Wish You Were
Bush Pilot in
While I was
doing the Caravan amphib training for LTA, I had a chance to take a side
trip on one of their excursions. Being a full service company they not
only fly you to your destination, but provide the sail boat and guides to
take you on your chosen outing. During the training I had a chance to
visit Marguerite Island, but for this trip I decided to have a look at one
of the less developed of the Caribbean islands known for it's wild life
sanctuary. The Los Roques Archipelago National Park
Off the north shore of
Venezuela, lies a loosely associated chain of islands that mark the
southern reaches of the Caribbean Sea. If you fancy the majority of the
Caribbean Islands as looking like an ancient sea scorpion, the Hispaniola
Island would be the head, the Leeward and Windward Islands would be the
bulk of the tail, and the southern sweep of the Lesser Antilles uplift
would be the whip end of the tail.
On the far edge of the South
American continental shelf, the island chain from, east to west, is made
up of the islands Blanquilla, Orchila, Los Roques, Bonaire, Curacao, and
the tip of the simile's tail, Aruba. It is the southern segment of the
tail that intrigued me the most if no other reason than having read
numerous promotional stories about the spectacular diving opportunities.
Any diver worth their weightlessness in salt, would have had suspended
dreams of plunging into the abysses of the northern Bonaire Basin. I know
Diving the depths of Aruba or
Bonaire, however, is still floating in my dreams. I did, however, get to
visit a lesser known group of the far flung chain, called Islas Los Roques,
which, according to my Berlitz Spanish cd-rom, means "island of the
rock." How I ended up there is another story. I actually came to
Venezuela to take a trip into the Orinoco Delta rainforest. When I found
out that I was going to have some time on my hands for one day, I did what
every red blooded tourist does. I went to the Sheraton hotel travel desk
and queued in behind a group of British Airways crew members looking for a
day trip. Early the next morning I found myself at the domestic airport
with a booking in hand for the Los Roque Archipelago National Park.
The check-in at Linea Turistica
Aereotuy's, or LTA for short, airline counter was confident, efficient,
and somewhat unhurried. Myself and about 22 other day trippers were led
away to a bus to board the four engine Dash 7 turbo-prop aircraft with the
bright yellow sun tagged on the tail. Here we were joined by several
others and before I knew it we were airborne. The pilot did an on time
take-off from runway 09 straight into the sun. We then turned northbound
to the islands lying less than 100 miles off the coast.
About 25 minutes later a group
of coral cays and islands appeared on the horizon. My first impression was
that of how big the group of islands were. There are more than 50 islands
and keys situated above the extensive coral reefs circling a huge central
lagoon comprising a total area of 221,120 hectares of protected natural
park. Much more park than anyone could visit in a day.
From the air the blue azure
water glistened in the mellow morning light. The Dash 7 Captain circled
the only runway of the islands, built on the main residential island Gran
Roque. I could only imagine the reason for circling was to shoo the goats
off the landing area, or at least let the park officials know we were
here. After landing we were checked in with the park rangers and paid a
fee for the day. "If you want to play you have to pay." The fees
go toward protecting the park's natural environment. Ecotourism is the big
watch word for LTA and for Venezuela in general. Tourism in sustainable
only if you protect what the tourists are paying to see. In this case,
beaches, birds, and butterfly fish.
Our day trip consisted of
boarding one of LTA's specially built catamarans for a short sail/cruise
to several different islands, with stops for snorkeling and visits to
sensational white sand beaches the Caribbean is famous for. As we strolled
through the tiny fishing-come-tourist village on our way to the boat, I
was already regretting not booking for the overnight stay in one of the
picturesque inns Posadas. Alas, my schedule did not allow it, but I made a
note in my journal for next time. "Stay in Gran Roque. Bring rum! Oh,
and wife too."
This from my journal as well as we waited to board the catamaran...
"List of beach paraphernalia: disintegrated car battery, rusted tin
cans, wicked looking fish bones, one plimsole, and a 'we are the world'
coke can." A quick reality check made me remember where I was. In
truth, I was in the heart of a 1000 inhabitant plus fishing village where
what the tourists came to see was the fisherman's home. Their environment
was this perfect place of heaven on earth. But, did they know that? Did
they care? I wanted to find out.
The crew of the "Hurakan,"
our catamaran for the day, was a mix and match pair of guides, Gustavo and
Anamaria, as well as the skipper and his mates. We boarded the Hurakan
from a beach skiff, and the crew started early to coax their guests to
relax. As the skipper got us under way, Gus, a barrel chested red faced
machismo, put on his first show of the trip. He carried out the scene
stealing acts of dressing up as the jungle king, and later cross dressing
as a woman, with the best saved for last. Baby Huey, complete with diaper
and the largest rubber nanny known to babies and thumb-suckers alike.
get easily embarrassed for other people, especially where they are seen to
being doing something dumb for an even dumber group of tourists, just
because that is their job. "Just how bad do you need the work,
kid?" But, with Gus' high antics, I never felt the slightest trace of
embarrassment on his or my part. I had this gut feeling that he did the
show, lipstick and all, because, well....because he enjoyed it! He enjoyed
being the ham, the slapstick comedian, the clown. On the ship of fools he
was the king. And we were his subjects, his reason for being. A king for
and by the people. And by the reaction of the people on the boat, they
loved him too. All tensions and most inhibitions melted away in the heat
of Gus' glowing exhibitionism.
Anamaria, the more reserved half
of the crew, born of an Italian mother, was a doer. While Gus was carrying
on singing and crying out his scene's dialogue in Spanish, Anamaria was
doing. Something, everything. The skipper was setting the sails and
getting us set up for the cruise, and soon we were on the open water of
the lagoon. The day was spectacularly Caribbean idyllic. Soft blue sky
with gentle clear blue waves slapping the sides of the pontoons. All
sights and sounds of civilization faded away as we left the vicinity of
the tiny village.
As I met some of my fellow
tourists, I realized that many of those on board spoke either Spanish,
Italian, or Portuguese with enough Spanish to get by. Those who didn't,
spoke enough English, and we all managed to communicate one way or
another. In this tiny speck of Caribbean, we had the meeting of at least 2
Germans, 2 Italians, 2 Americans, 2 Norwegians and their cranky baby,
several couples from Argentina, several single Venezuelan girls, a
Venezuelan couple with their little girl, and the prerequisite Japanese.
Plus me the Canadian.
I did not remember many of them
from our flight this morning, but it turns out LTA runs day trips from
Marguerite Island as well. Plus, some of those with us were staying on
Gran Roque island and were actually participating in their second day
trip. The Italians had been there done that already, and their severely
over-baked peeling red skin proved it beyond doubt. I resolved to be the
one to inform the Italians that no one had yet found the cure for skin
cancer, or severe sunburn for that matter.
Talking to everyone on board, I
discovered that getting sunburn is kind of like being hungover. You can't
possibly have a good time without suffering the consequences. I stuck to
the tried and true method of abstinence. I covered up and stayed out of
the sun as much as possible. I can safely say that the system worked,
because other than the obviously immune crew, I was the only person who
never got a sunburn. Now if I can only carry that practice over to
hangovers. (Note out of my journal: "fat chance.")
As the smooth sailing catamaran neared our first stop, I felt the undertow
pulling me toward the clear waters of the snorkeling bay. After anchoring
the boat, Gus led the way to the bay. The tide was high, spilling over the
protective reef, and stirring the waters more than usual. The visibility
for snorkeling, however, was still excellent. Below us spread a catalog of
the undersea world, including parrot fish, clown fish, and the reef
After everyone else had gone
back ashore, Gus led myself and the sunburnt Italian gal over the reef to
the outside wall. Only then did I realize the tide was going out. Getting
back inside over the reef proved lung sucking difficult and both Gus and
the Italian machismo gal slapped each other on the back for their obvious
bravado. My arms were too tired from the long swim to slap anyone. But, I
must admit, Gus did warn me it would be difficult. I guess the French in
me got the best of my better judgment after being challenged by the other
two Latin derivatives.
Article and Images by John S Goulet
Part Two follows....... Let the attitude indicator guide you there.
Top of this
Part Two of this story.
Last modified on
March 05, 2006 .
© Virtual Horizons, 1996.