Margarita Trip Report - 5/13-20 - Part #2

Margarita Trip Report - 5/13-20 - Part #2

Post by Kevin Mey » Thu, 25 May 1995 04:00:00

This is part two of the Margarita Trip Report, and covers the rest of
the story.  If you want the windsurfing information, see part one!
Email me if you have any other questions.  The bottom line:  a great
place, if you can handle its ruggedness.  Think twice about taking a
non-windsurfing significant other... it is too windy to lay on the
beach, and there aint much else to do!  By the way, at this time there
are 170 Bs per dollar.

To and From Margarita
----------------------------

Most people will fly Viasa to Porlamar on Margarita from either Miami
or New York.  I am told that the New York flight originates in Europe,
and is on a new widebody with good attendance and decent food.  The
Miami flight is not.  It is on a very old 727-stretch with the tiny
overhead compartments of yesteryear, far too few flight attendants, and
some very mysterious food.  Arrive at the Viasa counter in Miami a
couple hours ahead of time to avoid a mob scene.  The plane actually
left on time, and arrived early due to high tail winds.  One latin
american custom that you may have to get used to is the clapping when
the plane lands... I dont really want to know how that custom arose.
I have also heard that the pilots were the ones rejected by US
airlines.  You know the windsurfing will be good when you are almost
blown of the air stairs disembarking from the plane.  Customs is a
breeze, and if you carry everything on you will be out of there in five
minutes.

My flight back to Miami left Porlamar at 8:20am.  It is advisable to
arrive at the airport two hours ahead of time to avoid another mob
scene at the ticket counter.  The customs area outside the terminal
opens at 6:30am, so if you arrive earlier your bags will not be
checked.  Viasa only checks in one flight at a time, so people wanting
to check in for the 9:30am New York bound flight had to wait until all
the Miami people were checked in, although it really didnt matter
since the New York flight was delayed by 8 hours.  Our flight back left
on time, and customs in Miami for US citizens is very quick.  There is
a $20 departure tax payable at a small window in the Porlamar terminal
after checking in, and a 1000 Bs tax payable at the ticket counter; I
watched the ticket agent deftly put this cash into her pocket.  Use the
restroom before you go to the airport, as the sign for the restrooms
points to an area beyond the security zone, and the security zone
doesnt open until 7:30am, even though the metal detector operators
will be there an hour ahead of time reading the paper.  Make sure you
 confirm your return flight a couple days ahead of time; we bumped into
a couple of people who had reservations canceled.  You can do this at
the travel agency in the El Yaque Beach Hotel, which will cost you 400
Bs.  This covers the cost of the cellular phone call to the airline;
there is no direct phone service to El Yaque, so cell phones are
everywhere.

First Impressions
---------------------

I used to live in South America, so I knew what to expect.  Those of
you who have never visited a third world country will be in for a
shock.  Margarita is rugged, often dirty, with very poor unmarked roads
(except for the main highway to Porlamar), considerable relative
poverty, and dogs running everywhere.  The people are happy and quite
nice to talk to, though.  Most tourists are from Venezuela and Germany,
with a small minority from the US.  The languages are therefore Spanish
and German, with a smattering of English.  Some knowledge of Spanish
will be very helpful!  Food is cheap, with steaks costs $6 or so.

The Water
-------------

Do not drink the water.  Period.  All fresh water on Margarita comes
via an undersea pipeline from Venezuela, and there is strange stuff
growing in this pipeline.  There is no reliable running water to El
Yaque, so you will see water trucks delivering water to the hotels
every day.  This includes ice, although I know the Hotel California
quadruple-filters its ice water (NOT its tap water).  Use bottled
water whenever it can get in you, such as brushing your teeth.  A 1.5l
bottle of water will cost 200 Bs.  Be safe... drink Polar!  Also watch
out for lettuce and veggies that arent cooked.  We put that stuff on
our burgers without any problem, tho.

The Hotels
--------------

We stayed at the Hotel California, and I highly recommend it.  It is
across the street from the beach, but every room has a view of the
beach.  There are four floors of rooms above the ground floor lobby and
restaurant; I would advise getting a room on a lower floor as the water
pressure is negligible on the higher floors.  We ended up using the
shower by the pool to rinse off, then spend 30 minutes trying to get
shampoo out of your hair back in the room.  The Hotel C has a nice
pool, which is refreshing after a long day of sailing.  The only other
pool I saw was at the Hotel Atti, up the road behind the Hotel C.   The
second shift desk clerk at the Hotel C, Yliani, is very nice; say high
from Kevin and Pierre if you see her.  The Hotel C is pushing its
Club California program, where you can buy 15 weeks of lodging to be
used at any time in any combination over ten years, for $4200.  Works
out to a good room price, especially factoring in inflation, if you
plan to return often.  We didnt, but we did get a free t-shirt for
listening to the speel.  The Hotel C is owned by a Canadian, who is
also a great sailor.

One morning we woke up and saw a wild horse grazing at the Hotel C.
The next day there were two.  The next day a kid was trying to ride one
of them.  By now there may be a racetrack.

The Hotel El Yaque, El Yaque Beach Hotel, and Windsurf Paradise are all
nice hotels right on the beach.  The Fanatic Fun Center and Windsurfers
Oasis are also right on the beach, but lack some of the nicer creature
comforts; these could be great deals for those on a budget.  The Vela
center is located in the Windsurfers Oasis.

Restaurants
--------------

Most of the hotels have their own restaurants; the one at the Hotel
California is ok for breakfast.  The one in the El Yaque Beach Hotel is
great for lunch, and has a good personal pizza that we ended up eating
almost every day.  The Pirana in the BIC Center down the road has great
mega nachos and burgers, and is operated by a Canadian.  The top floor
restaurant in the Hotel Atti has great steaks for around $7, as does
the Windsurf Paradise.  Get used to stray dogs wandering through the
restaurants.  Many hotels will have special nights, such as Italian
Night... our experience was that they arent worth it.  Expensive with
very few people, tho that is perhaps due to the small number of
tourists our week.

Nightlife
----------

Be serious.  After a day of sailing, who has the strength?  Happy hour
is great, from 5 to 7pm.  Our favorite spot became the outdoor
restaurant at the El Yaque Hotel as it provided a great view of the
staff from the windsurf outfits showing off after they closed at 5:30.
Theres a great waitress named Eglise at the El Yaque; say hi from
Kevin and Pierre if you see her.  The second best happy hour is at the
Pirana with Polars and mega nachos.  You will probably sail all day,
have a large number of Polars (a very good local beer... especially
when youre tired!) for Happy Hour, find some food some place and down
some more Polars, then go back to the Hotel C bar to have even more
Polars while watch some great windsurf videos.

One night we went into Porlamar to the Mosquito Coast.  It opens at
7:30pm and has great burgers.  The waiter tried to sell us LSD.  The
disco action there begins around 11:30pm, too late for our tired aging
muscles.

Taxis
-------

You will immediately notice that all taxis in Margarita are rather beat
up, and they have all of their windows darkly tinted except for a
narrow 5 horizontal strip in the middle of the windshield.  Makes for
great night driving.  Always negotiate the fare before getting in the
car.  They seem to take advantage of you if you dont speak Spanish.
The fare from the airport to El Yaque should be 900 Bs during the day,
a little more at night.  From El Yaque to the airport it should be 700
Bs.  From El Yaque to the Mosquite Coast in Porlamar it was 1200 Bs,
and 1500 Bs returning later that evening.  There is a taxi stand across
the street from the Windsurf Paradise, and there are almost always
taxis available.

Rental Cars
---------------

You dont need a car if you plan on windsurfing only as everything in
El Yaque is accessible by foot.  We rented a car our last day by going
to the airport, where there are booths for Hertz, Avis, etc.  As you
approach the booths, a bidding war breaks out among them for your
business.  We ended up going with Hertz, which gave us 30% off their
normal daily rates.  Worked out to $50 for the 24 hours, including
mileage, insurance, and filling half the tank for a total of 300 Bs.
Venezuela is a member of OPEC, so gas is incredibly cheap.  We rented a
small four door with AC, stick shift, and some kind of lock/alarm
gizmo.  They will take 15 or 20 minutes to completely inspect the
vehicle in your presence and demonstrate EVERY control and feature.
When you return the car they will do the same, so plan on it, and dont
bother hiding any damage... they will find it.  The agencies open at
6am, which made it convenient for us to return the car the next day
before our early flight.

The rest of the island
---------------------------

We used the above mentioned rental car to drive around the island a
little.  Left at 9:30am, and drove up to the north coast via Juangriego
and Playa Las Aguas, returning via Ascension and skipping Porlamar.
When the cab took us into Porlamar to go to the Mosquito Coast, we
noticed a large amount of construction leading to several detours
through rather undesirable neighborhoods.  There are NO marked roads on
Margarita... no numbers, just infrequent small signs indicating the
destination town.  The main roads will go through the middle of the
towns, taking unmarked turns through residencial neighborhoods.  There
are several German hotels on the north coast, and Playa Las Aguas is
very spectacular.  In the Ascension area you can drive to the top of
the tallest mountain on the island, where it is perpeturally cloudy so
you cant see a thing.  There is also a small Spanish fort in the area.
 Some knowledge of Spanish is very helpful so that you can ask
directions.  There are a very small number of cops on the roads, and
they are always on motorbikes, two chubby unhelmeted cops per bike.
Im not sure where they put an arrested criminal.  Or even if they
arrest criminals at all.

Souvenirs
-------------

There are very few places to buy t-shirts and post cards in El Yaque.
The shop in the Windsurf Paradise hotel has the best t-shirts, but has
very random hours.  The only post cards we saw were at the travel
agency in the El Yaque Beach Hotel.  The windsurf outfits had some
t-shirts, but only in small and medium sizes.

The bottom line
--------------------
1.  It is a great place to visit if you are a windsurfer.
Non-windsurfers at El Yaque better bring books.
2.  Best restaurant:  Pirana
3.  Best happy hour:  Hotel El Yaque
4.  Best happy hour waitress:  Eglise at the Hotel El Yaque
5.  Best hotel:  Hotel California
6.  Best hotel desk clerk:  Yliani at the Hotel California
7.  Best windsurfing outfit:  Vela
8.  Best looking female tourists:  the Germans at the Windsurf Paradise
9.  Best place for gals to find skinny white guys in tiny speedos:  the
Germans at Windsurf Paradise
10.  Best shower:  the pool shower at the Hotel California
11.  Best steak:  Hotel Atti restaurant
12.  Best lunch:  El Yaque Beach Hotel
13.  Best and only beer:  Polar