Well, not exactly. You see, in October 2010 I was invited to go saltwater flyfishing for bonefish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonefish), Permit and Tarpon at Los Roches, a group of islands in the Caribbean 80 miles offshore from Caracas, Venezuela. Los Roches is a National Park (http://www.losroques.org/) covering some 860 square miles, is one of the most pristine undersea environments in the Caribbean, and is part of Venezuela, hence the Hugo Chavez connection. We didn’t fish with “El Hefe” but his presence was definitely felt in every part of the lives of the Venezuelans we met during our 7-day fishing trip.
The group of ten I went with were mostly New York financial services executives and business professionals. I was invited due to a cancellation caused by the banking meltdown (unfortunate for him but great for me!). We flew into Caracas and stayed at a Hilton near the airport, which is just along the coast. There is no other way to say it, that coastal section of Caracas is a bonafied slum, next to one of the several “barrios” within a metropolitan area of over 5 million people. We never did get a tour of the “safe parts of the city” as the tour driver didn’t want to drive around with a car full of Gringos, too dangerous for us and him he said. Instead we had a few beers at the bar and the next morning we boarded an internal flight to the islands of Los Roches.
Having heard many fishing stories of how elusive and difficult it is to find and catch bonefish, I was ready for a week of aggressive pursuit and few but meaningful results. Boy was I wrong!
The shallow flats surrounding the islands of Los Roches are teaming with bonefish and numerous other species of saltwater game fish. In fact, the amount of baitfish (small fingerlings that the bigger fish feed on) on these flats were the densest I have ever seen on a coral reef. All due to the fact that Los Roches is a National Park and fishing is strictly controlled.
Since we were there in October when the tides are higher, the gigantic Tarpon and secretive Permit were in abundance. To say my arm got tired pulling in bonefish may sound like a fish story, but it’s true. We caught upwards of 20 bonefish a day in the 3-5 pound region and several much larger. And my first Tarpon on a flyrod was a real thrill.
When you spend 7-days in one location mingling with the local people you get a good feel for what their life is like. And in one sense they are quite fulfilled, after all, petrol (or gasoline as they say in the US) is free, or nearly free. It’s the way Chavez controls the people, co-opting them with nearly free petrol in return for their votes and support. Neat trick if you can do it but it only works when your country is blessed with a large supply of oil and you have worked hard to keep your people uneducated and focused on the basic necessities of making a living.
In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, don’t talk to these people about self-actualization or their next start-up business; they are too concerned with the basics of survival – food and shelter. But, the people living within the Los Roches National Park have a pretty good life; seafood, tourism, and they are far enough from the main centers of crime and corruption to feel safe. Do their kids have a future that will be better? That I don’t know.
Would I go back? In a nano-second. Mostly for the abundant fishing opportunities, but also for the chance to swim and fish on one of the last remaining unspoiled coral reef island chains in the Caribbean.
Tight Lines . . .