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margarita 2001 - a windsurfing paradise

After last year's successful Kos trip, the six of us decided to look for another windsurfing holiday for April/May 2001. Although we considered the Nomad's Dahab trip, the timing of this holiday wasn't quite right for the whole group, so this forced us to look elsewhere. A trip to Vass or the new Club Mistral at Alacati (Turkey) was quickly dismissed on the grounds of being too early in the season for guaranteed good wind, so that left us with looking a bit further afield - which meant the Caribbean! We had heard good reviews about Margarita from friends who had recently visited this resort and from magazine articles, and when we contacted Planet Windsurf, we couldn't believe the deal they were offering - 11 nights, including flight, transfer, accommodation WITH breakfast, for only £495!! Compared to the normal £850 for 14 nights, this was an absolute bargain and needless to say we all booked up immediately.

For those who don't know much about Margarita, it is one of the Southern most islands in the Caribbean and is located close to Venezuela, so close that on a clear day you can actually see the mainland! It is mainly because of the huge South American land mass, that the island and the main windsurfing resort, El Yaque, gets its winds from. The landscape is mainly dry and arid desert with lots of cacti, although there are also mountains, jungles, palm trees and plenty of beaches around the island. The island is part of Venezuela and therefore uses the Bolavar currency, although the US $ is also accepted everywhere. The flight time from Manchester is around 8 hours and they are 5 hours behind GMT.

We took a direct flight from Manchester airport at 2.30pm on Wednesday 25th April and arrived in Margarita around 6pm local time, just as the sun was setting. As soon as we left the cold air-conditioned climate of the plane, we were suddenly faced with the warm winds of the island and of course the disinfectant foot/mouth mats, especially laid out for us BRITS! Immediately, we were pleased to see that it was déjà vu time, just like Kos, as it was windy even at night!

After a short 10 minute transfer to our hotel, Casa Rita, which is an extremely well run small-scale establishment, we unloaded, freshened up and then made our first of many visits to Mike's bar for our complementary free cocktails - which was also the first of many in the days to come! Mike who is a staunch Liverpool supporter, has been working in Margarita for over 6 years and specialises in providing hungry windsurfers with lunches and cocktails, as he is located on the beach right next to the two main windsurfing centres. His BELTCH (Bacon-Egg-Lettuce-Tomato-Cheese-Ham) sandwiches, Choco Loco and Chocolate Monkey cocktails were well appreciated by all! After a light meal we called it a day and slept dreaming of carve gybes and loops!!

 

photo of vela centreVela Centre

photo of resortResort pic.

In the morning, after stuffing ourselves with a delicious breakfast, consisting of local fruits and fresh fruit juices, a full continental breakfast, numerous cereals, and scrambled eggs every other day, we walked the short 5 minute walk to our Vela windsurf centre. The centre has been run for the last 6 years by an American couple Tom and Cathy and helped out by Robbie, Bernie and Jennie. It is an extremely well run and equipped centre, with the latest Neil Pryde sails ranging from 7.5 down to 2.9m2 and F2 boards, including Airs, Rides, Xantos, Axis and Waves. They also have a selection of JP boards (although these weren't covered by insurance!), HiFlys and American Pro-Techs, which we nicknamed the 'rockets'! All the staff were extremely helpful and even helped to carry the sails back to the racks, much to the delight of Phillipa who never quite mastered the art of carrying sails safely in high winds!

Also included within the windsurfing pack - which is £115 for one week and £150 for the full 11 days - was a free one-hour group clinic, which tackled a different subject each day. One-to-one lessons could easily be booked at an addition cost of $45 per hour, which I took for carve gybing and highly recommend!

Apart from the Vela Centre, there are also a number of other centres located on the main El Yaque beach, which include Club Margarita and Club Mistral. This does mean that at times the bay can get quite crowded, especially in the peak season. Kite-surfing is also quite popular here and a course of lessons (3 days) can be booked for around $100. These have to be taken early in the morning as kite-surfing is banned in the main bay after 9.30am. For light wind days, which we never saw, kayaks can also be hired out. Although we didn't really leave the watery arena, you can hire jeeps, mountain bikes or even Harley's in order to explore the island!

Looking out from the El Yaque beach, the wind blew cross-shore from the left, slightly on shore in the mornings to slightly off shore in the evenings. The month of May is supposed to be the start of the off-season, but this didn't mean there was a lack of wind - oh no! The wind generally blew force 4-5 in the mornings and 5+ in the afternoons EVERY DAY throughout our stay! In fact, talking to the locals, it was apparent that there isn't really an off-peak season with regards to the wind, only that there were slightly less tourists during this period! The sea condition was therefore choppier in the afternoons and became larger rolling waves further out. As the beach is waist deep for approx. 250m out, it felt very safe, even for beginners. Being used to the flat conditions of Weymouth, it took me 2-3 days to get used to the chop and after that I actually preferred these conditions, as I learnt to chop hop!

Photo of me!Me - heading in on small wave

Every Tuesday and Wednesday a speed competition is held, whereby a GPS is used to measure individual speeds. The men's event was won for the second week running by a German who we nicknamed 'The Speed Merchant' who clocked 35.5mph in the choppy conditions! In the women's category, Phillipa achieved an unbelievable 32.6 mph, which completely blew away all the other competitors. The satellites must have been misaligned or something! In fact, this was only 0.1 mph behind the centre's overall ladies record, unsurprisingly held by the co-owner Cathy!

On our 6th day we took a boat trip across Vela's smaller sister centre on Coche island - which is even more beautiful than El Yaque - for a mere $30. There, the wind blows completely offshore, off the lovely white sandy beach, producing a mirror flat-water surface! This was an ideal location for improving your gybes or even taking breath-taking photos! Most of us improved our GPS times by around 5mph in Coche (just to put the record straight, I managed to go faster than Phillipa, at 33.2mph! but only in Coche!). However, you did have to be careful to avoid the colourful jellyfish, which were floating near the shore.

The only major incident of the holiday happened at Coche, when Jon White dislocated his shoulder, whilst attempting a carve gybe. Rob Dawkins proved useful, as he skillfully popped Jon's shoulder back in, although this resulted in Jon missing the remaining 4 days of windsurfing! The boat ride home was in its own right very entertaining and felt more like a white water rafting session, as we traveled back upwind across the huge waves!

On the 7th day, a few of us decided to give our blisters and aching bodies a rest and instead go scuba diving. A coach trip was organised to take us to the North side of the island, where a boat then carried us to a small cluster of islands for a reef and drift dive. We saw plenty of exotic and colourful fish, the names of which I am not familiar with, although, the captain harpooned two fishes for dinner which were very well known to us - barracudas!

Margarita seems to have very strong influences both from North and South America. The North American influence is without doubt the automobiles, where most of them seem to be petrol guzzling and loud American reject monstrosities with massive tyres - OK for Margarita as the tax-free petrol only costs 8p a litre! Poppy, who was the local DJ, barman at Los Pirates (the local night club) and a taxi driver, squeezed the six of us in his 1950s style taxi and covered the distance of some 20 miles to the main town Porlamar within minutes, travelling through plenty of red lights (you need plenty of Polar beers to numb yourself from that sort of driving!). The South American influence is mainly in the music, which is non-stop Salsa and Meringue. Jon was the Salsa master and twirled his stuff off to the rapid beat of the Salsa, even after he hurt his shoulder!

photo of jon white - salsa masterJon White - Salsa master!

In summary, we all thoroughly enjoyed our 11-day stay in Margarita and also improved tremendously. Our near beginner who had just one week of windsurfing under his belt ended the holiday in the harness and planing pretty quickly. Phillipa learnt to water start early in the holiday and go bl**dy fast in a straight line. I finally managed to get some gybes in with planning exits, learnt to jump off the chop and body drag - sometimes unintentionally! The rest of the group all improved their stance, tacks, gybes and sailing in choppy conditions. The shallow water provided a great opportunity to experiment with new moves, knowing full well that an effortless beach start would follow next. Also, the water temperature was warm requiring no shorties, whilst the air temperature was a touch below 30°C during midday!

The après windsurf was also fantastic, as alcohol was cheaper than soft drinks, eg: a bottle of 1 litre rum cost only £2, which meant that you got very healthy portions in a cocktail! There were plenty of hotels and restaurants for food to choose from, with the main course costing around £6. The best food we found was grilled chicken at Feurza 6, tenderloin pepper steak at Atti's and fish steak at Mare Mare, although pizzas and pastas were also abundant. We visited the hotel California twice, because of its excellent French cuisine and the talking parrot, Tin Tin!

So the verdict from all of us was that we'd definitely return to Margarita and the sooner the better! Anyway, don't just take our word for it check out Guy Cribb's article in Boards - no. 152, March 1999, as he also raves about the place! We booked our holiday through Planet Windsurf and if you're interested you can contact them on 01273 746700 or via their website.

Fred Hussain

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