Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shakedown cruise to Porlamar November 2007

Picture: Happy hour at Juan’s Hutch (Sandcastle) and Frankie(Second Wind) beside Bev

After our exciting and exhausting land trips, it was great to be back into the more sedate boating life. Raft had done fine in the marina while we were away. It was now time to restart the refrigeration, refill the water tanks, (we left them superchlorinated while we were away), pay our marina bill and say our farewells to all our friends, whom are either staying in the Cariaco area or heading west.
Before leaving Ross had spent the week in the marina in Cumana getting the boat ready to go. We had been in Venezuela since July, and had done very little sailing in that time, plus RAFT had been at dock for over six weeks, all the systems needed to be checked. Fuel was scrubbed. Filters were changed. Batteries were topped up. Sails and rigging were checked, and retaped.
Friday morning looked like a good day to make the run to Polamar. The winds were supposed to be light for one more day and from the SE, afterward a week of higher trades were predicted. Up at 5:00 am to put the last minute lines, power cords & water hose away. Tuned on the computer to start the navigation system only to find that the inverter would not start up to power the computer. The battery monitoring system error code indicated that there was insufficient voltage and probably dirty contacts. We started to trouble shoot the system and within 30 min we had the problem identified and repaired. The isolation switch on the inverter had shorted out internally and melted the contacts. The solution was to remove the switch from the system until we can buy a new one. We will try in Polamar or up island.
Departed the marina at 7:00 am and headed north up the Arraya peninsula. 15 knots of breeze from the ESE. Wonderful sailing weather. As we reached the north end of the peninsula the winds increased to 22 knots but the waves were less that 3 feet and the sky was clear, so a good day for a sail. The water is less than 100 ft deep here and protected by the islands that lay to the east, Cubagua and Coche. Rounding the north end of the peninsula we began to get the full effect of the current and the winds switched the NE. Guess what direction we wanted to go. You guessed right, NE. RAFT does not travel well head to wind so we continued to tack off the wind for the next 4 hours, managing to make 4.5 miles of NE progress towards our destination 22 miles away on the Northwest side of Coche. After 3 tacks to windward we commented that we were breaking all the lessons we learned on the trip down about traveling to windward.
We decided to start the engine and motorsail to help with the progress. This lasted for about 30 mins when the engine quit. This was not a sputter and die, but an instant stop. Bev felt we must have picked up something on the prop. Checking the engine compartment we could see that the prop shaft was still turning, so this was not the problem. Checking the Primary Fuel filter revealed that the sediment bowl was clean and full, and that the filter was just as clear as a new filter because we had only pulled 1 hour's worth of fuel through the system. We checked the intake from the fuel tank and found that it was blocked. Blowing back through the supply line cleared the pickup tube but dirt was obviously present in the bottom of the tank. We rigged up temporary fuel supply lines from Jerry cans that we carry on deck and got the engine restarted. Luckily there was no air in the system so she started right up with the alternate fuel supply. We still had a long way to go but decided that it would better to sail and leave the Jerry can fuel system as a backup for our arrival.
Now it was 2:00 pm and the afternoon sun was increasing the wind velocity up to 28 knots. On one of our tacks the flogging jib sheet wrapped itself around one the dorade cowlings on the deck and tossed it overboard. Now we are short two because of the one that the kayak knocked off in Medragal Village. The boat looks better now that is symmetrical again. More parts to look for as we go up island. By 5:00 pm we were still 7 miles from Coche when we did a tack. The winds were still 23-24 knots and we had hoped that they would be dying down by now. Not so. As we tacked the back edge of the jib caught on one of the spreaders and tore the leech line out of the sail. We furled in the sail to prevent the winds from shredding it further. Time to go back to motorsailing with the main only. Given the wind and current situation we decided carry on to Isla Margarita rather than stop at Coche. We also knew we would arrive in the dark, and we had never been in that anchorage before, but knew the fisherman like to spread their nets around it.
Although the fuel system was temporary it should still allow us to motor up to the south coast of Margarita. Motoring into strong winds and current reduced our boat speed to under 1 knot for the first 2 hours of the trip. In fact at some point the GPS said we were going backwards. It was a tough uphill slug. By midnight we were north of Coche and 12 miles from Polamar. The winds began to drop to 15-18 range and the engine continued to run well. Our only concern was that we seemed to be using fuel at a faster rate than usual. We had topped up the 23 litre fuel can we were drawing from to make certain that we would not run out through the night. Normally this tanks should have given us 12 hours of motoring time but it was 3/4 empty after 6 hours. Not a good sign. Either we were burning too much or there was leak in my temporary fuel lines.
At 3:00 am we had rounded Mosquito Pt and were 6 miles from Polamar when Ross went down to check the fuel situation. He took one look at the Sediment bowl and could see that it was almost empty. The engine died just he called to Bev to shut the engine down before air was sucked into the fuel system. Too late. Now the system had be purged of air and refilled with fuel. Obvious we had some leaks in the temporary fuel system that allowed air to enter it. We pulled out the foresail part way to maintain steerage prepared to purge the fuel. Over the next 3 hours we purged the system twice. Getting the engine to run once for 10 minutes before it died again. During the course of the purging event, Bev was on the helm when a thunderstorm passed over us. Of course this brought the wind up from 12 knots to 25 knots instantly. Disrupting our purging process and blinding our visibility until the rain passed. After the storm, which lasted only 20 minutes, we were back to purging and sailing onward.
We finally reached Polamar at 7:00am. Dropped the anchor, had a beer and went to sleep until 2:00 pm. A 24 hour adventure that got us right back into sailing/traveling mode. Even with all our preparations for the first major/minor trip in a 4 months the Gremlins were still in fine form. We weathered it well.
Next day we took down the jib to be repaired. Borrowed extra jerry cans to store all the fuel. Bev dove on the boat to check and clean the prop. Ross would not let her do this in the marina in Cumana (foul water and stray electrical currents). She said the prop and shaft were heavily coated with barnacles and this obviously contributed to our slow motoring speed and higher fuel consumption. We opened up the fuel tank to clear out the sludge and dirt that had accumulated over the last 4 months (we did this job last in January and found it to be reasonably clean). We also have to go up the mast and re-inspect the rigging at the spreader to find out what the sail caught on. We suspect that it was a cotter pin that is protected by bits of carpet we have wrapped around the spreaders especially for this purpose. They probably have deteriorated over the last 3 years. Yep, we were right, new carpet was taped on, hopefully it will last the trip home.
The sail took a few days longer than Johnny the sailmaker promised, a few times we checked on it we were told, manana and tarde. But we did get the repair done satisfactorily. We finish our final shopping in Venezuela – beer, coffee, Chilean wine. Our US dollars are going much further now, but unfortunately there is less to buy…tough to find milk, flour,butter, etc

Monday, November 05, 2007

Trek to Roraima October 2007
Walter met us at the airport, and confirmed to us that the bus to Santa Elena was an all night bus. While on the Angel Falls trip, we met a couple of younger guys who were backpacking/touring South America on the cheap. They had stayed in Santa Elena, and filled us in on where to stay, eat, get money changed. Etc. Also, the tour group that we shared the Angel Falls camp with, had done Roraima and loved it Best part was they didn’t look anymore fit than us. We made our decision, we had decided to head south to Santa Elena and give Roraima a go!!
We had farewell drinks with Pat and Miriam in their hotel (Valentina again) and then took a cab to the bus station. Of all the companies and times, we chose Occidental, 7:45pm to Santa Elena, thinking that would get us in early in the morning and we could figure things out from there. This trip was quite different. We were still in a Buscama, 2 storey edition, with lazyboy styled chairs, but no assigned seats. We chose to sit right above the stairs, no one directly in front of us to give us more leg room for the night. As expected it was cold, but we had long sleeved shirts, sweat shirts, long pants….and we still froze. Wish we hadn’t booked our sleeping bags in the luggage compartment. We got underway by :00pm and the first couple of hours were uneventful. However just south of Port Ordez, the bus was stopped by the Gardia National and all the passengers were required to get off the bus, and make two lines, male and female. Our passports were checked, and we were allowed back on the bus. At least 3 or 4 more times during the night the bus was stopped, soldiers with guns boarded the bus, sometimes checking passports, other times just looking at the passengers. Finally, about dawn, just north of Santa Elena, again we were stopped, and ordered off the bus. This time we had to claim our luggage and all bags were searched. At least this time, the Gardia National did give Bev a cup of coffee.
We were told that the GN was searching for illegal drugs and aliens trying to get into Brazil, and apparently in the past week, there were arrests made from these bus searches. We obviously had nothing to hide, but all of this military presence can be uncomfortable…or perhaps it should make us feel safer…but it didn’t.
We arrived in Santa Elena bus station and took a cab to Hotel Michele, which our backpacker friends said was the headquarters for the backpackers as well as the cheapest hotel in town, 30,000B for a clean double room (about $7). When we started to find out if there was a Roraima trip happening, this is when things bogged down. Apparently we were the only 2 people in town, at this time, who wanted to make the trek, and to be affordable the guides want 4 or more.
We figured we would stay in Santa Elena a couple of days, see if a group could be put together, and if not…c’est la vie…and we would head back to Cumina. Our backpacker friends had told us about the KILO restaurant, where you can get a great meal, cheap and we were hungry. The KILO restaurant is a large buffet, not all you can eat, instead they weigh your plate and you pay by the Kilo. Our lunch/dinner cost less than 20,000B ($5) for both of us, and we ate well. After eating, we returned to the hotel for a nap. We hadn’t gotten much sleep on the bus. We were sitting out in front of the hotel having a beer, about 5pm when one of the guides came to us with a proposition. He would agree to guide just the two of us, for a minor increase in price (100,000B more per person -- $50 for both of us).. This price was still very much in line with what we expected to pay, (1.6million B) and the B exchange rate was getting better each time we changed money. We had very little time to make up our mind, as this deal meant leaving the next morning. We agreed and starting packing for the trip. We would leave our extra stuff at Hotel Michele, and carry the bare minimum for the six day trip.
Day 1 – Friday
We were up early to go to the Indian market to buy fruits and treats for the trip. About 0930 we jumped into the 4 wheel drive vehicle for the 70km trip to the Indian Village (San Franciso)– Jaime’s, (our guide, pronounced Himy) hometown. From there we were off on the dirt road that winds its way to the Trek’s starting point. We ate a cold lunch (sandwiches) before setting off about noon. The sand path led up and down through the grasslands over a couple small streams. At the first stream Jaime insisted that we stop, wash our faces and ask Nature’s permission to enter, and provide us with a safe trip. This portion of the trail was 12 kms, relatively easy except for one very large uphill. We arrived at Rio Tek camp in the expected 4 hours.
We washed in the stream, while our dinner was made and our tent was set up. Jaime, and Alex (our porter) did all the work. With no power at the camp, once dinner was over, it was off to sleep on the ground in a tent….exactly what we wanted to get away from when we started boating. However we were comfortable, tired, and not cold at all. There was a beautiful full moon to compliment the night.
Day 2 – Saturday
Of course, we were up at dawn, and Jaime had breakfast of eggs and Harina de Mais Tosedos (cornmeal porridge – which we liked) ready for us. We were off on the trail by 0730, but only had a short trek to the second river, Kukenan, where we went for a swim, before continuing on. We walked past a pretty Catholic Church on top of a hill. A fantastic view point, and it can be seen for miles, only problem is very few people live in the area, so it is only used about once a year…what a waste. We continued on the path through the Sabana, and as we progressed the trail became more rocky and rough. We were quite tired by the time we made it to the Base camp about 2 pm. While we soaked our feet in the cold mountain stream, Jaime made us soup and tea…exactly what we needed. We had made it to the base of Roraima, and were camping under the shear cliff face.
After supper, we stayed up long enough to see if the Guacharo birds would come out of the caves at dusk. Unfortunately, no such luck, so it was off cheerfully to bed, knowing tomorrow would be our day to ascend Roraima !!
Day 3 – Sunday
We started up the "golden walk", slowly ascending Roraima from the Base Camp at 1870 m to the top at 2700 m in 2.5 km. We had to work our way across the jungle, to a crack, climbing up rock rubble. Unfortunately it is not all up, there were quite a few down legs, necessary to get over to the crack trail that led up. Every time you gave up elevation, it hurt, because you knew you would have to reclaim the loss. When the trail became tough, Jaime started telling us Indian folk stories, designed to take our mind off our hurting muscles and pass the time. They did work, but we also knew what the purpose of the stories was. We rested at the first lookout point, and the second lookout point. At this time, we wondered how many more lookout points we had to endure….By 1130 we were on top, and Jaime welcomed us to Roraima !! We relaxed, enjoyed the view and our accomplishment.
Roraima is not flat. It has no trees, only lots of large and small black rocks….very desolate looking. Almost a disappointment at first, until you start looking at what Roraima does have. She has many varieties of miniature flowering plants, indigenous tiny black frogs, veins of fully formed quartz hexagonal crystals. And it is windy and cold!! After a short break, we were off to our campsite…..Jaime promised us we would be sleeping in a cave. It took about another 40 minutes to walk to our side, called the Principle. Apparently there are 12 camping sites, the largest one accommodating 40 people. Each site is nestled under a rock ledge, giving rain and wind protection.
We said goodbye to Alex who was walking back to the village that day. He had brought all the foodstuffs up to the top of Roraima, and it was up to us to eat it all, or Jaime would have to carry it. There was lots of work for porters this week on Roraima . There were three large groups coming in, a film documentary crew from Caracas, a group from the National Geographic, plus a Japanese group which were being helicoptered up and were going to spend eleven days ontop. The Japanese group even had a generator brought up, and rappelling/ledge climbing professional and equipment ready for them. The porters were going up and down as fast as they could, taking advantage of this opportunity to make money. It appeared that only the very old and very young were left in the village, everyone else was packing up the trail.
After we made camp, and relaxed, we were off exploring the summit. First stop, the Jacuzzis for a swim. Erratic pools of clear water whose bottoms were littered with huge quartz crystals. Although the water was warmer than the mountain stream at the base camp, it wasn’t warm enough to entice us to go in. Only Jaime went in. We were using our raincoats to break the wind, and weren’t about to get wet. We slept well that night, in our tent, sheltered by our rock ledge.
Day 4 – Monday
We told Jaime, "no long hikes today" our old bodies needed to recoup after the past 3 days hiking. Jaime had mentioned going to the triple point, an 18 km hike to the geographic border of Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela. We didn’t realize that all 3 countries share this tepuis mountain, but weren’t going to take on an all day hike to see the monument. Instead Jaime took us to the canyon where the Guacharo birds live. Here we saw the birds, and heard their screaming which reminded us of our earlier adventure to Caripe. Then he took us into one of the caves where the Indians had found gold dust, and diamonds. Of course, none can be found, and if they were, nothing can be taken from the mountain.
After lunch and a rest, Jaime insisted we climb to the highest point of Roraima, the roof of the maverick, which was very close to our campsite. Since we had come this far, we had to agree to go to the summit, and we were glad we did. After supper, we snuggled into our tent, and we were glad to be protected by our ledge, as nature put on a thunder/lightening and rain show all night.
Day 5 – Tuesday
We had been warned that Day 5 is the toughest day, even though most of it is down hill. We were expected to travel from the summit right back to Rio Tek (the distance that we had taken 2 days on the way up), and going down on the steep, rocky parts and the slippery muddy parts is difficult. Plus it had rained overnight, and the streams would be fuller. One advantage of the rain, the previous night, was the waterfalls off of the next tepuis, Kukenan were revitalized. One of Kukenan’s waterfalls is the second highest in Venezuela, but only exists after a rainfall.
Without Alexis, we had a slower start, not getting underway until 0800. The going down was tough. You had to be careful for every step, watching the rocks, roots, or slippery mud. Bev fell once, and fortunately only bruised her right knee. We were very tired when we got to the Base camp, fortunately before it really started to rain. After a short rest and lunch, we were on our way, across the Sabana. But the trail continually goes up and down, over hills and down to streams. At what had been our previous lunch spot, Bev laid on the warm rock, not wanting to go on, but Jaime once again insisted we must keep up the pace, as rain was once more approaching us. We joined a group of porters huddled in the shelter at the Rio Kukenan as the rain pelted.
The Rio Kukenan can be dangerous. During rain, it can flood quickly, and be impossible to cross. The previous year a porter was killed when a flash flood washed him down the river while trying to cross. Since our supper meal had been left at Rio Tek on the way up, we had to get across the Kukenan before it rose, or we would have no supper. Jaime helped us across the rising river, it wasn’t too high or strong yet. Rain continued to fall all the way to Rio Tek, and the waterfall off Kukenan Tepuis became more impressive. This waterfall feeds the Kukenan River we had just crossed.
Rather than sleep in the rain, on the wet mud, we decided to sleep in the shelter. Just before dinner we had seen 2 hikers leave Rio Tec for the Kukenan campsite, and after dinner 2 more porters had followed them. At dark we could see lights at the church, but we don’t know whether just the porters or all of the hikers couldn’t get across the river. We didn’t hear there were any problems, so guess all were safe.
Day 6 – Wednesday
Our final day on the trek. Jaime made "bakes" and they were excellent. Bev got the recipe, but will have to practise, as Jaime just makes them by feel. The morning was dry, so Ross and Bev took off ahead of Jaime. Jaime, is also the local medicine man, and one of the porters had fallen the day before and sprained his ankle, so Jaime wanted to tend to him before he left.
We knew Jaime was tired, this trip without porters was wearing him out. He had told us at the start that he was 51 years old and had made 386 trips up Roraima . His wife is expecting her 5th child (his 27th or 28th) in the next week. All week he ad continued to call on the walkie-talkie to make sure she was okay. But we were quite surprised that we beat Jaime to the Park office, the official end of the trek. But only by a very few minutes, we had seen him hurrying down the trail trying to catch us.
Jairo (Jaime’s partner in Aponwoa Tours) arrived soon after to take us to Jaime’s village for a great chicken bbq dinner. We can’t complain about the food on this trek…it was excellent, and more that we needed. After lunch we returned to Hotel Michele, and took long showers. We also took all our clothes to the laundry, and were happy to have them back clean later that afternoon (5 kg of very dirty laundry –25000B $6US)
Day 7 – Thursday
We were still very tired when we got up. After packing up our stuff, we headed off to the Panderia for breakfast and to get some snacks for the bus trip home, back to RAFT. Who did we meet there? Jaime!! But this time Bev brought him his drink. We changed some money, checked out of the hotel and went to the bus station to wait. The bus didn’t leave until 630pm, but the bus station was as good as place to wait as anywhere else. We wondered how many stops we would have on the northbound trip.
The Environmental/Park person searched our bags and tagged them. They said this would eliminate the need for the Garda National to do it. We were stopped, just south of Jaime’s village, but only passports were checked. The overnight bus was cold, but this time we kept our sleeping bag, and we both slept reasonably well. We arrived in Porta La Cruz by noon, caught a bus to Cumina and were home on RAFT by 4pm. It had been a great trip, but we were happy to be home.
In case you are interested, and we know some of you are…the trip from Cumina, to Angel Falls, to Santa Elena, to Roraima and back --- 5 million B’s (about $1200) --- Memories -- PRICELESS