From the clubs of Caracas, Vero and I drove back to her family home, where we showered, I packed again, ate the arepa left over from lunch, then drove to the airport to catch an early morning flight to the paradise of Los Roques in the Caribbean Sea, due to come back the same evening. But this is Venezuela, and things didn’t quite go according to plan.
Vero parked the jeep, and we had a 10 minute power nap, before wearily dragging ourselves into the terminal. Nobody was manning the check-in. We’d got there at 6:30am for a 7:30am flight. When it got to 7am, people started getting a bit worried. It was 7:30am before people started asking questions. Vero, as talkative as ever, was the one to start asking questions, while I felt useless as I don’t speak a word of Spanish. I just kept walking up and down the terminal to buy coffee from a vending machine. Each time I walked down, a big fat black-market money changer kept walking up to me asking me if I wanted to change dollars. Each time I said “I’m OK”. He assured me it was a good price, and when I still refused he gave a deep shrug of the shoulders, head sunken giving the impression of having no neck and cocked to one side, his bottom lip over his top so he looked like a fish, a typically exaggerated latin gesture. It was as if he couldn’t comprehend how I could possibly turn down such an offer, and it hurt him to see me throw away such a chance.
An hour and a half passed, and we finally got an explanation. ‘Welcome to Venezuela’ chirped Vero, cheerful as ever. Apparently the one guy supposed to be manning the check-in had had an accident. There was no cover system in place. No standby system. Eventually it was sorted out, and a plane was scrambled to fly us at 8:45am. It was a tiny propeller plane, seating about 20 people. And we were finally on our way to Los Roques….and Vero and I hadn’t slept for almost 24 hours now.
Archipelago Los Roques, population 1,500, boasts white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters and fantastic snorkelling and diving. Most islands are uninhabited. There are no cars, but boats buzz along the crystal clear waters. The views from the flight were amazing….the sun was out, the blue cloudless skies dazzling, the islands below looked like green tea ice-cream diluted and melting into the sea…..it was beautiful. I saw wonderful waters of emerald greens, turquoises, electric blues and sky blues, all separated as though they were different oils in a huge puddle. We got off the plane and went through ‘immigration’- a tiny shack manned by a village policeman. We were then met by our guide for the day – a sun-kissed woman from Caracas who had been living and working on the island for years. She spoke English and Spanish fluently, and dressed as though she hated the sun. Understandable- her job for years has been out in the sun, and her skin had clearly suffered because of it. She took us to wait for a small speedboat to take us to a larger catamaran. As we waited, we watched huge pelicans diving for fish in the turquoise waters. We got a speedboat to a catamaran parked near a beach. It was beautiful, and looked like something Richard Branson might have parties on. Or Hugh Heffner. We had lunch in the huge belly of the catamaran. A group of around 12 of us were on it. We basked in the sun, and I took photos of the islands around, and the millionaire playboy yachts from USA parked up with their rich owners on board supping champagne in the sun. The colour of the sea was amazing, and the beauty of the area incomparable…..only Saona island in the Dominican Republic could compare, though I went there 10 years ago so I think Los Roques may be even more beautiful. Our guide took us snorkelling for a while….the current was strong so we had to swim hard to avoid being swept into the coral, but the colour and diversity of the fish was magnificent. Vero, an experienced diver herself, led the way, like a salmon swimming upstream, beating the current. We saw a lot of things. We walked back along the lovely beach, then walked through the sea to the catamaran. This place is about as picture perfect as a place can be. The catamaran then took us to a beach. It moored someway out, and we had to swim to the beach from the boat. It was a small and almost deserted island – a desert island. Vero and I lay in the sun for a while, but I soon felt the burn and the familiar tightening of the white skin about to become terribly sunburned, and I had to cover up or risk spending the rest of the holiday in agonising pain. Vero, on the other hand, tans easily, her South American skin accustomed to the sun, and she doesn’t really even need sunscreen. Curse my English skin. A full day had gone. Time to go back, walk to the small airstrip, and fly back to Caracas. But when we got to Gran Roque island, and to a hotel where we had to check in for the flight, not all was well.
Too many people were here wanting to fly back, and not enough planes. In fact, there was only one plane. Everyone had a reason for wanting to get back on that one flight. Vero and I had a flight from Caracas in the morning to Canaima – an essential flight or we might miss Canaima, and then miss seeing Angel Falls! To appease everyone, they said that the plane would fly to Caracas, then come straight back to pick up more passengers, as though it were a taxi. Everyone felt better. But the plane never bothered coming back. The officials in Caracas didn’t let it come back. That’s what they told us anyway, but I think they were just buying time to work out what to do. A grumpy old Englishman kept walking up to me mumbling “Bloody country….can’t they do anything right? Useless bloody country” in full earshot of his Venezuelan wife. He lived in Caracas, and seemed to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After my birthday card incident, I could empathise. Vero was worried – she’d put a lot of money into this Canaima trip, but she was still smiling while hurrying back and forth, calling people, complaining to the manager, organising and reorganising things, thinking up possible scenarios and solutions. “Don’t worry”, she told me. “Venezuelans always find a solution. I will find a solution.” Her confidence made me feel better. The solution now was a plane at 6:30am the next day. People would still be missing work, and we would still be missing our flight, but at least we got back. And they had offered us a free night’s accomodation and dinner, on an exotic Caribbean island. Things weren’t that bad.
Vero and I went for the free dinner. The old Englishman was tucking in heartily. “Bloody Venezuela” he moaned. “At least the food’s OK.” He was right. It was a good feed. Afterwards, Vero and I strolled around the quiet streets of the only village in the archipelago, and found a bar with beanbags on the sand where we could gaze up at the stars and look out to the dark sea whilst listening to the strains of Coldplay’s Chris Martin caressing us from the speakers. I felt at great ease here….and I was sleepier than I ever remember being in my life. It was then I remembered that neither Vero nor I had slept for over 36 hours. What a day! Time for bed, bed on one of the world’s most beautiful islands.