Carnival 2006 Chaos
Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago
After several hours of crunching fight information with travel agents and on my own in Internet cafes, I've discovered that a flight into Salvador, Brazil would actually cost less if I was flying there from Arizona!
The cost to fly from the Port of Spain to Salvador is absolutely nuts. I've gone through dozens of different fight plan (departure/arrival airport) permutations, and have concluded that I can't leave Trinidad by plane. My best option, if I did, would be (as crazy as it sounds) to fly from here to Miami, and then all the way back into Brazil. With a wait of 7–14 days in Trinidad plus the price of $800+ USD for the tickets, this isn't an option I care to explore.
If I really wanted to get to Salvador, I've come up with a game plan that would get me there for much less, but could involve well over a hundred hours of bus and boat travel. Here's how this would play out:
- Take the weekly Wednesday ferry from Chaguaramas, Trinidad, to Guiria, Venezuela for $414 TT (about $65 US)
- Bus through Venezuela and cross the southern border into Brazil
- Arrive in Manaus, Brazil, a major city in the middle of the Amazon (right on the Amazon River)
- Float down the Amazon for three or so days, arriving in Belem, or fly from Manaus to Salvador (perhaps $250–$350 US)
- Bus from Belem to Salvador (36 hours)
Andy is leaving tomorrow—flying to Grenada—and I had a laundry list of activities that I had to do today to prepare for my ass-hurting overland trip to Salvador, when a new opportunity presented itself.
Stephan had responded to my crew advertisement that morning by coming over to our hotel (after calling and leaving a message with the office). I was already out and about (trying to get details on when and where the ferry to Venezuela departed Trinidad) when Andy, who was still in the room, was summoned to the front desk to meet a visitor.
As Stephan and Andy proceeded back to the marina where his dingy and the Internet cafe I was in were at, Stephan explained how he was planning on circumnavigating the globe in his boat (for the second time), and was going to begin sailing down the eastern coast of South America in about a week (stopping along several ports in Brazil, and spending time with friends in Buenos Aires, Argentina). I was on my way out of the marina to go talk to the ticketing person for the ferry to Venezuela in a dock a few miles away, when the two ran into me.
After the three of us chatted briefly, Andy proceeded to the Internet cafe and Stephan loaded me into his dingy, bringing me aboard his 65 foot yacht (the Knight Errant), anchored in the bay. As we sat on the yacht and chatted over a beer, I learned that Stephan is in his mid-50's, was born in Bulgaria, spoke several languages, has a 25 year old son with a PhD working at John Hopkins, and was a former USSR tactical nuclear submarine captain (achieving the rank of admiral after 20 years in the navy).
In between the stories of playing cat and mouse with American submarines under the polar ice, he showed me around the inside of the yacht. I was really blown away with the interior of the ship. It was ridiculously spacious, modern, and tidy. The guy definitely loved music and movies, as there was home theatre setup (with smaller tube TV) built into the walls, and car stereos used to control private speakers in the bedrooms. …Yes, bedrooms. If I decided to join him, I would be given my own room (nearly half the size of my former bedroom in Arizona) with private bath and queen bed. Electronics were everywhere, and there were three laptops just chillin' on one of the counters, even though Stephan was still a beginner with computers. Above deck, there was even a 2–4 person hot tub. The vessel was very impressive.
I asked what some of my duties or costs would be on board, to which he replied that practicing his English and taking me up on my offer to teach him how to use Windows XP would be more than enough! He's more than capable of running the boat solo, but would just like to have some company for his travels, for as long as I was interested in staying on board. Truly, the only pitfall is that he most likely won't be able to make it down to Salvador (or near land for that matter) in time for Carnival.
We parted ways in the early afternoon, leaving me with a few hours to decide what I was going to do. My options were at this point to either buy my ferry ticket (leaving for Venezuela early the next morning), or to sail with Stephan aboard his boat (moving in with him a week prior to his departure from Trinidad).
Later that afternoon I was getting some repairs done to my pants in a rough part town (on the outskirts of the Port of Spain), when I decided that as much as I would love to get to the 2006 Carnival, I would hate to either pass up on a sailing offer such as this or burn my way past so much interesting countryside in a madding rush to make it to Salvador.
The overland route I mapped out would take me near Angel Falls in Venezuela (the largest waterfall in the world), and into one of the least traveled parts of the world for backpackers, the Amazon. Optimally, I would like to take my time and get into Salvador a month or so before Carnival, securing a good room at a good rate for the festivities.
Speaking of burning past regions in order to make it to Carnival, I felt like I had done exactly that with the Caribbean. I really didn't even make a dent in the island chain (in part because it's so damn expensive). So as my decision to pass on Carnival started to sink in (yeah, I'm bummed about it), I started to ask myself if I should take this opportunity to head north through the islands from this major port city, or to jump on the Knight Errant with Stephan and sail south.
The Plot Thickens
It's around 6:30 in the evening and I'm composing this post back in the Internet cafe, when Andy strolls in. He hands me a phone number from the hotel from a lady responding to my crew ad, and then announces that he was offered a ride on a 20 meter boat headed north, stopping at all the islands in the Lesser Antilles! We were both entertained, as he was set to fly out of town in the morning. Chuckling, I told him that maybe I was interested, if he wasn't going to go. He told me to go talk to them; the boat was in dry-dock and set to sail in a week!
Unlike Stephan's cruising yacht, this particular boat was built for speed (racing). It was long, and narrow, with an unusually deep keel. There was already an 18 year old German named Jakob on board, helping with repairs and sailing onward with Bill, the mid-50's captain from Canada. Bill, an experienced Caribbean sailor, intended on spending the next three months sailing to most every island he could on his way to New York in early May.
It was after sunset when we arrived, and once on board we were told (with a grin) to use our imaginations to visualize what the ship would look like clean! The boat looked and felt like a fraternity had been living in it. It had all the telltale signs: booze, dirty dishes, and shit everywhere—a far cry from the immaculate and robust furnished boat I was on a few hours prior.
Everything was much simpler and smaller on Bill's racing yacht, including the sleeping accommodations. Keeping true to the frat boat style, (crew) sleeping is done on the padded benches around the table (Bill has a bed in the front of the boat). There's also a small bed that fits in the back of the boat that I believe Andy intends on trying to claim.
Yeah, after purchasing his (cheap $50 US) ticket to Grenada just that morning, Andy has decided to go join the crew and sail north. Bill extended offers to both of us, noting that we'll be responsible for a 1/4 of the food expenses and entry fees into the island countries—a fantastic opportunity to see the Caribbean islands on the cheap.
I do enjoy the personalities of Bill and Jakob, and trust Bill as a captain. Since we'll each be taking sailing night watches (in pairs), Bill's going to teach/train us (me) in the fundamentals of sailing and nautical navigation.
So here I am, trying to make a decision. I was attempting to describe to Andy the excitement and amazing sensation of having so many paths and opportunities in front of you to choose from. Sailing north on the party boat or south in luxury. I could still hop onto the ferry to Venezuela, or do something completely different! It's an overwhelming and wonderful experience to actually feel like your living inside a Choose Your Own Adventure book. I'm going to sleep on it tonight, and wake up with my decision in the morning.