The Uninviting Point of No Where
Preconceived visions of tearing through the arid Australian Outback in the blistering heat began to really transpire as we headed for the tip of Paraguaná; the most northern point of Venezuela. Turning off near a well-secured military compound, the dusty trail weaves toward the sea.
There's scattered, intriguing structures along the coastal side where apparent fishermen live with boats and gear strewn across the terrain. But inland, without a shade tree in sight, are barrel and other assorted cacti and rocks mingled with scrub brush, thistles and swarms of goats roaming everywhere.
A small, forsaken looking pueblo serves as an outpost gathering with a pair of restaurants and general store for locals which flock to beaches on weekends. It was a Friday, and at this point there wasn't a single person stirring -- local or visitor. Erick parked the SUV next to a palm-thatched, open-air building that suggested some type of busy activity thanks to garbage littering grounds everywhere. We got out but no one knew exactly what to do.
We'd been waiting for beach; my first dip in the Caribbean from the southern rims, but what we found was a dirty, raging sea in such contrast to the tranquil blues I live for. An offshore oil tanker appearing to have run aground was standing guard as if daring us to enter. We didn't. Supposedly you can see Aruba from here. Erick kept pointing off into haze of the general direction, but that was about as good as it got.
There were a few interesting shells to comb over along the rocky sands as I wandered off not realizing I'd kept the others waiting. So we'd done the northern tip. No one actually said anything, but beyond the actual experience, it seemed like a long ride for nothing.
Lucita en las Salinas con Diamantes
About the greatest natural resources for this area comes from the sea; even as dirty and unappealing as you're likely to find it. In addition to questionable offshore fishing thanks to the pollution factors, large inland bay areas have been converted into one of the few sources of production you'll find on the Península.
Las Salinas are salt mines that have been in operation for hundreds of years. The northeastern rim is lined with these large bodies of water that only further add to the mysterious yet deserted appeal of Paraguaná thanks to the crudest yet colorful process. Extractions turn the waters vivid lavenders and pinks further bursting with colors shimmering under stiff breezes and angles of the roasting sun.
I'd seen these only once before off the southwestern Cabo Rojo tip of Puerto Rico and was again amazed at what contrasts they help to paint the experience with. We'd driven by several before pulling over for taking a closer look. There was a small dyke dividing two huge pools that we walked onto while Erick began detailing the entire mining process. Again, my mind had floated off across the mesmerizing rose-colored panoramas; something you actually have to see for appreciating since mere photos can't seem to capture the indescribable hues.
Large chunks of consolidated salt were scattered along the edges like huge diamonds in the rough; easy for inspection and collection as proven by the band of local peasant children playing in the area. Upon arrival, they'd made a beeline for Erick and were coyly curious about his guests for today. There was a makeshift shack stand where they were selling rocks of salt that were glittering like quartz. Sampling a small crumble left a gritty taste that was harsh on a dry thirsty throat.
Erick indicated we could purchase a block of the salt; my quipping only if there was a bucket of margaritas waiting somewhere. He smiled and dug through his pockets before handing the kids several bolívares. He began to explain how impoverished the people of this area are with their only means of income depending on who might venture passed this desolate area.
Then he called attention to the young ladies gyrating to the music that had been turned up the minute we'd stepped out of the SUV. Living in shacks about 100-yards off the road, Erick indicated they were also trying to make a living. There was a quick exchange of suspect glimpses among us guys; Alex went back and bought a chunk of salt.
Birds of a Feather . . .
Laguna de Tiraya is one of Venezuela's most prominent feeding grounds for flamingos and scarlett ibis. Peak season for these tropical strutters runs through the winter months, but there was promise of a few stragglers that make this a year-round home.
I'm still not sure what the fascination and anticipation was, but we had a "there goes one" anxiously pointed out prompting Erick to abandon the road for heading overland towards the lagoon in true safari style. It turned out to be just a tease and we continued off-road in the original direction.
Eventually we came across a pair of small flocks lazing just off the shore, and armed with cameras, the hunt was on! Our mere presence sent up a red flag before even piling out, and what ensued was a frivolous game of cat and mouse. The three of us had fanned out along the coast creeping ever so slowly. The expectation had escalated the beating of my heart to levels of yet another potential bird-brained obstruction, but all was quiet.
We took our silent cues from each other; first one moving in from one end followed by the others. It didn't work and the flamingos gracefully extended into a brief aerial show before resettling another 5/10-yards offshore. Our pause of disappointment was followed by the foolishness of thinking we could be more slick and successful on our second attempt. Need I say more?
Without binoculars or a telephoto zoom lens on your camera, don't even bother -- even if you're here during the season when thousands of birds are present. There was no third try as we randomly headed back to the SUV. Erick was still sitting in the driver's seat leaning out the window with a rather entertained smile erasing his stoical Frenchness. At least someone had gotten a close-up viewing of intriguing natural wildlife -- even if we weren't covered in pink feathers.