Saturday, April 25, 2009

Golfo de Cuare near Chichiriviche, Vanezuela

In late summer 2007 we were moored in Bonaire when Hurricane Dean started marching across the Caribbean, with a track a bit too unpredictable and a bit too far south for our comfort. We did not want to chance being caught in Bonaire with a hurricane passing anywhere nearby. This would have meant getting off the mooring and motoring back and forth behind the tiny island of Klein Bonaire until the storm passed -- along with every other sailboat in Bonaire at the time. Doesn't that sound like a collision in the night waiting to happen!

So we sailed 85 miles south to the best hurricane hole in the entire Caribbean at Golfo de Cuare near Chichiriviche, Venezuela. This turned out to be one of my top 3 favorite places in the Caribbean. There is an enormous lagoon located behind the town of Chichiriviche. It is rarely visited by sailboats because it is not charted and you must pick your way into the lagoon by winding through mangroves. There are lots of little speed boats that take tourists (almost all of whom are Venezuelan) to see the cliffs where native Indians lived at least 5400 years ago.

As we entered the main channel from the sea into Chichiriviche a flock of scarlet ibis flew across our bow about a boat length in front of us. These were the most scarlet ibis that we have seen at one time. A scarlet ibis looks like a pink flamingo except smaller and bright red; legs seem a bit shorter proportionate to the total body size as compared to a flamingo.

There are high, dramatic cliffs along the southern shore of the Golfo de Cuare. Mangroves cover the western and northern shores. We maneuvered through the mangroves on the eastern side of the Golfo in order to get inside the lagoon. At one point the water depth beneath our keel was only 1.8 feet!!!! But it was an adventurous little trip for us. Our navigation charts stopped about 1/3 of the way inside, but our Chris Doyle sailing guide had a good detailed sketch-chart and we followed it easily through the mangroves. Bill stood on the deck and I drove the boat while constantly glancing at the depth gauge. It was really pretty easy and our first attempt at gunkholing.

We were the only boat inside the Golfo; there were 3 or 4 other sailboats that anchored out just behind the point bordering the sea. They didn’t attempt to wind their way through the mangroves to get into the Golfo de Cuare. We were very glad that we did not anchor out there with the other boats. Apparently very few boat come inside the Golfo because we were quite a curiosity to the locals. Several boats came by to take photos of S/V BeBe at anchor in there. Guess they don’t see a 53-foot sailboat in the Golfo very often. We were breaking the cardinal rule about never anchoring alone in an isolated spot anywhere near South America. But we felt totally safe. We did set our boat security alarm each night and locked down the hatches except for the one hatch in the cabin where we slept. If someone boarded the boat the alarm would sound and we could lock that hatch before anyone could reach it. Just because we felt safe did’t mean that we weren’t being security conscious.

It was truly gorgeous in there. We anchored in 16 feet of water fairly far away from the cliffs --- for 2 reasons: 1) to avoid as many insects as possible and 2) to catch as much wind as possible. Bill put our two mosquito covers over the forward hatch and the saloon hatch, and we zipped up the shade screens around the cockpit. This is not “bug-proof” but it drastically reduces the number of flies and mosquitoes who can find their way inside the cockpit or down below deck.

We lowered the dinghy and motored over to the Indian site in the cliffs on the southern shore. There are some rock carvings inside a cave that was used as a burial ground by the Caquetios Indians who lived there around 3400 B.C. The local people have built a small jetty there where the local tour boats tie off and unload their passengers to walk around inside the cave area. The cliffs above the cave area are the most dramatic cliffs all along the southern shore line of the lagoon. We wanted to go see this cave before the local tours started for the day and thought that Sunday morning would be the best time to avoid being in anyone’s way. There was only one tour boat there while we visited. Another man and little boy arrived in a hand-made dugout canoe just as we were leaving. There are quite a few rock carvings in this burial ground area. If you walk back you find yourself in a crater with sheer cliff sides about 200 feet high. Quite a sight!

A bit east of the Indian cave site is a grotto of some sort. It is full of little statues so it appears to have some sort of religious significance to modern day locals, but we have no idea what. There is a fresh water spring that comes out of the rocks behind a large single mangrove tree well up inside this little grotto area. Every nook and cranny of the rocks in this grotto are filled with statues, photos, candles and all sorts of things. Apparently in memory of departed loved ones would be our guess, but who knows. At any rate, it is a different kind of place and we are glad we were fortunate to see it.

This large body of water with the high cliffs and mangroves all around it does evoke feelings of long ago. We can see in our minds-eyes what life must have been like for the native Indians who lived here more than 5400 years ago. I read a series of anthropological novels about Native North Americans covering 13000 BC through 1200 AD. Wish I could find a similar series of books about South and Central Americans because I find this history interesting and would like to know more about the Caquetios Indians as well as others who inhabited South and Central America.
There were lots of petroglyphs inside the cave area of the cliffs. These depicted men and women doing various tasks. There were also carvings of the sun and stars and moon. I will never understand how these primitive people were able to figure out movements of stars and moons and planets.

It turned out that Hurricane Dean turned north so it was not necessary for us to have bailed out of Bonaire. But then we would have missed seeing the marvelous Golfo de Cuare, so we are very glad we made the unplanned trip down to Venezuela.

BTW, during 2006 and 2007 we also visited Isla Marquerita twice, Puerto la Cruz on the mainland, Los Testigos, Los Roques, Aves de Bartolomento and Aves de Sotovento in Venezuela, plus a few smaller islands whose names escape me at the moment. The Venezuelan people are very friently and their country is beautiful. Such a shame that Hugo Chavez is ruining it for them. Not sure that we will visit Venezuela again until the crime gets under control.

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