Second (and probably last) Venezuela Fishing Trip
My friend John and his friends (and mine too) Gene and Danny left Dallas on a 6:00 AM flight to Venezuela, with a plane change in Miami. We landed in Caracas and had to walk to the adjacent airport to catch a domestic flight to Puerto Ordaz. We were not overwhelmed by locals trying to carry our luggage as we had been on our previous trip. One man wheeled our luggage the few blocks to the adjacent terminal. Both airports use the same landing strip. We were met at Puerto Ordaz by Bill, Jose, Victor and William....our Venezuelan hosts for the trip.
Bill arranged to rent a pick-up truck. After talking to several vendors, we found one for only $92 per day! We left straight away for our overnight in Puerto Ordaz. We went out to dinner in a very nice restaurant that is covered by a huge dome made with material from trees that grow along the Amazon river. It looks artificial, but makes a beautiful thatched roof. We ate a huge meal of steak, with various hors d'oeuvres. All were good. The vegetables were potatoes and yucca. The drinks were our first lot of the local brew, Polar. There is a new variety of Polar, called Polar Light. It has a few less calories and comes in a bigger can. It tastes the same to me.
Puerto Ordaz is a very modern city. It grew up around the steel and aluminum mills in the area. There is abundant electric power supplied by multiple dams on the nearby Orinoco river. The streets are wide and well paved. There are many landscaped areas along the main roads. It is one of the most "modern" cities in Venezuela.
We left the next morning after a good rest. There was a lack of coffee at the hotel, but we went to a local coffee house where we also ate some wonderful fresh pastries. We had several cups of coffee con leche, the local favorite.
It was about a two hour drive to El Mantico, the town just east of Lake Guri. We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Santamonte (grasshopper) and were pleasantly surprised by the surroundings. We had nice rooms with bathrooms with everything except hot water. There were nice gardens out front and a pleasant open air dining area next to a swimming pool. Victor, Jose's son and William, Bill's son, took immediate possession of the pool.
We spend the remainder of the day checking out the local town and area. The hotel is about four miles from the boat launch ramp. The "ramp" is where the highway ended in the lake. A man lives adjacent, and provided his services to watch our boats and motors overnight. The boats were brought up on the bank and the motors were stored inside his house each night. Bill arranged to borrow two nice Alumacraft boats and two outboards which he had trucked down from El Tigre. We learned the only boat available from the hotel would cost $250 per day to rent.
We ate a great meal in the evening served at the hotel. We learned that the hotel was owned by an Italian named Fuio. He bought it a couple of years earlier. He operated a successful restaurant in Italy for several years then decided he wanted to travel and see other parts of the world. He owned a ranch in the Texas hill country for a couple of years. The hotel was managed by Rick, from upstate New York, but definitely an international person. The waiter and general handyman was David. He was from nearby Trinidad and spoke near perfect English, as did of course our New Yorker.
We had two native guides, Santo and Antonio, who accompanied us out the next morning. Neither guide spoke any English. We used sign language, and then learned "trollio." We immediately had motor trouble. One of the outboards got stuck in gear and would not allow it to be put in neutral. John lost a full reel of line after getting hung and then unable to stop the forward progress of the boat.
One of the guides proved to be a mechanic (Santo) and with much supervision by Gene, and the help of super glue, the shifting mechanism was repaired. The group who got left behind because of the mal-functioning motor did not miss much, as we had very little luck catching fish.
Both boats were operational the next day, and we fished hard all day. I don't remember exactly, but I think we caught only 3 fish all day! I don't think I even had a bite. The weather was nice with overcast skies and moderate wind. The fish just had lockjaw! We were to discover that this illness would last for the entire trip. We tried everything. We trolled with various lures. We stopped and fished from the shore on many islands. I caught one fish on a topwater lure a few feet from where we ate lunch. The fish struck at something near the shore and brought our attention to the place. I lost a fish that straightened out two hooks when he got hung up in moss. I lost another fish when one treble hook was pulled from the body of the lure. We were negligent this trip and had not changed out the hooks for stronger ones.
We fished hard for six days and caught probably a total of ten fish. We caught enough to enjoy a fish dinner one evening, prepared by the hotel. The other dinners were good, especially the lasagna, which we bragged about so much it was served a second time during our visit. The only meal that was not a hit was when we were served a local delicacy...tapir. It was tough and had a strange flavor. We were told it was in the elephant family. I think large rat would have been more correct.
Each day at lunch we pulled on shore and ate lunch meat, cheese and fresh bread bought each day in El Mantico. There was plenty of liquid refreshment. Polar was the hit followed closely by water and soft drinks. Each evening we were treated to a local rum, Cacique and a lime flavored soft drink Chinoto. It was very good and very refreshing after a hard day on the lake. Liberal portions of rum were helpful.
We left El Mantico and Lake Guri behind and traveled back to Puerto Ordaz, where we turned in the rented truck. We then went in Bill's truck to El Tigre. Bill, Daisy, Luis and William live in El Tigrete. My GPS indicated that El Mantico and El Tigre are 150 miles apart as the crow files. We had a feast that night at Bill's home, with cooking done by Daisy and Jose. We spent the night in a nice hotel.
We had a huge room with three double beds. I had trouble getting to sleep, and about 11:45 PM someone's alarm clock started ringing. I waited as long as I could stand it, and then got up and shut it off. Neither of my sleeping roomies heard the alarm even though it was on a table between their beds. Johnny can't hear alarm clocks and Danny slept through it. I had trouble sleeping because our room was adjacent to a very busy street, and the traffic was very heavy.
We left the next day for Caracas. Our non-stop flight back to Dallas left at 9:30 AM and we were unable to catch a flight from El Tigre that would put us there early enough, so we went to Caracas in the afternoon. We found a nice hotel in downtown Caracas and spent a good night. I had not been downtown before. The city is large, and the buildings are multi-story and seem to be on top of one another. Homes are built on hills around the city. It is easy to see how mud slides that occurred a year ago had been so devastating. Many of the hotels along the beach adjacent to the airport have not been reopened. Many thousands of people were killed.
Checking in with American Airlines proved to be a long drawn out affair. We arrived at the airport two hours before flight time and had little time to spare. There was one line to check in. There was another line to get our tickets and then a third line to purchase the local airport tax.
We arrived back in Dallas none the worse for wear. No one had been sick during the entire trip. We had taken no special precautions. We had a small glitch when Gene could not find his car keys. Fortunately, Danny left his car at John's house and took Gene home to Graham. I am glad I was not there when Gene explained the loss of keys to his wife.
On the way home, I got a signed statement from John that this was his last trip to Venezuela fishing. He had gone every year for nearly twenty years, and declared this was his last. The fishing was lousy. It is a long way (2800 miles) to go and not catch fish. Everything in Venezuela is terribly expensive. The only thing we found cheaper than in the US was gasoline at about $0.65 a gallon. There is a lot of hassle. We would have been lost if it had not been for our locals who kept us from getting into trouble. Gene speaks enough Spanish to get by. If you try to depend on finding people who speak English you are in trouble.
We were enlightened about the real Venezuela by Luis, Bill's 21 year old son. He goes to college in Caracas. He said he wanted to get an engineering degree and move to Argentina and make a career in the telecommunications industry. Venezuela is a tough place to live. The cost of living is high. Most people just barely get by. It is a land of a few very rich and a very small middle class. There is little hope that an educated couple with both working would ever be able to own a home. Interest rates are 30% and loans are not available to ordinary people.
Once again, we are blessed to live in the United States of America. We only have to leave for a short while to realize how fortunate we are. God bless America!