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Fiesta Fright

A close call at Los Testigos. Photo by Rob Lucey
A close call at Los Testigos. Photo by Rob Lucey

The best part of cruising was exploring new places, and the best time to explore a place is when it’s in festival mode. Sometimes we timed our visit to coincide with an event, like New Year’s in Key West where they lower a pirate’s wench from the mast of a tall ship at the stroke of midnight. Other times we chanced upon events like steel drum bands and mocko jumbies parading in St. Thomas.

One unexpected festival we lucked into was a stop in Los Testigos (and no, that is not Spanish for “mountain oysters”), a tiny cluster of Venezuelan islands 50 miles from any other land. We had low expectations as we anchored off Isla Iguana Grande (population 200), but we did note several fishing vessels festooned with flags and bunting and that the beach was packed with tents. We opted to nap before heading ashore, but were quickly awakened by fireworks. Some sleepy fishing village!

We launched our dink and were preparing to board it when the beach denizens all leapt into small crafts that ferried them out to the larger boats. Soon, they were underway with music blaring, fireworks launching, flags flapping and scantily clad crowds dangling off the sides as they crossed the channel to the next Testigo isle.

With the entire village (including its tent suburb) suddenly deserted, we went ashore and met the friendly Coast Guard. They invited us to party all week, although we didn’t speak enough Spanish and they didn’t speak enough English for us to comprehend the occasion for the fiesta.

We walked around town (which didn’t take long) and headed back to Sea Spell. Moments later, we heard fireworks crackle across the channel and saw the parade of boats racing back our way. And I do mean our way. Smaller motorboats zipped fore and aft of us. Then one of the big party boats zeroed in on us as I sat helplessly in our cockpit and Jo retreated to the galley.

The crowd on the boat started shouting. Their eyes grew bigger – and not just because they were getting closer. They waved their hands and shouted to the helm. “Our cruise ends here,” I thought. Then their engine slammed in reverse, the boat stopped, and they zipped around us. Missed us by at least 15 feet.

Later, a couple on an inflatable came by. The senorita spoke Inglés and said the helmsman hadn’t seen us because of the crowd on the bow. I’d convinced myself he was just playing around and knew exactly what he was up to. Her scenario was a bit more scary. She explained that the festival goers were either from Los Testigos or had family there. We’d arrived on Dia de la Virgen.

“It’s the biggest celebration of the whole year,” she said before they zoomed off, leaving me to wonder which virgin they were feting. I ventured back ashore to wander among the thongs, err – I mean throngs. Families clustered everywhere with kids splashing in the waves, parents drinking beer and teens trying not to look like they’re looking at each other.

After a lap through the town, I ended up near the Coast Guard station. Someone shouted “Musica!” Drummers began tapping out a beat, and a trombonist and saxophonist joined in to form a mini marching band. The guardsmen emerged from their shack with a giant floral arrangement, and began marching down the hill with spectators falling in behind.

As they passed, I looked at the bouquet and saw her posed among the blooms with her dark locks against her gown of blanco puro. It was a revelation: the festival celebrated the Virgin Latina Barbie! The procession continued down the hill where they reverently placed the plastic doll in a little shrine.

In this issue we include a roundup of some of our favorite events from throughout the Southeast. No translation required. Enjoy and drop us a line to let us know how we’re doing.

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