20 August 2011 Five Islands to Rio Manamo, Venezuela
I must admit to groaning when the alarm went off at half past two. There wasn’t a breath of wind, so we hoisted the main sail and motored south west. We both had a one hour kip before breakfast.
The wind didn’t pick up at all, so we motored for nearly ten hours. It was so calm (and boring) that Glenys retired below to finish sewing the mosquito net for the cockpit. I sat and read a set of cruising notes about the River Manamo that have been prepared by other cruisers who have visited the area. An extract from the Cruising Notes:
The Manamo River is one small finger in the vast delta that empties the Orinoco River into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Pariah. The Orinoco River, the eighth largest in the world, is 2,140 km long and its watershed encompasses seventy percent of the national territory of Venezuela. Two thousand rivers are tributaries and feed more than one quadrillion cubic meters of water annually into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Orinoco has formed one of the largest deltas in the world. The 40,000 sq km delta is known as the Delta Amacuro and is a region of wild forests, damp jungles and mangrove swamps which are woven with the rivers and channels that empty the waters of the Orinoco through more than 70 major mouths. In this labyrinth, the waters are constantly forming channels (canos) and islands where the moriche palms thrive.
The approach to the river mouth starts about seven miles out and is along a wide channel which is around 4 metres deep, going around very shallow patches. We used the GPS coordinates provided by the cruising notes and they are bang on - thank goodness for GPS because it would have been very tricky using transits and other older navigation methods.
We anchored off the small town of Pedernales at one o’clock and went to see the Guardia National to clear in. We speak very little Spanish and they spoke no English, but we managed to let them know that we want to be here for a couple of weeks. They wrote our details down in a ledger and that was it. We haven’t officially entered the country, but they don’t seem to care.
Pedernales is a very sleepy little town and there wasn’t much going on. We were unable to get anyone to change our US dollars into Bolivars, so we couldn’t buy anything. The only interesting thing was seeing Scarlet Ibis wandering about the edge of the river – they are a brilliant red colour and unconcerned with the locals (who also ignore these beautiful birds.)
In the evening, “Pogeyan” and we had to move because we were both anchored where there are cables running across the river bed to a small village – we were told to anchor to the north of the Guardia National dock. We invited “Pogeyan” and “Blackthorn Lady” for drinks. They were suitably impressed by our cockpit mosquito net, although it wasn’t necessary because there was a stiff breeze.
21 August 2011 Rio Manamo, Venezuela
The others had gone by time we surfaced. We had breakfast and then headed off around the point from Pedernales into the Manamo River. The delta mouth is about a mile wide at this point and there is a shallow bar that sticks out half way across the river. We nearly went aground a couple of times. The charts show a shoal area when coming into the start of the river and we went too far towards the shore - I had to slam into reverse when the depth gauge dropped down to 2.2 metres – we draw 2.0 metres (we think!) It was a pretty tense hour of watching the depth gauge, trying to get into the river and working out which way to turn when it was getting shallow. Fortunately, once we were in the river, the depth varied between 6 and 10 metres deep.
The main river is about a quarter of a mile across - much wider than I expected. The jungle is very thick on both sides and the water stays deep to within 20 metres of the tree line. There are plenty of Scarlet Ibis which fly overhead, so we soon gave up pointing them out to each other. We took it nice and slow and enjoyed a gentle two hour trip up the river to Ibis Island.
Once we had anchored near to “Pogeyan” and “Blackthorn Lady”, we had several groups of Warao Indians visit us. The cruising notes say the following about these indigenous natives:
The Warao (15,000 est. in 1987) rely on dugout canoes to fish for morocotos in the canos and to access fields cleared in the island forests. The dugouts range in size from a few meters for small children, to craft ten meters or more holding 40 to 50 people. Giant sassafras and ceiba trees are preferred for construction of the larger craft as the durability of the wood gives a useful life of up to 10 years.
Palafitos, rectangular pile dwellings supported on the trunks of the moriche palm are the typical dwellings in the bajo delta. Walkways, also supported on piles often connect various dwellings. The platform of the dwelling is made of two layers of split palm trunks, covered with a layer of clay. Two central forked posts support the ridgepole. The roof is thatched with fronds of the termiche palm. The ends and sides are open although the roof slopes nearly to the level of the floor. Most of the villages are concentrated near the Atlantic and the Warao often travel to Tucupita or Barrancas to trade.
The moriche palm is the Warao’s tree of life. From it they extract flour, called yuruma for bread, fat grubs, which they eat fried, boiled or raw, a wine called guarapo de moriche and a drink called mojobo. The moriche seeds are also eaten. The top of the palm sprout is beaten, split and twisted into strands used to make sails and twisted into heavier cords and ropes. The Warao also make wax candles for lighting, extract oil from the castor bean and sassafras for medicinal uses and sejo, palm tree oil which is used for medicinal purposes and for frying food. The Warao also weave moriche baskets, which they dye with extracts from the moriche and other nuts and seeds and the barks of various trees. Baskets are also made from small cane (itirite). Also woodcarvings are made from the soft wood of the buttress roots of the sangrito (Dragon’s Blood Tree).
The first Warao to arrive were children from the nearby village. The boys came in a pirogue with a powerful 40hp engine, while three girls arrived in a dugout canoe. They didn’t have anything to trade and have obviously come to expect hand-outs. We gave them sweets and the odd little trinket.
We had another family that came for hand outs. It’s very odd. They come alongside, speak no Spanish or English and just stand there patiently waiting. Glenys gave the children a couple of sweets and eventually they left. They came back later with some small items to trade. Glenys traded a towel, some soap and a t-shirt for some beads and a small woven basket.
After lunch, we did a few little jobs and went for a quick explore down a small cano in the dinghy. There wasn’t much to see, so we spent the rest of the afternoon mooching about.
We all congregated on “Pogeyan” for a pot luck barbeque dinner to watch the Ibis arrive to roost for the night. In past years, there have been thousands of them, but there didn’t seem to be very many this evening. There was a spectacular thunderstorm and heavy rain as night fell.
22 August 2011 Rio Manamo, Venezuela
The alarm clock went off just before six o’clock and we climbed into the dinghy to watch the Scarlet Ibis leaving their roost. We have been told that they leave slowly at first and then lift off in a spectacular flock with a great rush of noise. Unfortunately most of them seemed to have found somewhere else to roost. Even so, it was nice and peaceful drifting slowly in the dinghy and we heard a troop of Howler Monkeys in the distance – a very strange and eerie sound.
We pottered about in the morning doing a few jobs and then left about two hours after the others. The river is a maze of waterways and it’s a bit scary being alone because the channels all look the same and it would be easy to become disorientated. The Navionics electronic charts that we have on our portable chart plotter are surprisingly accurate. The general shape of the canos and islands is correct but the GPS position is a quarter of a mile out at times. The hand drawn map with the cruising notes is very useful and is our main guide to getting south.
We passed three Warao villages on the way. The first village had already visited us for hand outs yesterday, but repeated the process as we passed their village. The second settlement was much larger and we were literally mobbed by about 10 large pirogues full of children. Again they had nothing to trade – just expecting hand-outs. We didn’t see anyone from the third village and found out later that there is a huge swath of water hyacinths at the water’s edge and they can’t get through.
“Pogeyan” and “Blackthorn Lady” were anchored ½ mile from another large Warao village. As soon as we dropped anchor, we spotted a small group of River Dolphins swimming around the anchorage. They are strange, mottled pink creatures with long snouts. I went up the spreaders to try to get a good photograph of them, but the best I could get was a blob in the water. We also heard a group of Howler Monkeys to the east of us.
The Warao Indians arrived in droves, but at least they all came with something to trade. I was starting to get despondent about the previous villagers begging. Glenys had a fun time bartering for baskets and bracelets. She now has an established process where she first choses one or two items from the many being offered. Glenys will then get a small selection of items that she is willing to trade and lays them out on the deck, indicating how many items she is willing to trade. It’s all small items like toothpaste, pencils, colouring books, small towels, clothing, soap, dress material, etc. Interestingly, it seems to be only the ladies and older girls who make the final selection. The fun part is watching the ladies touch the various objects trying to decide which one they want. They are torn between the practical items like soap and the more frivolous items like pencils for the children. Most times they end up with a choice between two items and go for the practical object, at which point, Glenys cracks up and hands them both items. We’re worried that we’re going to run out of things to trade.
After trading with about ten boats, there was a short lull, so we jumped into the dinghy and went for a ride up a small cano – more jungle and mangroves, but there was one little stream through beds of water hyacinth which was a welcome relief from jungle. We didn’t see any wild-life, so we went over to have a look at the Warao village.
The dwellings are more traditional here than downstream – the roofs are made from palm leaves rather than corrugated iron sheeting and there are intricate wooden walkways between the buildings. They also seem to be a lot more organised than the previous villages, with some evidence of traditional activities, I saw one guy handling big branches of palm leaves – I assume that it was Moriche Palm. There is however, evidence of modernisation with electricity cables strung on poles, some more solid looking buildings (with government notices) and 75hp Yamaha outboards everywhere you look.
We had drinks and nibbles on “Blackthorn Lady”. The mosquitos and horse flies haven’t been a problem – we were expecting to be continually fighting the little beasts. I didn’t put on any mosquito repellent this evening and wasn’t bitten at all. This is the first time after battling the little blighters in Power Boats for a month. I think that we can go to MOSCON 2.
23 August 2011 Rio Manamo, Venezuela
We were actually cold last night, even when covered by a sheet. It was a cool, over cast morning and the current was against us, so we waited for an hour until the tide turned and headed south.
There was a big bora (raft) of Water Hyacinths lodged against our anchor chain, so I lashed a machete to a mooring hook and cut it away – the plants are surprisingly tough and I had to cut down for two feet before breaking it apart. Rikzene told me later that the best way to get the hyacinths off is to motor forwards then to reverse back leaving the bora separated from the chain. Whilst in the dinghy, I noticed that the boat is sitting 2 inches lower in the water because we are now floating in fresh water. I hope that the barnacles that we picked up in Chagaramus are dying and falling off our hull.
I’m pleased with the solar panels that we have installed - having 380 Watts of solar energy has transformed the way that we live – we can effectively use as much electricity as we want during the day. This means that we have many of our seven fans running continuously and, when we get up in the morning, the batteries are still above 80% charged.
Once on our way, we had to dodge bora of water hyacinths which are floating by on the current. These apparently have small eco systems of their own with frogs and even snakes living on the larger ones. We were stopped by a few Warao Indians whilst motoring past their dwellings and traded for some more small things.
We stopped at a side cano and went for a short tour in Pogeyan’s dinghy with Steve and Rikzene. We saw a couple of locals fishing with a line – possibly for piranha? I was quite excited to see a couple of Toucans fly overhead. We heard howler monkeys, but didn’t see any.
Our anchorage for the evening was at the south end of Isla Monos (Monkey Island) just off an small “Eco-resort” called Boca Tigre Lodge. They can take 30 guests who come out to see the jungle and the Warao Indians. We all went to the bar to see if we could organise a trip into the jungle or something, but no one could tell us if it was possible or how much it would be.
We invited the others for dinner and we didn’t bother to put the mosquito netting up in the cockpit – a BIG mistake. Just as the sun went down, I felt a mosquito bite my leg. About 30 seconds later, we were invaded by hundreds and hundreds of big, black mosquitos. I got out the cockpit mosquito net, but with six people trying to help, we got into a tangle with it and it took five minutes to sort it out. By this time, the inside of the mosquito netting and the boat were swarming with the little black buggers.
I produced the tennis racquet zapper and we started to kill them, but there were too many. We retreated down below while I sprayed the cockpit area with insect killer (called BOP). I then started to BOP the inside of the boat and we all fled back into the cockpit. Ten minutes later, all of the surfaces of the inside of the boat (carpet, upholstery, table, etc) were speckled with hundreds of dead black bodies. Glenys had to stop making dinner and hoover the carpet while the rest of us were still trying to kill the insects that had survived in the cockpit. It was an hour and a half of chaos, before we settled down to eating dinner. I found 25 dead mosquitoes on my chart table in a small 2 square foot area.
24 August 2011 Rio Manamo, Venezuela
I didn’t sleep very well, worrying about mosquitos and things that bite in the night. We also didn’t bother to put up the Uber-windscoop so, when it rained, Glenys had to shut the hatch. It then became very hot in the cabin, so I had to get up at four o’clock and put up the Uber-windscoop.
Rikzene organised a tour guide in the morning. Our first stop was up a small cano where we donned wellies and walked through the muddy jungle while the guide pointed out various trees which the Warao Indians use. It was hard to understand the fine detail because it was all in Spanish, but he pointed out a moriche palm and extracted a big fat grub which he offered around to be eaten. When there were no takers he ate it himself – nice.
We then went fishing for Piranha for an hour or so. The Piranha live in small canos and not in the main river. We used simple fishing poles with a small ½” long hook and small chunks of uncooked chicken for bait. The secret is to attract the Piranha by splashing the water with the end of the fishing pole to simulate an animal that has fallen in the water. Glenys and I caught one each, which we cooked later and shared with everyone else as a starter for dinner.
The guide then took us to a Warao Indian habitat. I was very uncomfortable at the way that we walked into their home and stared at their meagre possessions. The building is very, very basic consisting of a rough wooden floor suspended about six feet above the muddy shore on poles with a roof thatched with palm leaves. There appeared to be about 30 people including children living in the one that we visited and I guess that they all sleep in hammocks or on the floor. Clothes are either hanging from the roof on string or in small piles. They were weaving a traditional hammock on a simple loom. It’s incredibly basic living, but they have electricity, a TV and there was a 40hp Yamaha engine being serviced on the floor.
We went back to our luxury yachts and spent the afternoon lounging about in the heat – not a breath of wind. I’ve started an audio Spanish course – a bit late, but I need to learn the language. I find it very frustrating not being able to communicate with people. The guide came back after five o’clock and took us down the river where we saw three troops of howler monkeys in trees right on the edge of the river.
“Pogeyan” is a large 46 foot catamaran with a large lounge, glass doors and air conditioning. Following the “Night of the Mosquitos” yesterday, we were concerned about being attacked again by insects, so Rikzene and Steve invited us to their boat where Jackie cooked a meal.