Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Los Roques, Venezuela (December 11, 2004)

--- Originally published on December 12, 2004 ---

For the second day in Los Roques we planned to have some snorkeling in one of the islands farther away from Gran Roque. The day before we planned the excursion with the same people of the scuba diving, but when we went to their office in the morning we were told that for problems with their boat the trip in program (to the “Boca de Cote” in the far south of the archipelago) was not possible. So they called another agent that was able to fix the trip for us. All these excursions are managed by local fishermen, that are contracted for bringing tourists on the diving locations with their small boats. These boats are very light, but are mostly equipped with two engines, which means that they race very fast on the shallow waters in the archipelago, jumping from one wave to the next with unpleasant consequences for our bottoms seated on hard wooden benches.

The snorkeling was great. While we were snorkeling one of the guys that accompanied us fished four lobster (it is lobster season in Los Roques from November to April, see note #1 below), going down in apnea with a lazo in his hands to catch the lobsters hiding between the corals. I followed him a few times without realizing that we were going quite deep until I looked up and saw the surface several meters above me. I usually don’t go very deep in apnea while snorkeling, but yesterday’s lessons on how to compensate the pressure in my ears helped me to go deeper than usual without problems. It was very beautiful again and we saw a lot of fishes, among which a pretty big barracuda swimming not far from us.

El Palafito
On our way back we stopped at the “palafito”, a shack built on poles in the middle of the archipelago, which is used by the fishermen to temporarily place the lobsters. I took the photo on the left from there. The “rocks” in the foreground are corals. The colors of the water in Los Roques is totally unique. Somebody told me that you cannot say that you know the color blue if you have not been in Los Roques. After the palafito we spent the afternoon in one of the islands, called Crasqui, which has a nice beach and a nice coral reef where we did our afternoon snorkeling. Crasqui also has a fishermen restaurant, where we had an excellent lobster (lobsters here tastes different than in New England). We spent the rest of the time talking with Juan, a local kid that was helping the guy driving the boat. Juan is a nice character. Born in Caracas he moved when he was a kid to Los Roques, where he had some relatives. The conditions in Caracas are very harsh and dangerous for the lower classes living in the barrios, and there is an elevated rate of crime and unemployment (see note #2 below). His parents figured that they had better chances as fishermen and moved in this little archipelago (that was before the tourism took off). Now they are managing some of these tours for adventurous tourists, and the restaurant where we had the lobster. Juan was in vacation (he is studying in the local high school in Gran Roque) so he was spending some time helping his uncles in their activity. He befriended us and we spent the day together exploring the island and talking about the life in the archipelago.

After the afternoon snorkeling dive we headed back to Gran Roque, to have dinner in our posada, accompanied by the usual talks about italian politics with the other occupants of the place (see note #3 you know where).

--- Updates (September 4, 2013) ---

1. If you want to know more (a lot more) about Los Roques lobsters, you can read this scientific publication (warning, large file, unless you are lucky enough live in a place with hyper-fast internet).

2. Turns out that Caracas is not the most dangerous city in the world (excluding war zones). The record is owned by San Pedro Sula in Honduras, with an yearly rate of 159 homicides every 100,000 habitants. Caracas is "only" sixth, with a rate of 99. Most of the cities in the list are in latin America, especially Mexico and Brasil. The first US city is New Orleans, with a rate of 58. The first city in Africa is Cape Town with a rate of 46. There are no cities from other continents among the 50 cities with the highest rate (again, this excludes war zones, even though this 2010 article on the New York Times pointed out that Venezuela is overall more dangerous than war time Iraq). 

3. The prime minister in Italy at the time was Silvio Berlusconi. As you can imagine the topic of discussion at dinner was how bad (or good) Berlusconi was for Italy. Since then he has been on and off the government until last year, when he was forced out in the mid of sex and corruption scandals and economic depression. Italians are still discussing how bad (or good) Berlusconi is for Italy.

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