We have left the Refugio very early, again, and have headed downstream by boat back to Puerto Maldonado. We are about to start a tortuous journey that will take us north to the Venezuelan coastline. Our itinerary takes us from Puerto Maldonado to Los Roques via Cusco, Lima, Bogota and Caracas. It is a day of irritating airports and bums on planes and involves a 7-hour stop in Caracas where we will sleep on the airport benches.
The long slog was definitely worthwhile because Los Roques is one of the most beautiful, natural, stunning and unspoilt places anyone could wish to find. The turquoise and emerald lagoons and dazzling white coral sands of the archipelago make up Venezuela’s loveliest natural park. Ideal for lazing about, diving and snorkelling, or just doing nothing (something at which we are experts).
Lying 166km due North of mainland Venezuela the atoll, of about 340 islets and reefs constitutes a national park. The main island, Gran Roque, is the only permanently inhabited part of the park and everything is based around it. The airport runway is the only bit of tarmac to be seen, all the other roadways are made from sand that is watered daily. The buildings are small and generally one floor and very much in the Caribbean style of lightly coloured facades and open doorways. There are no cars, traffic lights, zebra crossings or pavements, just a few streets and one tiny square. There are more pelicans here than residents (less than 1000). There is a charm to this place that we just loved, we could have stayed for a loooong time.
Our biggest mistake was to arrive with insufficient cash in US Dollars. The whole country (Venezuela) works in them but it is not possible to get any from ATMs. The official exchange rate is 2 Boliviars to the Dollar but there are endless people only too willing to give you 5 to the $ and I have heard of 6 or even 7 being offered before the $ weakened. Any transaction using banks or credit cards costs you at least double! Venezuela is the biggest financial basket case we have so far encountered. Fortunately we have been able to get by using bank transfers (that go to somewhere other than Venezuela) otherwise we would have been sleeping under coconut trees.
We stayed at a wonderful Posada called Movida which is run by an Italian called Mario and his family. We were made very welcome and very comfortable. I suspect that had we come directly here from the UK on holiday we would have been disappointed because it is not a place with commercialized hotels and all mod cons. But having spent 3 months away, mostly in hostels, this seemed like a paradise set in an idyllic setting. A professional lotus eater would be happy here for life.
Apart from the day we went diving, we spent our time on one of the beaches on one of the many little islands that surround Gran Roque like little satellites. Armed with an umbrella, beach seats, a generous and tasty packed lunch and our swimmers, we were taxied out to an island of our choice to laze about and be busy doing nothing. It’s been a perfect break! Our legs and bodies have appreciated it, given both of us have gone down with foul colds. Returning from basking in the sun we’ve been able to quench our thirsts with G&Ts, eat fine food prepared at the posada and engage in humorous and congenial conversations with fellow travellers – the funniest time being our attempts to converse in Spanish with 3 girls from Barcelona. They decided our Spanish was better than their English – we just hope it works in Margarita, our next stop, our host there only speaks Spanish!!
This place is beautiful, we love it and we think as time goes by, it’s going to take a lot to beat in terms of total chill factor.