MOCHIMO NATIONAL PARK & LAGUNA GRANDE PARADISE IN NATURE

Dave and I left Puerto la Cruz, taking almost a week out to visit Mochima National Park before actually leaving Venezuela. This was our eighth trip to Mochima which we really love and think is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Mochima is located just after the city of Cumana, where we purchased 250 gallons of gas {we hold 1,500 gallons} for $20 US. With smiles on our faces we headed into the park cruising at our customary 6.5 knots.
The park is absolutely gorgeous and is totally isolated, reminding us of the lakes of the northern US and lower Canada. The forests are lush and green with the water being clear and calm. Environmental restrictions are heavy here with no fishing, dumping, noise, etc. and are appreciated by cruisers. We had purchased a cruising permit for a year in August of '06, which is the way the country finances their parks in part. We took dinghy rides around the coastlines and explored the waterways. We had Rex, our favorite electric sensor dog, on guard when we slept to ward off any intruders. We had none but it gave us that extra degree of safety. We enjoyed exploring here and delighted in the variations of cactus and birds. The sunsets are spectacular - just as they are from Swan Song when we were in the marina as our bow faced west and we enjoyed nature's splendor nightly.
My biggest disappointment throughout the past months has been the local markets. I suppose I remember the marketplaces, open air of course, from early cruising to Martinique and Guadaloupe some 17 years ago but they are not the same. All markets, no matter what country we visit, are now selling cheap Chinese goods - plastic, T-shirts, have loud music and such. Gone are the colourful women selling bananas, pinapples, homemade pies and such. Oh, you can get veggies and meats but as all veggies must be washed in a clorox solution, they lose their taste so I shop at the large foodstores in major cities for sanitation. I don't eat meat {mammals} or allow it on the boat so we are fairly safe there. Also, the people don't have the smiles and graciousness of former years. They look beat down and often charge much higher prices than in the city. All in all, however, the food in Venezuela and the lower Caribbean is delicious and I truly enjoy eating out as well as cooking. We eat our main meal in the middle of the day, take a siesta, as is the custom here and with cruisers, and then have salads or vegetable pates for dinner with homemade bread. I have a great bread machine so we never run short of that and the local butters are delicious.
This trip I spent several days writing articles and reading, finishing with Amy Tan's book on China, a vast and fascinating country that Dave had the opportunity to visit in March.
I really enjoyed this entry into our next year of cruising with only anchoring at night. Our planet is a beautiful place indeed and we are truly enjoying seeing some of the outer realms.

Below are some facts about the parks

The other Caribbean: Venezuela's offshore islands
LOS TESTIGOS, Venezuela (AP) — Off the coast of Venezuela are some of the most beautiful and remote islands in all the Caribbean. Beginning with Los Testigos' tiny fishing village and sand dunes in the east and stretching 300 miles to Los Aves' reef-strewn mangroves in the west, the offshore islands of Venezuela offer a Caribbean paradise far away from cruise ships, crowds and casinos.
 
  A boat sits at a deserted anchorage among the red dirt hills of Laguna Grande in the Gulf of Cariaco, Venezuela.
By Lynne Sladky, AP

Puerto La Cruz on the mainland and Porlamar on Isla Margarita, about 60 miles north, are the jumping-off places for both tourists and cruising sailboats. Both have large airports and offer a wide variety of hotel and tour packages. Cruising boats will find excellent anchorages on all sides of Margarita with duty-free shopping and other services in Porlamar.

A selection of marinas and boatyards awaits the cruiser in Puerto La Cruz. Both Puerto La Cruz and Porlamar are veritable United Nations of cruising sailboats. Flags from all over the world fly on boats in these two harbors as they stop off for provisions and adventures.

  If you go ...
 
 Getting there: You can fly from Caracas and other cities to Porlamar on Isla de Margarita, Puerto La Cruz on the mainland, and some of the other islands like La Tortuga and Los Roques.
 Getting around: From Porlamar, Puerto La Cruz and other jumping-off ports, you can charter boats for diving, fishing or sightseeing excursions to outlying islands.
 Visa and travel informations: U.S. State Department Consular Information Sheet or call the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C.: (202) 342-2214.
 Tours: Prices vary depending on itinerary and season. High season for the Venezuelan Caribbean is midsummer, Christmas and Easter; prices are lower at other times. Here are some contacts for information on arranging trips to Venezuela's Caribbean coast and islands:
Natoura Adventure Tours: Telephone in Venezuela, (58-274) 252-4075, or visit www.natoura.com
Venezuela Tuya: Telephone in Venezuela, (58-212) 959-0884 or visit www.venezuelatuya.com.
Isla Margarita: Background, sample itineraries and contacts for lodging and excursions at www.islamargarita.com.
 
 
 
 
 
The best way to see the outlying islands is by boat chartered either in Puerto La Cruz or Porlamar, although Isla La Tortuga and Los Roques both have airstrips. Los Roques, an archipelago of small coral islands, offers deserted white, sandy beaches, snorkeling and scuba diving along numerous coral reefs, bird-watching and excellent fishing, including some of the world's finest bonefishing.

Gran Roque is the only island with a village on it and has a selection of small, brightly colored posadas on its sandy streets, many of which offer both lodging and dining. La Tortuga is a deserted island but for a few small fishing camps, and offers no overnight accommodation. You can camp out on any of its miles of pristine beach. Small planes land at Playa Caldera, a huge crescent-shaped sand beach with just a hint of pink against the swimming-pool blue water reflecting brightly colored sailboats at anchor — one of the most beautiful in the world. La Tortuga is surrounded by scattered reefs teeming with fish and varieties of coral.

Just five miles off Venezuela's coast near Puerto La Cruz is a group of about 25 barrier islands, all within a short pirogue boat ride from either Puerto La Cruz or one of the many small fishing villages on the coast west of Puerto La Cruz. The islands, although close in distance, are a world away. Stark cliffs rise out of the deep blue sea into a rarefied blue sky. Cool waters offer beautiful snorkeling and a bounty for fishermen. You can visit one of the many beaches or anchor a boat in an isolated cove and see no one but the frigates, pelicans and boobies swooping overhead.

A little to the east is Mochima National Park, a long inlet of deep anchorages and beaches off a remote part of the mainland. The park is considered one of the jewels of Venezuela. Much of this area is accessible by car.

Moving farther east into the Gulf of Cariaco are many inlets with small colorful villages and outstanding anchorages. Most significant is Laguna Grande, a large lagoon with many fingers of inlets offering snorkeling. Oysters and scallops can be scooped up by hand. The red and green surrounding hills offer challenging hikes to about 1,000 feet. They reflect downward into the mirror-like lagoon, creating an image of unending depth and a kaleidoscope of color. At the easternmost end of the gulf, Colobus monkeys play in the mangroves and scarlet ibis can often be seen flying overhead.

Los Testigos, La Banquilla and Los Aves are the groups of islands farthest away from the coast. They are not easy to get to unless you have your own boat, but they are very much worth the visit. Boat trips can be arranged to all three from Los Roques and Margarita. These islands offer world-class snorkeling and challenging deep-sea fishing en route with plenty of dolphins to lead the way.

Los Testigos, 50 miles east of Margarita, is a group of three islands with hikes through sand dunes and over rocks to spectacular views from the lighthouse. The narrow strip of beach at the northernmost anchorage allows the surf from the windward side to blast through to the flat calm of the leeward anchorage.

La Blanquilla is about 60 miles north of Margarita and has a tiny village and coast guard station on its south side. All around the island are long beaches with colorful live reefs you can swim out to. Every fish imaginable resides in these waters. Since La Blanquilla is very remote, the coral is particularly healthy. The island itself is low and full of cactus with many footpaths. Bird life abounds and it is one of the few places in the world where you might spot a burrowing owl.

Los Aves is only for the most adventurous. Lying about 30 miles west of Los Roques, there is no coast guard station and no village, but the snorkeling is some of the best in the world and the range of water colors will dazzle you.

Unfortunately the pirates of the Caribbean are alive and well, with infrequent incidents along Venezuela's Paria peninsula and some of its outlying islands. The economy is weak due to the unstable political situation and instead of plundering gold and silver, these pirates look for inflatable dinghies, outboard motors, cash and electronics to steal. Travel in small groups is generally wise. Leave jewelry and other valuables at home.

Whether you fly into Margarita and stay for its shopping, beaches and mountains or travel by boat to some of the more remote islands for spectacular diving and fishing, Venezuela's offshore islands have something for everyone. Many of these islands remain the unspoiled paradise that they were 100 years ago. They are the best of the Caribbean.

MOCHIMA NATIONAL PARK
Straddling the States of Anzoátegui and Sucre, the Mochima National Park lies at the center of Northeastern Venezuela’s Coastal Sector between the towns of Puerto La Cruz and Cumaná. The Park is broken down into the following areas: 52% oceanic, 42% mainland and 6% island.
The Mochima National Park offers beaches and gulfs, bays and coves and lovely sea beds populated by colonies of corals thrusting up into islands or steep rocky isles. Narrow valleys stretch along the mountainous area of the mainland sector. The site is ideal for diving, swimming, sports fishing, camping and hiking.
 
Access
 
 The Mochima National Park can be reached by the road from Caracas to Puerto La Cruz and then on to Cumaña and the islands and isles are accessible by sea.

 
 Vegetation
 
 Mangrove swamp colonies can be found along the coasts and adjacent mainland. The vegetation in this area corresponds to the living zones: thorny tropical mountain, dry tropical and humid tropical. The most plentiful species to be found are the carob tree, scrub oak, vera palosanto, gutacaro, yellow mombin, nectarine, thistle, sponge tree, yaque, and Venezuela’s national tree, the araguanay.

 
 Fauna
 
 The mountainous portion of the Park teems with deer, rabbits, anteaters, turtles, reptiles and birds. The sea area, for its part, is an extremely fertile breeding ground for the nutrients needed by phytoplankton, on which the abundant sea species -- whales, dolphins and wide variety of fish, including corocoro, snapper and striped mullet-- feed.

 
 Atractivos Turísticos
 Blanca (White) Beach
With its crystalline green waters and fine white sand, this unspoiled beach is only 25 minutes away from the town of Mochima.

 
 Puinare Beach
One of the largest beaches, known also as the Large Chimana Island, it is a favored site for fishing and diving. Its fine clear sands are in perfect harmony with splendid natural ocean surroundings.

 
 El Faro (The Lighthouse) Beach
Escarpments, fossil remains and stone caves all contribute to make this beach the choice of the young.

 
 Plata (Silver) Island
Handsome rustic establishments offer comfort and shade until sundown. Dolphins can frequently be spied, gamboling alongside the fishing boats. This is also a very fine site for scuba diving.

 
 Arapo Island
With its incredibly beautiful white sands and spectacular geography, this island is a favorite of those who board fishing vessels to take advantage of the special peaceful environment to be found there.

 

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Park Rangers
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Here you can see the great contrast in beauty between Mochima, below, and Laguna Grande on the right. Again notice the small huts with fishing boats. None have electricity and I have no idea about their water supply. As the run-off from the hills is muddy after a rain I don't suppose that it is safe to drink. Botton below is the wine tasting . We enjoyed the small resort and the cuisine was great.

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Last October, when we cruised the area, we went to a local market, about an hour away from Medrigal Village, where we spent the weekend, by local bus as shown below, with friends Randy, Alice and Linda. The lad at the bottom followed me for two hours. He was barefoot, poor and very quiet. As I left I gave him 2 dollars worth of Bolivars and took his picture. When I showed it to him, on my digital screen, he was amazed as he shows here. Poor kid, like thousands like him, he will never have a chance - although Chavez has institued mandatory education.

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