where we first experienced the magic of the caipirinha). Contrary to the naysayers at home, we felt safe and looked-after our entire trip. We repeatedly ran into locals who went out of their way to help us with our travels.
A couple of years later, TH and I went back to Venezuela with a different motive: camping and fishing on the pristine islands of Los Roques. We'd heard rumors that this was a possibility, but found little to no information about it on the internet. Inspired by Google Earth images of the area, we decided to pack up and go for it.
From Alaska we hauled:
- lightweight tent
- sleeping pads and Therm-a-rest trekker chairs
- small river wing/aka sun shade
- alpacka (lightweight pack raft)
- fishing gear
- camp stove (burns unleaded, which was supplied by local fishermen)
- small pot, two plates, two mugs, two sporks
- head lamps
- sunscreen, insect repellant
- Folgers Singles (they taste a lot better on a deserted Caribbean island)
- Cliff bars
In the tiny island's tiendas we stocked up on water, rum, and non-perishable goods. After asking around a bit, I managed to locate the official office and gringoed my way into acquiring a camping permit for around $10. My Spanish wasn't so hot at the time, but I think I received a detailed lecture on poo management.
At the dock we paid a boat owner to ferry us to the neighboring island of Francisqui. He didn't seem to think it was crazy that we wanted to be picked up five days later. He did warn us that it would be very hot, and that sunscreen should be worn at all times.
Hopping off the panga into the crystalline sand, we found the island empty, but for a few fishing shacks, which, thankfully, housed at least one resident who kindly lent us matches (TH blames the distraction of the scantily clad shop cashier for forgetting to purchase such a fundamental item).
After staking out a prime spot on a barren white beach, we were quick to set up our sun shade as even the mid-morning sun was blistering. TH covered up and pranced off to chase the plentiful bonefish, while I raised the tent and constructed a driftwood bar to display our bottles of rum. You know, in case someone popped by for cocktails. Once chores were done, I joined TH in the calm, warm waters, snorkeling with the curious barracudas and skittish reef fish.
Later that evening, relaxing in our camp chairs under the canopy of iridescent stars, reflected in the sea beyond our toes, we finished our fresh fish dinner and contemplated the morning's beverage purchases. The four liters of rum now seemed ambitious when compared to the four gallons of water. With four days remaining, one gallon/day/two people was not going to cut it in the intense island heat.
The alpacka saves the day!
After a few days fueled only by meager sips of water, we had entered the uncomfortable predicament of true thirst, which is waaaayyy worse than hunger pains. Trying to conserve water, we made pasta with sea water... mistake. Cliff bars and fish graced the evening's menu instead. That night we slept fitfully, awakened by rain pelting our tent. However, the next morning, to our delight we found the raft half filled with water (albeit rubbery and fishy)! We dipped our mugs into the raft and greedily guzzled our gift from the clouds.
What does one do on an isolated tropical island?
Our daily schedule (times are approximate as we had no way of telling time):
dawn (6:00 am?): awaken, read in the tent until morning mosquitoes disappear
7:30 am: beach yoga for kt, fishing for TH
8:30 am: breakfast (coffee and oatmeal)
9:00am-1:00pm: snorkeling, fishing, pack-rafting, reading under the river wing
1:00-2:00pm: lunch (Cliff bar...why didn't we bring more food??)
3:00-6:00pm: more fishing, snorkeling, reading
dusk (6:00-7:00pm?): wait out the evening mosquitoes in the tent
7:00-10:00pm: cocktailing, dinner prep and consumption (fish, rice and beans), shooting star and lightning viewing, stimulating drunken conversation
On our fifth day the panga came back to pick us up. Our captain appeared happy to see that we were still alive. Perhaps he'd had doubts and this is why he'd asked us to pay in advance?
Arriving back in Gran Roque, we sprinted to the nearest tienda for ice cold bottles of water before seeking out room and board in the home of a local family.
The next morning, we bought a s*&# ton of water and found our boat captain to shuttle us southwest, to the relatively large island of Crasqui. I swear he smirked knowingly when we lifted our five two-gallon jugs of water onto the boat.
Impossibly, Crasqui was even more beautiful than Francisqui. We spent another four days alone in the Caribbean, baking to a crisp, befriending giant barracudas, and making wishes on the stars that blazed through the night sky. (Side note:I have never been browner. In fact, when questioned at U.S. Customs about Venezuelan acquisitions, I stated, "Just this bitchin' tan!" The stone-faced agent didn't even crack a grin. Awkward. )
It's been five years since our trip to Gran Roque. We've heard things have changed (for example: former President Chavez confiscating the family owned posadas, campgrounds erected on some of the islands?!). Although it remains one of our favorite places on the planet we are hesitant to go back and experience something other than the idyllic adventure of the past.
Do you repeat favorite travel destinations? Have you ever had a repeat not live up to your memories/expectations?