Thursday, June 17, 2010

Juangriego news and views

Juangriego, North Margarita Island
I have been away for a needed vacation but unfortunately I cannot really bring back anything that could distract my dear readers from the woes of Zuloaga arrest warrant, the seizure of Banco Federal, the continuing discovery of rotten food, the expired medical supplies found here and there, the rotten food that was sent to Haiti as humanitarian help forcing Dominican Republic to send back, etc, etc…. The stench of a rotting government and the havoc it is bringing to the country can even be seen in Margarita today which had been somewhat preserved from the worst of chavismo.

A trip to Margarita starts with dodging countless potholes between Caracas and Puerto La Cruz, a couple of hours in line under a inclement sun at the ferry terminal (the waiting area is “under renovation” since the Puerto La Cruz chavista mayor recovered it for “le pueblo”), a delayed departure because the Nazional guard searches you for drugs, starting that search only a few minutes before the scheduled departure , and an uncomfortable ride as you must start by looking for a seat that is not too soiled to put your rear end for the trip duration. I do not know how many international tourists still bother with Margarita, but I sure hope for them they take the plane.


The island is clearly depressed and the glory days of “Puerto Libre” (tax free zone) are long gone. With Chavez increasing taxes even here, and the paucity of dollars to buy goods, the only thing you can really find at reasonable prices (low enough to pay for your ferry trip) is booze. I suppose that after 11 years of chavismo drink is the only allowed escape route. Kind of the Vodka thing in the USSR? Thus Margarita is forced back into its original goal: tourism. But is it still possible?

Judging from my trip for lunch at Juangriego I am afraid that Margarita might be beyond the point of return. True, the beauty can still be found here and there, but the travel also shows you “invasiones” from mainlanders that the local government cannot control as they are sponsored by chavismo, such, I suppose, the chavista mayor of Juangriego. And thus the island keeps crumbling under the burden of migrants while the authorities divided in political war fail to take the measures that might not solve the problems but at least would slow down the general degradation I observe everywhere.

View from La Galera
At the foot of La Galera
Juangriego mixes together the good still existing and the bad creeping up. The fabulous bay is still there. The historical landmark of La Galera fort still guards the entrance. The fishing boats still offer us their moving line up, though memory seems to tell me that they were more of them in the past. And the sunset on Playa Caribe is as heartbreaking as it always was.

And yet it is clear that Juangriego keeps growing haphazardly. The salt pans behind La Galera are surrounded by new “settlements” whose runoff water go straight to the delicate ecosystem. The water front still lacks a major promenade and organized beaches for tourists (assuming pollution has not killed it yet). There is even less coconut trees than what I remember. What was one of the most beautiful bays of Venezuela, only disrupted by the spires of its church is now becoming a whatever of nondescript buildings and traffic jams. Progress? One needs to go to the top of La Galera and look toward Macanao far across the still splendid Ensenada de La Guardia to go back in time, to simpler, open days.

La Galera "welcome center"
La Galera landmark
But at La Galera you will be disappointed again. The historical park, small history perhaps but history nevertheless, is rather abandoned. If it is clear that garbage is still picked up on occasion, the commemorative plaques, worn out, are the only notices you will get. No overlook point, no parking area, no surveillance: you park on the surrounding drive and climb alone through ill kept staircases hoping no one will come to mug you while on top. No ranger, nothing but the still splendid views. Would had it been so difficult to put somewhere a pleasant café with terrace, even if it were to be opened only on high season or week ends?

Playa Caribe

Unfortunately lunch, even if delicious, did not give me much hope. The fish, pargo, I was told has now to be sought in front of the coast of Guyana: it has been overfished in the local waters. As for the “polarcita” how long will I still be able to enjoy it?

For how long?

PS: for some obscure reason blogger refuses to let all of my pictures stand up!  Thus I apologize for the three pictures side ways, I will correct it when blogger fixes whatever bug it has.

15 comments:

  1. I find your sideways picture problem a weird one: why don't you upright them yourself in your PC and THEN upload them? Anyway have a happy vacation! Oh, and Good Luck for France but I prefer rooting for Mexico, they seem to have more heart in it.

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  2. Island Canuck1:03 PM

    Daniel,

    From a person who has lived here more than 20 years & gone through coups, banks collapses & government neglect I can honestly say that the foreign tourism market is a shadow of what is was even 2 years ago & nothing in comparison to 4 or 5 years ago.

    Our US business used to be about 30% of our market - it is now 5%.

    England & Scandinavia also represented a large % however with the cancellation of First Choice from the UK & Q Travel from Amsterdam this market has also been destroyed.

    The only direct flight left from Europe is Condor from Germany which I've heard (rumour) is planning cutbacks from 2 flights a week to 1.

    For someone like myself it is very frustrating.

    We keep advertising using Google, Yahoo & MSN however we need $$ to pay the bills which we can't get through normal channels. I have no idea what my competition is doing however my gut feeling is that many will not survive the next 6 months unless they spend their saved capital to live.

    We will keep fighting as our physical overheads are low however with 3 employees for a very small business we don't know what the future will hold.

    We do a lot of national business now however it is a very difficult market. Everyone who lives here knows the a Venezuelan's idea of planning is the morning of the day that it is going to happen. ...or later :-)

    Unfortunately that's a tough way to try & run a business.

    Margarita need foreign tourism to survive. The government is currently doing nothing to help us - in fact the opposite.

    As Daniel points out the infrastructure is collapsing. Many of the larger hotels will have serious problems this year.

    Sorry if I am rambling however I am so angry & frustrated that it's difficult to think logically.

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  3. Paco

    Please.... Of course i put them upright in my computer! It is blogger which shifts them side way again!!! Apparently upside rectangles are not accpeted.

    ReplyDelete
  4. 1979 Boat People2:25 PM

    Just want to let you all know that there was a BCC Hard Talk interview with Thugo Chavez recently.

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  5. How are things in Puerto La Cruz? We were there at Marina Mare Mares for several months back in 1997, and it was great. Back then, most of the country was great.

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  6. concerned4:06 PM

    IC,

    I hate to hurt your feelings and add to your woes, but due to the collapse of what used to be a nice place to visit, I will vacation elsewhere this summer. My kids used to love Laguna Mar back in the day. Hesperia Margarita was always one of the nicest...Visit two years ago changed my mind about that. La Semana was nice even without the beach. You could always count on the Hilton as a fall back even though it was more expensive...Guess that has gone to shit now just like the rest. I miss Senior Frogs, but there is one in Aruba.

    Dan,

    After the government took over the Mare Mares a few years ago, even the cockroaches don't stay for more than one night.

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  7. 1979 Boat People5:15 PM

    Oops! BBC Hard Talk not BCC Hard Talk.

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  8. IC -- thanks for the information about Mare Mares. I had heard as much, and it makes me sad.

    Here is an article from VHeadlines by Roy Carson, usually a big Chavez supporter about the state of affairs in Venezuela. Maybe there is hope for someday. Among other things, the article says,

    Chavez shooting his mouth off without thinking has become part of the geography of what we know about Venezuela today despite the President's Twittering and his legions of support-twitterers on the government payroll ... and all the while, Affairs of State are mishandled on a daily basis either through abject incompetence on the part of family-related appointees and/or the inevitable outstretched backhanders sought for each and every bureaucratic exercise for which a lucrative bottle-neck can be introduced ... despite what we believe to be Chavez' heart-felt personal ambitions, the infrastructure has become shambolic.

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  9. You would think Chavez would get the Cubans to fix the Venezuelan tourist industry too!

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  10. Roger, it is not necessary. Things are just great.

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  11. Bob Sacamano6:26 PM

    I've been there (Margarita) in 1987 on vacation; when it was a tax free zone.
    I recall that even then there was no water at all in the island, specially during the night.
    I couldn't fucking believe it, we were staying on a luxurious hotel... I don't want to even think how things are right now.

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  12. Daniel,

    This is my favorite part of Margarita..I love the close by area of Pedro Gonzales.We have quite a few friends living there who still manage to enjoy it, but are living in a reduced world, and with a large degree of denial.

    I had planned to retire there or even buy a summer house for our family vacations( I already own the land) but instead am thinking about a rustic cabin on a lake in Belarus( you can buy an amazing place there for about 30,000 US$).At least there is little crime in Belarus.Or even Myrtle Beach South Carolina whose beaches in my opinion are the BEST has small places for 30,000$.

    According to my friends, Margarita is sky high along with the crime.

    This is a shame and Chavez and all of his supporters( both direct and indirect ones)will pay a huge price for having not only destroyed the atmosphere but also for having dirtied its soul as well.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous11:46 AM

    Mna that parguito con limon, tostoncitos y polarcita!!! Awesome. I remember those days, recien pescaito del penero.. con los pies en la arena.. AWESOME!
    Carlos I.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Just when you thought it was safe to take the ferry.......

    http://www.eluniversal.com/2010/06/20/pol_ava_ferry-se-hunde-en-co_20A4056531.shtml

    Ferry sinks in Pozuelos bay. One of the ferries Daniel was talking about!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Daniel,
    Since you've been to Margarita any idea why that town is called Pedro Gonzalez? Who was he?

    ReplyDelete

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