So it was with a heavy heart that Fray agreed to go to Los Roques. There had been wild accusations flying around that the life of a travel writer was not as demanding and stressful as they’d been led to believe, and that Fray was actually… shock horror… ‘enjoying himself’!
To prove all the haters wrong he gritted his teeth, double checked his insurance documents and booked his ticket to the dirtiest, nastiest slum known to man (No, not Milton Keynes)… Los Roques! His partner in crime for the trip would be the tough talking, Rum drinking Venezuelan beauty, Grecia. Issues were initially raised about the immense language barrier, but they were swatted away with a reassuring “It’ll be fine. Fino, fino!”
So at 10pm they set off, bound for the Islands of Los Roques… but not before a quite unpleasant stop in Caracas. 5 hours after departing, the taxi spewed out the tired travellers… into Caracas domestic airport. Caracas airport doesn’t have the greatest reputation when it comes to safety. Aside from Caracas playing host to on average 1 death per hour from violent crime, there has been a recent rise in the amount of incidents at the airport – hijacking, robbery, kidnap etc All this wizzed through young Fray’s head as they tentatively stepped into the terminal at 3am. With the plane not leaving until 6am the intervening 3 hours were a joyous mix of paranoia and wild, delerious fantasies playing out in our champions head.
Suffice to say they survived the ordeal, and even boarded the plane with invalid documents (What fussy people we Brits are when it comes to passport control… I mean, do we really need to check ALL the details to ensure they match the tickets? The Venezuelan system is much more casual. “Hmmm, a couple of the numbers match… you can pass”)
The 20 minute flight passed without incident… except to expose the first chink in Grecia’s tough exterior… she almost exposed the bone in Fray’s arm too by squeezing so tight upon take-off and landing. Lesson 1: She doesn’t like flying!
And so they landed… and were greeted by:
So after being awake for over 36 hours the weary travellers threw down their bags, slumped onto the bed… and were instantly summoned to a ‘house briefing’, where were explained all the house rules, regulations and procedures… all in beautifully complicated Spanish. Fray dutifully nodded along, oohing and ahhing in chorus with the other guests. All was going so well until the tricksy Posada owners started asking questions. Grecia instantly lept to his defence….. although the Venezuelan and British definition of ‘instantly’ varies considerably.
1-0 Los Roques
After the briefing a cold-box was prepared and they were whisked away to the dock for transportation to their first island… the majestic Francisqui. A 5-minute boat ride through glistening green waters ensued, where Fray pondered the cost of the underwater lighting (no water can glow that bright naturally!). And then they arrived.
After the initial 20 minutes of drooling, rubbing thighs and general tourist chumpery they got down to some serious relaxing. Now Fray has never been a beach bum… never one for just lounging idly around on the sand. He’s more a doer… and so like a giddy little child he went splashing into the sea (after rubbing on a 4 inch thick layer of suncream… he’d made that mistake many times before!). From the glowing waters he received a new kind of wonder and awe. Postcards, magazines, annoyingly smug travel writers… all tell tales of glowing beaches and crystal clear waters, but until you’ve been there, waded out up to your neck and yet can still see your feet as if through glass……. that’s a whole new kind of special!
Retiring to the sand to enjoy a frosty Cuba Libre, he closed his eyes to savour the soothing sounds of a tropical paradise. The gentle cawing of gulls, the ocean lapping against the sand, Londoners talking about Milton Keynes!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!
They actually turned out to be a really good bunch, out on their honeymoon… good choice guys! They were also kind enough to lend out their snorkling gear, which Fray eagerly snapped up. Alarm bells should have started ringing with Grecia’s slight hesitation, but Fray ploughed on regardless. Across the island they went, through gentle scrub until they emerged to see:
A scuba paradise!
Without hesitation Fray darted into the water (as much as one can dart when wading through razor sharp coral) and began to explore the wonders of the shallow green sea. The fish didn’t seem alarmed by the ghostly white apparition floating on the surface as they happily went about their daily fishy duties… swimming, eating and mating… what a life you lucky fish lead.
Fish of all colours, shapes, sizes and varying levels of scariness greeted his delighted eyes. Looking around to share the experience he noticed Grecia still gingerly patrolling the shore. When the international gesture for “come in the water and check out these freaky fish” failed he waded back to shore. After some initial hesitation Grecia agreed to take the plunge, but not before sinking her adamantium claws once again into Fray’s tender flesh. Mistaking her apprehension for fear of falling in the coral he took the easiest route and was about to plunge once more into the sea when he learnt his second lesson. Lesson 2: It wasn’t the coral she was scared of… Grecia was petrified of fish.
Fair play to the girl, she stuck it out for about 5 minutes before hightailing it back to shore (and getting a nasty coral scratch on her leg to boot!). If Grecia knew any swear words (God forbid) then I’m sure she would have been muttering them vigorously… oops!
The rest of the day played out in much the same fashion, with Fray a’splishing and a’splashing, lubing himself up nice and good and enjoying the (very) occasional swig of rum. The boat ride back was just as exciting, followed by a few hours of down time to hopelessly attempt to remove the mountain of sand they’d managed to aquire.
Dinnertime brought all manner of laughter due to the earlier decision making of Grecia. A monster bowl of pasta was brought out for them, with Fray rising to the challenge to waste not a drop. Over halfway through he began to struggle, but dug in his heels, wiped away the pasta sweats and gorged some more. He was finally defeated with a few mouthfuls to go, but happy in his heart that he’d put in a jolly good shift. As they carried his plate away he rubbed his now swollen belly, his hunger sated for the forseeable future… until they brought out the main course. His delightful travel companion had failed to inform him that it was a 3 course meal… and who in the blue hell serves a mountain of pasta for a starter?!?!?!?
Feelings of self-satisfaction were now replaced with fear of a tearing of his now grossly distended stomach lining. A lesser man would have walked away, turned his back on course 2 and 3 and cursed his lack of Spanish comprehension……. but does that sound like Fray? Hell no! The Chicken looked so good that he plowed in with added gusto… and then halfway through regretted that decision with twice as much gusto! (That’s a whole lot of gusto!!!)
2-0 Los Roques
Neither of the duo could stomach the dessert, and so they retired to their room for a quick nap before heading out to explore the town. Elephantine snores boomed throughout the night (we won’t be pointing fingers here), but after almost 40 hours awake they were both ready to drop. Los roques nightlife would have to wait.
They woke refreshed and rejuvinated (or at least the one who stole all the quilt and left the other one shivering did… but again, no finger pointing). A trip to Cayo de Agua was on the cards… one of the most beautiful of all the islands. No amount of shivering nor cursing could spoil his mood (oops!). The boat ride out was a whole different bag of frogs… no gentle 5 minute boat ride… no, no, no! A spine shattering 15 minute endurance test ensued, but not before they made a slight detour to Dos Mosquises…
…an island housing a delightful turtle sanctuatry where injured, sick or endangered turtles are raised in captivity. All this Fray gleaned from the posters on the wall as once again he blindly nodded through another 15 minute Spanish presentation (surprisingly during his language studies he’d failed to focus on the required vocabulary for turtle conservation… when will you learn Fray? Think outside the box!)
The waves weren’t particularly high on the journey to Cayo de Agua, but the force in which the boat repeatedly slammed down did wonders for Fray’s spinal issues. He’d been worried previously that his disks had been too far apart….. not so after that boat ride! They were now well and truly squished together!
Carrying their shunted bones off the boat they emerged onto another slice of heaven, and all trauma from the ride was quickly forgotten.
It was shortly after the above picture was taken that he realised yet another phone had lost in it’s battle against the drink.
3-0 Los Roques
As the telephonic twit was feeling a little sunburnt he spent most of the day relaxing in the shade, admiring the beauty, tranquility and romantico music that drifted out of the speakers… contrary to popular belief some of it is actually quite good. The return journey was equally as terrifying, but spirits were high after lounging in paradise all day.
Before Dinner they decided to head up to the top of Grand Roque to watch this sunset. The 10 minute scramble up the rockface rewarded the adventurers with some spectacular views… mainly of Fray throwing out some legendary poses, but also of some of Mother Nature’s handiwork:
They descended the hill for a quick shower before dinner time, and were greeted by…. an island wide power cut! YAY! Dinner, it seemed, would have to wait a while. As the evening wore on Fray began to feel a little less than peachy… and then distinctly unpeachy! Despite all his valiant efforts to hide it would appear that the sun had found him, and gave him a tremendous dose of vitamin D… a little more than poor Fray could stomach. “Thanks Sun. You give and give and give!” Several visits to the bathroom later and our bronzed warrior was feeling particularly empty, but his body was not satisfied. As punishment for filling it so much the night before it would now reject everything that wasn’t nailed down… oh how Fray grew to love that toilet bowl.
4-0 Los Roques
But this tale doesn’t end on a low note… no, no, no. This is where Grecia came into her own. Switching into Mother-Mode she rallied the troops and even managed to acquire some medicine, which did wonders to ease the terrible stomach cramps. Fray slept relatively well (because he’d pinched another quilt from another bed) knowing he was in safe hands.
The 3rd and final day saw a brief trip to Madrisqui, another beaut of an island a stones throw from Grand Roque. They relaxed to the sight of jumping fish and more Romantico (okay, he may have been a bit generous when he said it was ‘quite good’)
And then as suddenly as it started it was time to leave… but secure in the knowledge that they would one day return (with stronger suncream!)