We were fortunate to be visited last week by a very old friend, Chris Yrazabal, the owner of Sightcast on Los Roques in Venezuela. Sightcast and Aardvark McLeod began at roughly the same time over a decade ago and the two companies have evolved side by side. Chris’ operation has grown from a single boat guided by himself to now the only fully fledged outfitter on the archipelago that caters for up to 12 anglers and employs a team of long serving guides. Obviously we went fishing down on our beat at Heale on the Avon for the afternoon, but over lunch I took the opportunity to ask him some detailed questions on topics that have arisen in conversations surrounding the current economic and political situation in Venezuela. I think the answers are of interest to those considering visiting this top saltwater destination.
What is the current situation in Caracas?
Caracas is Caracas and it is always beset by issues that arise from large South American cities. I should know as I live there when not on Los Roques. I won’t lie, right now it is not great with power shortages, food queues and water shortages. However this is not the first time we have lived through tough times and I am sure it won’t be the last. Many of these have been highlighted in the foreign press, so I am sure everyone is aware. This is one of the reasons we have never overnighted clients in Caracas, but rather the two hotels in La Guairá next to the airport. Besides, Caracas is 2 ½ hours drive away and on the other side of a mountain range, so it would make no logistical sense to do so. Our ground handlers pick clients up at the airport and transfer them directly to the hotels so there are no issues in this regard.
How have these events affected the operation on Los Roques?
The easy answer is they haven’t. The operation runs in exactly the same way it has always done with little or no impact. Most of the supplies that come to the island are from other sources anyway such as Aruba. The food and service at the Posada Acuarela has remained top class with some of our best feedback ever this year. Most clients coming to Los Roques are totally unaware of any issues on the mainland, other than exchange rate swinging massively in their favour. We used to recommend that clients changed US$150 into Bolivars on arrival, and we have now dropped this to US$50 with the current exchange rates available.
Why have some of the airlines pulled out?
We were not surprised when Lufthansa and LanTam pulled out of operations in Venezuela, although I don’t believe it is for the reasons that they have cited. It is well known in Venezuela that the government has been working with the airlines for some years offering subsidised tickets. There has been issues with the repayment of these tickets which perhaps has led to it becoming uneconomical to continue. Iberia and TAP will for sure continue to fly as the ties between the countries are very strong economically and also families in both countries. American Airlines will also continue to fly as they depend upon that route to Miami and it is always full.
If a medical issue did arise on Los Roques, what are you medical evacuation procedures?
Firstly we have a medical centre on the island which is always the first port of call if any issue arises. They can cope with pretty much all minor issues, but if a judgement call is made then we fly people out straight away on a private aircraft to the mainland and directly to a private medical facility that we have personal connections to. This has proved very efficient in the past.
Who are your current guide team?
All of our guides have been on Los Roques for a long time and have racked up many years on the flats. They are all employed full time by the company with full medical insurance and pension schemes. We believe in the long term. Our guide team has changed very little over the years. Carlos continues to be our head guide. Then we have Arcaro, Efren, Raphael, Joaquim and Jose. The tragic loss of Darwin has hit us all, but made our resolve even stronger to provide the best fishing experience possible for our clients.
How’s the fishing been this season?
The bonefishing has been amazing, returning to levels we have not seen in many years. We have found that the huge lack of pressure from the US combined with the continual cycle through the Marine Reserve has improved the fishing dramatically. The bones on the pancake flats have been far less spooky and more inclined to jump on a fly leading to some very exciting sight fishing. There has not been so much bait around Gran Roques, so we have not seen the numbers of tarpon rolling in the bay as once was, but we have found them in other areas. Our permit still astound us at their size, although as my personal nemesis they still behave like permit, not matter where you are! All in all we are looking forward to another great season next year.
We are already taking bookings from returning groups for the 2017 season, so if you would like to make sure you take advantage of prime tidal weeks then now is the time to be thinking about it.
If you are interested in travelling to Los Roques or for more information contact Peter McLeod or Alex Jardine, or call our office on +44(0)1980 847389.