Los Ro­ques, Venezuela

Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - Contents - BY JORGE LUIS CURBELO PHO­TOS AL­BERTO BOR­REGO

Caribbean Re­lax­ation at its Best

Los Ro­ques ad­ven­ture could start right at the be­gin­ning of the trip. The voy­age by sea cleav­ing through dif­fer­ent shades of blue wa­ters that could be hardly imag­ined un­til you ac­tu­ally see them is a lux­ury fore­taste; whereas by air, the spec­tac­u­lar di­men­sion of a seascape with plane and nar­row keys teem­ing with light and soli­tude is em­braced.

Even though the ar­chi­pel­ago ap­peared in an­cient Span­ish maps from 1529, no set­tle­ments were ever es­tab­lished there be­cause of the lack of springs or fresh wa­ter sources and scarce rains, so that the only visi­tors to Los Ro­ques isles in cen­turies were lost sailors, ad­ven­tur­ers and pass­ing-by fish­er­men.

De­serted is­lands and coral reefs dom­i­nate the view min­utes away from this far-out atoll to the south of the Caribbean Sea, where the myth of the no­ble sav­age and the Gar­den of Eden are still alive.

The Great­est Al­lures

Los Ro­ques coral reefs are ex­cep­tion­ally di­verse in terms of habi­tats, with ar­eas where waves break and oth­ers where the wa­ter is calm and large patches of nu­tri­ents at­tract a wide va­ri­ety of fishes mak­ing up the abun­dant marine life of the place

Still to­day that is pre­cisely its great­est en­tice­ment: leav­ing be­hind the mun­dane up­roar and get­ting away from the world to in­dulge one­self in the whim of hav­ing a beach as pris­tine to­day as it was in the be­gin­nings of time and en­joy the ad­ven­ture of the no­ble sav­age bear­ing just com­fort­able san­dals and shorts, eat­ing fish fresh from the sea, away from the daily news and the public­ity hooks of the in­ter­net.

With some 42 green keys and more than 250 coral reefs that take dif­fer­ent sil­hou­ettes as the tide changes, Los Ro­ques is part of the great marine park lo­cated ex­actly 166 Km (about 100 miles) di­rectly north of the Port of La Guaira in the cen­tral coast of Venezuela.

To­wards the north­east, pro­tected by a 24 Km-long coral bar­rier, the hills of El Gran Roque –the main is­land– rise up, where the few fa­cil­i­ties avail­able in the ar­chi­pel­ago are an­chored. This is the first stop for overnight visi­tors and for those who are go­ing to stay for the week. An of­fi­cial of the park wel­comes the new­com­ers and tells them what can or can’t be done within the area of the nat­u­ral re­serve cre­ated by pres­i­den­tial de­cree on Au­gust 8, 1972 and cur­rently man­aged by the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Parks (INAPARQUES).

Truth is that Los Ro­ques is no longer a secret place for fish­er­men, a hand­ful of Venezue­lans and soli­tary sailors with good ref­er­ences, for that rea­son, author­i­ties are es­pe­cially care­ful in the ex­ploita­tion of the is­land to pro­tect its frag­ile ecosys­tems from the hu­man hus­tle and bus­tle.

It has an air­port for small air­crafts, a moor­ing, a few ware­houses to keep ba­sic sup­plies and wa­ter de­posits, lock­ers, a hand­ful of rooms in com­fort­able inns, of­fices for lo­cal and park author­i­ties, a cou­ple of restau­rants and bars, tele­phone booths, small stands to rent div­ing equip­ment and a few other things.

Leisure op­tions in­clude rent­ing of kayaks, sail­ing, wind­surf­ing, over­fly­ing the isles in the Ul­traligero, go­ing on sea­faris, ly­ing at a lonely beach bathed by the trop­i­cal sun­light or get­ting away in a cata­ma­ran sail­ing the labyrinth of wa­ter­ways flow­ing around the rocky isles un­til you find the per­fect spot to jump into the wa­ter and be de­lighted with its won­der­ful sea bed. For sea and wa­ter sports lovers, Los Ro­ques is a true par­adise with all con­di­tions to leave no room to bore­dom. But, it is also the per­fect place for eco­tourism trav­el­ers look­ing for rar­i­ties and ex­clu­siv­i­ties. The ar­chi­pel­ago, for ex­am­ple, is one of the few places in the world of­fer­ing night ex­cur­sions to watch the spawn­ing of sea tur­tles. It is the home for en­demic birds such as the man­grove war­bler and the reinita ne­gra, as well as very odd rep­tiles like the la­garto guar­ipete or black lizard which feeds from cac­tus flow­ers and has

be­come quite a preda­tor of eggs laid by some species of birds that usu­ally ar­rive in the ar­chi­pel­ago.

Igua­nas, other weird rep­tile known as machu­rife, sala­man­ders and only one species of mam­mal –the fish­ing bat–, are some of species mak­ing up the lo­cal fauna; to­gether with sea birds, a large pop­u­la­tions of gan­nets, laugh­ing gulls, stone curlews, pen­guins, gulls and sand­pipers; and a nu­mer­ous colony of pink flamin­goes that in­hab­its in Los Can­quises keys.

When hik­ing down the nar­row paths scat­tered all over those small pieces of land, you can come across in­ter­est­ing scenes, al­ways with the ocean on the back; you can even find ex­otic cac­tus species min­gling with thorns and other xe­rophilous plants, typ­i­cal of dry and hot trop­i­cal ar­eas.

Ecol­ogy-in­clined nat­u­ral­ists or tourists usu­ally visit the Dos Mosquises Sci­en­tific As­so­ci­a­tion, the top re­search cen­ter in Los Ro­ques which is re­lated to the Ecochal­lenge in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion and con­ducts ma­jor stud­ies on corals, marine life and the ex­ploita­tion of fish­ing and oceano­graphic re­sources

The great­est cu­rios­ity of the ar­chi­pel­ago’s veg­e­ta­tion is the so-called fish­er­man’s tabaquillo, widely known for its strong hal­lu­cino­genic ef­fects; whereas red, black and white man­groves and the bot­on­cillo or yel­low man­grove also dis­tin­guish the lo­cal flora. Nat­u­ral­ists and tourists in­ter­ested on ecol­ogy usu­ally visit the Sci­en­tific So­ci­ety of Dos Mosquises, Los Ro­ques’ lead­ing re­search cen­ter. This bi­o­log­i­cal sta­tion col­lab­o­rates with the Ecochal­lenge In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion and leads ma­jor stud­ies about corals, fishes, ex­ploita­tion of fish­ing re­sources and oceanog­ra­phy. In their ef­fort to make peo­ple sen­si­tive to na­ture, one of Los Ro­ques’ best fea­tures, sci­en­tists with Dos Mosquises of­fer visi­tors the pos­si­bil­ity to be­come “god­par­ents” of baby tur­tles and sharks, which re­ceive spe­cial at­ten­tion and care as they be­come a new mem­ber of the un­der­wa­ter fam­ily of the park. As part of the spon­sor­ing pro­gram the baby tur­tles and sharks are marked and mon­i­tored for sev­eral years as they grow adults.

But all in all, the most cher­ished trea­sure of this huge Caribbean re­serve in Venezuela lies just there on the sea floor sur­round­ing the is­land, where the coral reefs and thou­sands of species that live in them of­fer a beau­ti­ful and daz­zling sce­nario of biotopes of high eco­log­i­cal, phys­io­graphic and vis­ual value. Thus, sea an­i­mals and other forms of marine life that find refuge in the reefs con­sti­tute Los Ro­ques’ wealth­i­est and most im­por­tant nat­u­ral re­source and it is un­doubt­edly what at­tract more visi­tors into the is­land. Among marine species that are most seen are nava­jones, sur­geon fish; cachamas, is­abeli­tas and par­rot-fishes which got its name be­cause of its large par­rot-like mouth that tit uses to re­move the polyps from the corals’ cal­care­ous sur­face as a nat­u­ral clean­ing ac­tion that helps those for­ma­tions main­tain its vi­tal­ity and color.

Also abun­dant are horse mack­erels, spiny lob­sters –the largest vol­ume of Venezuela’s na­tional pro­duc­tion of this species is caught in Los Ro­ques–; king conchs, starfishes, tubu­lar sponges, anemones and let­tuce, fire and ele­phant-ear corals, among many more that can be found all the way from the shal­low wa­ters to the banks.

In the evening, when there is need to re­cover strengths af­ter hav­ing ful­filled the first part of the pro­gram, the view of the horizon from El Gran Roque –the ren­dezvous of the ar­chi­pel­ago–, ap­pears like a golden line sparkling at the bot­tom of the vis­i­ble uni­verse, right over the emer­ald wa­ters of the sea.

Fol­low­ing on the rules of the per­fect tourist, noth­ing will be bet­ter now than to lie on a sun lounger by the cliff, have some snacks of shell­fish with may­on­naise and a cold beer, and get ready to pho­to­graph the sun­set, an­other ex­pe­ri­ence that can’t be missed in this sin­gu­lar Caribbean par­adise

All across Los Ro­ques there are just some 600 peo­ple and the few avail­able mid­size lodg­ings are lo­cated in Gran Roque

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