Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More ATM problems; this time not mine, thank goodness!

June 23, 2007  Saturday

On Thursday we sent our laundry in to be done.  It is just too inexpensive here to bother to do it yourself  ---– 3 loads of laundry, washed, dried and folded for $9 and same-day service.  Not worth running our generator and washing machine for 3 hours and using up our laundry products at that price; plus it provides a job for a local person.

Bill and Carol Langolois on S/V HOPE came over to visit Thursday night.  We last saw them in Isle des Saintes.  They did a straight sail to here from the Saintes instead of visiting the southern islands like we did.  Bill and Carol do not like it here in Isla Margarita and plan to leave for Bonaire soon.  They plan to spend the hurricane season in the marina in Bonaire so we will see them again in August.

On Friday we did the Sigo shopping trip again.  This time we bought something.  Bill got a few cases of Polar beer ($6.33 per case) and I got 400 days of thyroid medication for only $17.05 plus one month of Premarin for $6.84.  The farmacia should have more Premarin next week so I plan to buy a years supply.  We also plan to check on the tablet form of the drug that Bill takes for his Crohnn’s Disease.  I already checked and they don’t have the capsule form of this drug but we are hopeful that they will sell the tablet form.  It would save a lot of money since Bill now pays about $2200 for a 6-month supply of the capsule drug.  If the tablets work just as well then we could save a lot of money.

There have been well-publicized news articles of the various food shortages in Venezuela.  There are supposed to be shortages of meat, chicken, eggs, sugar and rice because the government set prices are so low that the supermarkets don’t stock these products and you are forced to buy them off the black market.  Well, these shortages are really no big deal at all from what we have seen so far.  The Sigo supermarket did not have eggs on either of our visits this week but that was not a real inconvenience to us.  They were short on chicken breasts on our first visit but the refrigerated cases were full of chicken breasts on our second visit.  We saw no shortages of sugar or rice on either visit.  Gossip abounds but isn’t always true.  We had another great lunch of arepitas (wonderful little things made from rice flour and stuffed with small amount of mild cheese and fried), plantains, various squashes cooked with tomatoes, and Bill had a chicken breast.  We don’t know how they cook the plantain pieces, but these taste wonderful---almost like a desert.

On the local cruiser net on the VHF radio on Friday someone said that they had been ripped off this week for over $7,000 after they used their ATM card at the shopping mall.  Someone had attached a card swiping device on the ATM machine.  These people swiped their card and then inserted the card into the ATM.  Apparently someone then watched or video recorded them entering their PIN on the keypad.  At the end of the day the bad guys return and remove the card swiper device and they have all the info they need to use that debit card.  This is not what happened to us in Grenada because we would never swipe our card prior to entering it into the ATM machine.  Different island; different thieves; same results.

Friday night we had dinner with several other cruising couples at a very nice local seafood restaurant.  The meals were great and just as nice as any restaurant back in Houston.  The reason for this dinner was to say goodbye to Paul and Karen on DREAMWEAVER.  They were leaving for Puerto La Cruz, where they will put their boat into the marina and then take off for a month-long trip to Peru.  Hope they enjoy Cusco and Machu Pichu as much as we did.

Today it is hot as blazes!  Guess it is just the higher humidity because the temperature inside the boat is still at 83.8F, which felt cool all week but feels very warm today.  A tropical wave passed through the area this morning and raised the humidity level to “not pleasant.”  We thought about taking a taxi to the fancy shopping mall, but neither of us is in a shopping mood.

June 25, 2007  Monday

Last night we had a nice steak and baked potatoes dinner with Gary & Linda on RAINBOW RIDER, a Lagoon 410 catamaran.  Another couple was there whose company we really enjoyed but I don’t know their names and cannot pronounce the name of their boat.  They are following the same path that we plan so we certainly will meet up again along the way.  All 3 of our boats are covered by the same insurance company and we had a lot of discussion about the coverage provided and restrictions for Colombia.  Seems that each of them were told different information about Colombia coverage than we were told last October by the same guy at the insurance agency, yet all 3 of our policies contain the same verbiage.  We had been told that we must purchase a 30-day rider which would provide normal insurance coverage in Colombian waters with the exception of theft.  Theft is excluded while in Colombian waters.  This rider costs $200 for each 30 day period.  Gary was quoted $1600 for the Colombian waters rider.  Quite a difference!   The other guy was simply told that he was allowed to go to Cartagena but there was no mention of any additional rider or cost.  So now we are all confused about going to Cartagena.  Guess we will be calling the insurance agent again soon for clarification.

Today we again made the Sigo supermarket run in the free bus.  Continued our stocking up on cases of Polar beer that Bill likes so much.  It is easier to transport 3-4 cases each trip rather than buying 20 cases at once and bringing that stack of beer back to the boat in the dinghy.  The anchorage here in Porlamar can be a bit rolly at times and getting boxes and beer cases from the bouncing dinghy to the rolling boat stern steps can be quite a balancing act.

Tonight we had people over to our boat for a Texas happy hour.  There are 2 other boats of Texans nearby and we have become friends with them.  And another boat has a hailing port of Corpus Christi, although they are not really Texans.  But we invited them anyway.  I fixed (a Texan expression) margaritas, quesadillas and guacamole and we put our large Texas flag on the stern of the boat in place of the usual US flag.   As usual when people get together for sundowners, the happy hour lasted well into the evening.  Jaime & Dan on NERIA (from Houston) and Ken & Cathy on CHILL (from The Woodlands) will be leaving tomorrow morning to start toward Puerto La Cruz with a few stops at a couple of islands along the way.  Gary & Linda on RAINBOW RIDER plan to leave in a few days. 

There was a great deal of discussion today amongst many of the cruisers.  There are 2 boats in the anchorage who have been cruising in Venezuela for up to 5 years.  The people on both of these boats claim that it is not necessary to clear in and out as you travel between ports.  This has convinced a few new people that they can do this so they do not plan to clear out of Isla Margarita when they go to Puerto La Cruz.  This is totally opposite from the information provided in the sailing guides and does not agree with what the clearing agents tell you.  So tonight I checked every website I could find about clearance procedures in Venezuela.  Every single piece of information that I could find states exactly the same as the sailing guides and the clearance agents.  You are supposed to clear with Immigration at the first port of your arrival in Venezuela.  You obtain a cruising permit which is good for 6 months.  You then clear in with Customs and the Port Captain.  When you leave the first port, you do not clear out with Immigration but you are required to clear out with Customs and the Port Captain.  Then you clear in with Customs and the Port Captain at the next port.  The Port Captains are each in charge of a state in Venezuela and are only located in the major port of each state.  You are required to clear in and out of each state as you travel around Venezuelan waters.  At your final port you are required to also clear out with Immigration as well as Customs and the Port Captain.  This clears you out of the country; the cruising permit is relinquished and you receive the final clearance paper (zarpe) which allows you to clear into the next country. 

Venezuela is not the only country where you are required to clear in and out of major ports or states or departments.  It gives the country a better way to track your movements around their country as also provides the country with more fees collected, providing more jobs.  Also usually presents the opportunity for more bribes.  Point is, this is not all that unusual a process.  For example, Russia does the same thing.  And the Maldives require you to obtain permission (permits) before going to any port other than the one where you clear into the country.  I asked one boat who plans to travel around Venezuela without clearing in and out of each port to send me an email after they clear out of the country and let me know how it went.  We plan to follow the rules.

We are waiting on a DHL shipment of the correct line for our mainsail outhaul.  We ordered it from Amel in Guadeloupe last Monday.  Of course, the shipment went to Puerto Rico by mistake; but Bill talked to DHL this afternoon and they said the shipment should arrive here in a few days.  We tracked the shipment online late tonight and saw that it is now in Port of Spain, Trinidad.  At least it is getting closer to Isla Margarita.  You just gotta love international overnight/priority shipping.  Seems it rarely goes smoothly.

June 27, 2007  Wednesday

Yesterday we took a taxi to SAMBIL.  SAMBIL is a huge, very modern, very nice shopping mall.  Lots of people watching.  Bill thoroughly enjoyed admiring the overly-amply-endowed yung Venezuelan women.  (Plastic surgery supposedly is very inexpensive here and it is obvious that most women take full advantage of this low cost surgery.)  Very nice stores but priced higher than we are accustomed to paying.  For example, there is a Liz Claiborne store in this mall.  A simple woman’s shirt cost $100 and up, and this is in duty-free Isla Margarita.  It would cost minimum 11% higher on the mainland.  Liz Claiborne is one of my favorite brands of casual clothing.  I normally pay about $60-$75 for a simple shirt in department stores in Houston.   We were surprised at how many US brand stores are in the SAMBIL mall. 

The main reason we went to this mall is the cinema multiplex where they are supposed to show latest release US movies in English with Spanish subtitles.  We haven’t seen a movie since last July in Trinidad so this appealed to us.  Actually, just sitting in the cold air-conditioning for a few hours appealed to us.  There was a lousy choice of movies.  They were mostly horror type films or murder stuff; definitely not my type of movie.  The remaining choices were Spiderman 3, Shrek 3 or Pirates of the Caribbean 3.  We decided on the Piratas.  However, when I tried to purchase tickets the cashier was kind enough to tell me that “Piratas es solo en espanol.”  Well…..that just won’t work for us.  So, in the end – no movie for us.

But I had very good sushi for lunch and we found another package of thyroid medication (for $2.31 for a 50-day supply--- wow; what a deal compared to high US prices!).

Back on the boat in the afternoon and I enjoyed sitting in the shade of the cockpit and watching the birds while Bill messed around on the computer.  The large pelicans here often fly in formation.  We call them squadrons.  Twenty to thirty birds will line up single file and fly back and forth through the anchorage.  They will fly only about a foot off the water and glide long distances without flapping their wings.  A pilot tells me that they are using the resistance of being so close to the water to assist in their flight so that they rarely need to flap their wings.  It is entertaining to watch them patrol through the anchorage in this fashion.

The Venezuelan pangas are also entertaining.  These boats look so graceful with their curved high prows cutting through the water.  The pangas are made from wood and are constructed without any patterns or printed designs.  The designs for these boats are simply in the memories of the men constructing them.  The pangas can be anywhere from 12 to 45 feet long, although most of the ones we have seen are in the range of 20-25 feet.  These little boats are very distinctive and the curved very high prows cut through the waves quite efficiently.  They can be pretty fast depending on the size of the outboard.  I love watching them motor around. 

As of this afternoon our DHL shipment is being held on the Venezuelan mainland for “clearing delay.”  Good thing we weren’t in a hurry to receive this rope.  And thanks to Kristina we have received the claim forms for the recent ATM fraud in Grenada.  The deadline to get this completed claim form back to the bank is tomorrow.  So guess we will be relying on Kristina once again to handle this for us because we cannot find a functioning fax machine here in Porlamar.  We can get it scanned and email it to Kristina this afternoon and hopefully she can print it and fax it to the bank tomorrow.  Thank goodness we have reliable people back home to help us when we need it.

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