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The harbor entrance at Rio Haina is very narrow. A bulk freighter makes a graceful exit from the port at dawn.

Leaving Rio Haina was an adventure.  Despite the fact that the channel is narrow, the captain usually leaves the port at a fairly quick speed to reduce the likelihood of stowaways getting onboard.  Stowaways are common here.  From what I have heard, some prospective stowaways make long poles with hooks on them, which they use to hook onto the ship railings and pull themselves aboard from the water.  When exiting at night, the Katrin S. turns all exterior lights on, with spotlights aimed along the sides of the ship to make sure the crew sees anybody trying to get aboard.

On Tour

From Rio Haina, we sailed south for a day or so, crossing the Caribbean, and arriving at La Guaira, Venezuela during the evening.  La Guaira is the port for Caracas, which is about a 20-minute car drive inland.  The view was beautiful at night.  The coast sits up against a coastal mountain range, the face of which was densely covered with the houses (many built by squatters).  At night, the visual effect was a spectacular wall of light, since these communities stretched all up and down the coast and reached quite a ways up the mountains.  We were unable to get a berth the evening we arrived, and would need to drift for the night.

That evening, the wave conditions created the most unusual ship movements of the trip.  The swells approached the ship from astern, and somehow were of a size and shape that allowed the overhanging stern of the ship to drop down and slap the water, “belly-flop” style, stopping the ship’s rocking movement almost instantly, which made a loud metallic banging sound and shook the superstructure like an earthquake, causing it to resonate at a one cycle-per-second rate for about the next 10 seconds.  I was surprised I slept at all that night, but either the shaking stopped, or I got used to it, and was able to fall asleep.

With both Cuba and Hispaniola clearly visible from the ship, I took the opportunity to pour myself a scotch, light a cigar and relax at a wooden table and chair on the deck outside the bridge, as the sun settled into the hills of eastern Cuba.

The next day, the captain had arranged for a “tour-guide” from the area to take myself and the other passenger on a tour of Caracas.  It was nice to get off the ship and get a feel for the local area.  We spent some of the time walking around an area with old buildings that had been restored and turned into shops.

An unusual thing happened as I walked around on land.  I began to feel “land-sick” (or whatever is the opposite of sea sick is).  Hmmm, I had heard of this happening.  I guess you get used to the motion of the ship, and you feel sick when nothing moves.  Strange.

Next came a tour of Simon Bolivar’s birthplace.  Bolivar seems to be quite a hero for most Venezuelans.  We also stopped by an internet café in a shopping center, which allowed me to send some e-mails.  The city tour, which lasted most of the day cost us only $25 each, and our share of the tour guide’s lunch.  Yulvin, our tour guide, was a very pleasant woman, and a nice person to be around.

The weather was almost perfect as we left La Guaira mid-morning the next day.  This provided an ironic final memory of La Guaira.  A month later, disaster struck the port and surrounding area as heavy rainfall pounded the mountains along the coast.  The rain loosened the soil causing massive mudslides as the entire sides of mountains, along with houses and their inhabitants were washed into the sea.  As many as 30,000 people are estimated to have died in the disaster.  Afterwards, large groups of survivors looted the port.  It makes me sad to think that many of the people I saw while in La Guaira probably died in the disaster.  (continued...)


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