Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Maracaibo to Henri Pittier National Park – 374 miles

It took us two days to drive the 374 miles from Maracaibo to Maracay, which is the starting point for the park. There were detours, military and police checkpoints and of course the ever present pot holes. We are stopped at most of the checkpoints and after checking our paperwork and with much goodwill and handshakes, we are sent on our way. The countryside is lush and verdant with banana plantations and small villages which sell their handmade crafts of woven baskets, carvings, hammocks and paintings. From Maracay, we start our journey through Henri Pittier National Park to the Caribbean Sea, which since 1937, is Venezuela’s oldest protected environmental zone. It is noted that over 550 species of birds live here, making it popular with birders from around the world. For non-birders, it’s winding scenic routes over 3 mountain ranges, are surrounded by enormous bamboo growths, cloud forests and huge vine covered trees which provide plenty of amazing views. The first mountain range brings us to the town of Ocumare and the last place to buy gas in the park. As we passed over the second mountain range we were rewarded with a breath-taking view of the Bahia de Cata. This spectacular bay is very popular with weekenders from the city due to its calm, sapphire blue water, white sand and a variety of small hotels and restaurants. However, we wanted to get to the outer reaches of the park and the beach town of Cuyagua, which is famous for its surfing. It took us more than three hours to transverse the 60 miles from Maracay to the beach town of Cuyagua and is not for the faint hearted. The roads are narrow and the drop offs steep and unguarded but what waited for us made the trip worthwhile. We were able to park right on the beach, with an unobstructed view of the ocean. It was not too crowded although we were told that the week between Christmas and New Year is extremely busy. We decide to stay for a few days and enjoy the beach. Everyone we met was friendly and helpful. Miguel who was an electrical engineer from Valencia who was vacationing with his girl friend, introduced us to more of the local food by bringing us breakfast of arepas filled with chicken accompanied with rice and fried plantanos. Very good. Tom caught some great waves boogie boarding and Winston was able to roam free. We played and read and chatted with other campers. What a neat place.

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