Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass August 2006


Discover the Delights of the Delta

by Cris Robinson

Tired of sitting in Chaguaramas waiting for the hurricane season to end? But Grenada's too far, too choppy, and what if another Ivan strikes? Can't fancy Venezuelan paperwork, piracy, and politics? Then why not go south?

Just 52 miles southeast of Smokey and Bunty's is an undiscovered and unspoilt backwater in time where you can enjoy the life lived for centuries by the delta Indians of the Warao tribe, sleeping in Moriche palm hammocks under a thatched roof with no walls and commuting in dugout canoes.

To get there from Trinidad, sail across the Paria gulf heading for the mouth of Boca Pedernales entrance at 10°02'N, 62°12'W. Arrive on the flooding tide if possible. Avoid the gas platform and wellheads to the southeast of the entrance. Head down the centre of the channel to the village of Pedernales, the second settlement on the port side. You can anchor off the town pier.

This village is straight out of One Hundred Years of Solitude and still counting - a pedestrian paradise with a six-by-three grid of streets but no cars. You will find stuff in the shops here that your granny would have raved over. There's no internet café or MacDonald's, but there's a church and two pool bars. Shrimp fishing and smuggling were the main occupations before the oilmen arrived.

Two miles further southwest at 9°57.1'N, 62°16.4W, the Delta Orinoco tour company has opened a camp with full facilities at the entrance to the Caño Manamo [see related item on page 10]. Here you can anchor in good holding off the camp pier. The polyglot camp staff can take you over to Pedernales to help you clear in with the Guardia Nacional. The camp has a restaurant, a rustic bar on piles over the water where you can watch the pink flamingo flocks fly over at sundown, and simple but comfortable native-style sleeping huts. In strong east winds this anchorage is exposed; if necessary one can move about half a mile across the river to anchor under the shelter of the east bank.
From Pedernales you can follow Walter Raleigh's wake down the old Caño Manamo ship channel into the interior of this vast nature reserve (remember, Sir Walt did it without the benefit of an engine, GPS, or Caribbean Compass!). The delta lies between Caño Manano to the west and the Orinoco River to the south, and covers about 15,000 square miles, roughly four times the area of Trinidad.

As you travel further into the delta, the scenery changes from large breezy estuaries bordered by mangroves to placid rivers slipping between Moriche palms towering above tropical jungle. The network of channels surrounds islands of savanna grassland fringed by the trees, where the Indians tend herds of cattle and water buffalo. Large floating clumps of Bora, the purple-flowered water hyacinth, provide a tidal indicator as they steam slowly upstream for six hours then return back on the ebb, towed by the tug of invisible moonbeams - just waiting for a chance to break loose from the eternal cycle by tangling with a twirling prop.

There's a special feeling here of peace but no quiet, the scandalous screeches and chatter of the macaws, toucans, parrots and a veritable carnival of other brightly feathered flyers outdo the happy cacophony of a children's playground, rising to a crescendo as evening approaches and the river dolphins pop up to take their sunset snort.
About 35 miles to the south, Delta Orinoco has another camp which makes an interesting stopover with a jaguar, a puma, and a tame anteater as big as a Shetland pony! This camp runs a school for the local Warao Indian children, where as well as the three R's they are taught to appreciate their unique environment and how to conserve it and themselves through practical lessons on waste disposal and the prevention of the endemic diseases of intestinal parasites and diarrhea that afflict them.
Local guides are available for motorboat or kayak expeditions to take you exploring the maze of subsidiary channels, fishing for anything from small snappy piranhas to enormous fighting tarpon, or spotting red-eyed crocs at night.

Sailors cannot get much farther south than this camp because of a power line across the river, but stink-potters might like to go all the way to Tucupita, a market town known unkindly as the rectal orifice of Venezuela, perhaps due to its location at the discharge of the Orinoco effluent, but I prefer to think it comes from being in the middle of one of the most attractive features of the country's anatomy!

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