Mochima, Venezuela, November 2012

Mochima sign

Situated on Venezuela's Caribbean coast is the village of Mochima in the Mochima Marine Park. If you're coming from the east, it's relatively easy to get to as there's a mini-bus, or 'busita' from Cumana. If you're coming from the west and Puerto La Cruz, like I was, you might end up getting a shared taxi. Just make sure he drops you in Mochima itself and not on the turn off as it's quite a long walk and you could wait over an hour for the next busita from Cumana to pick you up.

It was pretty quiet when I arrived and some guy latched onto me as soon as I got out of the car and told me he had a room, so I went along. The room was basic, but it had ensuite shower and toilet and was big enough for a double bed and a single. It also had air con and a TV with about 30 cable channels, though all in Spanish. The shower didn't have hot water, but the air temperature was in the 30C region every day, so this wasn't exactly an issue. He wanted 200Bs a night, so I pulled a face, told him I'd be staying for 4 nights and got it for 150Bs a night.

The Bolivar Fuerte is officially pegged to the US dollar at 4.3. However, the unofficial rate is a lot more. Following the re-election of Chavez, the black market was speculating there would be another devaluation, so you could get 13Bs to the dollar if you bargained. Of course, it is actually illegal to change money like this, but it's very easy and at the official rate, everything is ridiculously expensive.

I'd tried contacting the dive schools in advance but not had much luck getting replies to emails. I did try ringing one of them and was told it was all no problem and I should ring back when I got to Venezuela. So I just turned up on spec at AOC and was told to come back the next day at 9am.

Mochima is small, though with a lot of posadas but it was very, very quiet when I was there. It apparently gets a lot busier in December and January when Venezuelans take their holidays there. There are a couple of bars, but everyone seemed to go down Puerto Viejo. On my first night, after not seeing any other tourists in days, about 20 Dutch people seemed to appear from nowhere. Meals were good and cost between 55-130Bs for a main course. Local beer was 13Bs, though at 222ml a bottle, they were fun sized to say the least.

There are about a dozen shops, though some of them had erratic opening times and a few I never saw open at all. A few places open for breakfast. I went to the areperia, where they served the local arepas, juice and coffee. An arepa is a maize cake stuffed with various things including cheese, beef, chicken or seafood. They tend to put butter in the bottom bit too, so the last couple of mouthfuls are very butter. It's not dissimilar to a doner kebab only for breakfast, but it is very traditional Venezuelan. Coffee and an arepa cost 30Bs.

A day's diving including full kit was 620Bs. There was only myself and a French man on the boat. The boat was reasonable, had shade, had a ladder, had an O2 kit and there was water and iced tea available. All the usual things you'd expect were there. The trip out was about 15 minutes and we anchored up on the sand. The briefing was first given in Spanish. Then the English version followed, though it was somewhat shorter as I was giving it to the French guy. It wasn't a hard dive though. We just had to follow the guide.

The guide went down with a surface marker buoy and we followed him out to the reef, swam along it for a bit, then came back. The viz wasn't exceptional, about 12m, but there were a lot of bubbles everywhere. The bubbles give the site its name, Los Burbrujos, or The Bubbles. These were volcanic gases escaping from the sea bed. There were also patches of hot water and white algae growing around the hot water vents. There wasn't a huge amount of fish, but there were the usual grunts, trumpetfish, surgeon fish, sergeant majors and parrot fish. Unfortunately, there were also a couple of lion fish. I didn't realise they'd got this far south in the Caribbean already. They were two of the biggest I've seen, presumably gorging themselves on the indigenous, defenceless, local fauna. It was a shame we didn't have a spear gun. There was also a nice, big black and white spotted moray and a large, yellow sea horse, so not a bad dive in all. Maximum depth was about 22m and we did 53 minutes.

For the surface interval, we motored over to the next site and had a couple of rolls. They were the South American fall back of ham and cheese. After a respectable surface interval of an hour and a half, we jumped in for our second dive. The viz was a bit better, at least 15m, possibly slightly more as was the fish life and the coral. There were a lot more black corals as well as brain corals. We saw more morays and several big scorpion fish and yet another lion fish. This was shallower at 14m but lasted a full hour.

The second day I went diving we did Los Burbrujos again. This time we had different guides on the boat who spoke a bit more English. There were only 3 customers, myself, a Canadian guy working in Venezuela and a local guy. On the way out to the site, we saw a pod of dolphins. The dive itself was much the same though the viz was a bit better andwe didn't find any seahorses. We did do a longer dive this time with some time spent on the sand at the end. There were some strange looking fish with big heads that bury themselves in the sand. When you wave it away with you hand, they frantically rebury themselves. In the right spots, there were a surprisingly number of them.

The second dive was a wreck dive. It was an old steam ship. The maximum depth at the stern is 14m, though most of it is shallower than 10m. The bow is intact and lies on its starboard side, then the midships is pretty broken up, though there is still quite a lot of wreckage. The stern is upright and the prop sticks up through the sand with two of the blades visible. The rudder is still there too.

It's obviously been down there a long time. There's a lot of life, notably loads of black coral trees all over the wreck as well as lots of barnacle growth. There were a lot of fish, including sergeant majors, midnight majors, blue tang and a few morays. It was a nice dive. It's always good to see a proper wreck rather than some fishing boat that's been sunk on purpose.

We went back to the boat over the reef, which was OK. One of the things I'd not seen anywhere else but here was that there was a type of brown, branching coral that is literally covered in Christmas Tree worms all all different colours. They're very bright and striking.

Mochima was a nice place to spend a couple of days. If you're not diving, there's not a lot to do. There's no beach in town, though for 150Bs upwards, you can take a boat to a beach on a nearby island with snorkelling on the way there or back. It's quiet in November, but that is a good time to go. According to the guys in the dive shop, the visibility is much worse January-March when they get plankton blooms.