14 April 2006


Location: Isla de Margarita, Nueva Esparata State, Venezuela

 Comme la Jeep de Pedro
Carlos informed us that all Jeeps and Landcruisers were full and that he had made arrangements for another driver (Pedro on left)  and Jeep to meet us at the first stop. Unfortunately, we’d be ‘crammed in’ somewhere until we were able to get into a vehicle of our own …

… the ensuing brief drive with 6 other people, in the open rear, sans ‘safety equipment’, of a small Toyota Landcruiser, that bounced, ricocheted and bruised it’s way along a narrow, pot-holed highway ... 

... turned out to be the calmest and safest segment of the 200 plus kms we would drive that day!!!

Like the other vehicles in our little convoy, this Jeep was set up for off-roading, minus any safety or comfort equipment … ie. Venezuelan style .. large, tall, partly deflated tires – an open air roof in the rear – no steering stabilizers – a collapsed suspension – partial skid plates – no seat belts or grab bars – no roll cage.

I noticed almost immediately that our driver, Pedro, like most Venezuelans, preferred to talk with his hands – both of them, at the same time! He did this a lot while driving too, which meant removing them from the steering wheel for more than brief periods of time and looking backwards into the rear while trying to make a point with most of us non Spanish speaking passengers. Remember ….. we’re on the highway here and we’re doing ‘in excess’ of the posted speed … ie. we’re passing most other vehicles and that includes the other Jeeps and Landcruisers in our little convoy, including the large Landcruiser that also tows the ‘refreshments’ trailer !!! I don’t know how fast he was driving, but it felt like at least twice whatever it really was. When you take your hands off the steering wheel of a vehicle outfitted with BIG, fat tires and no steering stabilizers, the front end tends to grab from side to side as the tires encounter minor imperfections in the pavement. Pedro would just calmly reach around and make fine corrections to the vehicle tracking – kinda like a Nascar driver … well kinda ! 

Pedro also enjoyed taking us off-road, even though that portion of the Jeep Safari had’nt officially started yet – this wasn’t supposed to occur until we had reached some sand duned, beach spots later in the afternoon. I guess Pedro must have missed ‘the memo’ or maybe he was sick the last time this group of highly trained, professional drivers gathered for their weekly briefing … who knows? 

Anyway, picture this ….

Pedro – at highway speed – still talking and looking backwards – jerks the steering wheel violently to the left – crosses a lane of traffic – WITHOUT REALLY SLOWING DOWN – drives over the shoulder of the road and down a long, 45 degree incline at a less than a perpendicular and not really ideal approach - through sagebrush and rocks and sand and stone – touristas clenching whatever parts of the Jeep they can to keep from being ejected – sliding forward - white Marty Feldman eyed (that would be us, not Pedro) - barely clears the Jeep’s nose to lift us out of the drop (a poor approach angle) – gears down ! (that one surprised me too) – one handed driving - spins up sand and dust and stones and rock – while negotiating a bumpy, 300 foot section of goat path – drives up the same road embankment to intersect with the main highway – once again, a less than ideal approach angle - hesitates briefly (very briefly) and checks one direction (yes, I didn’t say both) before blasting us back out onto the pavement … all the while Pedro is uttering phrases in broken English like ‘OH MI GAWD …. and laughing. 

Regardless of Pedro’s highway driving style, this was a very entertaining way to see Isla de Margarita. The tour took us from the artist’s village at La Fronda ...

... into the mountainous areas near La Asuncion and El Valee ...

... through an ancient sugar cane press and rum distillery in National Park Copey ...

 ... a boat tour of the Mangrove swamps near the land bridge that joined the Peninsula de Macanao to the main island ... 

... a pleasant lunch at Punta Arena to swimming at a beach on the northwest coast ...

We finished the day with some true offroading in a couple of isolated dune areas along the Caribbean coast before stopping at Playa Juangriego for sunset pictures ...

... Venezuelan drummers and a 30 km evening drive back to the resort. 

The drivers served non alcoholic drinks, cerveza and rum and water all day, they dished out our lunches and cleaned up our dishes and supplied us with Coco Loco’s at a roadside cafĂ© near day’s end. We travelled all the major highways in a 200 plus km circumnavigation of the island and saw all distinct topographic regions. 

Crusty ... feeling bruised!

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TEAM: LOAF, Crumby, Wry & Crusty